Maru walked up the stairs of the school building, with food in his hand . The smell of sweat washed over his face upon opening the auditorium door . He could feel the gazes of everyone in the room as they stared at him with surprise .
Miso put down the dishes of food with a shout . The kids all rushed over with a starving gaze .
“Thank you for the food!”
Each of them took a plastic container for themselves as they sat back down . Maru joined in as well . Looking around, he realized the rest of the club members were sitting in a circle eating together .
The group developed a strong bond over the last few weeks . They were talking about practice even during meals . Maru took his food and walked over to the stage . He was planning on eating in one of the seats there, until Miso walked over to sit with him .
“What are you doing by yourself?”
“I have no reason to be there with them . They’re talking about important stuff over there . ”
Right then, the group of eleven stopped talking for a second to look at him .
“Hey! What are you doing over there? Come over, Maru!”
It was Yoonjung . She was frantically waving him over . Even Joonghyuk was giving him looks . Not to mention Dojin and Daemyung . How nice of them .
“Don’t worry, kids . I need to talk with the head for a bit,” Miso responded .
The kids made an ‘aha’ face as they resumed their conversations with one another .
Head, huh . He hadn’t heard that nickname in a month .
“So, what was that thing you wanted to talk about before?” Miso asked as she stuffed her mouth with three pieces of katsu . Maru responded after taking a small sip from his soup .
“I heard that you were going into the preliminaries in three weeks . ”
“That’s right . If you want to join, you really should…”
Maru shook his head .
“I don’t want to participate in the competition . ”
“Didn’t you say you wanted to?”
“I do . But not a part of the competition itself . ”
“I don’t want to intrude on them . The rest of the club members tried hard during the last month . ”
“Hm . ”
“I heard the roles had all been chosen as well . The props are all finished too . Is there even space for me there anymore?”
“There isn’t . ”
Miso answered right away with a nod .
“You don’t want to take their place?”
“I’m not that desperate . ”
“Oh, so you will if you do get desperate?”
“There’s not much I won’t do if I want to live . ”
He would do anything if it kept his wife and daughter from starving . That was the decision his 45 year old self came up with . Though he had no one to direct that mindset to anymore, he still firmly upheld its values .
“You looked kind of selfish right there . ”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No . People need to be greedy . They need to find their own place in life . They can’t just wait for things to be handed to them, they need to take it . Only then can they afford to start worrying about others . ”
“That’s true . ”
He recalled what the woman had told him after his death . To not be as selfless as he was before . But Maru had never thought of him having a selfless life . He just had decent manners and had common sense .
Return what you are given, and follow rules when you can . Don’t try to affect people around you negatively . Those were the only things he followed .
Then again, under the state of the contemporary world, he supposed even that could be considered ‘selfless’ .
“So, what did you want to ask about?”
“I wanted to try being in a play . ”
“You told me, didn’t you? About volunteer plays that were done by the government . It can even be done for children . I just want to try to see what it’s like . ”
“Hm . ”
Miso finished off her food as she thought for a second . She slapped her belly with satisfaction before continuing .
“So I take it that you want to take it easy? Without putting in much effort?”
“I suppose so . ”
“I’m telling you this now, but there are no plays that are easy . There are ones that have shorter prep times though . ”
“I’m sorry . I just wanted relatively quick plays . ”
“I see . So you just want to dip your toe in the water . Well, I have no reason to stop you . I have a friend who does puppet plays at different kindergartens . She works with well known stories that are usually from the Aesopica or Andersen’s stories . It’s not a very easy task . Sometimes, puppet plays are even more difficult than normal plays . It’s relatively quicker though, so I’ll introduce you . How do the weekends sound?”
“Sounds good to me . ”
“Alright . Try it, then . It won’t be easy though,” Miso grinned mischievously . She took out her phone and called someone . After a few words were exchanged, she handed the phone over to Maru .
“Take it . ”
“Alright . ”
Maru took the phone . He could hear kids on the other side, along with a lady’s pained words: “pulling sis’s hair makes big sis go owie . ” He could guess what was happening on the other side pretty well .
“Are you alright?” Maru was the first to speak . The lady responded almost immediately from the other side .
- Ah yes, just a minute, please! I’m sorry . Waaaait!
At the same time .
‘Hey! Don’t you know how scary big sis can be if she gets mad?’ The lady started to chide the kids a bit before directing a ‘please give me a break for a second’ to Maru . The other side only became quiet after 3 more minutes .
- Phew! Hello?
“Are you fine now?”
- Ah, yes .
“Kids really don’t listen during that age, don’t they? They’re devilish at the age of seven . ”
- Ah… yes .
He could hear the lady’s confusion in her voice . Maru smiled bitterly . He spoke like a parent without even realizing it .
“I called because I wanted to participate in one of your plays . ”
- Ah, right, right . Could we go over your age real quick again, though? I’m very sorry . Seventeen… Right?
She sounded unsure . Maru agreed for now .
- I’m thirty . A friend of Miso’s .
