Chapter 38

Maru barely managed to wake up on Sunday morning. He pushed aside his thick blankets as he stood up from his bed. It was 7:30am. He opened the door and stepped into the kitchen. It was empty. His family was atheist, so their Sunday mornings were slow to start. He washed up in the bathroom and made himself a simple breakfast out of some rice and eggs. It was eight by the time he finished his meal. Dad came out of his room with a terrible bedhead.

“You going somewhere?” He asked.

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“I’m going to do a play.”

“Ah, sure.”

Maru grabbed the handle of the front door as he said his goodbyes. Right before he exit, he could hear his father’s delayed reaction.

“A play?”

“Yes. A play.”

“Eh?”

Maru just smiled in response.

* * *

Maru took the road that led him to Suwon station. Once he arrived, he found the floor of the station was covered in metal sheets. He remembered this station was under construction for quite a long time in his life.

It was the beginning of May. The time of year when it was getting pretty warm, but the occasional cold wind of winter was still present to disrupt the notion of spring. Maru noticed a food truck on the other side of the road. The ones that sold warm soy milk and a nice toast sandwich. There were five of them. They were all selling something similar, but the popularity between them was clearly different.

‘This gets removed soon as well, if I remember correctly.’

A few years later, government workers would place flower vases on the parking space of these food trucks. The owners of the trucks would feel quite wronged by this, but at the same time, restaurant owners in the area would have been annoyed by the truck owners not even paying property tax doing their business.

It was a situation where no clear winner could be seen on either side. Maru bought himself a toast. He’d already had breakfast, but his body was never satisfied by any amount of food he ate.

‘I don’t know when these food trucks would leave, so I might as well have some now.’

Maru walked to the front of the station after filling himself up with toast and soup. It was ten minutes before 9 o’clock.

Vrrr, the phone sprang to life.

He was getting a call from an unknown number.

- Is this Han Maru?

“Yes, it is.”

It was the woman he talked to through Miso yesterday.

- Where are you?

“I’m right outside Suwon station.”

- Really? Hold on. Can you come out to the road right below the pedestrian bridge? I’ll try to find you. I’m in a red car.

“Yes.”

Maru walked towards the road after hanging up. He could see a small red car zoom closer to him through the traffic. There wasn’t really a place to park nearby, so Maru walked over to the intersection nearby with the car in tow.

“Han Maru?”

“Yes.”

“Nice to meet you. Am I late?”

“You were right on time. Can I get on?”

“Sure.”

Maru got in the shotgun. As soon as he sat down, he got blasted with the scent of fresh lemon. It was very different compared to Miso’s stuffy car. In front of him were tiny little dolls that decorated the car. There was even a small rabbit hanging on the back mirror.

There were ten of these dolls at the very least. Maru looked back to see if there were any more. Ah, of course there were. He could even see little finger puppets in the back of the car.

“There’s a lot of stuff here, isn’t there?” The woman welcomed Maru.

Maru turned to look at the woman for the first time. She was quite pretty. Her long black hair came down to her shoulders. Her face looked younger than 30, but her eyes clearly looked older. She had a few wrinkles on her face, presumably from smiling so much. She had a small dimple on her face as well.

She looked like a soft lady. The polar opposite of Miso. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the kind of conversations she entertained in Miso’s company.

“Are these for your plays?” Maru asked, pointing to the back.

“Yes. Some of them are for plays, and some of them I give away to children.”

She changed gears and started driving. Strangely, the car she was driving was manual. She was accustomed to changing gears with the clutch. For a split second, Maru could see a visage of an experienced taxi driver overlap with her face.

“It’s a bit weird that I’m not driving an auto, right?”

She seemed to have noticed his stares. Maru shook his head.

“Manual feels way better to drive than auto. Auto is easier for sure, but when you’re driving a tru...”

Oops, he did it again. He closed his mouth and glanced at her.

“What did you just...”

“That’s what my dad told me. Manual’s just better.”

“Aha, I see. My father told me the same thing. That’s why he made me get the manual license when I first got it. I might as well try to go for a commercial driving license when I have time.”

“A commercial one?”

“Yes,” she responded, smiling brightly.

Those words were strange coming from someone with her looks, but he decided to ignore that for now.

“Ah, speaking of which, I haven’t told you my name, have I? My name is Kang Soojin. Like I said yesterday, I’m thirty, and… I just do odd jobs.”

“I’m Han Maru, a student. I’m working on our school’s play under instructor Miso. And you can speak casually to me now.”

“Would that be fine?”

“Yes.”

“Mm, then.. I’ll… try to be casual?” She was having a hard time for some reason.

So even a woman of her age could be that cute. Maru looked forward with a smile on his face.

“Have you ever played with children?”

“Yes.”

Of course he has. A lot, too. He’s done all sorts of things for his daughter. He had to invent all sorts of different faces for his little princess.

“Is that so? That’s a bit of a surprise. Not many kids your age get to experience that.”

“That’s true.”

“It might still be hard, though. A few of them are pretty mischievous. Not that it makes me mad. They’re all cute. By the way… do you get angry easily?” She sounded a little nervous. Maybe she had a few people who got into fights?

“I can’t get angry. Don’t worry too much.”

“Phew, that’s good. You looked kind of scary. Oh, sorry, that’s not what I meant...”

She looked at Maru with a smile. Maru looked back into her eyes, prompting a thought bubble to pop up.

[He looked a bit scary because of his initial expression, but he seems fine. That’s good. I was a bit scared, but he looks like a good kid.]

Her thoughts were the same as her words. She turned her handle to the right with a happy smile. This was actually a pretty useful ability. It allowed him to see how different people were inside compared to their outside.

