Chapter 54

“...Phew.”

It was 6AM. Maru got dressed and stepped out into the living room. Everyone was still asleep in the house, so he made sure to try to be as quiet as possible.

“Summer is summer, huh.”

The sun was already coming up, despite the time. He breathed in deeply expecting some cool morning air, but it wasn’t even that cool. It was August now. Two weeks after summer break started. Maru shook his hands and feet, thinking about how fast time was passing for him.

His dad was the first to greet him after he came back from a run around the park nearby.

“Been out for a run?”

“Yes. It’s a bit hot out.”

“Of course it is. It’s midsummer. Your mom’s still sleeping, so try to be quiet.”

“Yes. Good luck at work.”

“Sure, thanks. You work hard as well.”

“Yessir.”

Maru chugged a cup of water after bidding farewell to his dad. As he tilted his head back forward after drinking, he noticed a family picture in front of him. In the photo, his smiling dad was holding two small children. There weren’t any white hairs on his head back then. Maru looked back. He did see quite a few white hairs on his dad’s head a moment ago.

‘He’s getting… old. Hopefully nothing happens to him.’

It’d be nice if he knew if anything happens to his family in the future, but unfortunately his memory was fairly blurry in that department. The only thing he remembered to begin with was his sister’s divorce.

‘I suppose saving a person’s life does change the future immensely.’

Any memories that might allow him to have a significant impact on society was gone. Just like memories about his family. It seemed that god wanted to place an equal value on a person’s life and the flow of money.

‘What a kind god.’

It’d be nice if this god worked a little harder to achieve a fairer society. At least that would prevent good people from giving up on life.

After thinking of a few more things on a similar vein, Maru stepped out of the shower. It was a good time to stop. Especially when he started thinking about why god existed.

God would do God's job, and Maru would do Maru’s job. He was in no place to worry about an omnipotent dude’s life.

Maru made breakfast and woke up his mom. At some point, mom gave up on her side job due to a pain in her wrist. She said she could work again after a few days of rest, but gave up after dad and Maru got together to stop her.

“You should’ve slept more. I could’ve made breakfast,” mom said, grabbing a spoon in front of her.

She’s been repeating that same line for the last few days, but she hasn’t gotten out of the bed herself as of late. She was looking a lot better after she stopped working as well. To the point where she was going out for daily exercises, even.

“Don’t worry and just eat. How’s your hand?”

“It’s fine now. What’s up with you boys and worrying so much?”

Mom still smiled as she said this. She must be feeling a bit thankful.

“I’ll be going to work then.”

“Right, be careful of cars.”

“Sure.”

Maru stepped outside with a cap on. As soon as summer break started, he found himself a part time job at a gas station. He was able to start immediately, since they just started looking for a short term part timer themselves. The pay was 2800 won an hour. Quite a lot for a gas station.

The auntie who took care of the gas station’s food was the first to greet him when he arrived.

“You’re here, Maru? Here, have some cold seaweed soup.”

“Thank you.”

After drinking some of the icy soup, Maru put on his oil-stained work clothes and got right to work. There were two gas stations side by side next to a 6-lane road. This was a place where daily revenue would change depending on how good the employees were at catching attention.

Maru waved a towel towards the cars with blinking headlights.

“Sir!! We have the best gas here, promise! I’ll wipe down your windows if you come here! Come, come!”

Maybe it was because they saw Maru’s frantic handwaves, but some of the cars that were about to go into the other gas station turned to come to him.

“Come on man. That’s a little too much.”

An employee in a blue uniform complained from the other station. Despite what he was saying though, he didn’t look all that annoyed.

“I’m sorry!”

“You should just come here instead. They pay you 2800 over there, right? We’ll give you a 100 more.”

“I can’t be THAT rude to the manager here. I’ll go over there during my winter break though.”

“Sure, sure.”

The man walked back into the building, fiddling playfully with one of his gloves. There was a reason why he didn’t care so much about what Maru did just now.

Right under the logo of Maru’s gas station were the words, “brothers gas station”. The managers of the two gas stations… were brothers.

“Welcome!”

There were a lot of cars coming in. Probably because it was the beginning of summer. No matter how hard Maru worked, he could never get the line of cars to decrease.

* * *

“Here, have some food!”

The manager called Maru over. Maru switched places with the midshift and stepped up to the office. He sat down to eat with the manager, two employees, and the auntie.

“You’re made for the market, aren’t you? You have quite the voice,” said one of the employees.

The manager smiled brightly in response.

“Our revenue did go up, recently.”

“Probably just because of the season. I didn’t do much.”

“Haha, look at how humble this kid is, big bro. Can’t see kids like these too often nowadays.”

Maru smiled embarrassedly in response.

“Maru, would you like to try washing buses?”

“Washing?”

“The guy in charge of it had to resign. Want to do it while we look for someone to take over?”

“Sure, the tips would be nice.”

The machines usually made quick work of the buses, but a person did have to stay at the end to make sure the machines didn’t miss anything. It was a tiring job, but if done well, Maru would score some tips from the bus drivers occasionally.

“You should be able to do well. Oh, and by the way, how long are you here for, by the way?”

“Summer break ends on the 24th, so probably before then. I’ll tell you a week prior.”

“Wow, look at him. This kid really looks like he’s had a few jobs before.”

“Seriously.”

Maru took a quick swig of the makgeolli that the employees offered him. The cold drink washed away the heat inside him immediately. After clearing his bowl of rice, he stood up from his spot.

“I’ll get back to work, then.”

“You should rest.”

“I rested plenty. I’d rather not spend my hours getting paid on slacking off.”

“Haha, sure. Here, take this, Maru. It’s ice water. You can just go straight to the car wash area.”

