Book Reader (Part 2)

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” Do other countries really look different than our country? What does Indonesia look like?”

” Sorry? ”

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Woohyun closed the book that seemed to get heavier as more time passed by, then showed surprised eyes. Sunggyu seemed shy and spoke scratching his head.

It’s a little embarrassing, but I couldn’t see ever since I was very little. So I only imagined of how other countries looked like, how the world looked like, and never actually saw it before.

Hearing that, Woohyun put on a complicated face. Not knowing how to phrase his words in a smooth way, he thought for a minute about how he should answer this.

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” People living their lives is all the same. But since the culture is different, they all have their own charms and distinctions. ”

” I see. At times like these I want to see it too– how it feels like. ”

” ……. ”

” Not being able to see doesn’t bother me, but there are times when I’m curious like this. ”

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A different country, a different world. Woohyun’s face grew pretty serious. I always saw everything with my eyes so I never thought anything special of it.

At the short silence that followed, Sunggyu seeped out a shy laugh again.
These kinds of talks aren’t fun, are they?

At those words, Woohyun felt his mind returning.
No. I was just thinking for a minute. I never thought about these things before.
At that, Sunggyu looked relieved and answered. I see.

And another silenced followed, so Woohyun felt like dying from the anxiousness. He had to face the reality of having to go back home soon now.

Woohyun was about to move his unmoving lips but the cool thing was, what sounded first was Woohyun’s stomach instead of his mouth. Growl…

Woohyun’s ears burned red with embarrassment. And it was impossible for Sunggyu to have missed hearing that sound, who was carefully trying to hear every word of his voice. Sunggyu carefully asked Woohyun.

” Woohyun-sshi, did you not eat? ”

” Ah, nae…. ”

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Woohyun had quickly come out of the house because even the time spent eating seemed wasteful. But normally, he wasn’t the type to disrespectfully get fed at someone’s house and would’ve said that he did eat, but in the want of gluing his butt in this house a little longer, he answered saying he didn’t eat yet.

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Then you should’ve said something…. I’ll make some food.
Sunggyu quickly stood up and went in front of the sink.

Woohyun stared at the backside of Sunggyu pulling all kinds of things out from the fridge to make something.
Seeing Sunggyu’s unsteady hands, Woohyun became nervous. And so he carefully walked to Sunggyu– making sure he didn’t make any noise– and began watching him carefully.
Sunggyu seemed somewhat used to it but also somewhat unstable, so Woohyun stood behind Sunggyu and looked at everything carefully, making sure he caught everything Sunggyu was doing.
Woohyun was watching him blankly, when Sunggyu suddenly spoke up without turning around.

” Woohyun-sshi, please wait a little bit. ”

” Ah, Nae? Nae… nae! ”

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Feeling as if he can really see me standing around behind him, my heart dropped.

At the voice coming from right behind his back, Sunggyu slightly glanced back as he spoke. Woohyun-sshi, are you behind me? That voice seemed to be filled with laughter.

Woohyun scratched his head with embarrassment. He had just gotten himself found out. Please sit down and wait a little bit.
At Sunggyu’s words, Woohyun plopped down on the ground in the middle of the room.

The smell of cooking, the bright and warm aroma spreading inside the room, and Sunggyu’s existence. All of this began filling up Woohyun’s heart– even the yellow floor that was ripped here and there.

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After a short time had passed, Sunggyu made and brought out some rice, stir-fried anchovies, egg rolls, even spicy squid.

It was enough to make Woohyun doubt if Sunggyu had really made all this. His eyes became big, then Sunggyu spoke to him.

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” The person watching might feel nervous but everything’s clear to me. This is my personal space. ”

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…. Personal space.

Weirdly, those words moved Woohyun greatly. Sunggyu was curious of a different world. A different world that couldn’t be seen. And for someone that never thought about those things, Woohyun also got curious of a different world too: Sunggyu’s own world which he couldn’t see. How does he feel and understand things with eyes that can’t see.

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The “personal space” that Sunggyu was talking about, meant that there was another world which could not be seen by Woohyun.

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His space, his realm, his world. I wonder how I am visioned in his mind. If in his world I am merely just an awkward stranger, then I think I’ll despair more than anyone else in the world. ….. I wish I’m sketched naturally in his drawing.

