Chapter 45

At that time, Maru was taking a look at himself through the bathroom mirror.

[But people who are taken by acting feel something completely different. They feel excitement.]

Geunsoo’s words just reverberated all over his head.

Excitement, huh.

Maru put a hand over his chest. It was beating calmly. Just quietly doing its job dutifully.

“Excitement.”

He thought back for a second. Did anything excite him back in high school?

“Basketball, video games… And occasionally good test scores. When I got my allowance?”

For sure, those things did get him pretty fired up in the moment. Winning a game of basketball for a single can of soda felt exhilarating, and getting a rare drop from a boss felt incredibly fulfilling.

Those were the things that used to excite him.

But now? There was nothing. It almost felt like he grew numb to any kind of emotion. Even today, the Maru of the mirror was making a calm, uninterested face. What kind of expressions did his previous high school self make?

It’d come to a point where he has to practice smiling every once in a while. Time really hasn’t done Maru any favors.

After staring for a few seconds more, Maru stepped away. It was time to go back. The dress rehearsal would start soon. As a matter of fact, Miso signalled the club to start as soon as Maru got back to his seat.

“The audience goes silent. The lights turn on, and the sounds of the television start playing.”

Miso turned on the TV noises through the speaker. At the same time, Joonghyuk sat down on the sofa, and Minsung walked into the scene. The first act had begun.

* * *

As more time passed, the tension between the characters started rising faster and faster. Soon, the entire first year cast was in front of the corner store.

Daemyung stepped into the scene with his loosened tie. He walked next to the shop, and found a student smoking in the corner.

The group began talking.

Taejoon was the first to burst out, an incredible annoyance written all over his face. Dojin was next, rearing forward with a similar expression. It was clear to see they practiced quite a bit.

The flow of the conversation was natural. Plus, Daemyung really did seem like a carefree salaryman right then. He tried to stop Dojin from getting into a fight before exploding himself when the students targeted him.

Really, the boy looked like any other 50 year old you’d find on the street.

“He’s good,” Geunsoo whispered.

Maru couldn’t help but agree. Daemyung was surprisingly good at this.

‘But Geunseok is the one that’s really standing out.’

If Daemyung’s acting was good enough to make you nod in satisfaction, Geunseok’s acting was good enough to make you forget about the play. The boy looked at the audience every once in a while as he spoke. He seemed to have studied that in his own time.

And then, his monologue began.

The auditorium became silent as the boy started speaking. His voice was small, but by no means was it quiet.

“Hmm.”

Maru glanced at Geunsoo. The man was looking at his brother with a very satisfied smile. He seemed to have taken a liking to his brother’s acting.

But at the same time, there was also a bit of a nervous air about the man. Why?

* * *

The family on stage came together once more after ending the feud between them. The mother still finds her son dissatisfactory, but she can’t yell at the boy anymore. The father gives his permission, and the boy finishes the final act with a small monologue. The play comes to an end as the white noise of the TV becomes louder.

Then, the characters return on stage one by one in a curtain call. Geunseok comes out in the end, finishing their bows to the audience.

Clap clap clap.

Soojin and Maru clapped. It was clear as day that the club worked incredibly hard during the past two months. The actors looked at Miso with a very big sigh.

Miso hesitated a little before starting to clap herself.

“Make sure to do a little bit better than this on the actual thing. You should have a solid chance of getting an award if you do.”

“Phew.”

The first and second years sighed loudly. They looked at each other with a fulfilled expression.

“Good job.”

“Good work.”

“Thank you all for your hard work.”

Maru put a hand over his chest as he watched the club members talk to each other. The temperature of the entire room seemed to go up for a second, but… his heart was beating the same as before.

“They’re good, weren’t they?” Geunsoo asked.

“Yes. They’re very different compared to their previous practices.”

“First time seeing their dress rehearsal?”

“Yes. They look very fitting in their roles.”

Geunsoo nodded.

“Yeah. That was a pretty good play. By the way, that suit over there… That’s something I brought over ten years ago.”

Geunsoo smiled as he pointed at Daemyung’s suit.

“My uncle ran a shop in the neighborhood. I worked my ass off there so that I could get myself a suit. I don’t regret working that hard for it, since it’s obviously still being used very well. Those dress shoes were from me as well.”

“You must’ve worked very hard for the club.”

“I didn’t attend school for three years. I attended the club for three years. I got beat up by both my teachers and parents for messing up on my tests, but what could I do? I couldn’t help but care more about the club.”

“Did you ever regret it?”

“Regret it? Well, I might’ve… I can’t remember. My brain doesn’t want to waste its space storing useless memories like those.”

Geunsoo clicked his tongue lightly. It was pretty remarkable looking at someone so focused on a single passion.

“I was pretty insane.”

Geunsoo grinned. He looked like he had seen straight through Maru.

“I couldn’t see anything else back in those days, since I was so taken by acting. Didn’t even care about college entrance exams either.”

“You can do that?”

“Surprisingly easy if you try.”

The man probably wasn’t called a lunatic for nothing.

Kids have quite a lot of worries to think about. Of course, these worries weren’t very light in comparison to what adults had to worry about.

A child whose toy just broke.

A student who forgot about homework.

A student who slept late for his college entrance exams.

A person who got into a big fight with his interviewer at a job interview.

A salaryman who got scolded by his boss.

A wife whose husband had been cheating on.

No one could possibly weigh or judge these people’s pains. Of course, some people who've actually experienced these things could say it was pointless trying to compare a broken toy with a dead person.

