Chapter 35

Maru zoomed across his lines as soon as he began. His eyes were fixed on the piece of paper in front of him. He spoke slowly, as if he was reading for a bunch of kids. He had pretty good enunciation as well. A bit quiet, though. But that could be fixed with time.

“How is it?” Miso looked back.

“What?” one of the actors asked, confusion etched blatantly in their voice.

“Just how did you feel about the boy?”

“Well, he was alright. Kind of good at speaking.”

“You?”

“He’s alright. Not much else to it, though.”

The others all voiced the same way when Miso looked at them. There was nothing special about him.

“Maru.”

“Yes?” Maru responded with unmasked annoyance.

“Can you stop looking at the script for a bit? Face us as you read.”

“Really, what’s the reason for doing this?”

“Just do it, please. I’ll buy you food.”

“What if I don’t want food?”

“Are you testing me?”

“...Fine, I’ll do it.”

Maru raised his head towards the audience. Miso watched. There was a massive difference between looking at the script and looking at the audience. It creates a lot of pressure for the actor to make eye contact. As soon as the actor’s attention was turned to the audience seats, countless little bits of information would make their way into the actor’s mind. This was an actor’s most likely reason for making a mistake.

So then… what about Maru? Would the boy be able to read calmly through all of this? Maru’s lips parted after a few seconds. He had his script lowered, and his eyes were right on Miso’s.

Miso laughed. The boy’s only managed to become calmer after looking at the audience. He was looking at the audience pretty evenly, as well. She didn’t ask for all of this, which was what made his performance so interesting.

The boy started reading. He looked over each member of the audience one by one, as if he was telling all of them a story. As she thought, he was very talented.

“Do you really think a boy who’s never been trained can talk like that?” she whispered to her juniors.

“Wait, this is his first time?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, then that changes everything. I thought he was trained already. That’s why I said there wasn’t anything special.”

“Me too.”

“Same.”

These actors were pros in their own right. It was no wonder that Maru looked like nothing special when he took the stage. But after learning that this was his first time? Maru’s demeanor on the stage deserved nothing but praise.

“So he’s going to be the main spectacle for this year’s competition?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“He’s just a stage manager?”

“Just a stage manager?”

“Yeah.”

“So why are you making him do this, then? He doesn’t look like he wants to do this.”

“That’s the thing. He looks like he kind of wants to do it. I can tell from being around him for a while.”

Miso gave Maru another glance as she spoke. The boy was hard to understand, but she did figure out one thing about him. If someone just directed him somewhere, he’d never stop moving forward.

“I felt greedy. You know I like to make kids like him do acting.”

“Yes. That’s your weird hobby. You ended up turning quite a few kids into the ghosts of Hyehwa. After all, you made me into one as well, didn’t you?”

“So? You regretting it?”

The younger actor slowly shook his head.

“I’d rather live here as a ghost than go into society as a dead soul.”

“That’s right, that’s why I brought you here. People like you need to act. Or else you’d just be living an absolutely pointless life.”

“The way you talk is just...”

“What? If you don’t like it, you can be my senior.”

“I’m good. That sounds even more exhausting. Doesn’t that sound like a horrible life, guys?”

The others nodded vigorously, earning them another glare from Miso.

“Good god, look at all of you. You really don’t know your place, do you?”

“Just means we’ve grown.”

Miso didn’t hate their response at all. In fact, she kind of liked it. There was no reason for juniors to remain juniors. They had every right to surpass their seniors and crush their competition. Miso recalled something she told her juniors in the past.

[You need pride if you become talented. That’s how you make the seniors fear for their positions, and make them improve. That’s why you should study hard and try to chase me out of this theater. That’s the best gift that you can give me as my junior.]

There was no place in this theater for her any more. The audiences of Blue Sky no longer came to see her, but her juniors.

“By the way, senior, I heard you were nearing a full box of eggs soon. Is that true?” (30 eggs per box in korea, so cracking a joke about age)

“You want to die?”