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” Thank you for the food. ”

” Nae. There isn’t much but please eat a lot. ”

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On the wrist and hand of Sunggyu that picked up his spoon, many scars of burns and cuts were left like marks. Those hands just told how much he had gone through to make this unfamiliar space into his own personal space.

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Woohyun just stared at his wrists. Sunggyu had always softly smiled, but he suddenly looked strong to Woohyun now. Stronger than any other.

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Woohyun shoved a spoonful of rice and side dishes into his mouth. And at the impressive cooking skills that were better than expected, he secretly awed. Then he spoke as he chewed down the food.

” It’s good. Really. ”

” Seriously? ”

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The light above their heads suddenly flickered as if it were looking down at them and laughing. Is it because it wasn’t used in a long time? Woohyun stared up at the ceiling, then moved his spoon again.

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He didn’t tell what just happened to Sunggyu, because he might unnecessarily worry about it again. After the light inoffensively flickered a couple of times, it began lighting the room brightly once again.

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It was too hard waiting for it to be Monday again. I don’t know if that waiting was too desperate but I even lost fun in playing around mischievously. Woohyun’s day was basically laying in bed all day.

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His mom was relieved that Woohyun stopped acting out yet still pitied him, but his mom looking at him with that kind of mindset bothered Woohyun. So he decided to run away from home. But once he actually was outside, he didn’t really have anything to do and just sat blankly in front of a bus stop while fidgeting with his phone.

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The people with destinations busily passed by him. At that moment, he was envious of all these people. And the feelings that had filled him during the past couple of days felt like a dream and left him feeling lifeless.

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He roughly threw his phone in his pocket. Even if he met his friends it was obvious that all they’ll do is nag him, and with no place to go, he felt so pitiful of himself.

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A thought passed by Woohyun’s head. He soon showed a smile and stood up, then started walking. And the place his feet had stopped was right in front of Sunggyu’s house. Woohyun paced back and forth a couple of times and when he couldn’t work up the courage to knock, he just crouched down in front of the door.

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I’m only doing community service of reading books and just showing up unexpected like this seemed rude of me. Woohyun crouched down on the ground and waited for Sunggyu.

During that time, two or three people passed by Woohyun. He received people giving him strange looks and the stairs were so narrow that it was hard to even stand his ground, but he didn’t mind this waiting.

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When the sky began dyeing red, Sunggyu’s face finally appeared. Creak, the door sounded as it opened, and Woohyun quickly stood up and ran down the stairs. The eyes all the way below the stairs were looking up and waiting for Sunggyu.

Sunggyu appeared on the stairs and carefully descended down. With small red lips, Sunggyu mumbled, One, two…. as he counted the stairs.

Woohyun dug his hands inside his pockets and blankly, just blankly, watched Sunggyu gradually coming closer to him… but even that made him happy. Sunggyu was coming closer to him. Closer, closer, closer….

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When Sunggyu came a few steps closer, Woohyun hid his body to the ally on the side.
He can’t see me anyway, but he might get bothered if he hears a sound close to him.

Woohyun stood a few steps behind, or rather next to Sunggyu, and watched. Sunggyu had a quite serious expression. His lips were mumbling something, and those mumbles were reciting the directions he had memorized to himself in order to not get lost.

Woohyun’s face had been full of sadness earlier, but was now filled with curiosity and happiness altogether. When Sunggyu was crossing the street, or when he tripped on a stone and stumbled and Woohyun said, Uhhh, and almost ran to help him, or when Sunggyu stopped by a flower shop and sniffed some flowers, or went in a fruit store and conversed with the owner, Woohyun could not wipe off his automatic smile watching him.

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The sky that was red began turning dark now. Woohyun coincidentally looked up and saw unusually sparkling stars. This may break the mood, but I once heard that the stars we see in the city are all artificial satellites. Woohyun felt like he was a satellite revolving around Sunggyu. Revolving around him like this may make Woohyun shine like a star, but in reality he had an iron heart….

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Sunggyu had just come out of buying some groceries and had bags in both hands as he walked, then stopped below a streetlight in the alleyway and put down the bags before sighing as if he were tired. Woohyun had warm eyes as he roamed around Sunggyu in a circle. This narrow alleyway looked as spacious as outer space.

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The streetlight is the Sun, you are the Earth, and I am…. a meteor that wants to seem like a sparkling star to you.

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” Who are you…? ”

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Feeling a sign of life, Sunggyu asked. Woohyun suddenly stopped moving and looked at Sunggyu with a tensed body.