‘Even me, too.’

The car started going up a steep slope. The car came to a stop in a suburban neighborhood, 20 minutes away from the station. They were at a 2 floor daycare.

There was a woman who seemed to be a teacher of the place waiting in front. She was waving her hand vigorously at the two of them.

“She’s someone who works here. She’s nice. Let’s get off,” Soojin explained.

Soojin gave her greetings before opening the trunk of her car. The teacher came over to help out with carrying a few dolls inside. Maru picked up a few as well.

The three of them switched over to slippers once inside, and walked over to what seemed to be the living room of the building. From there, Maru could see a few kids running around with teachers inside.

“Is this private?” Maru asked.

Soojin nodded in affirmation.

‘It’s pretty nice here.’

He’s taken his daughter to a few kindergartens back in the day. The one they chose was pretty expensive, but since his wife was also working at the time, they were able to afford it. They also thought about leaving the girl to their parents but realized that wouldn’t work once they learned how difficult it was to raise a kid.

“This is pretty nice. You must get plenty of financial support from the government as well. Pretty well built, and lots of teachers… Do you guys also offer transportation for the kids?”

Soojin turned to look at him in bewilderment, making Maru cough a few times in nervousness.

“You know a lot, don’t you, Maru? You’re like an adult,” Soojin mentioned.

“I’m not like an adult. I just know a lot of random stuff. Random useless stuff.”

“No, it’s important to know this kind of stuff. You’ll be a lovely father when you get married in the future.”

Soojin smiled. Man, whoever takes this woman as his wife would be one lucky guy.

Maru put away the dolls in one of the bigger boxes as Soojin instructed. The kids walked over with a curious look on their faces. Most of them seemed to be around four years old.

“What’s this?”

“What that?”

“What?”

They were all speaking primitively.

“They’re dolls.”

Soojin kneeled down to the kids’ height as she explained. She sounded just like the other teachers as she talked. Maru watched for a bit, before remembering something Soojin said about him and going to the restroom.

That comment about him seeming scary…

He’s never heard that comment before in his life. Sure, he’s heard stuff like how he looked playful, mischievous, et cetera… But never once was he called scary.

He leaned down onto one of the kid’s mirrors and looked at his face.

‘...I do look a bit stiff.’

Maybe because he thought of random things too much? Maru tried smiling at the mirror. Good, at least his smile wasn’t stiff yet.

He heard the kids’ laughter upon leaving the bathroom. He started walking a bit faster to check out what was happening.

“Haha.”

The first thing Maru saw was Soojin wearing a rabbit’s mask. She seemed to have worn it to play with the children, but the reaction she was getting out of them… was far from pleasant.

“Monster rabbit!”

“It’s a monster rabbit!”

She did look a little abnormal. Probably because the teeth on the mask were so big. The kids were punching her as she crouched down on the floor in a fetal position.

It might seem like a punch from a 4 year old wouldn’t hurt that much. But Maru knew the answer to that very well, from having raised a daughter of his own.

It hurts like hell.

“W-wait. Kids!”

“Wahahaha!”

Well, at least the kids are happy. Maru thought back to his conversation with Soojin the day before. This was probably what was happening over the phone.

“Kids! I’m hurting!”

Of course, the kids didn’t even bother stopping. Maru watched the spectacle with a small smile on his face. At least, he did until Soojin took off her mask and started glaring at him.

“We’ll practice for a bit.”

“Ah, please do.”

Soojin left the children to the teacher and walked over to Maru. She grabbed his hand and headed for the stairs.

“We’re going to start after the kids take their naps. Other kids will be coming afterwards, so we should practice here.”

“Yes. But ah, you’re trying to be polite again.”

“Excuse me? Ah, sorry. Force of habit. It’s annoying, isn’t it?”

“I’m fine. Just do as you will, sis. Can I call you big sis?”

“Sure. Call me whatever you want. Miso calls me a white puppy sometimes.”

White puppy… Hm, that fit better than he thought.

“We’ll practice for four hours. Are you familiar with the fable about the sun and the wind, and that story about the brother and sister who turned into the sun and the moon?”

“Of course.”

“We’ll be doing those two today, with these.”

Soojin took out a few hand puppets with confidence. A tiger, two kids, a travel, and the sun and the moon.

“Looks fun, doesn’t it?”

She seemed more excited than the kids. Maru tried putting on the dolls in his fingers as well. As soon as he did, Soojin asked him a question.

“How is it?”

“Huh?”

“Is it well made?”

Her eyes were sparkling with the expectation for praise. He’s seen those eyes somewhere. Ah, he remembered seeing those eyes from his little daughter, when she handed him her drawing for the first time.

“Did you make it yourself?”

“Yes. How are they?”

“Woow, they’re really good. They look store-bought.”

“Really? They’re that good?”

Soojin smiled as wide as her dolls themselves.

“But Miso always makes fun of my dolls.”

“That lady can never hand out compliments.”

“Right? Right?”

Soojin’s smile got wider when Maru nodded. She must get teased pretty often. He could picture it with ease. That expression that Miso would wear as she teases Soojin mercilessly.

“I’ll tell you the story first. We don’t want the main content of the story changing. Ad-libbing in the play is fine, but only if I can properly react to it and if it doesn’t stray too much from the story. ”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to ad-lib. It’s my first time, after all.”

“Really? Anyway, come over here for a bit.”

Soojin opened the script she printed out. Maru stepped up next to her. He could smell the fresh scent of lemon coming off of her.

His heart skipped a beat. But right then, a picture of his pouting wife flashed in his head.

“Pft.”

“What’s up?”

“No, I just got reminded of something.”

Soojin nodded and started reading.

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