Life, Once Again! - Chapter 343
A large truck sounded its horn and quickly drove past the bus. She, who was leaning against the window, flinched and had a look at the truck that was distancing itself. The truck was carrying a lot of construction materials. The lump of metal that was tied to the body seemed very dangerous.
She could hear the bus driver swear in a small voice. Why was the driver driving so dangerously? She frowned slightly. She felt displeased.
The bus arrived at the bus stop in front of her apartment. She glanced at the apartment in the distance before going into the nearby supermarket. One of the staff was shouting ‘closing sale’ on the mic. She picked up a basket and walked towards the meat corner.
“Give me six hundred grams of pork back leg.”
“What are you going to use it for?”
While the meat was being cut, she took out the memo that her mom wrote in the morning. Pork back leg, two pieces of soft tofu, gr.a.p.eseed oil, and milk. After receiving the meat which was wrapped in a plastic bag, she made rounds throughout the supermarket. After putting the items mentioned in the memo in the basket, she went to the bread corner. After contemplating for a while, she picked up a box of strawberry roll cake.
After purchasing the items, she left the supermarket. The wind blew against her face, and it was quite warm. She remembered seeing the news last night that the tropical nights were starting. She didn’t like being hot. She walked towards the apartment complex. Thanks to the weather, there were a lot of ladies and children in the playground. She saw someone she knew and approached and greeted them. At that moment, one of the kids looked into her plastic bag and started nagging her after seeing the strawberry roll cake.
Sorry, but I can’t give that to you.
After thanking the lady for stopping her child, she immediately walked away and went to her apartment.
“I’m home,” she said to her mom who was sitting in the living room.
Her mom was wrestling with the laptop on a low-rise desk.
“Have you had dinner?”
Her mom looked away from the monitor and asked. She replied that she ate.
“How about you, mom?”
“I did as well. With some cheonggukjang.”
Now that she thought about it, there was a slight smell of cheonggukjang in the air. She went into her room and changed her clothes before coming out.
“What are you looking at?”
On her mom’s laptop was a photo of a scenery rather than the usual word processor. The photo was of a street with autumn leaves, and there was a little child wearing a yellow hat and overalls.
She sat next to her mom and asked,
“Is this me?”
“Yeah. It’s from when you were four. You were really cute back then.”
“Sorry for not being cute right now.”
She brought some chocolate snacks from the kitchen. When she gave a packet to her mom, her mom thanked her as she received it. The photo changed. This time, the photo was of her riding the swing. She looked at her mom’s expression. There was a longing smile on her face.
“It was quite chaotic back then. Do you still remember that you went around beating up all the boys in the neighborhood?”
“Me? No way.”
“You were the queen of the neighborhood. Why is a four-year-old so strong? Your mom’s daily work was to follow you around the whole day.”
“Looks like I was healthy.”
Crunch – the chocolate snack that entered her mouth broke down into pieces. Her mom also munched on the snack as she pressed the right arrow key to go to the next photo. The scenery changed along with the photo, but there was one thing that didn’t.
“There are no photos of you or dad?”
“There are almost none. Your dad really hated taking photos. He would cover his face with a jacket and run away the moment he heard photos being taken.”
“It was that bad?”
“Don’t even talk about it. Should I show you our wedding photo?”
“Yeah, I want to see.”
Her mom smiled and opened up another folder.
“But when did you have the time to transfer all the photos from the album?”
“It was when we just moved. I opened the album and saw that all the photos were discoloring. I thought that I should preserve them before it was too late, so I scanned them all.”
“Oh, so you did use the scanner.”
“We received it, so it’s a waste to throw it away.”
After opening up a folder titled ‘me’, her mom scrolled the mouse wheel a few times before opening a photo. It was taken from the right, and in the center was her mom wearing a white wedding dress, and on the left of her was her father with his face bright red. Just from the photo, it was obvious how fl.u.s.tered he was.
“This man, he was like that on the day of the wedding as well. Seriously, right? What’s so hard about getting a picture taken? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?”
“Dad is really red. He looks drunk.”
“My mom said something about him as well.”
Her mom nodded and spoke.
“That Mr. Han is like a tomato. Your father became even redder after hearing that.”
Her mom chuckled.
Grandma. In her memories, her grandma was a kind person. She went down to her grandma’s house in Gwangju every summer during the school holidays when she was in elementary school. When she dozed off in the car, she would start smelling the smell of cow dung, and when the car door opened, her grandma always hugged her tightly. Her grandma always smelled of pleasant grass. The barley rice that she gave her every morning was good, and the watermelon she fed her after dipping it in some salt was also good. Every evening, she would eat some roasted sweet potatoes and play around with the dog that her grandma raised. That place was the greatest playground during the summer for her. Whenever the insects cried, her grandma always lit up some insect-repellent incense that looked like a snail, and even that smelled good. She liked everything about her grandma.
