D Minus Chapter 6
It was a rough consolation. As an intellectual who learned enough to know, he never dreamed of being comforted by the words of a man who was rude and unlearned but strangely, he felt placated. Hajin tapped the half-empty can, and suddenly jumped and skipped to his room. The man’s eyes followed him.
“What’s your name?”
Hajin returned to the table with a notebook and a three colored ballpoint pen in his hands. The man stared at him curiously and Hajin, who was already drunk, pushed the thing on the table with the back of his arm and put down the notebook on the table.
Shin Jonghwa. It was the name of the man he first got to know after a month of meeting him. Hajin flipped the pen between his fingers and pressed the seam of his notebook and wrote the man’s name. Shin-Jong-Hwa.
“Do you know what the letters say?”
“It must say Shin Jonghwa.”
“Try writing it.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You should at least know how to write your name.”
“I lived well without knowing.”
“What do you mean by living well? You couldn’t do grocery shopping.”
“It was because of how you wrote down the ingredients. If the lady there could read what you wrote, it wouldn’t have been a problem.”
The man who was always obedient in doing what he was asked of, was unexpectedly stubborn in certain places. Hajin turned the notebook and held it out to the man, who slightly frowned. It was the habit of a teacher, which he couldn’t throw away.
“It’s too much, that you don’t know how to read even when you are 30.”
“It’s already too late. It’s fine if I talk well, I guess.”
“You didn’t go to school, right?”
“You must be lucky. You got to meet a teacher.”
“Who is a teacher? You?”
“Yes. Hurry and copy what is written here. Starting from, ‘Shin’.”
“I don’t want to. I don’t even want to learn how to write…”
“Clap three times, now start, clap clap clap.”
Hajin who cut him off smiled cheekily and clapped his hands three times. The man’s stunned look was worth seeing. Hajin, who was heating up to his chest, made a stern look and tapped the notebook with his fingers. It might be an illusion but the man’s neck seemed to have heated up, blushing.
The man didn’t refuse further and raised his pen. Hajin also waited for the man without rushing him. The man who didn;’t even know how to hold a pencil clenched his fist and propped the pen between them. There was no way he could write like that. Hajin, who was about to criticize and say, “Who holds a pen like that?” noticed the man’s red neck and closed his mouth. The lesson he taught on those black boards for two years came to mind. It was no shame to not know.
“It’s easier if you hold the pen like this.”
Hajin rose up from his chair and approached the man, before carefully fixing the pose of the man’s hand. Everytume the rough back of the man’s hand touched his skin, goosebumps sprung up on his back. It was only after opening and closing the man’s fingers that a plausible shape was formed. Hajin nodded, making eye contact with the man. As if it was a silent compliment for the man, that he did well. His neck, which was already red, turned much redder as if it could explode.
“Let’s learn as much as you need to.”
“Just enough for living.”
I am leaving and you’re staying back.
Hajin’s eyes turned towards the man which contained no contempt, anger or irritation but a sense of unspoken pity, frustration, sadness and sympathy. Feelings about the man was changing little by little.
Hajin thought he woke up early but Jonghwa was already out. He seemed quite busy those days. Haijin was staring at the sunlight leaking through the window and stayed on the wooden floor and darted his eyes at the white keyboard before guffawing out loud.
Anyway, Jonghwa was very obedient in such a subject. It had only been a week and three days since he had been learning Hangul but fortunately, since he was a bit weak, he only followed along as he was taught.
Hajin gave him a little homework. Jonghwa who shook his head, and wrote down the word he remembered on the whiteboard everyday wrote, “Shin Jong Hwa.” on the first day and “ Park Ha JIn.” on the second, “Sqid” on the third and “Copstiks” on the firth. All the names of the except the previous two were wrong. He might have meant to write, “Squid” and “Chopsticks.”
Instead of pointing out that he was wrong both times, Hajin filled the blank board with a different color while Jonghwa was away. The “Sqid” was instead written as “Squid” with an addition of u and “Copstik” which was written in blue, was corrected, adding a h and a c with red.
Hajin’s mouth rose smoothly as he looked at the board with his arms crossed. He picked the red pen and wrote a c instead of i. It was a little messy but it did become the correct spelling of “Cat”. When I saw the completed word, he remembered the wall cat Jonghwa was taking care of. After drinking a cup of lukewarm water, he went out looking for the can of cats that Jonghwa stuffed inside the cupboard. As the autumn approached, the heat subsided.
“Wa, you surprised me!”
