Chapter 571

“My first impressions of the theater were literally the worst. The seats were cramped, the air was damp, and there were even some cracks on the wall, making me feel uneasy. But what could I do? I had no choice but to go there since that girl was there.”

Joongjin faintly smiled.

“On my first day in Daehak-ro, I met Haejoo, and after that, I followed her to Yecheon. The small theater that I thought I would never get used to made me realize that smaller theaters had their own charms after I went there a few times. Going to that building where Yecheon was after work and filling an empty seat - this became my schedule every weekend. I watched the same play over and over again, and I naturally got to know the people of the troupe as well. I wasn’t that social, though, so most of the time I went back home after watching. Of course, the reason I went there is also because of Haejoo. But as I said earlier, I wasn’t honest with my emotions. That’s why I made up an excuse. I told them that I wanted to help them because I liked the theater troupe so much.”

“How romantic.”

“It might sound like that, but I was actually just afraid. I sort of realized that I would get hurt if I approached that girl and got rejected. The reason I probably didn’t choose to take the straightforward path was perhaps because I was afraid of getting hurt. Back then, I didn’t know what it meant to clash head on and get kicked. I told you before, right? That I hate the word genius. However, in terms of earning money, I actually accept that term. Back then, I was receiving more benefits than I was putting in. I was quite timely with my work as well. I only knew that the vague thing known as failures existed, as I never actually experienced one for myself. Perhaps that’s what made me even more afraid. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to return to my ordinary life once I fell over.”

“Is that why you kept circling around us?”

Jinjoo had joined in on the conversation as well. Her daughter Gaeul had left the store just a while ago. It seemed that she went back home.

“That’s how it was. Also, why does it feel like I’m in a confession session at a church? Do I need to keep going?”

“I want to keep listening,” Maru quickly said.

Junmin and Joongjin, while he had some interest in the events that occurred between these two, he was more interested in the lady named Jung Haejoo. Junmin, Joongjin, and also Joohyun. He was curious about the identity of the person, who these three people who were known to be top-rate in their respective fields, kept reminiscing about to this day.

“Keep going. When else would I be able to get you to talk about something like this?”

Some light snacks were placed on the bar. Joongjin made a sour expression before continuing the story after putting a piece of jelly in his mouth.

“Circling around, the expression you used is the perfect fit, Mrs. Jinjoo. It was true that I was attracted to Haejoo, but it was a bit vague, and I didn’t have the courage to resolve that vagueness. When I got closer to the other members of the troupe, I kinda started feeling that that kind of situation wasn’t so bad. It was around that time that I started helping the operation of the theater troupe financially after hearing that they were having a hard time.”

“I heard that it was several months’ worth of rent. Your help was really big.”

“It’s not like I had anything else to use it on.”

Maru exclaimed. It was unimaginable for him to pay several months’ worth of rent out of goodwill alone.

“Unfortunately, some problems appeared after that. There was a sense of distance. The way the theater troupe treated me changed and it reminded me of how I treated my clients. I really gave that money without thinking, but they seemed to think that the money contained a lot of meaning.”

“Well, I guess it did feel like that a little,” Jinjoo said.

Maru asked Jinjoo about it.

“Were you perhaps at Yecheon as well?”

“I wasn’t affiliated with the troupe. I went there a lot because my husband over there had been working there for a while. I was still in college back then. Daehak-ro is filled with romance, right? I practically lived there during holidays, and I helped out when I could. That’s when I met our director Park over here and talked to him. Ah, this makes me think of Joohyun.”

“Was senior Ahn Joohyun also a member of Yecheon?”

“No, she was a student back then. She was a peculiar girl who came around every day. Though she strangely didn’t meet Joongjin-oppa that much, I think? Joohyun usually didn’t visit on weekends, when Joongjin-oppa came the most. Well, the two were close though. Isn’t that right, oppa?”

“I’m not entirely sure about that.”

Joongjin shrugged.

Jinjoo crossed her arms after saying hm.

