In the morning hours, before the sun has risen up.
A luxury passenger car left from AN hospital and drove through the tranquil riverside road.
Jungwu, sitting in the passenger seat, was looking at the car’s interior decor with a slack-jawed expression.
‘Dr. Moon’s tastes are rather …’
Pink sheets, flower patterned handle cover, and cute characters that were bobbing their heads to the shaking of the car.
Jungwu glanced at Dr. Moon who was emitting an icy aura and turned his head away. Was a lack of humanity and femininity a discrete chemical reaction?
Jungwu got a little nervous as Dr. Moon started a conversation.
“Due to being hired under special circumstances, the people there won’t look upon you kindly. There are also going to be other individuals who will be curious of how and why you were hired.”
“I have no choice but to endure, right?”
“By no, you mean…”
“You have to make them shut up with your skills. I believe Jungwu-ssi has the ability to do so.”
Even though she wasn’t shouting, she was strangely coming off as energetic.
“Dr. Moon. I am asking because I didn’t quite understand the non-disclosure agreement clause, but are the contents of this contract a secret within the company?”
“You must keep it a secret. Especially anything regarding AF-12.”
“Then what should I say when they ask how a business administration major graduate has the knowledge to put expert researchers to shame?”
“Just say that you learned from Seung-guk Chun.”
“In KG Chemicals, that’s enough.”
It seemed like an important name, but Dr. Moon no longer spoke and focused on driving.
Jungwu naturally wondered if this person was the owner of the knowledge contained in the AF-12.
As their conversation came to an end, silence filled the car.
Not a minute had passed when
Jungwu’s phone bell broke the silence.
Jungwu saw ‘Jisuk Hong Yeosa’* on caller ID and pressed the button out of habit, then, pressed his phone to his ear.
“Jungwu. If you are not coming back, shouldn’t you at least leave a text message? Do you live alone in this place?”
“No, that is…”
“Nah, mom. If hyung is out and silent, that means he’s gotten drunk as hell, and he’s slept it off in some random place. It’s not like this has happened only once or twice before.”
He heard his brother chiming in on the side to incite his mother’s anger.
“Jungwu, did you drink… Hey, Jungchan. I told you to not drink water directly from the bottle like that!”
“Okay mom, just stop hitting my back!”
Jungwu looked at Dr. Moon for a moment, concerned that she would notice the loud noises from his phone.
“Mom, I’m heading home right now so let’s talk then.”
“Lookie here. Are you the only busy one around here? Stop pretending you’re busy. I’m going to the morning market before opening the restaurant, so take care of breakfast on your own.”
“Also, take out the recyclable trash. There’s a heap of it on the yard.”
“I heard you.”
“Huh, you took a phone call so early in the morning. I thought you would have become a dog and be crawling after drinking all night”
The phone conversation ended.
Jungwu was bitter about being falsely accused of drinking irresponsibly.
Dr. Moon glanced sideways towards him with a look of inquiry.
“Th-That was a call from home. Don’t mind it. Haha.”
An awkward laugh leaked out of his mouth..
Even yesterday, he wasn’t able to explain that he was out to get some money by participating in some clinical trials. Mrs. Hong would not readily permit him to take part in unknown clinical trials, and he’d probably get scolded if he did try to explain.
‘I can’t say it for what it really is. For now, I’m going to say that I started working part-time.’
Dr. Moon’s car came to a stop in front of a mountainside village packed with villas and single family housing. Jungwu turned his head towards the driver’s seat and bowed in courtesy.
“Thank you for giving me a ride.”
Dr. Moon pushed an envelope towards him.
“What is this?”
“It’s your compensation for participating in the clinical trials. I don’t think I will have the time to give it to you otherwise.”
Dr. Moon drove away..
The events at the hospital seemed real only after counting the 20 sheets of 50,000 won inside the envelope.
‘This is probably for the best, right?’
The contract duration was 1 year. Jungwu had caught onto the implication that he could also get cut for not working up to expectations. Based on what he saw from Dr. Moon’s attitude during negotiations, he inferred that there had to be good reasons as to why the wage was so unusually high.
‘Let’s try to endure as long as it’s not something that would get me genuinely killed.’
As long as he did enough, his pay would accumulate over time. However, there wouldn’t be much left over after paying off loans for his education and the family restaurant. He also started to feel good about becoming a member of society who gets up in the morning to go to work.
Jungwu whistled as he walked up the hill road.
As he pushed on the old, worn out door and stepped in, he was met with a yard the size of his palm.
It was the small two story house that he’s lived in for all of his life. In the small alleyway over the wall, he learned how to smoke his first cigarette from the neighborhood hyung, Baeksoo, and under the nearby three-way street lamp, he had his first kiss with Eunsil. They all moved away, so he didn’t know what they were up to now.