Once, she had the opportunity to live with her for a while. It was when she was in her first year of middle school, just after her father passed away. It was the day his remains were carried out of the house. Her grandma came to her house with her luggage. She sold the cows she was raising and put out her house for sale before coming to her house by herself. She talked with her mother for quite a while. She, vaguely feeling the weight of that conversation, ran away and spent time in the playground. When the sun started setting and the shadows dragged out, she could see one shadow. It was her grandma who came to the playground.
She could still vividly remember that moment. Her grandma hugged her and patted her back and told her in a crying – no, in a way that sounded like she suppressed her crying – voice that it was time for dinner.
After that, she lived half a year with her grandma. She felt very emotionally stabilized just by the fact that there was someone to greet her when she came back from school. At night, they enjoyed dinner with the three of them. She still longed for her father, but she was no longer hurt because of that longing. It was thanks to her grandma.
Her grandma always had a blue candy container nearby. That candy container, on which it was written ‘guest gift’, always had caramel instead of candy. She liked eating those caramels while watching TV with her. Her grandma always told her to stop eating and that it would rot her teeth, but she always left the container open.
She stood up. Her mom looked at her questioningly, but she just smiled back before entering the small room. That room was being used as storage right now. Standing in front of the closet, she opened the drawer beneath it. Inside was the blue candy container.
She returned to the living room with that candy container. Her mom also seemed happy to see the container.
“I suddenly thought of this. Grandma always had this next to her.”
“That was her treasure box. It’s been a long time since I saw it.”
She opened the container and looked at what was inside with her mom. Of course, there weren’t any caramels. Inside, there was a pair of sewing nippers, a thimble, and a lump of string. Below them were a bunch of yellow memo pads. She carefully took those memos out.
“…She was practicing how to write.”
She could see words written in an awkward fashion. It started off with the words ‘father’ and ‘mother’ to common everyday items. Her mom, who was reading those memos, suddenly touched the tip of her nose. Her eyes had reddened.
She remembered the letter that her grandma gave her before she left the house. The letter ended with the words wishing her to stay healthy. The handwriting on that letter was the same as the one on the memos. Her grandma left half a year after living together, and not long after that, the news of her passing away entered her ears. Her grandma was in the last stage of cancer. Even back then, as a middle school student, she knew what it meant for her grandma to invest her last half a year for her. During the funeral, she cried a lot.
“I told you it’s grandma and not gramma… geez, mom,” her mom said as she picked out a memo.
She laid out the numerous memo papers on the floor. Each one of them had grandma’s breath.
After looking at them for a while, her mom chuckled as she spoke.
“Mom at least wrote her name prettily.”
Her mom picked up the memo that said ‘Yoo Bokja’ while she picked up the memo that said ‘Tagsi’. Her grandma always called taxi ‘tagsi’.
“I want to see grandma. Do you have a photo of her?”
A photo of her soon appeared on the screen. In the photo, her grandma was wearing a hanbok and was smiling as though she was embarrassed.
“She’s so pretty.”
“She is. Other people would call her ‘mistress’ if not for the fact that my dad made her suffer.”
There weren’t that many photos of her grandma. She felt that it was such a pity. Just as she looked at herself sitting on her grandma’s lap in the photo, she thought of Maru.
“Oh yeah, a person Maru knows is in the hospital right now.”
“Oh no. Is it a big disease?”
“No. Maru said that he’s okay now, but he didn’t have a good expression. He must be someone precious.”
She remembered that Maru’s expression stiffened as he took the call. That was the first time she saw Maru with a dark expression, so she felt worried.
“Maru has it good. He has a girl that worries about him so much,” her mom spoke as she stroked her hair.
She glared at her mom a little before cleaning up the memos on the floor.
“I want to eat roasted sweet potatoes.”
She picked up the candy container and went to the small room again. Then, she crouched in front of the closet and looked into the drawer. The t-shirt and pants that her grandma always wore were inside. Next to it was a worn-out Bible. There was also a Buddhist rosary and a talisman. When her dad was in the hospital, her grandma prayed to the gods of all religions. It tingled her heart to look at the traces that her grandma left behind.
After putting back the candy container where it was, she closed the drawer. She would probably open the drawer once again once she wanted to reminisce about her grandma again.
When she went back out to the living room, her mom had put on a pair of glasses and was focusing on the monitor. It seemed that her rest was over. She quietly went to the kitchen and brewed some green tea before leaving it next to her laptop. Her mom, who was typing away at the keyboard, smiled at her before starting to focus again.
She went to her room and closed the door. Then, she took out a small album from her bookshelf. When she opened it in the middle, there were a lot of sticker photos that she had taken with her friends. She smiled and flipped to the very front. There, she saw a few photos that she took with her father. Her father was smiling brightly towards the camera while he carried her on his shoulders. Now that she looked carefully, his face did seem a little red. He must have been extremely embarrassed to have his photos taken.
After looking at the photos for a while, she heaved out a deep breath before closing the album.