“Come on, it was just a joke.”

The juniors laughed. Miso recanted her words. These guys weren’t worthy of surpassing her just yet. Right then, Maru finished his reading. He never stopped, never stuttered, or never went out of breath. From start to finish, he read the entire script, completely calm.

Miso started wondering.

Just what would the boy look like when he started acting?

* * *

Miso walked over to her car without another word after the reading session. Maru followed, relieved he was finally getting to go back to school.

“Work hard, alright?”

The actors unanimously gave him words of encouragement as he left. It wasn’t a bad experience to try reading a script from a stage. That feeling of attention he received… it was kind of riveting. He didn’t show it though. He didn’t want Miso to know of his enjoyment.

“I hope you do acting,” Miso mentioned as she grasped the wheel of her car.

She was just going straight at it. Maru wasn’t adept at handling people who were so direct like this.

“So suddenly...”

“Suddenly my ass. I’ve been hinting at this since we talked on the rooftop. You keep coming to the club. You clearly enjoy the activities we do there. You like watching the other club members as well.”

“That’s true.”

“So why don’t you participate? It’s just moving one step forward into the club.”

“The problem is the size of that one step.”

“What do you mean?”

“The amount of time and work you need to put in.”

“.....”

Maru thought for a second. The woman in front of him had unintentionally jumped into the world of acting despite being unaware, and ended up becoming quite successful. Just looking at her car was proof enough of how much she was earning. Perhaps she was living the life that Maru dreamt of living.

Living to chase their dreams with no inhibitions. Perhaps it would be wise for him to listen to her story? She was younger than him in age, sure, but that didn’t determine the value of her life story at all.

“Instructor.”

“What?”

“Have you ever regretted being an actor?”

“Regret?”

“Yes.”

Miso stopped the car for a second. She looked out of the window as she tapped at the handle. Perhaps she was looking back into a particular moment in the past.

“Of course I did. Too many times. I wanted to go into the school of acting, but my family couldn’t afford it. No money for academies either. So I came here. To Hyehwa, where I thought I could make it big. I won in the nationals after all. I thought that degrees or education didn’t really matter squat.”

Miso pulled back her blonde hair.

“So I just visited the first theater I saw. And got rejected right away. They didn’t even consider interviewing me. So I tried going to a really poor theater. I thought they’d take me as an actor. They told me that they’d only take me if I started working as a janitor. So I asked if I could at least get on a play. Do you know what they told me?”

“What?”

“They told me to give them a reason to hire me, especially when there were other kids more talented than me all over the place. That shut me right up.”

Miso smiled bitterly.

“You’ve heard of the term, right? The ghosts of Hyehwa station?”

Maru nodded. He knew the term very well. The actors who couldn’t give up on acting, left only to wander the station in search of success. They weren’t able to leave the station because of their passion. They were ghosts.

“It sounds stupid. To be called an actor. The problem is, these ‘ghosts’ are actually all very fine people. There are many, many theaters here. But there are far more actors than that. The competition is fierce. Hundreds of auditions take place for every play at a relatively popular theater. There’s no way that even a small theater would take in a high school graduate as an actor.”

As it turned out, this woman’s life wasn’t as rosy and bright as Maru had first imagined. High school acting, in the end, was just a high school pastime. Nothing compared to the world of pros.

“So? If you couldn’t attend an academy or a school, what did you do?”

He was curious. What would a person do in a situation like this?

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“By that point, my dream was to become an actor. I couldn’t live without it. But reality was ass. My dad ran away, my mom was sick, the loan sharks kept coming for me. So… I gave up.”

“You gave up?”

What? What did she mean? She was clearly living her best life right here. She gave up on her dream?

“Of course I did. I gave up, and got into a boxing match with reality. I might’ve given up on my dream, but I never stopped thinking about it. I started working in a factory for a year. It’s worked out somewhat. I used that money to shoot a monodrama.”

Miso looked right at Maru.

“So that I could keep chasing that damned dream.”

And… she grinned.

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