Life, Once Again! - Chapter 624
“Then let’s do it that way, yes. Thanks for your work. Dinner? Oh, it’s that time already. You should eat. I will take care on my own.”
Junmin put down his phone and pressed firmly between his eyebrows. His body felt like a lump of lead, as he hadn’t had much sleep recently. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath before looking at the clock. It was 5:49 p.m. It was time for dinner. He briefly thought about going home and cooking his own dinner, but he didn’t feel like he had the energy to drive himself home. He picked up his wallet and left his office. He said goodbye to a few of the managers who were waiting inside the company before going to the kimbap restaurant in front of the company.
“Tuna kimbap?” The lady asked as soon as she saw him.
Junmin nodded before taking a seat. Back in the days when he used to wear the worn-out suit every day, he swore that he would eat the delicacies of the world for every meal when the number of digits on his bank account surpassed ten, but after achieving that goal way too easily, the restaurant he frequented the most was still a kimbap restaurant and one that was located in front of his company. He could go to the restaurant in his company, but when he ended up making a subconscious decision, it always turned out to be kimbap.
As he ate the tuna kimbap with the miso soup, he looked at the TV on the cabinet. He looked at the ad that was airing out and compared the image of some actors in his mind. When his mind was filled with a rather decent-looking business plan, Junmin shook his head. At this point, he was obsessed with work. He wanted to forget about work when he was eating at least, but whenever there was a TV or a radio around him, his stream of consciousness naturally flowed towards the entertainment industry.
“Thanks for the food.”
It felt like he was leaving his house. These days, a lot of people asked him if he was going to get married soon. It made him tired of retorting to them every time that it was already too late for him since he was in his fifties.
He returned to his office and took off his shoes before lying down on the sofa. He kept training to stay fit, but he could feel his stamina decreasing every year. Wondering whether or not he should try to quit smoking, Junmin put a cigarette in his mouth. That was definitely not happening.
He puffed a short one before looking at his laptop. There were tons of emails regarding advertisements. Despite the fact that the head manager had filtered them once, there were more than forty of them. Most of them were for Suyeon. After that was Sooil. There was nothing for Geunsoo or Ganghwan.
“Well, these two will become big soon.”
Suyeon was currently the face of JA Production, but Junmin thought that it would soon change. Junmin had excavated and nurtured many actors until now. However, most weren’t a part of JA right now. Although he kept a good relationship with them, Junmin did not choose them. Geunsoo, Ganghwan, Suyeon, and the child actors who were still growing right now – Junmin decided to house them in JA. Not the best, but the irreplaceable. Junmin set a clear path that JA was going to take.
Perhaps his dream might have strayed off, but Junmin still wanted to achieve it. That was because the only way he could atone was for him to pave the path that Haejoo should have walked on.
Junmin took out a phone from his chest pocket. The light from the phone screen colored the dark office in a hazy white color. He pressed a few buttons to bring up the photo gallery. When he clicked next a few times, some old photos filled his screen. Junmin zoomed in on one of them. Haejoo was standing with a prankster smile and he was standing next to her. Junmin faintly smiled as he looked at his past self that was at a loss on what to do since Haejoo had hooked her arm around his.
The gallery on his phone was a treasure island that he could visit at any time. There was no need to worry about losing directions, no need to go past the rocky waves, and yet he could still come across treasures that couldn’t be compared to anything else in the world. Junmin rubbed the smiling Haejoo’s face with his thumb.
“If she was still alive, would I have gotten married?”
I am going to confess one day – Haejoo’s whisper rang inside his ears. Junmin reminded himself of the two regrets that changed his life. One was that he made an appointment with Haejoo on that rainy day, and the other one was that he did not reply to that shy question. If he acted differently in any of those two scenarios, would that girl’s fate have changed?
Junmin looked around his office. A thirty year-old nameless actor with no assets had now achieved all this. Ironically, Haejoo’s death brought a drastic change to his life, and that became the motivation that led to his success. Perhaps due to that, Junmin would sometimes want to vomit when he looked at the building that he named after Haejoo. It wasn’t just once or twice that he wanted to turn his back to this place and leave, thinking that everything here was built on top of another person’s life as the foundation. But, whenever he felt like that, he scolded himself. He told himself that running away right now would make Haejoo’s death even more meaningless.
‘Though, even that is just an excuse and self-justification.’
In retrospect, he lived a dream-like life. They say a story of a hundred different people was equivalent to a hundred different dramas, but how many people would actually live a drama-like life? Most people just joined the rail that society wanted them to. They would come across a few opportunities that could be said to be a turning point in their life on their narrow railroad, but that did not change the fact that they were still on the rails. Before he met Haejoo, he was also following along the ordinary rails. It was because he met her that he came to doubt the rail, stopped, and eventually escaped it. The start of the change definitely stemmed from Haejoo.
“Where am I heading now?”
His objective was still clear now. It was to nurture another actor like Jung Haejoo. Well, it was unknown whether an actor like her would ever exist again, but the ones growing under him right now definitely had the potential.
After gazing at the photos for a while, Junmin felt his vision go blurry and closed his eyes. He felt like fatigue was piling on his eyes. He wondered if he should sleep like this. When he sighed and opened his eyes again, he had a sharp sense of déjà vu. Junmin quickly stood up and looked at his work desk in front of him. He felt like he had seen the same desk somewhere before.
‘What am I thinking….’
