Chapter 37

Maru walked up the stairs of the school building, with food in his hand. The smell of sweat washed over his face upon opening the auditorium door. He could feel the gazes of everyone in the room as they stared at him with surprise.

“Let’s eat!”

Miso put down the dishes of food with a shout. The kids all rushed over with a starving gaze.

“Thank you for the food!”

“Thank you!”

Each of them took a plastic container for themselves as they sat back down. Maru joined in as well. Looking around, he realized the rest of the club members were sitting in a circle eating together.

The group developed a strong bond over the last few weeks. They were talking about practice even during meals. Maru took his food and walked over to the stage. He was planning on eating in one of the seats there, until Miso walked over to sit with him.

“What are you doing by yourself?”

“I have no reason to be there with them. They’re talking about important stuff over there.”

Right then, the group of eleven stopped talking for a second to look at him.

“Hey! What are you doing over there? Come over, Maru!”

It was Yoonjung. She was frantically waving him over. Even Joonghyuk was giving him looks. Not to mention Dojin and Daemyung. How nice of them.

“Don’t worry, kids. I need to talk with the head for a bit,” Miso responded.

The kids made an ‘aha’ face as they resumed their conversations with one another.

Head, huh. He hadn’t heard that nickname in a month.

“So, what was that thing you wanted to talk about before?” Miso asked as she stuffed her mouth with three pieces of katsu. Maru responded after taking a small sip from his soup.

“I heard that you were going into the preliminaries in three weeks.”

“That’s right. If you want to join, you really should...”

Maru shook his head.

“I don’t want to participate in the competition.”

“Didn’t you say you wanted to?”

“I do. But not a part of the competition itself.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want to intrude on them. The rest of the club members tried hard during the last month.”

“Hm.”

“I heard the roles had all been chosen as well. The props are all finished too. Is there even space for me there anymore?”

“There isn’t.”

Miso answered right away with a nod.

“You don’t want to take their place?”

“I’m not that desperate.”

“Oh, so you will if you do get desperate?”

“There’s not much I won’t do if I want to live.”

He would do anything if it kept his wife and daughter from starving. That was the decision his 45 year old self came up with. Though he had no one to direct that mindset to anymore, he still firmly upheld its values.

“You looked kind of selfish right there.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No. People need to be greedy. They need to find their own place in life. They can’t just wait for things to be handed to them, they need to take it. Only then can they afford to start worrying about others.”

“That’s true.”

He recalled what the woman had told him after his death. To not be as selfless as he was before. But Maru had never thought of him having a selfless life. He just had decent manners and had common sense.

Return what you are given, and follow rules when you can. Don’t try to affect people around you negatively. Those were the only things he followed.

Then again, under the state of the contemporary world, he supposed even that could be considered ‘selfless’.

“So, what did you want to ask about?”

“I wanted to try being in a play.”

“Hm?”

“You told me, didn’t you? About volunteer plays that were done by the government. It can even be done for children. I just want to try to see what it’s like.”

“Hm.”

Miso finished off her food as she thought for a second. She slapped her belly with satisfaction before continuing.

“So I take it that you want to take it easy? Without putting in much effort?”

“I suppose so.”

“I’m telling you this now, but there are no plays that are easy. There are ones that have shorter prep times though.”

“I’m sorry. I just wanted relatively quick plays.”

“I see. So you just want to dip your toe in the water. Well, I have no reason to stop you. I have a friend who does puppet plays at different kindergartens. She works with well known stories that are usually from the Aesopica or Andersen’s stories. It’s not a very easy task. Sometimes, puppet plays are even more difficult than normal plays. It’s relatively quicker though, so I’ll introduce you. How do the weekends sound?”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Alright. Try it, then. It won’t be easy though,” Miso grinned mischievously. She took out her phone and called someone. After a few words were exchanged, she handed the phone over to Maru.

“Take it.”

“Alright.”

Maru took the phone. He could hear kids on the other side, along with a lady’s pained words: “pulling sis’s hair makes big sis go owie.” He could guess what was happening on the other side pretty well.

“Are you alright?” Maru was the first to speak. The lady responded almost immediately from the other side.

- Ah yes, just a minute, please! I’m sorry. Waaaait!

At the same time.

‘Hey! Don’t you know how scary big sis can be if she gets mad?’ The lady started to chide the kids a bit before directing a ‘please give me a break for a second’ to Maru. The other side only became quiet after 3 more minutes.

- Phew! Hello?

“Are you fine now?”

- Ah, yes.

“Kids really don’t listen during that age, don’t they? They’re devilish at the age of seven.”

- Ah… yes.

He could hear the lady’s confusion in her voice. Maru smiled bitterly. He spoke like a parent without even realizing it.

“I called because I wanted to participate in one of your plays.”

- Ah, right, right. Could we go over your age real quick again, though? I’m very sorry. Seventeen… Right?

She sounded unsure. Maru agreed for now.

- I’m thirty. A friend of Miso’s.

“Yes. You can drop the formalities if you’d like.”

