D Minus Chapter 5

Author: nicotine

“Bulgogi is delicious if you top it with enoki mushrooms. So bring me those, okay?”

Hajin was searching for the clean green peppers which were without wounds from the piled up mountains and then ordered the man. The latter had a sullen expression on his face but walked as steadily as he was told. Hajin put the two green peppers in a vinyl and then looked around for the man and realised he had still not returned. He then noticed the reliable man standing at the refrigerator corner. He did everything Hajin asked of him, but he couldn’t help but be sloppy.

“You are going to take the whole day looking for mushrooms.”

“I don’t know where the enoki mushroom is.”

“It’s written here.”

At that point, Hajin wondered if the man was protesting not to run errands for him. There were pine mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and Lion mane’s mushroom but also enoki mushrooms. The enoki mushrooms were closest to the man. Hajin tipped his chin towards that side. The man’s eyes darted.

“It’s a bit small. Two packs would suffice.”

Hajin opened the shopping backing wide and looked up at the man as if urging him but the man seemed unwilling to move. Hajin’s eyebrows furrowed.

“I told you to give me two packs. It’s over there.”

“Is it this one?”

The man pointed to the oyster mushroom. Enoki mushrooms were written in huge fonts but Hajin wondered if the man didn’t know Hangul to that level. Hajin sighed deeply and fired back nervously.

“You can’t read? That’s an oyster mushroom and this one is enoki mushroom.”

Hajin pushed the man with strength on his shoulder and put two packs of enoki mushrooms in his shopping basket. The man only sighed indifferently as he was making fun of Hajin. Hajin thought that the man improved on his image but it wasn’t that at all.

“I need to buy squid.”

“I’ll bring it to you.”

“You seem to know what a squid is.”

Although Hajin intended to say it sarcastically, the man strode to the seafood section as if he didn’t care at all. Hajin was a little tired because he couldn’t sleep well last night. He put down the shopping basket, waiting for the man as he pressed his forehead with his palm.

“This is the one, right?”

“…How many did you buy?”

“5.”

“You must be insane.”

“Why? Should I buy more? Just say it.”

The man seemed to intend to hold a squid party. It was Hajin who held up the white flag to the man who acted confidently without even looking at the other person’s crushed expression. Hajin shook his head annoyingly, and the man took the eels away as if he had been waiting to. It was a completely useless consideration.

“Are you angry?”

“Why would I be angry?”

“You’re wrinkling your face.”

“…”

The man had a knack for upsetting people. It was so hot that the temperature was piercing through the sky and the man kept annoying  him from the side that he felt like he could explode any minute. Hajin sighed gravely and closed his mouth and didn’t say anything. Initially, he wasn’t that sensitive but after getting sick, he easily felt irritated with small things.

“It’s okay, it’s possible not to know much about mushrooms.”

“Who doesn’t know mushrooms?”

“Then why were you like that?’

Hajin disliked the man who didn’t mind no matter how much he showed how irked he was, but when the man tried to fight against it, his mouth wouldn’t stop. When he thought about it, it was really because of the mushrooms. Hajin, who was mulling on it, expressed his chagrin with a sigh.

“Right…it was because of the mushrooms. I’m sorry. I wasn’t like this before, but I don’t know why I am so sensitive these days.”

Hajin should’ve just eaten the meal without squid. He was dazed in sweat. Even if there was a slight discomfort in his body, he was afraid that the symptoms might start showing up so he was not content with the simple dizziness. Hajin, who took a couple more steps, stumbled for a moment. As his vision darkened, static electricity took all over his body.

“Are you hurting?”

The man’s voice rang in Hajin’s ears. Seeing how the man’s shoulders were warm, he seemed to have caught hold of him. As he grabbed his head and blinked quickly, his vision gradually became clearer. Was it because of low pressure or anemia? Nothing like that happened when he was healthy so it might be because of the symptoms. Hajin’s eyes regained sight.

“Are you okay?”

The man’s rough voice became clearer and clearer. Hajin fully recovered his senses and nodded slowly. Since he knew there would be no end if he fell into depression so he tried to distract himself.

“I am illiterate.”

“….What?”

“I don’t know how to write. I don’t even know how to read.”

“What?”

“If I learned what an enoki, oyster or pine mushroom was, I could have chosen it easily. Please record yourself saying it on the phone next time. If you let me hear it, I’ll pick it up for you.”

Perhaps, the man read Hajin’s mind. Otherwise, he would not segued the conversation by revealing his own disgrace. Hajin watched the man walking him swinging the basket around as he quickly widened his stride to catch up to him.

“Why can’t you read? Didn’t you go to school?”

It was a compulsory curriculum. It was an incomprehensible situation as a former teacher. As the questioning voice loudened, the man shrugged his shoulders and turned his eyes.

“I didn’t.”

“Not even elementary school?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Don’t know. I have been a beggar since I was a kid.”

“…Beggar…?”

“Yeah. Like the people who sell gum on the subway. Carrying a plank around the neck and all. Although I didn’t even know what was written on the products.”

“Why, why did you do that?”

Hajin was so surprised that he stuttered. No one would be surprised to hear that he was a beggar instead of going to school at the age of seven. The man dropped his gaze and looked at Hajin who stopped walking and looked back at him with widened eyes. Drops of sweat were running down the man’s neck.

“I don’t know. From what I remember, I must have been born there, I guess.”

“…”

“So please understand me okay? I will try my best to buy the enoki mushrooms from next time.”