Sunggyu looked around and said, Is anyone here?, then tipped his head to the side. Woohyun felt bad for making Sunggyu feel anxious for no reason.

Sunggyu quickened his pace and Woohyun watched Sunggyu return safely inside his house. When Sunggyu’s body disappeared from sight, a waterfall of longing rode with the wind and dispersed. And the wind full of longing was quite chilly.

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The first thing that Woohyun did was start going back to school. He was originally a very diligent student, so he didn’t have trouble getting back on track. And the people that were the happiest with this news were his family. His mom looked at him gleefully every day.

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Woohyun woke up to go to his morning class and came out to the living room, then he turned to the kitchen hearing the clanks of kitchenware. The backside of his mom happily preparing breakfast suddenly collided with the scenes of her being depressed for the past couple of days.

Woohyun unconsciously walked over to her back and hugged her shoulders.
His mom said, Omo, and added, Why are you being so greasy. She spoke a happy complaint.

At that moment, these small shoulders were too lovely– and he felt apologetic– so Woohyun didn’t say a word and just hugged her tightly. And while holding down the tears that were about to burst out, he whispered quietly to his mom so only she could hear.

Mom… I love you….

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The words that he had never been able to spit out since puberty. Those words made his mom suddenly freeze. Then she slowly started trembling, then she put down the things we was cooking with and started showing her tears as she put her face in her hands. And she answered with a teary voice. I love you too… My.. son….

Hearing his mom’s sincere words, he felt the end of his nose sting.

His mom continued her words as if she were repenting. I’m sorry I lied to you… I’m sorry I hid it from you…. But mom really really loves you.

At those words, Woohyun reminisced back to all the things his mom had done, pouring out her love to him in the past.

When I was young and I got hurt, you would be pained as if the one hurt was you. When I gave you your first carnation, you made the whole house into a river of tears. When it was the first day of school, you were the one that couldn’t sleep because of nervousness. If I became sick, you stayed by my bedside for days and nights… A person like that.

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Woohyun repented of his own immaturity and hugged his mom even tighter. And he gave a peck to her cheek. That morning, a beautiful scene of a lovely mother and son was drawn in the kitchen.

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During the weekend, Woohyun finally made up his mind to find his birth parents.
All during the bus ride, he pulled out the piece of paper that was shoved in his wallet and kept fidgeting with it. His sweaty palms did not know how to dry up.

He looked out the window at the scenery with an anxious mind, but he couldn’t calm down. I should’ve taken some nerve sedatives or something. Woohyun couldn’t handle his thumping heart and gripped onto the piece of paper.

When he followed the address, the neighborhood made him think of Sunggyu’s neighborhood as it looked about the same. He had only stepped into the neighborhood, but his face showed fear knowing that his birth parents had abandoned him.
Woohyun arrived at the destination with a quite flushed face. The 2nd floor of a shabby townhouse.

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After breathing in and out three times, he knocked, Knock knock knock. But there was no response from the inside. One more time, Knock knock knock. And when there was still no answer, the knocks became stronger. Is anyone inside? Boom boom boom.

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” Student, who are you looking for? ”

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His eyes slid down to the white-haired grandma who was peeking her head out from the 1st floor. Woohyun showed an awkward smile and said, I’m looking for the people living here. But I don’t think they’re here.

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The grandma’s face suddenly hardened by the slightest. No one lives in there.

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Those words made Woohyun sigh of disbelief. What about the people that lived here before?

What are you talking about. It’s been 20 years since anybody lived in there.

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And feeling that the people that lived here 20 years ago might be his parents, Woohyun hurriedly came down to the 1st floor and leveled eyes with the grandma.

” Then do you know where those people moved to? ”

” Tsk tsk. Kid. You came to the wrong place. They’re probably not the people you’re looking for. ”

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Woohyun gulped in the nervousness. The grandma was remembering the things that had happened 20 years ago like it happened just yesterday. Woohyun was able to hear about everything that had happened through that grandma.

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Heading back home by the bus, Woohyun’s body was unbelievably heavy. He was looking out the window but there was nothing to be seen. Only the story that the grandma had told, was roaming around his head.

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– This story is past more than 20 years. A couple moved in. They’re relationship was very good. But you know, Tsk tsk. They’re pitiful too.

– What?

