“Here is your monthly salary.”
In fact, it was a small snack bar that couldn’t afford to hire a part-timer. The prices were very cheap and there were many chic franchises nearby, so the number of customers was gradually decreasing.
“I still have the allowance you gave me last time. I don’t need the money.”
She quickly shook her head vigorously.
“How much do you think that was? That you still have it? Who doesn’t need money? You should take what you can.”
She had prepared two bundles of money since she started saving on Umyeon Island. One was given to the person who would give her a ride. The other was for her to keep. But she didn’t know that the money was only enough to stay in a shabby motel for about three days.
Unable to give up, she starved for three days to save money, and ended up in this snack bar. Sunwoo was staying in a small storage room attached to this shop.
“Thanks to you, Sunwoo, business was pretty good this month, so I’m giving this to you. Haven’t you seen the school students coming to see you because you’re pretty? Well, even if it increased, it’s not much money. I split the money that came in this month exactly in half between you and me. Don’t open it later and curse.”
When Sunwoo continued to refuse, the landlady folded the envelope in half and stuffed it into her pocket.
“It’s not polite to keep refusing when an adult gives you something.”
She fiddled with her thickened pocket and bowed her head.
“The students said earlier. These days, they sell clothes on the computer, right? They model and make a lot of money. I don’t know what’s going on with a young person like you, but you should live your age. Hiding here won’t do. They say this building is going to be demolished… I might go down to my daughter’s house soon.”
The first few days, she was so anxious that she thought if she didn’t return to Umyeon Island quickly, something terrible would happen. But as time passed, she realized how ridiculous that thought was.
The words of the shaman that she had taken for granted were nothing but empty shells.
The landlady stroked her head with her wrinkled hand.
“I don’t know why such a pretty girl like you is so exhausted, moaning and crying in her sleep.”
Her nose tingled.
Even though they had only known each other for a month, the landlady gave her affection and embraced her.
“Take care of the store.”
On holidays and weekends when the school was closed, the landlady went to her eldest daughter’s house.
“Yes, see you next week.”
After the landlady left work, she locked the store door and visited a bathhouse at the end of the neighborhood alley. She felt sticky because she couldn’t wash properly in the store kitchen, so she bought underwear and a couple of changes of clothes with her salary.
On her way back, she saw that the place where there should have been a public telephone booth in front of the neighborhood supermarket was empty. Sunwoo, who had been loitering in front of it, went into the supermarket.
“Excuse me, ahjussi .”
“Sunwoo, isn’t it? Why? What do you need?”
“The public telephone out front. It’s gone.”
“Oh, that? Who uses a public phone these days? It was strange that it was still there. You’re the only one in this neighborhood who uses that public phone. People came and dismantled it this morning. Why? Do you want to borrow a cellphone?”
It wasn’t something that could be solved with one or two phone calls.
“I don’t know who you call every day, but instead of that, why don’t you get a cellphone? Even my eighty-year-old mother uses a cellphone…. Go to the cell phone store next door. They’ll give you a good deal. There are a lot of free phones these days.”
“Yes, thank you.”
Sunwoo, who had been pondering with a handful of peanuts given by the supermarket owner, went into the cell phone store.
Before she entered Umyeon Island, her patient gown had ‘St. Mary’s Hospital’ written on it. Excluding Jeju Island, there are 56 St. Mary’s Hospitals in Korea. But she couldn’t go around the country looking for them. She was in the process of calling a few places every day to check. It was ridiculous to believe that she could solve this in a day.
She really needed a phone.
Everyone on Umyeon Island had a cellphone, so she knew what it was, but she had never used one.
“Which carrier do you use?”
The store owner was choosing a cellphone from under the display case, but when she didn’t answer, she looked up.
“You… don’t know the carrier?”
“Yes, I’ve never used a cellphone before.”
“Did you come from a temple? Are you a spy, a spy agent?”
The lady made a joke, but seeing her awkward expression, she coughed and stopped laughing.
“Then should I choose for you? You won’t need the latest model….”
“Yes, thank you.”
When she wrote down the resident registration number of her stepmother’s deceased daughter, she broke out in a cold sweat. It was fortunate that no one in this neighborhood knew her name.
She was struggling, but the kind owner helped her in various ways and she finally got a cellphone in her hand. She was excited, thinking that she could figure it out quickly with this.
“Sunwoo-ssi, you’ve got a cellphone now?”
The next day, as she was leaving the bookstore after a brief visit, the guy from the car center, who was sitting in front of the convenience store smoking, saw her passing by and spoke to her. From the first time he saw her, he was overly friendly and made her feel uncomfortable.
“Why are you so surprised? The lady at the cellphone store told me.”
“If you tell me your number, I’ll tell you my number also.”
“Don’t look so serious. It’s okay, take this. It’s still cold.”
She didn’t reply and tried to pass him, but the man pointed to a drink that was the same as the one he was drinking.
“I’m not asking you to sit here and drink with me, just take it and drink it. It’s a 1+1 deal, so I got an extra one. If you leave it, it’ll get lukewarm.”
“Do you always guard yourself against people like that?”
