“I don’t usually eat meat.”
She rolled her eyes into the air and repeated her stepmother’s words verbatim.
“Also don’t eat food with chili powder because it’s considered impure.”
She was about to pick up the meat and put it back in his rice bowl.
“You don’t eat meat and you don’t eat food with chili powder. Then what do you eat, Sunwoo-ssi? Who said food with chili powder is impure?”
“My mother did.”
“You ran away from a shaman and you’re still following her words?”
Whether it was right or wrong, the very thought was taboo. She just followed because she had to. What else could she have done?
“Here, try it.”
As she was about to refuse, a piece of meat slipped into her mouth. Surprised, she closed her mouth. She couldn’t spit it out and was hesitating, her mouth full of saliva.
The taste was salty, savory, and even sweet.
“Delicious, isn’t it?”
She, who had been hesitating, awkwardly nodded her head.
Food was just something she shoved into her mouth when the time came. She had never considered whether it had taste or not. But it was delicious. Sunwoo took a spoonful of the fiery red sundubu jjigae, which was clearly spicy at first glance, and put it into her mouth.
It was so spicy that it almost brought tears to her eyes. Bright red kimchi with deodeok and cucumber. Despite the fiery sensation in her stomach from tasting the spiciness for the first time, it was exhilarating.
That’s right, why was it like that?
Even a simple thing like food, even a piece of clothing. Every little thing was a prison. They kept her locked up so she couldn’t even think.
It was ridiculous that she had fled from Umyeon Island because she hated it and was still following its rules. Unaware that the man in front of her was watching her with a strange expression, she shoved the side dishes into her mouth until her mouth was full.
“It’s delicious, really delicious.”
It felt like she had been unshackled for the first time. Her heart pounded and raced. She held back the tears from welling up and focused more on eating.
Taeju filled a glass with water for her. She had never eaten more than half a bowl of rice, but Sunwoo, with her nose and cheeks flushed, finally emptied a whole bowl of rice.
And two hours later, she was sitting in the airport clinic.
It was only natural to get sick after forcing down food she had never eaten before.
“Take this digestive medicine and if you still don’t feel well, go to a hospital in Seoul.”
“Okay, thank you.”
Sunwoo obediently took the medicine offered by the doctor.
“Sit here for a moment.”
When his cell phone rang, Taeju let her sit in the clinic and went outside to confirm the name Seo Jin-hyuk on the screen of his phone and pressed the call button.
– Boss, have you found Sunwoo-ssi? Is Sunwoo-ssi okay?
“What about the investigation?”
Taeju was holding her temporary resident registration card as an excuse for ticketing. According to her, she got it for the first time from the community center when she activated her cell phone. Instead of the name Sunwoo, the resident registration card had the name Kwon Ee-sook.
– There’s nothing strange about the documents, and the fingerprints of Sunwoo-ssi and Kwon Ee-sook definitely match.
At first, he thought Sunwoo was Kwon Ee-sook, the biological daughter of Kang Bok-ryeong. However, according to the records of the now-defunct Umyeon Island health center, it was true that a person named Kwon Ee-sook had died.
When she switched after that, it seemed that she brought Sunwoo to the island and used her dead daughter’s identity as the village head had said.
He pressed his temple with his finger.
“Secretary Seo, at what age do you think you would forget your own name?”
– Well, around four years old? Five years old?
Taeju furrowed his brow as he was lost in thought for a moment. On top of that, according to the documents, Kang Bok-ryeong had another daughter named Kwon Kyung-sun.
– Boss, you haven’t been sleeping well for days, are you okay?
Originally, he was in Macau for work and was scheduled to go to the company. Upon receiving the call, Secretary Seo went to the Seoul office, and he immediately came this way.
“Ah, I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”
When he entered the clinic, she was sitting in a chair and stood up.
“Shall we go?”
He reached out towards her shoulder, but when he saw her slightly shrink her shoulder, he withdrew his hand.
“Do you know Kwon Kyung-sun? Is she the real daughter of Kang Bok-ryeong?”
“Have you ever met her?”
“She is in Seoul… I think she occasionally had phone calls with my mother, but I’ve never seen her. She never came to Umyeon Island.”
She was always tense and aware of her surroundings, to the point of appearing hypersensitive. It seemed natural considering what had happened on Umyeon Island, but he couldn’t shake off the feeling that she was constantly hiding something.
“Do you remember when you went to the island? How old were you then?”
“I was six years old.”
“Did you say you don’t remember your last name?”
She kept her mouth shut and played dumb when it was time to lie. She didn’t make any expressions, but her slightly lowered eyelashes trembled.
She remembers. He chuckled quietly to himself.
The person is called ‘Unni’. It was definitely a name she had heard somewhere before. She remembered names she had heard at least once, so it wasn’t someone she knew well. It could be someone she had heard in passing.