But to a child, that broken toy might be as valuable as an actual person. Their pain isn’t something an adult could understand. To a child, the toy might’ve been their entire world.

Giving up on studying to focus completely on acting for three years… It couldn’t have been an easy decision. Geunsoo must’ve had to muster up an incredible amount of courage to actually go through with it.

Geunsoo stated that he started acting to rebel against his father. That probably meant that he didn’t have a very good standing in the house.

To a student, school was half of their life, with family being the other. The only thing both of those groups ever wanted out of that student was to study. Geunsoo stepped on those expectations and jumped right into acting.

That… didn’t just take courage. It required the person to be a madman.

“That doesn’t sound easy at all.”

“Of course not. You haven’t actually experienced it.”

“You’re telling me that the decision’s actually easy to make when the time comes to make it?”

“No. I told you already. If the monster of acting has his eyes on you, you don’t have a choice anymore.”

“So acting is something you have to be born with?”

“That’s what I think. Of course, you’ll have to voluntarily go into the room that the monster lives in first. But it’s up to the monster to actually welcome you in. Working hard is important, sure. But not all people are born equal. It’s like how I can never hope to become Michael Jordan no matter how hard I try.”

“Talent… huh.”

“You probably caught on a little already.”

Geunsoo gestured towards the exit as he turned to Miso.

“I’ll go out for a bit. You guys aren’t practicing right away, right?”

“We’ll rest for a bit.”

“Good, good. I’ll be borrowing this kid, then.”

Geunsoo put his arm around Maru. Maru looked at Miso, who just nodded silently.

“Let’s go.”

Geunsoo started dragging Maru towards the exit. But right before stepping out, he stopped himself with a small “oops” and walked towards Geunseok.

Geunseok seemed oddly nervous. Surprising.

“Good job,” Geunsoo said. He turned around after giving his little brother a few pats on the back.

It wasn’t very hard to notice the boy’s lips turn upwards in response.

“I heard the rooftop is open. Let’s go there.”

“It looks like both you and the instructor like going to the rooftop for conversations, huh?”

“I mean, that place was our home base. The acting club’s home base. We practiced a ton there. We had the keys to the place, actually.”

“Aha.”

Geunsoo looked around for a second after opening the rooftop door.

“It’s the same as ever, huh,” he commented.

“It’s concrete, after all.”

“Can’t you at least try to be emotional?”

Geunseok waved Maru over to the balance beam next to the railings. The thing had rotted to the point of almost collapsing.

“Daaang, this didn’t go anywhere either. We put this here to use as a chair.”

“I see.”

“Wow! Nothing changed at all here!”

“You didn’t come here for a while, I see.”

“Me? It’s been a full decade.”

“You didn’t come here after graduating at all?”

“Why would I? The only reason why I would ever come here is to see big bro Taesik, but I see that dude outside the school all the time.”

Maru nodded. The man seemed incredibly free to him. Unbound like the wind. Unlike a leaf that follows wherever the wind goes, but the wind itself, free to choose where it wants to go.

“I don’t actually like to say this kind of stuff to kids, but I’ll tell you this since you seem to be pretty centered. I didn’t live that long, but from my experience… No one is born equal.”

“No one’s born equal?”

“Yeah. You can even look at a person’s physique to decide. Tall people, short people. Handsome people, ugly people. Rich people, poor people. No matter how much society tries to make people equal, there’s a very clear class divide no matter where you look.”

Maru nodded. This much was somewhat agreeable. It was the reason why he decided to give up on corporate life after 45 years. He couldn’t take it after seeing his junior receive a promotion faster than him. Especially when he clearly did more work than his junior.

‘I was innocent.’

He had no idea why this was the case back then. But he realized later on that this junior was the president’s son. In the end, nepotism was better than actual results.

“People are never equal. That’s why they all have different talents they’re good at.”

Geunsoo looked down at the field below. Maru took a look down as well.

“That kid over there might be talented at soccer. That kid playing basketball might actually be a table tennis genius. That kid sitting over there might be the future Shaquille O'Neal.”

Geunsoo continued talking as he stretched his arms a bit.

“But no one knows what kind of talent they have. Schools are built so that they can learn about their talents, but… you should know better than me that they usually hurt more than they help.”

Geunsoo started walking.

“Elementary school is, well… there for elementary education. Then middle school. Middle school’s there so you can start getting an idea of what you’re good at. At least, that’s the purpose of schools that the government always talks about, but in reality? You’re just being pushed into a chicken coop to study all day. How are you supposed to find your talents in the meantime? It’s hard. Incredibly difficult. But sometimes, the crazies still manage to stand out from the crowd. Like me, for example. Oh, this is a self-complement, if you couldn’t tell. Anyways, if you think about it, the crazies are the ones to really learn from school.”

Geunsoo grinned. For sure, the man had thought much about school. Miso definitely wasn’t lying about intelligence being necessary in becoming an actor.

“Han Maru, was it?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Me?”

What did Maru want to do? He decided to answer honestly.

“I want to find a job that can feed my family without worries.”

Geunsoo snapped his fingers in understanding.

“So that’s the reason why you’re hesitating. I get it now.”

“Do you have any advice?”

“Nope, not at all.”

“Excuse me?”

“I don’t think I’m in a position to say things about someone else’s life. The only thing I can do is try to drag other people into acting. Just as I did 13 years ago. But you’re already in the acting club, so there’s nothing more that I can do.”

Geunsoo walked back to the door.

“Keep thinking. Keep hesitating, and then make your decision. You’re still going to regret it in the end, but that’s just life.”

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