You should not sympathize with other people’s lives recklessly. Nor was he in a position to sympathize like that. Even though Hajin knew that well, he couldn’t help it. He somehow felt sorry for the man who spoke crude words so casually, or the dirty smile that seemed to be insignificant. He resented himself for complaining some minutes ago about how he couldn’t read.

“But the lady there couldn’t even read what you wrote. You wrote bell peppers wrong.”

The man with his chest puffed added brazenly. Hajin hurriedly bowed his head and hid his tears and pondered for 10 minutes as he walked home. Was there a bookstore nearby?

It was midsummer, D-150, when even a street cat crawled under the eaves to escape the heat.

***

“What’s this?”

“Parboiled squid. It’s delicious when you dip it in red chili pepper paste with vinegar as a side.”

Since the man bought five squid, that day was totally a squid party. Hajin added it to the bulgogi generously but there were still three and a half left, so he eventually made parboiled squid. The man looked curiously as it was his first time seeing parboiled squid and lifted the chubby torso of the squid with his hand and gobbled it up. Hajin, who was carrying the pot, shouted.

“Don’t eat with your hands! You have chopsticks, don’t you?”

“Sorry.”

The man chewed the squid with an apologetic look on his face. Hajin closed his eyes and gave him chopsticks. But later on, he poked the man’s shaking shin with his toes. The man whose back of the head could be seen, peeked at him.

“Don’t shake your legs. You bid away luck.”

“There’s no luck I could bid away though.”

“I don’t really like people shaking their legs.”

“You don’t really…”

The man didn’t look pleased but he heeded his words. Even though he was busy shaking his legs while eating, after remembering Hajin’s words, he quickly calmed it down. Hajin who was eating quietly noticed there was no sound of dishes clattering on the table so he furtively swallowed a smile.

“Do you want beer?”

“Are you recommending beer to a cancer patient?”

“Ah, right.”

There were five cans of beer in the fridge and both of them didn’t enjoy drinking so it probably belonged to the landlord. The man said he rarely drank, took out a sikhye instead of beer and surprisingly Hajin approached him and took the can from him. The man narrowed his brows and turned around.

“I am not going to drink though.”

“I am going to drink.”

“A patient cannot drink. You must have lost it.”

Where did the person who was judging the alcohol go, the man took the beer away with a stern look on his face. Regardless, Hajin shamelessly shook his shoulders and took out a new beer. The expression of the man was quite worth seeing.

“This is really fucking good. I bought it after trying it at the mart.”

“Have it to your heart’s content.”

“Are you having this too? Patients aren’t allowed to drink.”

“Drinking some doesn’t mean you die any earlier, not drinking doesn’t mean you live longer.”

Hajin opened a can of beer without even looking at the sikye offered by the man. He didn’t usually enjoy drinking but after getting sick, he felt like doing the opposite of what he intended. He easily ignored the way the man looked at him with a serious look on his face, and glugged down the beer. As the liquid passed through his throat, he felt the unique sting of the carbonated drink.

“You don’t seem like you are sick.”

As if the man had no intention of making him die, the man took the sikye back he offered to  Hajin and drank it. Hajin soon emptied half of his beer and nodded, rubbing his moist lips with the back of his hand.

“I know. Maybe it’s because I am not receiving the treatments for cancer. Well, I am going to die suddenly anyway, so there’s no use of it.”

“If you have cancer, aren’t you supposed to lose all your hair and bones, right?”

“Sounds like wishful thinking.”

“It’s not that. You look absolutely healthy. Did the doctor make a mistake? Try visiting the hospital again?”

“You are so good at saying nonsensical stuff.”

Hajin already emptied one can. His face heated up because he couldn’t drink that much but while he was at it, he wanted to drink another. Hajin, who stumbled towards the fridge, opened it, before looking back at the man.

“Do you want another can?”

The man who said he didn’t enjoy drinking, nodded unexpectedly. He seemed to have noticed Hajin’s desire to have a drinking friend. He was a quick witted person sometimes.

“How did you get such a disease when you’re so young?”

The man had so many questions. It was a very rude question no matter who asked it but it wasn’t that unpleasant when it was the man who asked it. It might be because there was nothing more to expect. Hajin’s face, which was beet red, rested his chin on the back of his hands and looked down.

“Tell me about it…but I was also curious about it in the beginning but is there anyone who could give me the answers?”

Everytime Hajin exhaled, there was a strong smell of alcohol. Hajin’s fat cheek was pressed against the back of his hand and protruded because he tilted his head to the side. He looked drunk and he sipped the beer with a frown as if he was drinking poison.

“I don’t think much about it now. I guess it must be because I’m useless. There must be no reason for me to stay in this world.”

“…”

“I guess everyone works harder than I do. They are worth living more than I am…”

Hajin didn’t cry but for some reason, he felt his throat drying up. He gulped down the beer as a kind of moisture and sighed. The man started shaking his legs again, held his breath and emptied half of his beer.

“Dying is not a big deal.”

“You’re saying that again…”

“So, don’t worry about it too much. Who cares if you leave early? Everything and everyone will die someday anyway.”

It wasn’t something comforting. Hajin, who was drunk, burst into a disheartened smile. It was the truth. Everyone dies one day. I’m just leaving a bit early.

“You are not sick so why do you not have any attachments to life?”

“Me?”

Perhaps, it was because he didn’t expect to be asked such a question, the man looked dumbfounded. His head tilted to the side as he fiddled with the can of beer.

“What is the point of living? It was not that I was born because I wanted to.”

“…”

“You’re worth a lot more than I am. So cheer up.”

 

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