Chapter 55

“Have you been here before?”

Bada was pretty amazed watching her brother navigate Dongdaemun market like it was his home.

Dongdaemun market. It was the place to be if you were short on cash but still needed clothes. Bada was planning on coming here with friends before summer break ended, but they had a hard time scheduling. She gave up on going with them and came with her big brother instead.

‘Come to think of it, I’ve been to a lot of places with him.’

It was almost as if her brother became an entirely different person after going to high school. She found it cringey and weird at first, but at some point she became used to it. After the break started, she even went out to watch a lot of movies with him. Lots of restaurants, too.

Her brother was the one who asked her to go. At first, when she told her friends about it, they all thought he was planning something. But when this treatment continued, her friends’ words changed.

Your brother’s so kind. Or nice. Or both. To be honest, Bada was pretty proud to hear that. At the same time, she wondered even more as to why he became like this.

“A few times,” her brother answered her.

A few times? When? Bada stuck close to her brother. There were too many people here, and she didn’t want to get lost in the crowd.

“If you want to go somewhere for clothes, go to apm, doota, or migliore. The people over in this part of the market don’t like dealing with students. They tend to just overcharge and be done with it.”

“But you’re a student too.”

“I have experience already, you know?”

Maru stepped into the market with a grin.

Later that day, Maru entered a restaurant near the market. After ordering some food, he inquired while watching his sister admire her new clothes.

“Satisfied?”

“Of course! I should definitely come with friends next time. I got everything for so cheap! Thanks.”

“Make sure to only go to the places I told you about, then.”

“Sure. But by the way, are you really fine using all your money like that?”

“You can always pay me back when you grow up. Also, when you need more allowance from now, just come to me. You know how hard mom’s working, don’t you?”

“Ah, yeah.”

Bada’s excited expression immediately fell.

“Don’t get so sad all of the sudden. You can do whatever you want.”

The lady at the kitchen brought them the food Maru ordered. When Maru handed Bada a fork and a plate, she looked at him a bit strangely.

“Um, brother?”

“What?”

“You’re not sick, are you?”

She seemed incredibly worried about him. How cute.

“I’ve just turned seventeen. Why’d I be sick?”

“No, you’re just treating me too well.”

“So, you don’t like it?”

“No, of course I like it.”

“Well, that’s fine then. Let’s eat. We should go back before the sun sets.”

Bada started eating with a nod. She happily munched on some fries, seemingly forgetting about her worries. Maru watched her for a bit before turning to look at some of his own spoils. They were leather gloves and a hankerchief for his dad, and a coat for his mom. They were on sale right now, so Maru didn’t hesitate to grab them. Since he was able to haggle down the price a little bit more with the lady who had them, he considered this a great success.

‘Bada’s happy, too.’

He still remembered hearing about how his sister was divorced in his past life. He also remembered his distinct lack of empathy. Back then, the relationship between the two was practically that of strangers. No, even worse. He probably would’ve felt more sorry for a divorced stranger. In this life, his sister was smiling at him very happily.

‘Perhaps this is why god likes to give people second chances.’

He silently thanked the grandma who gave him the chance to live again. If not for her, his sister would still be a stranger to him.

“Want more?”

“Yeah!”

Maru ordered another serving of food from the lady in the kitchen.

* * *

Maru’s mom couldn’t say anything even after looking at what was inside the paper bag.

“You don’t like it?”

“No, of course I do. Where did you get the money, though?”

“I work, remember?”

“You should’ve used that money for yourself.”

“Bah, just take it. I know how few clothes you have in the closet. Just try it on during winter. It’s not that expensive, but you can even show it off if you want to. Also, this is for dad.”

Maru’s mom felt her heart tighten a little. Since when did her son become this mature? She wouldn’t feel worried even if she ended up letting him go right now. He looked like he would be able to take care of himself. On the other hand, she was a little sad. To think her son wouldn’t need her help anymore… Her nose started to tingle a little bit. Tears threatened to stream down her face at any moment.

“You should rest.”

Maru stood up and left the room. He knew exactly what was going through her mind. Maru’s mom started wiping off her tears just as the door closed. After a few more seconds, she fumbled around to find her phone, and began calling a friend of hers.

“Oh, hey, Yoonji’s mom? Yeah, it’s me. No, it’s nothing serious. But my son recently bought me this coat. Yeah, with his money. It’s amazing. I tell him I don’t need stuff like this, but he keeps giving me more. First he gets third place in his class, and now this… hohoho.”

Maru’s mom continued calling all of her friends after this. The beginning of the phone call was always the same.

“You see, my son...”

* * *

“I worked pretty hard,” Maru said, looking at a calendar on his table.

He had three days left until school began. He stopped working two days ago, and his manager ended up tacking on 200 won more on his hourly wage for his last paycheck.

[You worked hard.]

The manager was a rare person to see. From a manager’s perspective, it was difficult for them to care so much about a part-timer. They should know better than anyone how scary an extra hundred or two hundred won on an hourly wage could be.

[We should eat together some time.]

Perhaps that was why one of the most commonly used lies in Korea didn’t sound so light this time. Maru took out the white envelope he put in his drawer.

“400,000 won left, huh.”

He should probably be fine until winter break, as long as he didn’t waste too much money. He wasn’t going to get a job during the summer, but he changed his mind after watching his mom hurt her hand. Having some money was better than having none, after all.

After previewing some of the material he would be learning in the second semester of school, Maru laid down on the floor. He had texts from a few of his friends asking to play games, but they were ignored. He decided not to play anything outside of a set time.

As he was scrolling through the pages of a book in his hand, his phone began to ring loudly.