– You see, a robber broke into that house, and he could’ve just stolen the stuff and go out but, aigoo, I still get the chills when I think about that time.

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Woohyun felt like he was pulled by something and pushed the bus alarm to get off a place that wasn’t his destination. A stone pathway bloomed with lilies.

Woohyun stopped on this road and looked up at the lilies. He had seen this scenery a few days ago, but it looked different today. These strong existences that pulled through the winter to make these pretty flowers bloom.

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– The robber… aioo, it’s so horrifying that I can’t even talk. Anyway, they’re not this world’s people anymore.

– Then those people… they were murdered? because of the robber?

– That’s right. Who wants to live in a house that people were murdered in. Because of that incident, this neighborhood became hectic. And now no one seems to want to live there.

– ……..

– Oh wait wait. That couple had one son.

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Woohyun was pulled like a magnet and was finding him. He that can accept me as I am, a person like that. I want to be cured by him.

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His slow walking steps gradually gained speed and later, he began running. He ran like the wind through the narrow alleyway. One second faster, quicker he wanted to go to his side.

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– You don’t know how much they showed off all over the neighborhood saying they bore a cute son; they prettied him so much. I wonder how that son is doing.

– ……….

– He should be right around your age.

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Boom boom boom, he knocked as if to break down the door. He heard Sunggyu say, Who is it?, with a surprised voice.

Woohyun screamed from the top of his lungs. It’s me. Nam Woohyun! Please open the door!

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Hearing Woohyun’s voice, the sound of Sunggyu opening the locked door could be heard, then creak, Sunggyu’s face appeared in front of Woohyun’s eyes like a lotus flower.

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As soon as Woohyun saw Sunggyu’s face, he felt himself breaking down. The emotions that he had been holding in and hiding, unknowingly started bursting out. Sunggyu focused his ears on Woohyun’s heavy breathing and showed a worrisome face. What brings you here?

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Woohyun bit down on his lip to hold in the flood of emotions. His eyes were already red from holding in tears and his throat was burning as his adam’s apple bobbed up and down from swallowing the sobs.

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– Wait, student, are you…. ?

– ……….

– Aigo! You are! You grew up so well. You grew up real well. Blood always pulls people together. Did you come to find your parents? Aigoo. So proud. So proud.

– ……….

– They’ll be happy from the heavens. How can they not be happy when their loving son grew up this well! They’re proud indeed.

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Woohyun not saying anything and huffing out heavy breaths worried Sunggyu, so he reached out and placed it on top of Woohyun’s chest. Are you okay? His asking voice was careful.

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Woohyun pulled in that arm and hugged Sunggyu. And the moment Sunggyu came into his own arms, the tears that he had been holding in started pouring down.

To him it’s the second, but for me it’s the third time meeting. It was a short meet, but he had changed me whole. So there are such ties as this. There is a destiny. Woohyun was thankful at the tie that made him meet Sunggyu.

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” You know, Sunggyu-sshi….. ”

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Hearing the voice pouring down with tears, Sunggyu stopped squirming in his arms and listened carefully to his voice.

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” …….. I thought I was fake. ”

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A life once abandoned, a false life I lived, I thought.

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” But I was real. ”

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Really,

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” I was……”

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A star.

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” Real…… ”

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Sunggyu woke up from sleep and rubbed his eyes, then turned off the radio that was being chatty by itself. He didn’t work, so he was free.

The space that Sunggyu could move around was limited. He took twice as longer to adjust to a new environment, so he couldn’t really work up the courage and couldn’t do anything but lay on the floor while listening to the radio. Day by day. This loneliness that seeped right down to the bone.

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Sunggyu, like Woohyun, also awaited for Mondays and Wednesdays. He awaited for these two days of the week. A time not being alone was so valuable to Sunggyu. And today is that Monday I’ve been waiting for. I wonder when he’ll come. Even the time spent waiting upset him.

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If he stayed blankly like this alone, the nightmare from his childhood appeared in his head. The painful days spent getting beaten up by my dad.

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Sunggyu felt suffocated whenever he thought back to those days. When Sunggyu’s noona, who had a big age gap, went into high school, she left Sunggyu and ran away from home, and Sunggyu’s mom who had a weak body had passed away after giving birth to him.