Just as he had started reminiscing, the cold wind blew and shook the door.
‘Uh-hu, gives me the chills. I should spray some WD on this.’
Jungwu then took little steps through the yard and opened the door to the house.
“Mom, I’m home.”
He peeked his head into the living room which had heaps of dried slices of radishes on some newspapers. His mother was nowhere to be seen. The light in the kitchen was out, so it looked like she had already left for the market.
His younger brother was also not in his room. He did say it was the start of a new semester today, so he must have left early.
“I earned some money through a part-time job, but I have no one to brag to.”
After he had gone in to check that no one was home, he felt a little lonely. Even though the house was small, living together and getting along with his family warmed his heart. As he was thinking of this, he spun around a chair in the kitchen and stopped when he noticed the training clothes hanging off of it.
“This brother of mine…”
Jungwu swallowed his anger.
Normally, he would chase down his younger brother on his way to school and slap him hard on the back, but it was time for him to change. Starting today, he was no longer an unemployed hyung pretending to look for work. He was now a respectable salaryman.
He grinned as he thought of getting ready for work.
Subway Line 1 on Monday morning was the definition of hell itself.
“Please wait! Excuse me!”
Jungwu was being swept away by the swarm of people that were getting off the train like water tides, but he eventually managed to push his way inside..
“Phew. If I was just a moment late, I would have missed it.”
He did get ready right away, but he ended up being a bit late as he had to hurriedly look for his suit and iron it.
‘If it’s this much, I shouldn’t be too conscious of how I look, right?’
It was a decent-quality suit that he had worn when he was job hunting. He used the subway train’s mirror as he patted down his suit. His gaze stopped on his sleeves.
“Oh, there’s still some dust on this.”
He thoroughly patted off the dust and grabbed the handle on the ceiling nearby without giving it much thought.
With a zap, he felt a jolt of static on his fingertips.
It hurt more because he was caught off guard. He had rubbed his hands over fabric in an environment which had become dry due to the constant hot air blowing out of the heater in the subway train.
Jungwu blew on his still-stinging hand.
His eyes opened wide as he looked at his fingertips. He was able to see the curves of his fingerprints clearly as if he had zoomed in on them with a high-power magnifying glass.
Countless stars enveloped in a half-transparent fog spun around in their own orbits on the surface of his hand. The soft light, emitted by innumerable stars, resembled an immature dust cloud.
‘What is this supposed to be, virtual reality?’
The stardust wanted to extend outwards, but lacking the means, it had no choice but to stay on his hand. As he grabbed onto the gold colored handles in the train again, the stardust that was desperately seeking freedom left his palm without remorse.
‘Go, just go. Don’t gather into a bunch and cause static shocks.’
The stardust that climbed up the handle scattered throughout the train’s inner surface. Just as they had gone, another group of stardust began to gather from the air and onto his hand.
‘Are these guys some kind of free spirits? They go anywhere they want.’
It wasn’t as if anyone was watching him, but the very idea of conversing with free electrons made him feel like a crazy person.
This station is Jongno 3ga, Jongno 3ga.
The train stopped.
Jungwu stopped caring about them and cast his gaze outside.
Perhaps because this was a transfer station, the people poured out of the train with great vigor.
Jungwu leaned next to the door and gripped onto the handle so that he wouldn’t get swept away by the passengers. Meanwhile, he noticed that masses of stardust were clustering here and there on the train.
A young man’s hand, that had a cluster of free charges, seemed like it would cause a spark at any moment. One woman had a sweater that had free electrons dancing on it as if it would give a jolt with just a casual brush.
Jungwu juked here and there to avoid any potential sparks. Because of this, he ended up being pushed back all the way to the corridor connection of the train cars. He counted the number of stops before his destination to avoid missing his stop due to being stuck at the back.
‘8 stations? I can try to push through the crowd a little later then.’
He was reaching for the handle in the corner to balance himself in the shaking train when he noticed a clump of free electrons on the handle.
Jungwu snorted in disdain at the little bastards that were approaching his fingertips.
‘You think you’ll get me again? Hurry up and go away!’
Jungwu violently shook off the stardust that was amalgamating from when he brushed against other people. The electrons flew away from his hands and went deeper inside the car as if it was being sucked into a vacuum. Jungwu followed the strange flow of electrons with his eyes until his gaze fell onto the corridor connection of the train cars.
He first saw the white surface of some A4 papers, when a lady studying the A4 papers entered his vision. For a brief moment, Jungwu wasn’t able to rip his eyes away from her enchanting eyes which had shone over those papers. Although he could only clearly see her forehead and her eyelashes, her eyes shone enough for his heart to palpitate.
Note: Yeosa is a korean honorific used for a woman especially mothers. You might have noticed that Jungwu and his mother do not share the same surname, it is because women in korea keep their maiden name.