“Yes . You can drop the formalities if you’d like . ”
- Would that be fine?
“Of course . ”
- I’ll try to speak more casually, then…
Maru looked at Miso, suppressing a grin . So this is what they meant about how opposites attract . The woman was the complete opposite of Miso .
“What is it?” Miso asked . Maru put a hand over the microphone as he responded .
“I just found it surprising . ”
“How her personality is so different from yours . ”
“Shush with the weird comments and take the call . She’s going to cry if you keep ignoring her . ”
Maru put the phone back on his ear .
- …Um, did I say something wrong?
“No, not at all . ”
- Really? I thought I might’ve said something wrong because you suddenly went silent . Phew . That’s good .
The lady sighed in relief . She seemed to be quite a handful as well . Were the people around Miso all like this?
“You can be casual with me . ”
- Oh, right . Mm… but actually, I think it’d be rude to be so casual when I haven’t even met you in person . Wouldn’t you agree?
“Haha, right you are . ”
- So you wanted to try doing plays for children?
“Yes . If I won’t be a bother, I’d like to try helping out . ”
- Bother? We were just in need of more hands! I did ask Miso for help, but she said she was severely allergic to children… That’s a bit mean, isn’t it?
“Yes, it is,” Maru responded after making sure Miso couldn’t hear what the lady was saying . “Is there anything that I’ll need to bring?” He continued .
- No, nothing of the sort . You just have to come right away and practice a bit .
- Yes . Weren’t you coming tomorrow?
Ah, so the word “weekend” meant “tomorrow” to Miso, huh . Maru turned to look at the lady, who was giving him a ‘V’ sign with a grin on her face . What a woman .
“I am, I am . I’ll be there tomorrow . Where should I go?”
- Suwon city .
The same city, thankfully .
- Can you come out to the station by 9 o’clock tomorrow morning?
“Yes, of course . ”
- Alright, perfect . Thank you, one of the people who is usually here to help us had to drop out for tomorrow, so we were about to be really underhanded .
“The one who should be thankful is me . At least I have something to do now . ”
The lady finished the call after saying ‘see you tomorrow’ . The way she spoke just made him smile . She had a very calming, comfortable voice .
“Done?” Miso asked .
“Yes, thank you . ”
“What made you suddenly decide to act, by the way? I mean I’m happy about it, but still . ”
“I decided that I might as well take that first step . I do like plays . I was interested from the start as well . I was just afraid of the time I might waste my time doing it . I’m not ready to go all in yet, though . Maybe I’ll quit after a few tries, even . ”
“You don’t seem like that kind of a person to me . Kids like you get really focused on one thing once they really get into it . That’s one reason why I obsess over them a lot . ”
“Who knows . I like to think I don’t get committed to things . ”
“I don’t think so . People often think that they know themselves better than anyone . But many of them are also the type that won’t even realize that they have shit on their back until someone else tells them about it . Occasionally, someone else’s evaluation you might be more valuable than your own . ”
“I’ll admit that . ”
“Admitting is easy . You just never listen . ”
“Instructor . ”
“You don’t have a boyfriend, do you?”
Maru dodged the plastic fork that was thrown at his face . He was pretty confident that he knew what kind of a person she was now .
“You really are a strange one . Go on, now . Like you said, there really isn’t a place for you here anymore . ”
“Yes, I should . ”
“Do think about it carefully, though . I might be totally mistaken, but I do see potential in you . You should try it . Forget about your fears . Actors begin their career by throwing themselves straight into the flame . They ignore how society might view them, how they might view themselves, and the rules that bind them and jump straight in . ”
Miso stood up . The club members looked to be nearly finished with their food as well . They were all looking at the two of them, ready to start practice again .
“Don’t get jealous of them in the future, you hear?”
“Of course . ”
Miso stepped forward . Maru watched the club resume practice for a few minutes before getting up himself . It was seven now . He’s never been at the auditorium this late before . He could see the others practicing their blocking as he walked over to the exit . Maru didn’t want to bother them . He quietly opened the door, and whispered “goodbye” as he left the auditorium .
The corridor of the school was still very well lit, despite being so late . Maru could hear different noises coming out of other club rooms still . The toy club had sounds of hammers beating against wood coming out of it, and Maru could hear someone in the music club practicing with their bass guitar .
They were all working very hard . Each of them were buying these skills with their time in order to get what they wanted . Hopefully they could all get what they wanted out of this . Maru headed down to the first floor with a bag of trash in hand . The first floor was completely dark, save for the teachers’ office down the hallway . It was pretty quiet, too .
It was his first time seeing the first floor so silent . It felt quite new to him for some reason . Maybe because he finally made a decision?
Maru threw away the bag of trash into one of the recycling bins before getting back on his bike . On the way back home, he found a few students walking on the streets together .
“Where do you want to meet tomorrow?”
“Are we doing anything tomorrow?”
He could hear them talking in the distance . A smile formed on Maru’s face .
“I’m going to do whatever I want to do tomorrow,” he found himself responding under his breath .