Life, Once Again! - Chapter 358
“I think I still prefer being a cruiser rather than the Pequod.”
“Why is that?”
“Because Moby D.i.c.k is too big for me to handle. I prefer being a cruiser that waits at the port with shallow waves.”
“Well, the white whale is definitely big,” Joongjin said.
The chef put a bright red piece of meat on the steel pan. The web-like lines of fat were quite eye-catching. The chef said that it was perfectly aged wagyu.
“Have you met the Moby D.i.c.k of your life, Mr. Maru?”
“Well, I’m still young, so they can’t be compared to the hardsh.i.p.s that you must have met throughout your life.”
“Please tell me anyway. I like talking about myself, but I also like listening to others.”
Joongjin’s eyes urged Maru to speak. Although he was over forty years old, his spirit was not one that sought stability, but freedom.
“If I have to come up with one, maybe my midterm results?”
“Is that it?”
“I told you that there’s nothing much, didn’t I? The degree of hardsh.i.p.s that could be met by a high school student in this country just amounts to that.”
“Hm, since you’re bringing up that, I guess I don’t have anything to say. This country is definitely a little boring.”
Joongjin asked the chef for some toothpicks. Maru wondered what he was trying to do and watched him. He opened the lid of the toothpick container and poured all the toothpicks onto the table.
“This is actually quite fun.”
Joongjin started creating a tower with toothpicks.
“Do you want to have a go?”
“I’m fine thanks.”
Although he refused, Joongjin still forcefully tried to hand him a toothpick. He looked like he would stay frozen that way so Maru had no choice but to receive the toothpick.
“Here, put it here.”
He put the toothpick in the position that Joongjin was pointing at. He tried to put an end to things there, but Joongjin gave him another toothpick.
“This time, try putting it wherever you want.”
After thinking about it, he put the toothpick at a weird angle. He put it diagonally to the rest of the toothpicks which were arranged as a square tower.
“Looks like you want to end it early, but I can’t let you do that.”
Joongjin picked up two toothpicks and put them so that they were parallel to where Maru put his. With that, the tower regained its stability. This was like playing chess. One wanted to forfeit and quit, but the other side found it so much fun that they wanted to keep going.
“You can put two at once?”
“Who said you could only put one at a time?”
Maru couldn’t retort to that. Although his tone was light, there were no gaps in his words. Maru felt that he was very smart.
Just then, a sharp metal sliding sound could be heard from where the steel pan was. It was the sound of two metal pieces sliding against each other. The chef was slicing up the meat into even pieces with two knives. Joongjin took his eyes off the toothpicks for the first time to see the dual knives performance. Meanwhile, Maru pushed the tower with his finger. The 10 or so floors of toothpicks fell down.
After looking at the fallen tower for a while, Joongjin smacked on the table with his palm before laughing out loud. Hearing that, the other three looked at him, but didn’t seem to care. It seemed that they were used to his action patterns.
“I definitely didn’t say that not toppling it was in the rules. But still, aren’t you going too far? You just had to topple the tower I put so much effort into with a single finger.”
Joongjin gathered the toothpicks and put them back in the container.
“Life is like this tower. No matter how stable one builds their foundation, it is bound to topple from strong external forces. Isn’t that so unfair?”
“What can I do about it? I can only live with it.”
“What do you think you will do when your tower is toppled like that? Are you going to gather the scraps and start over? Or are you going to give up?”
Joongjin gave him the toothpick container this time. Maru looked at the toothpicks before speaking.
“It’s too much of a waste to give up, and too hard to start over, so I should probably sell these for cheap,” Maru said as he pulled out one toothpick.
“If I get the raw materials cost back, wouldn’t I be able to make a living at least?”
“So you’re focused on making a living, Mr. Maru.”
“Isn’t everyone like that?”
“That’s true, but still, you’re rather peculiar. Normally, people of your age look forward to an objective they have to fulfill, not things they have to be responsible for.”
“The world is a harsh place. These days, students worry about making a living starting at my age.”
“That’s very unfortunate to hear.”
The chef put a piece of meat on a ceramic plate and gave each person a dish. He also put some salts on the dish for them to season, and there were several different colored salts. Maru seasoned his meat with the blue-colored one. Leaving aside the meat, the salt was just salty. Perhaps a gourmet might be able to figure out the taste.
Just as he was about to grab the napkin on his left, he saw Joongjin pressing down on the meat with his fingers. He looked at the meat with eyes full of curiosity as though he was the first man to receive fire from Prometheus.
“What are you doing?”
Seeing his peculiar actions, Maru couldn’t help but ask.
“I am sensing the meat.”
“I treat all of my senses preciously. Look at this meat. Just looking at it is not enough to tell the texture. You can predict, but not actually tell if your predictions are true or not. That’s why I have to touch it.”
“You should be able to tell if you put it in your mouth though.”
“Do you think the sensitivity of your fingertips and your mouth is the same? Moreover, your mouth always contains saliva so it negates minute textures. To be entirely sure, it’s better to touch it with my fingertips like this.”