Hajin, who was sitting on the rocking chair, fell asleep with his upper body tilted but sprung to the sound of movement he felt next to him. When Jonghwa came into his sight, the latter shook a black plastic bag in front of his face. Hajin breathed heavily to calm his startled self, and pointed to the rustling bag and asked,
“What is this?”
“I bought Kim Mansun.”
“Who is Kim Mansun?”
Jonghwa who suddenly called out Mr.Kim Mansun, held out the black bag towards Hajin. Hajin instinctively took a defensive stance and carefully received the bag with his index finger. He didn’t think it would be strange if a dead rat’s body came out from the bag.
On the other hand, unlike Hajin, who was very wary, Jonghwa sat down on the bare floor without a chair with blushed cheeks, an image that didn’t suit him. Hajin felt like a ghost at that part. Hajin’s eyes darted to the bottom of the warm bag, became soft at once.
“What are you so curious about?”
“You have something to ask.”
“Out with it.”
The plastic bag didn’t even need to be opened. It was dinner. Hajin put down the bag on the floor and opened his palm towards Jonghwa who avoided his gaze. Joghwa reluctantly took his hand out of his pocket as if he was shy, Hajin urged him to “hurry” one more time, he took out something with a sigh.
“I am sure what the first two mean but the last one is confusing.”
“What are the two in front?”
“The last one?”
“You’re right though.”
When Hajin saw Jonghwa’s red earlobes, he tried to hold back his laughter but they kept leaking out unconsciously. Hajin covered his mouth with the back of his hand and smiled with his mouth raised like a clown. Jonghwa who glanced up at Hajin, gestured with his chin.
“Who is Kim Mansun?”
“What you bought. This, right here.”
“I asked for Kim Mansun but she gave this to me.”
It might have been because he wanted to protest because he didn’t know Korean well so he might have read the menu wrong. Hajin, who looked at the curled writing as if it was a worm crawling, had a pale flush. Come to think of it, that was why he dreamed of becoming a teacher.
Two bils of rice
It was the menu items Jonghwa wrote down. It was a problem caused by reading it horizontally which should have been read vertically. Maybe he wanted to write, “Two bowls of rice” as “Can include rice”. Hajin who held the crumpled paper tightly by hand, tightly and tilted his head slightly. The sunlight pouring from behind was captured in Jonghwa’s face. His brown eyes which seemed to be colored the lightest, glistened as if they contained the sun.
“Shall we eat?”
When he touched the handle of the plastic bag with hsi fingertips, there was a rustling sound. Jonghwa nodded willingly and snatched the bag from him before heading to the table. Hajin’s smile was still intact as he followed him.
“Do you like kimchi dumplings or meat dumplings?”
“I don’t really care.”
“Then do you like sundaes with glass noodles or seonji in it?”
“I don’t know the difference.”
“Glass noodles are glass noodles and seonji are seonji.”
“What is Seonji?”
“You don’t know what a seonji is even though you’re a thug?”
“Who is a thug?”
Hajin, who asked useless questions inappropriately, was speechless. He thought they were close so he played a joke but Jonghwa’s expression was too serious. Hajin picked up the kimbap with chopsticks, rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.
“You’re not a thug?”
Hajin also mixed in informal speech. He was older than Jonghwa anyway and he was a Korean Language teacher. However, maybe he was the only one who gave meaning to informal speech but Jonghwa only narrowed his eyebrows and snorted.
“Who is a thug? I’m not a thug.”
Hajin wanted to say something without conscience but he held it in. Jonghwa was picking the sundae with his chopsticks which were wrapped around by his fist but as he could not pick it up, as he was annoyed, he flinged the one he had in his hand. Chopsticks clashed against the glass table and there was a sharp sound.
“Are you made because I called you a thug?”
“Huh? No, it’s not because of that. I can’t pick up the sundae.”
“I taught you how to hold a pen before, right?”
“You just have to hold the chopsticks in the same way.”
Hajin raised himself from the chair as if to teach him properly, but jOnghwa waved his hand saying, “It’s okay.” But it was also Hajin who was one step ahead. He came close to Jonghwa and wrapped his large hand with his own and taught him how to use the chopsticks the right way, like he did before.
“Mr. Shin Jonghwa.”
“It’s not a shame not to know.”
“So if you have any questions in the future, feel free to ask me. You’re most welcome to.”
Jonghwa’s hands were in perfect shape because they were fixed. Hajin moved Joghwa’s chopsticks while covering the back of his hand with his, with his back straightened. The sundae that could have not been picked was caught well between two iron bars. He could feel Jonghwa looking at him. Hajin didn’t avoid his eyes and met his gaze.
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