- Would that be fine?

“Of course.”

- I’ll try to speak more casually, then…

Maru looked at Miso, suppressing a grin. So this is what they meant about how opposites attract. The woman was the complete opposite of Miso.

“What is it?” Miso asked. Maru put a hand over the microphone as he responded.

“I just found it surprising.”

“Surprising?”

“How her personality is so different from yours.”

“Shush with the weird comments and take the call. She’s going to cry if you keep ignoring her.”

“She cries?”

“Quickly!”

Maru put the phone back on his ear.

“Hello?”

- ...Um, did I say something wrong?

“No, not at all.”

- Really? I thought I might’ve said something wrong because you suddenly went silent. Phew. That’s good.

The lady sighed in relief. She seemed to be quite a handful as well. Were the people around Miso all like this?

“You can be casual with me.”

- Oh, right. Mm… but actually, I think it’d be rude to be so casual when I haven’t even met you in person. Wouldn’t you agree?

“Haha, right you are.”

- So you wanted to try doing plays for children?

“Yes. If I won’t be a bother, I’d like to try helping out.”

- Bother? We were just in need of more hands! I did ask Miso for help, but she said she was severely allergic to children… That’s a bit mean, isn’t it?

“Yes, it is,” Maru responded after making sure Miso couldn’t hear what the lady was saying. “Is there anything that I’ll need to bring?” He continued.

- No, nothing of the sort. You just have to come right away and practice a bit.

“Right away?”

- Yes. Weren’t you coming tomorrow?

Ah, so the word “weekend” meant “tomorrow” to Miso, huh. Maru turned to look at the lady, who was giving him a ‘V’ sign with a grin on her face. What a woman.

“I am, I am. I’ll be there tomorrow. Where should I go?”

- Suwon city.

The same city, thankfully.

- Can you come out to the station by 9 o’clock tomorrow morning?

“Yes, of course.”

- Alright, perfect. Thank you, one of the people who is usually here to help us had to drop out for tomorrow, so we were about to be really underhanded.

“The one who should be thankful is me. At least I have something to do now.”

The lady finished the call after saying ‘see you tomorrow’. The way she spoke just made him smile. She had a very calming, comfortable voice.

“Done?” Miso asked.

“Yes, thank you.”

“What made you suddenly decide to act, by the way? I mean I’m happy about it, but still.”

“I decided that I might as well take that first step. I do like plays. I was interested from the start as well. I was just afraid of the time I might waste my time doing it. I’m not ready to go all in yet, though. Maybe I’ll quit after a few tries, even.”

“You don’t seem like that kind of a person to me. Kids like you get really focused on one thing once they really get into it. That’s one reason why I obsess over them a lot.”

“Who knows. I like to think I don’t get committed to things.”

“I don’t think so. People often think that they know themselves better than anyone. But many of them are also the type that won’t even realize that they have shit on their back until someone else tells them about it. Occasionally, someone else’s evaluation you might be more valuable than your own.”

“I’ll admit that.”

“Admitting is easy. You just never listen.”

“Instructor.”

“What?”

“You don’t have a boyfriend, do you?”

“......”

Maru dodged the plastic fork that was thrown at his face. He was pretty confident that he knew what kind of a person she was now.

“You really are a strange one. Go on, now. Like you said, there really isn’t a place for you here anymore.”

“Yes, I should.”

“Do think about it carefully, though. I might be totally mistaken, but I do see potential in you. You should try it. Forget about your fears. Actors begin their career by throwing themselves straight into the flame. They ignore how society might view them, how they might view themselves, and the rules that bind them and jump straight in.”

Miso stood up. The club members looked to be nearly finished with their food as well. They were all looking at the two of them, ready to start practice again.

“Don’t get jealous of them in the future, you hear?”

“Of course.”

Miso stepped forward. Maru watched the club resume practice for a few minutes before getting up himself. It was seven now. He’s never been at the auditorium this late before. He could see the others practicing their blocking as he walked over to the exit. Maru didn’t want to bother them. He quietly opened the door, and whispered “goodbye” as he left the auditorium.

* * *

The corridor of the school was still very well lit, despite being so late. Maru could hear different noises coming out of other club rooms still. The toy club had sounds of hammers beating against wood coming out of it, and Maru could hear someone in the music club practicing with their bass guitar.

They were all working very hard. Each of them were buying these skills with their time in order to get what they wanted. Hopefully they could all get what they wanted out of this. Maru headed down to the first floor with a bag of trash in hand. The first floor was completely dark, save for the teachers’ office down the hallway. It was pretty quiet, too.

It was his first time seeing the first floor so silent. It felt quite new to him for some reason. Maybe because he finally made a decision?

Maru threw away the bag of trash into one of the recycling bins before getting back on his bike. On the way back home, he found a few students walking on the streets together.

“Where do you want to meet tomorrow?”

“Are we doing anything tomorrow?”

He could hear them talking in the distance. A smile formed on Maru’s face.

“I’m going to do whatever I want to do tomorrow,” he found himself responding under his breath.

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