She was uncomfortable with men, even though other people seemed to get along well. That must mean she was the strange one. She had never learned or adapted to what was normal and average interaction between people. She approached the table and picked up the drink.
“Did you have an accident and are you hiding or something?”
“No, no, I didn’t mean to listen, but our boss and the cellphone store boss are close. She came to our store today and I heard them talking. Everyone here knows you as Sunwoo. But your name on your resident registration is different, and you don’t even know what the carrier is. It’s a bit peculiar.”
As the man stood up from his spot, she grimaced and backed away. The smell of cigarettes. The same smell of the men on Umyeon Island clung to the man. Suddenly, a strong sense of repulsion surged up.
“I don’t want to drink this.”
With a cold face, she put the drink back on the table with a thud and headed for the store. The man quickly followed her.
“Did I upset you?”
It was more scary than upsetting. People who gave off this smell always tried to shake her up.
“I guess you really had an accident. No, don’t be upset, just listen to me. I’m not trying to make it difficult for you, Sunwoo-ssi, I’m trying to help. If you’re hiding after causing some trouble, I can help.”
As he reached out to grab her, she quickly turned her body to avoid him.
“I don’t need it.”
“Why don’t you need it? I have an apartment too. If you’re okay with it, Sunwoo-ssi, you can come and live in my house.”
“I don’t want to.”
She went into the store first and tried to close the door, but he stuck his foot in the gap.
“Ah, wait a minute. Think for a second before you speak. You’re upsetting me.”
The man’s face, which had become chatty and slick, was completely different from that before.
“I don’t want to.”
“What do you mean you don’t want to? Are you a parrot? Why do you keep saying you don’t want to? You just keep running away. It’s frustrating. Are you doing it on purpose?”
Sunwoo used all her strength to block the door with both hands.
“What did you say?”
At her words, he laughed as if he was taken aback. Seeing his face made her feel nauseated. Suddenly, she was angry and her whole body was trembling.
“You smell like cigarettes. It’s unpleasant. You’re weird and scary. It gives me the creeps. You’re unlucky. Don’t come in. Get out.”
As she looked at him and spoke firmly in succession, he looked quite surprised.
“Wow, you act so modest and then suddenly switch your attitude like this. I knew you’d do this. The way you glance at me, it drives people crazy.”
On Umyeon Island, she always sat like a doll. Then they fed her and combed her hair, and there was nothing to do.
Literally. There was nothing she could do.
They called her stubborn because she appeared modest but disobedient. They said she was difficult because she appeared modest. She despised those words. She couldn’t help but be modest since they wouldn’t listen to her, and she couldn’t help but be modest because she couldn’t do anything.
She resisted with all her strength, but the door made of thin sash was easily pushed by the man’s force. Half of the man’s body was already inside the store.
“Do you know? All the men in this neighborhood have their eyes on you. So, it would be better to choose me, right? Among them, I’m the best. I’m the type who treats women very well. Really.”
As the man suddenly reached out his hand, she was so startled that she crouched down and fell backwards, bruising her buttocks. The door swung wide open and he came in completely, reaching behind him to lock the door.
Even on the island, there were occasionally men who looked at her lewdly, but they couldn’t get close because of the shaman.
She felt goosebumps all over her body with a sickening feeling.
“Get away! Get out!”
She flailed her arms around and threw whatever she could grab at the man. The frying pan hit the man’s shin and fell.
“Hiss! D*mn, this really pissed me off. I was trying to be nice to you because you’re pretty.”
Even though she saw him approaching, there was no chance of avoiding him. He climbed on top of her belly and slapped her face with his palm.
Her face turned to one side and a tearing pain rushed in. She thought she was used to being hit, but being hit in the leg and face was a different dimension.
“M-move, let go!”
One side of her face was numb. On top of that, he was pressing down on her chest bone with his knee, so she couldn’t gather her thoughts.
“I didn’t hit you that hard, if I hit you hard, you would be dead. Don’t overreact.”
She struggled, but she was just floundering. The man looked down at her, grabbed her chin with his hand, and shook it back and forth.
“Does it hurt? I’m not that bad a person, but you look at me like I’m a bug and that makes me angry. If you had behaved well, this wouldn’t have happened.”
She couldn’t even breathe.
“Let’s go. I’ll buy you something delicious, okay? Let’s cool down and go on a date. Sounds good, right?”
They all blamed her. They said it was her fault. And she didn’t like it.
“No… No. I don’t want to!”
She didn’t know what she had done so wrong. She didn’t know why everyone blamed her when they saw her. She dug her nails into his arm.
“Hiss! What the.”
She thought she was going to be hit again. She closed her eyes tightly, but a sound like something breaking echoed from outside the door.
The surprised man muttered and got up from on top of her.
Her breath rushed into her chest all at once, and a dull pain ensued. Sunwoo crouched on the floor, panting, and looked up at where the sound had come from. Whether it was kicked or not, the door, with one of its hinges completely broken, was open and swinging.
“I found you.”
A slow voice.
The moment she heard that voice, goosebumps ran up her arms. Even though she had known him for just one day, there was only one man like that in her life.