Obviously, he would have seen it before, since he came here every single day. However, it also felt like there was a slight difference. He felt like it looked redder before. Before? Junming stroked his face. His head felt hazy and he couldn’t continue thinking properly anymore. Was a lack of sleep this frightening? Feeling a floaty sensation, he opened the fridge. After he drank a cup of cold water and turned around, a heavy headache overwhelmed him.
At the same time, he experienced the scenery in front of him changing all by itself. His office, which had a blue overall theme turned grey for a moment before it changed into an extremely ordinary-looking office. He could see his own figure looking at the computer with a bored expression. No, could it be expressed as ‘seeing’? He felt like he was being reminded of an event in the distant past. Was he hearing things? Seeing things? Did something bad finally happen to his mind? Perhaps it was his body’s way of telling him that he should quit the goddamned alcohol and cigarettes.
He clutched his head and sat down on the sofa. The scenery in front of him was still changing. He could see himself working while wearing more informal clothes like he was wearing now, and he could also see himself running around busily with a necktie tightly strapped around his neck. Everything in this space changed except for the sofa he was sitting on. Even the people changed, whether it was their faces or their clothes. Some of them were people he knew, and some of them were people he did not know at all. However, these seemingly unfamiliar people felt incredibly familiar to him. It was an indescribably complex and strange, nay, rather horrifying sensation if he dug into those feelings more deeply.
The scenery, which was rapidly changing like switching TV channels, was eventually fixed on one scene. Junmin heaved out a deep breath and focused. Did people go through this kind of strange phenomenon when they were tired? He was reminded of his friend, who was a doctor and had told him that he should get some rest.
“Is it finally time that I rest?”
He did feel like it was about time to rest since he had been working non-stop for the past twenty years. Junmin lay back on the sofa again. It would be a huge problem if he kept standing up and collapsed and injured his head or something. He clutched his still dizzy head and forced himself to sleep.
Fortunately, he calmed down when he closed his eyes. He felt like he could fall asleep quite soon at this rate.
‘Looks like I really needed some rest.’
His body felt very drowsy immediately. When he felt a little better, his brain, which had stopped working because of all of the chaos, started working again. He was slightly worried that the strange phenomenon from before would happen once again, but the blue-themed office looked deadly still. While he sighed in relief, his brain replayed the fifty years of life he had experienced. Junmin watched his own life happen in his mind as though he was watching a movie. An elder who was struggling to live because of the failure he experienced in youth, the love that came to him too late after an early farewell, and even his middle ages when he burned even more passionately than his youth. It was riddled with trials, but he smartly overcame all of them and arrived at where he was now. Looking back, there were quite a few decisions he made that could only be described as luck. The past him made choices that the current him couldn’t understand at all, but as a result of that, he always saw profit. To be precise, he never made losses.
He wisely walked the curvy road that was his life as though he had been on it once before.
“Like a person who’s lived once again….”
Those words subconsciously escaped his mouth.
This life, in which he had gained clear success, despite the ups and downs, suddenly felt unfamiliar to him now. The life he lived until now felt like a well-made script all of a sudden. Thinking that he was following a script of a perfect life that was written over several iterations of editing, Junmin uttered.
“Looks like I’ll have to visit the hospital.”
He had heard of a mental disease that made one suddenly feel unfamiliar with oneself. Depersonalization, was it? He had just experienced realities where he was detached from himself. The sense of alienation and deprivation made him think that it might actually be symptoms of an illness rather than simply being tired.
Junmin called for his head manager, who should still be at the company. It was a stupid thing to ignore something that happened as nothing much. As sorry as he felt for his friend, he needed medical attention.
“Head manager Lee, can I ask you to drive?”
Calling the internal line, Junmin looked at his cell phone on the sofa. Haejoo’s face was still on the screen, which hadn’t been turned off yet.
* * *
“Were you always a good eater?”
“Don’t talk to me. I feel like I’m gonna burst.”
Maru looked at Jiseok and Daemyung, who tapped on their bellies. They ate lunch after watching one video, and these two ate tremendous amounts. Even Bada, who actually liked eating, declared forfeit midway in front of these two.
“I’ll get some sleep.”
“Sorry, Maru. I feel sleepy too.”
Jiseok went to the sofa and lay down on it, while Daemyung lay down in front of the window. Bada also crawled back to her room.
Maru shook his head and put away the dishes. He thought that there would be quite a lot left over after seeing all the food that Daemyung bought, but they actually managed to finish it all. When he returned after cleaning up, the two had fallen into a deep sleep. Maru brought some duvets from the bedroom and covered the two of them.
“Sleep. I guess that’s for the best.”
Maru put the next videotape in the VCR and played it. The previous video only contained the awkward-looking Junmin and Haejoo. There was a brief practice moment, but there weren’t that many differences as though it hadn’t been long since the coaching started.
Like always, Jincheol’s face appeared on the screen after a buzzy screen.
-Doesn’t Haejoo feel different now?
-Well, I didn’t notice.
-How can her acting improve in just a few weeks? Also, honestly speaking, I don’t trust that Lee Junmin guy. He’s a nameless actor himself, and he wants to coach someone? Haejoo is way too nice to him. If it was me, I would’ve kicked him out without a second thought.
-Yes, yes. He looks quite capable though.
Just then, Jung Haejoo’s voice could be heard from outside the camera frame.
-There, there. Talk after you eat this kimbap!
-That again? Sheesh, you really like them, huh.
-There’s nothing better than it though.
People started gathering in front of the camera.