Spectator - Chapter 9: Taejin's Visit
The afternoon of May 22nd.
I was helping the social worker with changing the perforated screen for summer when a voice called out to me.
When I turned around, I saw Taejin, standing at the door of my apartment in his school uniform. He had unbuttoned a few of his shirt’s buttons, perhaps due to traveling up the steep road.
“Haha. Long time no see? It was difficult finding you.”
He laughed nervously, he tried to hide his nervousness and was somewhat successful, but the disbelief of how I was diverting from the path my past self took was clearly visible on his face.
I tried to reply as naturally as possible. In fact, I was expecting him to show up sooner or later.
“It’s been a long time, What’s up?”
“Ah~ hey. Nothing much. I just wanted to see you that’s all. Hahaha.”
I looked around while touching the cut on my hand. The social worker who was cleaning up the dirt that had fallen while replacing the screen in the middle window nodded her head.
“Thanks to you Sanghyun, I will be able to finish the rest easily, so go and talk to your friend.”
“We aren’t done cleaning yet though. Are you sure you can take care of it alone?”
“Sanghyun dear, I am getting paid for it, so don’t worry.”
“Ah, if that’s the case….”
As she continued to work, the old lady who lived next door walked into the apartment.
“Huh? Sanghyun, is this your friend?”
Because she didn’t wear her hearing aid, she kept repeating the same question over and over again.
“Yes, Granny! This is my friend Taejin!”
I had to scream loudly near her ear for her to finally hear what I was saying.
After she finally understood what I said, she proceed to go into the kitchen and take something out of her handbag.
In my hands she placed two apricots.
“Sanghyun here, have one and give the other to your friend over there, I picked them myself from the sides of our field.”
“Wow. Aren’t you giving too much of this?”
“No, not at all! Please take it!”
I showed her a big smile and she did the same.
“Yes, Thank you. I will.”
Soon after that, Taejin and I walked out of the place . Before leaving the apartment’s perimeter, I dropped both of the apricots into the passenger’s seat of the social worker’s car.
I wasn’t a big fan of apricots and Taejin probably felt the same way about them as well.
We walked around the empty marketplace for some time, neither of us spoke a single word the entire time. We strolled in silence till the streetlights started to flicker on. I felt a cool breeze blowing and then,
“Did you have dinner?”
I asked Taejin, who had gotten a bit agitated. I realised then that I had forgotten to change my tone and had spoken like my adult self. I could get away with talking to others like that but Taejin was way too familiar and would definitely notice it if I am not careful.
“No way, Ugh. I’ve been walking for an hour straight trying to find your apartment. I’m extremely famished.”
“Great. I haven’t eaten either, so let’s eat together. There are all kinds of things in my fridge. Let’s walk back and have a feast.”
I went around the alley, opened the creaky door and entered. Taejin looked around the main room; all it had was a computer, a blanket and a closet.
“Say, why do you want to live here? This place is so small and dirty.”
I didn’t want to explain everything to him just yet so I diverted the topic to food. I opened my fridge and Taejin stood there in awe.
“Now, there are different types, so choose one.”
I took out the food.
“Huh~ What, you… Did you rob all the shops around the corner?”
He chuckled when he saw what appeared to be 50 kinds of packaged food dishes; Starting with rice and brown rice to cuisines, dishes from the East and the West, such as stir-fried pork, chicken curry, jajang, beef bulgogi, beef stir-fry, cream spaghetti, and more.
“These are a hundred times more delicious than what I could cook.”
“Huh~ It’s so fun to choose! I’ll have this and this…”
In no time Taejin had five items in his hands.
“I’m in the midst of growing up, so I’m trying to eat well too. I can’t lose to you. I’ll have six.”
“Also, remind me to organize this mess after we’re done eating.”
I said while picking up the extras that neither of us were having.
“You don’t want to eat those?”
He responded mischievously and headed to the kitchen, stacking the packaged dishes like a tower.
He filled a large pot full of water and turned the stove on.
Hearing the crackling sound, I glanced at his face.
“Are you surprised?”
He indeed was surprised to find actual, good crockery in an otherwise shabby house with a tacky interior.
I laughed. I was kind of entertained seeing how he was reacting to things.
“You might have no furniture but I see you did spend quite a lot on these….”
I put the packet in boiling water and pulled out a small table. On top of it, I took out and placed colourful plates and bowls that would usually be used in high-end restaurants.
I put rice in one bowl and poured in jajang sauce. In another bowl, beef Bulgogi was served nicely, and kimchi was also transferred to a small bowl. And when I went to get something to drink, he asked as if he were wondering,
“Why these crockeries ?”
“How are they, doesn’t it look nice? After all, some decoration is important. It makes the packaged food look homemade.”
“Haha~ Really? It does look good.”
Finally, he sounded completely relieved.
I ate a large spoonful and looked at him. His body had become firm even at first glance. The outline of his muscles were visible through his shirt, and his face line was also thin. Fat was lost and muscle was stretched.
Not only the volume of his laughter but also the movements of his hands and body was very solid. This tells you that he had gained some confidence.