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The first thing that popped up in Sunggyu’s mind about his own life, was the memory of himself getting beat up. I think I cried every day. On the days he didn’t drink it was somewhat better, but on the days he came back from drinking… it became a usual thing for me to not be able to walk the next day. And the person that saved me from that hell hole… is the only other person that knew me: My noona.

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When my noona turned 20, she saved me. The time spent with her was so sacred. I felt for the first time of what it feels like to have a family near me.

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She worried about Sunggyu who had already lost his sight and was sad for him, but Sunggyu back then felt glad that he lost his sight after hearing his noona cry for him and feeling her gentle hands.

The boy that was thirsty of attention and love was just really happy that he could be loved, regardless of his situation.

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And until his noona got married, Sunggyu lived with her in one house. And while living with her, he came to notice a habit of his own. And that was…….

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– Omo, Sunggyu-yah how did you hurt yourself like this. Doesn’t it hurt? Why do you keep on smiling?

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At those words, Sunggyu tipped his head to the side. I’m smiling? Noona? She friendly patted Sunggyu’s head. He suddenly became really happy. Then, his sister said. So this is our Sunggyu’s true smiling face. Noona’s uplifted voice.

Young Sunggyu squirmed with his fingers. I had always tried to put on some kind of face. And if I showed that face, people did not get mad and prettied me. Okay, so I had been trying to always smile. I wonder if smiling like this is a good thing. Is it a bad thing?

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His noona gently hugged Sunggyu as she told him something as if she were telling an old folk-tale.

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– People feel happy sometimes, but sometimes they feel sad. Sadness has to be in place in order to be called a person. And if you can feel sadness, it’s saying that our Sunggyu is a real person.

– A real person….?

– Geurae, a real person.

– But if I smile like this, people love me.

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A short silence followed. Noona’s breathing sounded sad. I think noona was being sad. Young Sunggyu’s heart broke down together. Noona don’t cry. Purely young Sunggyu’s eyes were already crying, but he put on a bigger smile, hoping that noona will smile too.

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– Hiding your true feelings and just smiling like this, is not showing your true self.

– ………

– Sunggyu, if you become honest with your feelings, then one day…crying, getting hurt, getting mad… a person will appear who will love and care for all these sides of you. And our Sunggyu will love all these sides of that person too.

– Will a person like that other than noona appear?

– Eung, definitely.

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Noona patted the young Sunggyu. Little Sunggyu felt that noona was smiling again.

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I didn’t know what noona meant when I was little, but I think I have a slight idea of what she meant now.

But unfortunately, Sunggyu had not let go of that habit. He had received love from his noona, but with the title of a blind disabled person, the young Sunggyu had to experience loneliness.

Sunggyu’s kindness was seen foreign to little kids his age, and those kids still immature had said more hurtful things to him than the adults did. And as he was made fun of by the kids, Sunggyu was sad every single day.

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The person that noona told me… would he really appear in front me? In those situations, if Sunggyu did not cry and showed a smile, he was able to receive compliments from the adults saying he was mature. And those compliments from the adults made Sunggyu forget noona’s words.. and even if he felt sad, even if he felt hurt, he couldn’t let go of the habit of always smiling.

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Even on the day my sister got married. I smiled. I was really, too sad… but I smiled. Smiling like this, there were a lot of times where I got confused if I was smiling because I was really happy or if I was smiling in order to defend myself, but since the people around me smiled back… I thought it wasn’t that bad.

I figured what noona told me back then– to find someone that will understand everything of me– is close to impossible, and I degraded myself.

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Memory of crying in front of a stranger, being sad in front of stranger, being mad in front of stranger, was nonexistent to Sunggyu.

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I’ve been waiting since morning for that person. The time seemed to be passing by slower than usual.

I’m lonely. I’m too lonely. I wonder what noona’s doing right now.

After the accident, noona came over whenever she had time… but after having a child and thinking of the young nephew, I knew it would be hard for her to care for me all the time.

But I miss the scent of a person. When I sighed as I was laying down, Knock knock knock, I heard the knocks that I was waiting for.

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” Sunggyu-sshi. It’s me. ”

” Ah, hold on please! ”

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I hurriedly stood up from the ground to open the door, and greeted Woohyun with a smile. And the smile that I was showing was a real smile. The twice a week that felt short to Woohyun, was becoming a very meaningful time for me.

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Your small task… My everything.

Your short time…. was a time that became everything for me.

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The time weighted differently to each other, the time…. right now.

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