Maru walked off to where he was pointed with a nod.

* * *

5pm. Maru took off his work clothes after the manager told him to come in.

‘I actually earned quite a bit.’

Maru took out the 5,000 won and 1,0000 won bills from his uniform and stuck it inside his pants. The bus drivers seemed rather happy about a younger kid cleaning their buses so well. If he added the 20,000 won that a truck driver gave him earlier, he’s earned more than 50,000 from tips alone today. Well over his daily wage.

“It’s time for you to go home, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Are you doing anything during dinnertime, Maru?”

“Nothing, really.”

“You should have dinner here then. We’re going out for oyster barbeque.”

“Can I join?”

“Of course you can!”

Maru decided to stay. He was quite the big fan of oysters. He sat down on the office sofa and tried to take out his phone. Right there, he noticed a bike magazine sitting on the table in front of him.

‘Bicycle life?’

If memory serves, this was one of the few Korean biking magazines out right now. He picked up the magazine and started flipping through it. This specific issue seemed to be about mountain biking.

“You must like biking a lot, sir.”

“Me? With this body? Stop it with the jokes,” said the manager, slapping his belly lightly.

“Oh, is this someone else’s?”

“No...”

The man trailed off a little bit. He smiled a little bitterly before walking over to the sofa. He opened one of the drawers below the table to reveal many more bike magazines. He picked up one of them.

This one wasn’t even unwrapped.

“My son seems to like them.”

“Your son?”

“Yes. I know he really likes bikes, but not much more than that. I bought these to study, but I have no idea what any of them are talking about. Before I knew it, they kind of multiplied like this.”

Maru picked up the dusty magazine. This one was a foreign one. Filled with english, from top to bottom. It must’ve cost a fair amount for the man to buy this.

“Ugh, I don’t even know how it happened.”

“Is there a problem?”

“...It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t be talking about stuff like this with a kid.”

The manager put the magazine back in the drawer. A father who studies to understand his son…

“You’re a good father.”

The man’s face stiffened slightly. He shook his head lightly.

“I’m not a very good father.”

“If you’re trying this hard, I’d say you’re pretty good.”

“...You talk like you’re my age, you know that? You definitely don’t talk like a teenager.”

“I did age quite a bit mentally.”

“Hahaha, so you say.”

“I don’t know what’s going on, but why don’t you try talking to your son? Any child would be a fan of a father that tries this hard.”

“I wish. But it’s been quite a while since I last spoke to my son. I don’t really know what to say to him.”

“How long...”

“About two years.”

“Two years?”

“I’m a bad father. I should’ve paid more attention.”

The man sat back down on the sofa after standing up to leave. He took off his baseball cap to lightly graze his sweaty hair.

“He used to follow me everywhere when he was young. I would play with him a lot, too. But I paid him less attention whenever I got busy. I have an older daughter, too. She’s turning twenty nine this year. My son is about your age. Maru, you said you were a first year in high school, right?”

“Yes. Your son was born quite late, wasn’t he?”

“He was. He used to follow his big sister so well, but then… Hah, I wonder why I’m even telling you this. So sorry for making you sit through this.”

The man stood up, whispering to himself, “to think I’m being consoled by a kid...”

“It doesn’t matter who the listener is, if all you need to do is to rant. If you ever feel conflicted, just tell me. I’ll be there to listen. Ah, I’ll be taking pay, though.”

“Hah, you have a real way with words. You’ll do well out in society.”

Just “well”? I’ve already lived that life for over a decade.

Maru smiled lightly and accepted a cup of tea from the manager.

“By the way, Maru”.

“Yes?”

“You look like you’d be good at studying. Why didn’t you just do that? That’d help your life more.”

The man stared at him worryingly, which made him scratch his head awkwardly.

“I’m not really suited for studying. I studied more than most people, but I just can’t focus afterwards.”

“You were really into that book when you were resting the other day, though?”

“That’s the weird part. It’s almost like god’s telling me I’m not suited to studying. At this point, I might as well just accept it as a fact.”

“Look at you, worrying about life already. Well, it somehow suits you though. Don’t try so hard to make chump change though. I wouldn’t tell other kids this, you know?”

“Studying isn’t the only way, just one of them.”

“Haha. I know you’re smart, so I’ll believe you for now.”

Maru smiled. He was thankful that the manager worried about him enough to tell him this. He was studying more than enough as is. Enough to get third place in class. As long as he studied hard enough, he might even be able to go to a college in Seoul.

‘I have no idea where I want to go, though...’

Maru looked around the gas station. It’d be nice to run a place like this, as long as he had the money. He doesn’t have any though, so that’s a pass.

“Rest up.”

The manager ran outside as soon as he saw a car come in.

* * *

An oyster shell popped open on top of a coal grill. Maru took the last one. After dipping it in the chili sauce, he took his gloves off.

“You should eat more,” the manager said.

“I ate plenty. Ah, auntie, thank you for the food.”

The auntie gave Maru a roast sweet potato as he was about to leave. One of the employees commented, “She’s never given me one after all these years. So sad, so sad,” as they watched from the side.

“I’ll be going then, sir.”

“Alright, be safe.”

“Yes.”

Maru stepped outside after saying his farewells. He got out of the red gas station, and stepped past the blue one. The manager from the blue station noticed Maru and gave him a wave. Maru bowed again. As he made his way over to his bike, his phone vibrated.

A message. He took it out to check who sent it.

“...They’re doing well, aren’t they?”

Maru put down his phone to look at the sky for a second. The moon was shining especially bright tonight.

[Yo, Maru! We got first place! The prize was 300,000 won!]

It was from Dojin.

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