Taeju once again quietly mulled over the name in his mouth.
She was completely disoriented due to the lights outside the car window. Sunwoo, who had covered her ears with both hands due to the honking horns, looked out the window. The city was noisy, complicated, and there were too many people.
“There are too many people.”
“Yes, Seoul is busy, so don’t get lost wandering outside and stay quietly at home. There are a lot of scary men outside.”
“I’m not a fool. I’m not a child either.”
Dan Taeju laughed as he turned the steering wheel towards the residential area at the intersection.
“And I think the boss is a more scary person.”
“I’m a gentle lamb as long as no one does anything bad to me.”
“What kind of bad things?”
“Like stealing my money, or… lying. And why do you call me boss? Am I your boss, Sunwoo-ssi?”
Seo Jin-hyuk had called him that, so she had followed suit.
“Then what should I call you?”
“Call me Taeju.”
He parked the car in the parking lot. It was a unique ‘D’ shaped building that stretched up to three floors. There were a few trees in the middle.
“Where is this?”
He climbed a few steps first and the front door opened as he held up his card key.
“Do I live in this house too? Both of us?”
Perhaps because there wasn’t much furniture, the interior seemed quite spacious compared to what it looked like from the outside. One side of the first floor was the kitchen, and the other side was the living room. The entire wall of the living room was made of glass. You couldn’t see the inside from the outside, but once you came inside, the outside was clearly visible, which was fascinating.
“I won’t eat you.”
He muttered slowly as he took off his suit jacket and loosened his tie. He looked a bit tired, perhaps because he had come straight from work to find her.
“You can stay here until Secretary Seo finds a place for you to stay in a few days. I mostly just sleep on the second floor and leave, so you can use the third floor…”
He turned around and paused as if thinking.
“Hmm… if you have laundry, leave it in the laundry room on Tuesday night. The housekeeper will come on Wednesday and Friday to do laundry and cleaning. I’ll ask the housekeeper to prepare meals… if you don’t like it, you can buy food yourself. Let’s get some sleep now.”
He handed her a black plastic card and headed towards the bathroom, taking off his shirt.
The house was structured with rooms on both sides with a small corridor, with no doors except for the bathroom. On the second floor, there was a bed, and across a long bookshelf, a step down. The opposite space looked like a study. When she heard the sound of water from the bathroom, Sunwoo put the card he gave her on the bedside table and went up to the third floor alone.
There was a small bed, but it was covered with plastic as if it had never been used. There was only a long stand and a side table next to it, no other furniture. Unlike the second floor, the room was small, but about half of the space was a terrace. When she opened the window and went out, the leaves of the birch tree that stretched up from the first floor were close enough to touch.
Because it was high ground, she could see the roofs of the houses stretching out below. Beyond that, she could see a park. The park was small, but there were a few old elm trees, which somewhat alleviated the oppressive feeling of the city.
Sunwoo crawled onto the bed and lay down, huddled in the direction where she could see the tree well. The warmth of the midday sun was still lukewarm on the bed sheet. She listened for the sound of birds, but all she could hear was the dry honking of cars passing by in the distance.
Sunwoo sat up to the sound coming from below. Outside it was already pitch black night.
When she went down to the second floor, she could vaguely see Taeju’s shoulder, who was lying on the bed, asleep. The sound came from the first floor. The man standing in the kitchen on the ground floor was a stranger.
“Ah, f*ck. You scared me.”
The man who was drinking water in front of the refrigerator frowned as he looked at her. One of his sleeves was torn, and his exposed arm was covered in blood.
“Are you a ghost? D*mn, you scared me. You just came down without a word. Who are you? Are you Dan Taeju’s girlfriend? I thought you were a ghost, but you’re as real as they come.”
Dressed in a white shirt with a tie, he seemed like an employee of Taeju’s company, but his rough language made him appear younger than he looked.
“Who are you?”
“Me? I’m Dan Hee-won. Is Taeju upstairs?”
“Ah, d*mn, I’m supposed to come tomorrow. Why did I come so early? Being overly diligent for no reason. I just came for nothing. I should just leave.”
The man grumbled and quickly drank his water, then put the cup down as if tossing it onto the counter.
“I’m not Taeju’s girlfriend.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I have nowhere else to go.”
In response to her words, Hee-won grimaced and let out a dry laugh.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Why is your arm like that?”
“I fell while riding a motorcycle… I was being chased by the police.”
“You’re bleeding a lot, let me see.”
She wet a towel and stood in front of him, gently wiping the dirt off his arm. Hee-won obediently extended his arm. It seemed like he had fallen and been dragged a long way on the asphalt while riding his motorcycle, as one side of his arm was completely skinned.
That must have hurt.