Ouch, hot – Joongjin, who was touching the meat, quickly grabbed his earlobes. Despite being burned, his fingers still reached out to the meat once again. Only after touching the rectangular meat over and over again did Joongjin picked up the meat with his bare hands and put it in his mouth. He looked like the happiest man on Earth. He exclaimed several times as he chewed on the meat. Maru momentarily felt guilty for chewing and swallowing the meat in one go.
“You should try as well.”
Maru looked at the meat. By common sense, grilled meat wasn’t something that was touched. Housewives would’ve scolded such people for playing around with food. If it was anyone else, Maru would have refused and just eaten it with a fork and knife like usual.
However, the one next to him right now was Joongjin. His eccentricity didn’t give him a feeling of rejection for some reason. It was probably because of his joyous expression. It felt like he would lose out if he didn’t try it out.
“I think it is necessary for people to expand their senses. Just following what other people have already done is, yes, it is very easy. There’s no risk in that. That is because numerous pioneers have experienced all the existing dangers and told their followers. Look, this is no longer dangerous – one would have said.”
While speaking, Joongjin tried rubbing some of the salts in his hand and tried smelling them before tasting them.
“The followers can be satisfied with that. After all, it was proven to be safe. However, I guarantee that such people will not be able to escape the conventions. Moreover, the ones that have faith in conventions start condemning people that try to escape such conventions. They criticise such people for doing unnecessary things. Why do people do that even though it does them no harm?”
Joongjin seemed to be expecting an answer from him. Maru looked at the meat that was being cooked as he spoke.
“Perhaps they were uneasy.”
“Why were they uneasy?”
“To be different from me, no, to be different from us is something foreign to them. Foreign things are prone to being ostracized. Like you said, conventions are agreements that have been proven over the course of time. Perhaps it’s natural for people to ostracize others that left that agreement.”
“Very good answer. However, the core of the problem that I’m thinking of goes a step further.”
“A step further?”
“Why do they feel uneasy? Why do they ostracize others? I came to one conclusion. I don’t want you, who’s different from me, to get ahead of me. People are all smart. They always strive towards the better. That’s why they can’t stand people that escape the conventions. They know that while people that walk a dangerous path might destroy themselves, they have the possibility to reach heights no one has reached ever before.”
Joongjin took out a toothpick before skewering the meat. The toothpick stood upright and pointed at the ceiling.
“People instinctively dislike other people being above them. However, the world will always divide people into those that are above and those that are below. That’s why people create idols. Someone that looks similar to me is above me. However, if you admit that, then you start to feel tragic about your own circ.u.mstances. Ah, that person was just born different from me – like that.”
Joongjin looked at him. Maru just shrugged.
“Have you heard of the word genius?”
“Yes, I have.”
“What do you feel when you hear that word? What kinds of feelings does it give you?”
“Amazing, incredible. Well, things like that.”
Joongjin nodded. He stared at the toothpick-skewered meat for a long time before pulling the toothpick back out and eating the meat with a fork and a knife like normal.
“The typical description of idols are ‘geniuses’. Geniuses always break convention. They walk a path that other people have not taken. No, to be exact, they walk a path that other people don’t think of going. It’s a word that people use with their admiration, but whenever I hear that word, I think of the pettiness of mankind. The word genius always leaves out the word effort.”
Maru looked at Joongjin’s fingers. Unexpectedly, they looked very worn out and it was pointing at the meat being grilled.
“The texture should feel very different. Try touching it.”
Maru tapped on the table with his finger for a while before placing his hand on top of the meat. He slowly lowered his fingertips and touched the meat. A sensation that was completely different from raw meat creeped up his fingers. A feeling of softness and elasticity could be felt at the same time. The slightly burnt part was rather rough, while the parts that didn’t get directly sizzled were soft.
He was reminded of playing with clay when he was young.
“It’s like a ceremony. You received that eccentric man’s approval,” Jangsoo spoke. Maru picked up the meat and looked at Joongjin. He was smiling so brightly that his teeth were showing.
“Try eating it now. Trust me, it will taste different.”
Maru sighed before putting the meat in his mouth.
* * *
“Let’s go to the next restaurant!”
Joongjin raised his right hand and shouted. Choongho and Jangsoo chimed in. Perhaps it was because they hung out with Joongjin, but they looked like they returned to their youth.
“He’s a strange man, isn’t he?” Joohyun asked.
“Yes. He’s indeed strange.”
“When I look at him, I wonder how people like him can exist.”
She smiled softly.
“How was he during the shooting?”
“He’s the same. No, perhaps I should call it worse? That kind of atmosphere at the shoot could only be created by him. What should I call it… Even though we’re doing the same thing, it feels like we’re doing a completely new thing? It’s hard to describe with words.”
“I think I get what you mean.”
“But still, it’s good that the director seems to like you.”
Once he starts working, he will start dividing people up. Those that can judge for themselves, and those that have to follow his instructions to the tee. Anyone that does not sympathize with him is just a chess piece – he actually said those words during the shoot.
“Sounds like he must have gotten quite an eyeful from the actors.”
“At first, yeah. But as the shoot progressed, no one complained about him. He was too perfect.”
Too perfect. It was a rather strange combination of words.
“The two of you! Come quick!” Joongjin waved his hand as he shouted.
Maru looked at Joohyun once before smiling and walking forward.