[Instructor Miso]

He stared for a few seconds before turning the phone down to silent mode. He got back to reading a book.

“To further one’s greed, and to return to propriety.”

He hadn’t thought about that phrase in a long while. It was a sentence derived from Confucius. Back in his past, he spent considerable amount of time thinking about what humanity was because of it. Especially back when he worked as a road manager.

“Do not watch what is improper; do not listen to what is improper; do not speak improperly, and do not act improperly.”

After speaking what sounded like a chant, Maru smiled.

“I still remember it, huh.”

He ended up memorizing the words at some point. It was a quote from Confucius, to ignore all that was improper. Those words spoke to him quite deeply back in his road managing days. But…

“To further one’s greed, and to return to propriety.”

Those words didn’t resonate with him so deeply this time around. Was it because of the times, or was it because he fundamentally changed as a person? Maybe it was because he realized that reality wasn’t kind enough to let people chase after ideals. As he thought, he turned another page of his book.

Right then, his phone started vibrating. It was Daemyung. Looking at his clock, it was already past 9pm.

‘Why’s he calling now?’

He put his phone next to his face as he thought this. At the same time,

- Oh, so you’re willing to ignore MY call?!!

Miso’s screams hit him straight in the ears.

* * *

‘Pretty cool tonight.’

Maru stepped out of the house dressed in a brown cardigan, white shirt, shorts and slippers. If he just lost those cardigans, he’d look like an old man on the streets.

[Come out. You have ten minutes.]

His ears were still ringing a little from Miso’s shout. To think she’d call him with Daemyung’s phone… He really couldn’t ignore him. She even said she was near his home. How’d she know that?

“I wonder if Dojin told her.”

Maru stepped into the streets with his slippers. Every convenience store on it was opening their parasols and were selling beer. Pubs were doing great. It was a cool friday night, after all. As Maru walked down the road for a bit, he found a bbq store. One that sold thin-sliced pork. Even from here, he could hear loud noises coming from one of the outdoor tables.

“Ugh,”

It was the acting club. He got the message about them getting first place around two weeks ago, winning 300,000 won. Were they celebrating?

Soyeon was the first to notice him. The girl raised her chopstick hand a little awkwardly in greeting. The other members of the club all looked at him as a result.

“Hey! Maru!”

Miso waved him closer with a shout. Instead of stepping right in there, Maru assessed the kids for a little bit.

Awkward smiles.

Expressionless faces.

A little bit of hostility,

and a few apologetic looks.

Everyone had different expressions on their faces.

‘Well, I did expect this.’

Maru walked towards the table. He said hello to Miso, then gave a nod to the second years.

“Why did you ignore my calls?”

“I was tired.”

“Why didn’t you ignore Daemyung’s?”

“I wasn’t that tired.”

“You!”

Miso tried to get Maru into a headlock. Maru just stepped back a little to avoid it.

“Oh?”

“Did you drink?”

Maru could smell the alcohol from the woman’s mouth. Her face was pretty red, too. Come to think of it, she said she called Taesik out to talk with whenever she got drunk. Did she talk a lot whenever she drinks?

‘Then again, she talks a lot even without alcohol.’

Maru ignored Miso and sat down on the table. He wasn’t planning on making things awkward for himself, so he started eating immediately.

“So, who’s paying?”

“The instructor is. She wanted to see us before school began.”

“Aha.”

Maru nodded. They must’ve used the money they won from the competition already. He should’ve expected this. Miso was the only person who’s willing to call on him now. Maru took a few bites of the food, thinking that he should leave after eating a little bit. Dojin tried to talk to him, but Maru just shook his head in response.

The entire table had become quiet. Maru told the lot of them ‘congrats on winning’ and ‘the food is delicious’ before putting down his chopsticks.

“Thank you for the food, instructor.”

He stood up from his seat. The entire club looked at him.

“I’ll be leaving. You guys can talk now.”

He noticed a few members twitching their mouths, visible indications that they had something to say. Maru decided to ignore them. There was one reason why many people hated social gatherings. Because they’d have to eat food with people they disliked. And…

Right now, that person everyone disliked was him.

‘Well, at least I feel pretty full.’

Maru stepped out into the road with a satisfied smile. But before he could take another step, someone grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. He was pulled with enough force to make him lose his balance, yet he was able to backpedal and turned around easily.

“.....”

As he expected, it was Miso who pulled him. The woman was looking at him with difficulty written across her face.

“Can we talk?”

“You know you can’t leave them right now. You’re the center of the club’s attention. If you want to talk, just call me. I’ll take it this time.”

Maru turned back around, ready to go back to his house. But.

“...Let’s talk. Ugh, please! I’m sorry! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I… Waah. I’m sorry! I’m really sorry!”

Miso sat down on the sidewalk and started crying. Watching a woman nearing her thirties cry in the middle of the road was… quite a shocking and confusing sight. Especially if that said woman was pulling on your shorts!

“I-Instructor! My pants are going to come off!”

“Waaaah! I said I’m sorry! I did!”

She was way more drunk than she made herself look out to be, huh. Maru quickly turned to look back at the restaurant. The club members were all looking away with an embarrassed expression. This only made Maru more embarrassed in turn.

In the end…

“Fine, fine. I’ll talk, so please let go. Before you actually take my pants off.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Sniff.”

Miso stood up, pretending as if the last thirty seconds didn’t happen. It was so ridiculous to see that Maru almost let out a laugh.

‘She must make a ton of people tired when she drinks.’

Maru couldn’t help but think of Taesik for a second. To think he had to deal with this for ten straight years?

‘He’s the reincarnation of Buddha. He must be. Or Jesus.’

Maru shook his head as he propped Miso up with his leg.

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