“Sometimes when I eat this, I wonder why it tastes the same as the restaurants. Maybe in a restaurant, just like me, they bought these and only added side dishes afterwards.”
“Oh-ho-ha~ the taste of hometown food is the same everywhere.”
“I’m joking, joking. But looking at your body, it looks like you’ve improved tremendously compared to before. Did you start exercising?”
Taejin responded to the question with a lot of excitement.
“Sorry that I didn’t say anything. But do you remember that a strange guy ran into Hyunhwa before you dropped out?”
“Sure. Hero~ Taejin~.”
“Because of that, I thought it would be good to learn self-defence skills properly. I’m learning taekwondo and kendo these days. But it was harder than I thought.”
I asked after chewing and finishing with a gulp,
“A high school learning two martial arts?”
“Uh. Yeah. Study in the morning, then I go to the dojo in the afternoon. I went to my homeroom teacher and said,
‘As an older brother, I want to protect my younger sister!’
It still depends on the results of the final test though; it will be decided whether they will drag me to class to concentrate on studies or let me continue going to the dojo. Well, that’s what I’m doing now. Hahaha!”
He takes a bite and chews intensely. After swallowing he points the chopsticks at me and asks,
“By the way, what happened to you? There were rumours that you moved out. Haha. Now~ reveal the truth.”
“All kinds of rumours have started circulating now. Like you are going to travel around the world, go to Vegas and gamble in the casino’s there with gangsters and whatnot.”
I laughed loudly at the guy, almost choking on my food.
“What kind of movie do you think we’re in?”
“On the other hand, there have been rumours that you have been working hard for your dream.”
“Frankly, that one hits pretty close to home.”
“Believe it or not~ What have you been up to anyway?”
“Me? Nothing special. What do you think I would do after suddenly getting a lot of money?”
He nodded his head.
“When I dropped out, there was an assignment. The teacher gave me a shit ton of writing assignments”
“Oof. Yeah. I thought I would lose my arm while trying to finish it. Anyway, that’s what I have been up to. I wasn’t able to think much about what I will be doing with the money because of that.
“So why did you move?”
“Uh… I don’t know, but this apartment was cheaper and needed much less maintenance. Besides, it’s unnecessary for me to go out regularly. I quit school anyway. Moreover, the old house was too big for me to live alone. That’s why I moved from home to a small place.”
Taejin looked a bit dissatisfied with my explanation so I continued.
“I just put the money in my bank account. And I’m trying to go through things one by one here. And I have quite a few things to take care of.
By the way, did you know you can sell 1kg of paper for 100 won?”
I ate a bite of stir-fried pork.
“100 won was unexpectedly a large amount of money. Even if you can’t even pay for bread with that here,100 won would cost you a meal in places like Bangladesh. Well, after thinking about it in that sense, I thought I had a lot of money. So I helped my brother who delivers the newspapers and my aunt, who is a social worker.”
“Ah, the one I saw a little while ago?”
“Yes. I spent some money because I wanted to treat someone I knew properly. This kind of hospitality has its cost and it costs quite a bit, but I can do this since I cut costs on food.”
Both of us laughed and drank water. Taejin’s expression had become a bit strange for a while now.
“I picked six of these in the heat of the moment but now I can’t even finish them. I keep on eating but there seems to be no end to it.”
He smiled and muttered something as a reply.
“Don’t worry. Since I started exercising, I can eat 10 servings. By the way… … .”
He chewed his rice carefully. As if he was trying to think of something.
“What if…What do you think you should do if this happens?”
“It’s a quiz from a game. For some reason, I think you’d know the answer.”
It was then that Taejin subconsciously looked left and right.
“A man gave me a lot of money and asked me to kill someone…. No….
…A man, who was in debt,took money from another man and used it to pay the debt. But he is scared now because the other man wants him to go kill someone for him.
What should that person do?
Should he kill as promised?”
After hearing that question, I stopped eating and looked at him. Taejin was looking at the food. His eyes avoided my gaze.
’-This idiot… …’
There were several conditions for Taejin to regress to the past. One of them is:
‘I will kill the three owners of Seong-ryun within 3 months after returning to the past.’
Presumably, those who had in some way opposed the devil whom Taejin had made a contract with.
If you think of it as a game, he was now but a centrepiece under the control of the devil.
It was a situation that I couldn’t solve even though I wanted to solve it, as I didn’t know who the owners were. That’s why I’ve observed Taejin’s actions from time to time. I thought he had a plan.
But for him to ask me that question…
‘-It means that he hasn’t solved anything yet.’
He must be under a lot of stress to do such a thing. Because to him, I am just another person who hasn’t experienced the regression… coming to me for advice means he really is desperate.
Furthermore, he can’t mention the devil or anything related to it. So he won’t be finding any good answers to his questions by asking random people. People wouldn’t even respond to him seriously.
Not only that but the question itself only had one answer.
‘-After signing the contract, you can’t chicken out. The only options after that are the fulfilment or termination of the contract.’