“Anyway, back then, we talked about a lot of things internally. Someone who was no different from a complete stranger suddenly gave us a lot of money. Honestly speaking, Yecheon back then wasn’t some great theater troupe that was worth investing in. When my husband was working there for a brief moment, he was saying that it was finally going to go out of business that year. After all, the members were doing part time jobs and collected what money they had to pay for the rent. They only lasted because they loved Yecheon. Otherwise, we would have been thrown out a long time ago.”

“So smaller theaters weren’t that good back then either.”

“I didn’t major in acting, so I can’t comment about other theaters, but with Yecheon, they were in a really bad situation financially. My husband also just went there to help because someone asked him to. He didn’t get any payment besides food expenses. In that sense, he’s quite cool.”

Jinjoo waved at Jincehol who was sitting by the window. Jincheol stared at her for a while before waving back. Maru looked at the two and thought that they were a couple that suited each other.

“Then something happened. I think that was when you started coming less and less, right?”

Joongjin silently nodded when Jinjoo said those words.

“What happened?” Maru asked.

“Someone ran off with the money. I think it was around 1 million won back then.”

1 million won during the mid 80s was a considerably large sum. Some money suddenly appeared for the theater troupe who were in a bad financial situation, and a member ran off with that money. Joongjin would feel very awkward about it. After all, the money he gave them out of goodwill caused problems.

“That kind of thing happened, but the members didn’t make a big deal about it. In fact, they apologized to me, saying that they lost some of the money I gave them. Of course, I found out not too long later that it was stolen, not lost, but they did not resent or report the member that ran off with the money. It was pretty amazing.”

“Everyone had similar feelings after all, and everyone had it hard,” Jinjoo said.

“Even though it was called the 3-low era[1], not everyone had the benefit of that after all. Whether then or now, people who do acting have glass wallets. It’s because I knew that that I didn’t feel that bad about it. In fact, I came to like them even more because they were honest with me about it and because they just forgot about the member that left them to focus on their work. However, from that moment onwards, I never handed them my money directly. It would be quite troublesome if the same thing happened again after all. Instead, I only gave them money on the day they had to pay rent to the landowner. The people of Yecheon refused my money after that, but I wanted to give them the money. That place was my resting place after all.”

Joongjin quenched his thirst with some water. He looked past the window when he talked about the past.

“However, that incident did make me feel a little cautious. It was just as Mrs. Jinjoo said. I didn’t go there for a month, thinking about our future relationships. When I went back after that, that person was there. I’m talking about president Lee Junmin who was wearing that worn-out yellow suit. Oh, of course, back then, he was just the president of a small agency without any achievements at all.”

“So the president got to know about Yecheon back then, huh.”

“He came to the theater for Haejoo, just like me. A man, who quit his life as a nameless actor and started a management business suddenly came up to Haejoo and told her that she couldn’t act in a place like this.”

Joongjin laughed self-loathingly.

“It was incredibly rude. Even I was angry and I didn’t even belong to Yecheon. What would the other people of Yecheon think? There was total chaos. The place they’ve tried so hard to maintain, even going as far as giving up their ordinary life became ‘a place like this’ due to a few words from a man wearing a worn-out suit.”

“The president had a sharp tongue back then too, huh.”

“That’s his nature. He was chased out of the theater, but he kept knocking on the doors persistently after that. When he paid for the ticket and came as a customer, the troupe couldn’t say anything to him either. Lee Junmin, that man, kept talking to Haejoo. That she could improve further, and that she had to go to a bigger stage.”

Joongjin looked a little angry as he said those words. As for who he was angry at, Maru didn’t know.

“They say sincerity is the way of heaven, right? It was the theater troupe that started saying that they should listen to that man even though they’ve been giving him the cold shoulder this whole time. When I saw that, and I’m being honest here, I didn’t think anything of it. That was because I didn’t know anything about acting back then after all. I did get the impression that the acting displayed in Yecheon lacked something to attract more audience, but I didn’t have a solution to that. Supporting them financially was the only thing I could do.”

No, that’s actually not it - Joongjin smiled with a sigh.

