“Did you get back home safely back then?”
“I was slightly worried because you were so rushed. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Sorry, I was so out of it back then. I tried to call you… I typed in your number several times, but I couldn’t bear to press the call button.”
“I understand how you feel. I wouldn’t have been able to do that either.”
“But I did call Gaeul-unni. Unni laughed a lot. She did say that it was okay, but I still felt sorry.”
“It’s okay since she said it’s okay. Liking someone isn’t a crime, you know? You met Gaeul during practice, right?”
“Did she say something to you? Or did she glare at you?”
“No, there was nothing like that. In fact, she told me not to worry about it.”
“Then you must know that there’s nothing to worry about, right? Just think of it as an accident.”
Yuna nodded. Maru saw a doubtful smile briefly appearing on her face before disappearing.
“Rather than that, I never imagined that the audition you passed was for this.”
“I was really surprised too when you first came here.”
“That’s why you grabbed your bag the moment you saw me? So that you could run?”
“That’s… no. Probably….”
Maru reached his hand out to Yuna.
“Since it’s like this, let’s try our best. I know that the awkward feelings won’t disappear immediately, but both you and I need to do this drama.”
“Are you okay with it?”
“Me? I’m okay. I told you, didn’t I? Liking someone isn’t a crime. In fact, I’m grateful. When else would I get to hear such an honest confession like that?”
“Don’t keep mentioning it. It’s making me embarrassed.”
“We’re going to have to see each other for a long time anyway. I’ll keep bringing it up until you get fed up with it. Maybe that way you’ll no longer feel awkward with me. Don’t you think so?”
“That’s true, but it also sounds wrong….”
Yuna hesitantly looked down. She met him again even though she didn’t have any time to take care of her feelings after the messed up confession, so Maru understood that she felt rather complicated, but he couldn’t afford to have her avoid it all the time. Maru shook his hand which he reached out.
“I’m asking you to take care of me in the future, are you not going to accept this handshake?”
Yuna became startled and grabbed his hand with both of her hands. Maru looked at the small hands that were grabbing onto his. She had her hands clasped as though she was praying.
“That’s a weird handshake, but anyway, take care of me in the future.”
He shook her hands up and down slightly. Yuna, who was smiling awkwardly, also loosened up a little. A sigh escaped her mouth. It seemed that she was very nervous. He took Yuna back to the café. He saw Jayeon waiting by the window.
“4 minutes and 48 seconds. You didn’t go past 5 minutes. From the way you look, it looks like things are okay now?”
Jayeon nodded and stood up.
“I hate starting things off awkwardly. If you’ve decided to do it, let’s do it properly like a pro. I don’t plan on interfering with your history, but like I said, there’s no privacy if it affects work. I will ask about everything. Take care of your matters so that something like that doesn’t happen. If I feel a strange sense of distance between you two before the shoot starts, I’m going to switch both of you out. I mean it so keep that in mind.”
Maru had seen that Jayeon wasn’t all bark and no bite during the audition. She was someone who would really switch them out if she said so. They left the building and got in Jayeon’s car. Inside the black SUV was a change of clothes, various scenarios, sketches of the stage, as well as some energy drinks.
“Push them aside and grab a seat,” Jayeon said.
Maru cleaned the items inside the car as he thought of Miso’s car. There was a pair of underwear on one of the seats, and Yuna stiffened up when she saw that. Maru wrapped the underwear with a t-shirt and put it on the passenger seat next to Jayeon. Jayeon gave them a glance before starting the car without saying anything.
“Have you ever been to a pojang-macha before?”
Maru said yes, while Yuna shook her head while saying no.
“Looks like Yuna will have to watch in detail today. You’ll only be able to reflect the feelings you get from the scene if you remember the scenery of the place you’re going to now. I’ll say this beforehand, but to be honest with you, I’m worried about you two the most. Not to mention acting experience, you have little experience with the world itself. This drama requires you to dissolve your livelihood into it. Of course, I’m not expecting anything amazing from you. I’m just asking you to hold back from doing awkward imitations. See and feel for yourself as much as possible and instill it into your acting. Don’t try to drag other people’s stuff into your own.”
After saying those words, Jayeon started driving.
“We’re now going to a pojang-macha. It’s the place that is the closest to what I’m thinking of. No, in some sense, it’s more than what I imagined. If it’s possible, we’re going to do the shoot here, and if that doesn’t happen, we’re going to recreate everything there as a set, so engrave the images into your mind.”
The radio announced that it was 9 p.m. Soon after that, shoulder-jerking rock music vibrated the air. Jayeon raised the volume. The whole car became a giant echo chamber, amplifying the sound. As Maru didn’t have any preferences for music, he just listened without feeling anything. The drums and bass didn’t sound too bad, resonating inside his body. He listened to the music without thinking much before he turned his head sideways. He saw Yuna scrunched up like a turtle with her hands clenched into fists. When an ear-screeching electric guitar flowed out from the speaker right next to Yuna, she twitched before closing her eyes.
“What is it?”
“Can you lower the volume a little?”
“Was it too loud? I don’t really drive with other people in the car, so sorry about that.”
Unlike what she seemed like on the surface, it didn’t seem like she was extremely self-centered. Jayeon turned down the volume and changed the channel as well. A calm voice from an announcer calmed down the air inside the car.
