Life, Once Again! - Chapter 642
The franchise café in front of the acting school was filled with people who were studying. The seats by the glass wall were taken by people with laptops, while the tables inside were taken up by study groups.
“One latte please.”
While he admired the sliced cakes in the display case, the coffee came out. He picked up the paper cup from which he could feel the heat before sitting on one of the sofa seats in the middle. It seemed that this seat was avoided because many people passed by. He took a sip of the hot coffee under the air conditioner. His mouth was warm, and his body was cool. Was there a luxury better than this? He looked at the girl dozing off on the table next to him and thought back to the audition he had just taken. He passed the first round. He didn’t know what the audition was for, but it seemed clear that the woman at the front desk had something to do with it. Was she a person related to the audition? Or was she doing this work because she was asked to by someone? As he was thinking, his phone vibrated. He got a text from an unknown number.
-Please eat lunch and return to the acting school by 2 p.m. The 2nd interview will be held.
Interview – that was a word that smelled like neckties. When he checked the time, he saw that it was 11:40. He lay back against the sofa before drinking his coffee. He had a lot of spare time to the point that it would bore him out.
“Welcome to Real Coffee.”
After hearing the employee’s voice, Maru turned his head around. The one that entered was the woman he saw in the lobby of the acting school. She was the one who read the brochure while calmly leaning against the wall. They met eyes. He nodded slightly. The woman also greeted him with her eyes. From the way she came here, it was likely that she passed the 1st round as well. After all, the instruction to wait in a nearby café should have led most people here. The woman ordered a coffee and sat by the glass wall. As there was no need to go beyond a simple greeting, Maru stayed seated and just sipped on the coffee. Another 10 minutes later, a student wearing a school uniform entered. He was the only one who was reading a book among the applicants who were wearing school uniforms. The rest of them stared at the audition room with curiosity and nervousness.
Just like the woman, he met eyes with the boy. As he sat on the sofa located in the middle of the store and was in the direct line of sight with the entrance, he met eyes with all the people who entered. The boy acted like he knew him. He smiled brightly before becoming awkward and just nodding. Maru also just greeted him with a nod. The boy looked around the coffee shop after getting his coffee before going to the 2nd floor. From the look of things, it seemed that all the applicants that passed would come to this café. Maru took his time drinking the coffee. Meanwhile, three more people he had come across in the lobby came to the café.
It was 12:30. It was about time he got his lunch. Maru threw the empty paper cup in the trash before leaving the café. The common point among the ones who came to this café was that they did not mind the audition room wrapped in mystery and waited calmly. Maru also belonged to that criteria. This meant that the ones that came to this café very likely had passed the first audition. When he left the café in search of a restaurant, the door opened and someone came out behind him. It was another applicant for the audition. Just as they became conscious of each other and smiled awkwardly, Maru nodded before turning around. It was much better to look for a place to eat instead of being here.
He saw a ugeoji gukbap restaurant about two blocks away from the café. There was another ugeoji gukbap restaurant right across it. They weren’t restaurants that belonged to the same brand. Maru thought about common sense as he looked at the restaurants placed right across each other, but it wasn’t something he should be concerned about as a consumer. Regardless of the place, it would be good as long as it was cheap and tasty. He looked inside the restaurant with a clean interior. He saw young men and women in pairs. He tried sniffing. The smell that came out of the ventilation hole was rather clean. It looked like a decent restaurant, but it wasn’t the smell that Maru was looking for. Just as he turned around to go to the other gukbap restaurant, a group of people standing near him entered his eyes. They were the group of applicants for the audition. Awkwardness exuded from them even from afar. It seemed that they grouped up and followed him since it wasn’t like they had a destination in mind. The one at the front was the woman who came to the café first. The woman with sharp eyes sighed softly before taking a step forward.
“Hello? We aren’t kids and it’s not like it’s necessary for us to get close, so let’s not stand here awkwardly like this. It’s a waste of time. Let’s get something to eat for now. I think this place looks okay.”
The woman pointed at the ugeoji gukbap restaurant. It was the place where the young people gathered. The applicants looked inside the restaurant and nodded before going inside. After the small girl at the very end entered as well, the woman who took the lead held the door open.
“Come quickly,” she said.
Maru shook his head.
“I don’t think that place fits my tastes.”
“You can eat by yourselves. If there’s something you want to talk about, we can do it after the meal.”
“No, but, we should eat together.”
“I’ll try going to that place first. If I don’t think it’s good, I’ll come back.”
He tried going to the gukbap restaurant across the street. The appearance was just as clean as the other one, but the restaurant was filled with middle-aged men wearing work outfits. The man who had put sunglasses in his chest pocket seemed to be a taxi driver. That was a combination he didn’t even need to hesitate about. He opened the door and poked his head inside. A heavy yet savory smell filled the restaurant.
This was it. Maru turned around and told the woman waiting at the entrance of the other restaurant – I’m eating here. The woman made a sour expression before saying okay.
“Auntie, gimme a bowl of gukbap.”
As soon as he ordered, he was given side dishes before the gukbap came out. He subconsciously smiled when he looked at the steaming hot gukbap. Ugeoji gukbap was one of the pillars that supported his life. When he worked mornings – coming to work at dawn and finishing work at 2 p.m. – Maru started off his day with this gukbap. At 4 a.m., before even the sun rose, the one that greeted him when he pushed open the door after walking through the cold air was none other than ugeoji gukbap. It liberated his wife from waking up during the night to be by the stove to cook for him so early in the morning, and also allowed him to have a fulfilling meal with his thin wallet. From the moment he washed the bus, filled the gas tank, and went through a checkup to the moment he finished his work for the day, the warmth of the gukbap remained deep inside the stomach of the forty-five-year-old bus driver, supporting his day. Of course, it wasn’t that tasty. It was more of a value food.