“I felt that they couldn’t improve further. To be precise, I never thought that Haejoo’s acting was anything special. She was definitely an attractive girl, but if you asked me if she was charming as an actress, I would hesitate to answer. Yet in that situation, Lee Junmin, that man had such confidence in himself when he said that she can do better. Now that I think about it, I was perhaps just jealous of that man who could talk to Haejoo with such confidence. After that, Haejoo changed, surprisingly. On top of the charm she gave off as a human being, she gained the charm of an actress. I even felt weirded out by her. I wondered if it was really possible for someone’s skill level to rise so dramatically. It wasn’t just Haejoo. The entire theater troupe improved. Of course, they didn’t have that many customers so their skills weren’t really known by others, but I had a feeling back then. Ah, a star will be born here in Daehak-ro.”

The first actress that president Lee Junmin nurtured. Maru thought back to the figure of the lady in the photo again. What kind of acting did a woman, who the president did not hesitate to use the word genius for, do?

“I stayed close with the theater troupe back then. President Lee Junmin was always with us as well. However, he and I didn’t talk that much. That was the case even while drinking. The reason I didn’t talk to him was because Haejoo was next to him. The reason he didn’t talk to me was probably because he noticed my feelings towards her. When I saw with my own two eyes that president Lee Junmin was the one next to Haejoo, and realized that the relationship between the two wasn’t that ordinary, I finally became honest with my own feelings. Ah, I am in love with this woman.”

Joongjin gulped down some water.

“Not too long later, Haejoo’s debut piece was set. President Lee Junmin was good at running a business back then too, so he actually managed to snatch a pretty good piece considering that his business had just taken off. We held a party in the theater troupe. I congratulated her as well. I could no longer like her, but a pretty close acquaintance was making her debut after all. Furthermore, on that day, I was confessed to.”

“Confessed to?” Maru asked.

Joongjin, who had a heavy smile on his face this whole time, looked like he had shaken everything off for the first time.

“By Haejoo, that is. She actually liked me. I felt like I was smashed on the head with a hammer. It meant that I would be the one standing next to her had I had the courage. However, human nature was devious and I also had this thought - why did she not tell me before? When I asked her that, Haejoo told me this: that confession was not a challenge but a confirmation. I understood after hearing her words. It was me who just funded them from afar while not expressing my feelings towards her even once. In a time I didn’t know, her one-sided love had reached its end, and president Lee appeared in front of her. Moreover, president Lee was someone who knew her true worth. It was clear who she would choose.”

Joongjin stopped and checked the time. He said ‘it’s dinner time’ in a small voice.

“I’ve talked a long time about such an old love story, huh. To wrap things up, it’s simple. I dislike president Lee. I dislike him because he was the man who received Haejoo’s love, and I dislike him because he couldn’t take responsibility for her until the end. Ever since Haejoo passed away, he had become a cold businessman who never experienced failure. However, it was already too late for him. He had to be a businessman who did not fail before Haejoo passed away. I hate it so much that the first ever failure he made was Haejoo.”

Joongjin stood up from his seat, saying that he wanted to go to the bathroom. Maru looked at Jinjoo, who was sitting in front of him.

“May I ask how she passed away?”

“Hm, it was a traffic accident. When the accident happened, my husband and I had left Yecheon and were focusing on college, so I didn’t hear specifically what happened, but that I can be sure of. On the day of the accident, Haejoo met president Lee Junmin. That’s why back then, we even talked about how she might have lived if she did not meet the president that day.”

Maru groaned. If it was like that, he could understand Joongjin’s hostility. ‘What if’ was a really useless assumption, but people couldn’t help but think about such things after all. Had she not met Junmin that day - everyone who loved the woman named Jung Haejoo should have thought about the same thing that day.

He was then reminded of president Lee Junmin’s strict expression.

Perhaps that was a mask he put on?

Perhaps, there was a man who still struggled in the agonizing sadness beneath that mask?

“Phew, it’s time for dinner, huh,” Jinjoo said.

[1] A period in South Korea in the mid 1980s when: 1. The dollar was low; 2. Oil prices were low; and 3. Interests were low.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

KTLChamber's Thoughts

There you have it. Haejoo's back story, told from Joongjin's perspective. What does everyone think?

Editor's note:
Oh boi. Blaming other people for your mistakes, for your regrets, and hurting both sides for a lifetime to cope. Life sucks. That's what is happening in my kdrama (hometown cha cha cha if you're curious) right now. So much pain.