Maru rested his chin on his hand and looked outside. The car was entering a main street. The car crawled its way in between the various signs put out on the street. The distinction between the sidewalk and the road was quite vague here. The loud music from the speakers of various stores mixed with the loud shouts of drunk youths seeped into the car. The radio channel had changed back to the rock music channel from before. Fortunately, the volume wasn’t that loud.
“It’s a blessing to play around to your heart’s content, don’t you think?” Jayeon said while driving.
Her eyelids were moving like the shutter of a camera in burst mode. It seemed like a process of taking in the scenery of the street into her eyes. Perhaps she was gathering materials to use later.
The street that was divided into the heat of youth and the beauty of debauchery became distant and they entered a quiet, dark alley. To their left were many stores with their lights off. It seemed to be the traditional market. The car, which drove around the old-looking stores, eventually stopped in front of a store named ‘Miyoung Firm’. That store looked like it hadn’t been in use for a long time.
“You can get off now.”
Yuna got off first through the door on the right, and Maru followed her out. The door to the left was blocked by the wall. The first thing Maru noticed was a fishy smell. The ground was wet with a mixture of water and oil that was flowing between the cracks of the asphalt. They were only five minutes away from the street filled with youths, yet the atmosphere had changed completely. Jayeon then started walking towards an alley where no human presence could be felt. Maru glanced at Yuna before starting to follow her. The signs of the various stores around here were barely hanging and had lost their colors. It wouldn’t be strange if this area was going to be under redevelopment starting tomorrow. Was there a pojang-macha in such a place?
Just as Maru got used to the smell of sewers, he saw a faint orange light that was different from the street lights. Jayeon smiled and raised her head. It seemed that they had arrived at their destination. They turned around at the store with a sign that said ‘Shinil Grocery’. There was a pojang-macha enveloped in an orange curtain, shining in the middle of the darkness just like a traffic light protecting a crossroad in the dark countryside.
“This is where my drama is going to be made,” Jayeon said.
She seemed excited like a little kid who had just gotten some pocket money. They pushed aside the plastic curtain and went inside. This wasn’t like the pojang-macha seen in crowded places, where there were many tables laid out. Instead, there was only a long, fold-out shelf-like stainless steel table with the cooking area right behind it. There were a total of 8 chairs. A couple seemingly in their 30s as well as two men in their forties were eating on each end.
“Sir, I’m here.”
“You never get fed up with this place, do ya?”
“You shouldn’t say that to someone who’s here to give you sales. At least today, there are some seats.”
“Do you think people will come all the way here in this weather? Everyone would go indoors to drink. Anyway, who are the two kids behind you? Your illegitimate children?”
“You know that I’m a celibate. They’re my actors. The actors who will act here.”
“I never said I’m letting you borrow my store.”
“There’s still some time until the shoot, so think about it slowly. Well then, you two. Have a seat.”
Jayeon said that as she sat in the center.
Maru pulled out a round plastic chair and looked around. There were boiled eggs inside a basket made of bamboo. The price was 100 won each. Behind that was a steaming bucket. Inside were fish cake skewers. The owner put his hand inside the container that seemed like a steamer before taking it back out again. In his hands were pig lungs. He then chopped them before putting them out in front of the two men in their forties. If there was tteokbokki and fried food, it would be a similar menu composition to the bunsik restaurants near schools, but those two couldn’t be seen. Next to the steamer for the soondae was another steamer, and what came out of that were some dumplings. Their shapes were inconsistent as though they were made by hand. Soondae, fish cakes, and dumplings. As side dishes for drinking, they seemed kinda lacking, and it was a rather vague combination for a meal as well.
“For now, give us three bowls of udon.”
Jayeon ordered. She looked like she couldn’t care less about the opinions of boy 1 and girl 1 sitting on either side of her. Maru just shrugged. It was the perfect time for some night snacks, so he didn’t have any complaints. The owner took out some broth from the fish cakes and put some noodles he took out from god knows where before putting it out. The only other thing in that bowl of udon was some dried fish cakes.
“It might look like that, but the taste is quite decent,” Jayeon said as she picked up her chopsticks.
Maru drank the broth first. It definitely didn’t taste coarse. It lacked something that would draw him into it but considering that it was something he could eat on the spot, it was quite luxurious. Above all, the price tag hung on the side multiplied the taste. 1,000 won per bowl and 1 free refill. Just as he was about to eat the noodles, a white plate containing soondae and some steamed organs was placed in front of him.
“Don’t bring kids and feed them flour. They look like they’re in their growth period.”
They seemed to be freebies. The men in their forties and the couple in their thirties smiled pleasantly. They seemed to be used to that kind of scenery. Maru swirled the noodles once with his chopsticks before putting them in his mouth. The noodles were elastic and retained their shape until they went through his throat. The quantity wasn’t that small either. This was just 1,000 won?
“Do you have any margin if you sell these at 1,000 won?” he asked the owner.
The man, who seemed to be in his forties, made a faint smile and replied.
“There’s nothing more foolish than being worried about a merchant. Just eat it. Tell me if it’s not enough.”
When he finished his words, more customers came in. They seemed to be a student. They seemed to find the lack of seats natural and ordered some udon while saying that they would eat outside.
“You should eat more rice and fewer noodles if you’re going to study.”
“Your udon is much better than any rice out there. Call us once they’re ready. We’ll be outside.”
“It’d be boring if you wait while doing nothing, so take a skewer each. And an egg.”
The owner put the skewer and an egg into each of the two students’ hands even though they tried to refuse before starting to make the udon.
“This is one of the few resting places that remain in this busy city,” Jayeon said as she lifted her bowl.