He took a spoonful of the soup and ate it. Just as he had expected, the taste was quite thick. It had such a good taste that it made him slowly forget about the ugeoji gukbap he ate along with the cold air of dawn. When the taste of his memories became blurred, Maru laughed out lightly. It was a memory when he thought about it now, but back then, it was his method of survival.
After emptying everything in the bowl down to the last bit, Maru stood up. He took a piece of mint candy placed on the counter. For some reason, he felt lacking when he didn’t eat the mint candy. Before he left the restaurant, he checked the time. It was 1 p.m. There was about an hour left, so he wondered where he should go to kill time.
He suddenly heard a voice next to him. He saw the applicants exiting leaving the ugeoji gukbap restaurant across the street. The one who talked to him was just as he had expected, the woman with sharp eyes.
“Isn’t it awkward to eat by yourself? You should’ve eaten with us.”
“Taste is important when it comes to food. This place was good because the soup was thick. Gukbaps are best served thick.”
He cracked open the mint candy with his molars. When he rolled the candy inside his mouth, sweet saliva pooled up below his tongue. The woman twitched as though she was dissatisfied.
“You passed the first audition, right?”
“Yes. Everyone here has passed, right?”
“Yes. I think only the people here have passed the first audition.”
“I think people who weren’t swept up by the atmosphere were the only ones who passed, but I don’t know why they did that.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Not to mention the woman, the other people behind her also expressed their questioning minds and gathered around him. Maru told them what he saw in the lobby. It wasn’t anything worth hiding after all.
“Now that I think about it, I think that was the case.”
“I was reading a book.”
“And I was listening to music.”
“I was doing image training, so I didn’t have any time to think about anything else.”
From listening to everyone’s stories, it seemed that his hypothesis was right to a certain extent. Now that they knew the reason they passed the first audition, everyone fell into contemplation. In an audition, where they were supposed to be evaluated on their acting skills, the first screening was based on the ‘waiting look’ in the lobby instead. Since the situation was rather incomprehensible, Maru understood that they were thinking about it.
“If you want to talk, let’s move inside somewhere. The sun’s hot. The café from before is crowded, so what about that place?”
Maru looked at another café with two floors. Since this street had a lot of cafés, there shouldn’t be a lot of people going to the 2nd floor to enjoy their coffee time. The woman replied ‘okay’ immediately before taking the lead. Everyone entered the café like little ducklings following the mother duck. Just as Maru had expected, there weren’t a lot of people. It was a perfect place to hold a conversation.
“Why do you think they did that?” the woman asked.
Maru just shrugged when everyone looked at him. He had nothing to respond with even if they looked at him. He only found out about the screening process, and not the intention behind it.
“Is there anyone here who has ties to the producer of the one-act play?”
The man who was listening to music in the lobby had asked everyone. Replies all came at once – no. There was no one who knew the producer. Maru found out about this audition through Ganghwan, but he had no information about the producer. Come back alive – that was the only clue he gave him.
“What are they trying to do here? Are they trying to make fun of people?”
“They should have their intentions.”
“In any case, I can clearly see that the producer definitely conforms to the norms. Do you know how confused I was when I saw a single chair when I opened the door? Moreover, how could they notify us through a video? I’m sure the producer doesn’t have the slightest bit of manners,” said a man with curly hair.
He was the guy who had his eyes closed and was unbudging back in the lobby. The curly haired man chatted about the unfairness of the audition to the point that it made Maru wonder how he stayed silent while he was waiting. When he did that for about 3 minutes, everyone seemed to have gotten annoyed and started fidgeting, and only then did the man stop talking. Maru leaned back against his chair and sent Gaeul a message. I passed a weird audition.
“In any case, I hope we can cheer for each other.”
The small girl who was always at the tail, whether it was going inside the restaurant, or coming to the café, spoke. As her voice was small, even Maru had a hard time listening to her even though he was right next to her. The girl looked around her before making an awkward smile and lowering her head.
“Isn’t only one of us going to pass anyway? I think it’d be somewhat funny to cheer for each other,” said the woman who always took the lead.
The girl looked around before chuckling and nodding. Maru looked at the people seated in a circle through the corner of his eyes before picking up his teacup. The woman’s words seemed to have provoked the wariness within them as they all kept touching the teacups with their mouths shut. They seemed to have forgotten since they ate lunch together, but right now, they were in a competitive relationship vying for one spot.
“What do you think the 2nd interview is?” wondered the boy in a school uniform.
They did not talk to each other because they were conscious of one another, but they seemed to feel that this topic was worth discussing as they started talking immediately. The one who started off was naturally the woman who always took the lead.
“This time, they should be looking at acting.”
She had done away with the polite speech now. No one objected to it though. She was in her mid-twenties from a glance, clearly the oldest in the group.
“I heard this when I was recommended for this audition, but apparently, the director for this one-act play has a terrible personality.”
“I think I heard that too.”
It seemed that the bad rumors about this producer were quite widespread. Ganghwan’s words became more and more credible. He also had the thought that the strange interview wouldn’t just end with the first round. Just as they had come up with predictions about the 2nd audition, their phones all rang at the same time. All six people here grabbed their phones.
“They want us back now,” Maru said.