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Please Don't Talk to Me by bbangduksi. A shy woman is hiding behind a tipsy man holding a bottle of soju.

Please Don't Talk to Me


Chapter 1


I am in an aquarium.


There is no water in my aquarium.


It only contains old silence and habitual resignation.


The aquarium isn’t just in my imagination. It’s invisible, yet more distinctly real than anything. People think they’re the only ones watching the fish within, but the fish are also watching the people outside.


They talk, laugh, clap, lean back, point, wipe away tears, talk, frown, gesture, and talk some more…


These things occasionally steal my attention. Sometimes, I imagine myself outside my aquarium, standing beside them. It’s like looking at someone’s expensive jewelry and pretending it’s mine.


But such unreachable dreams only bring pain. I force myself to look away, acting like I’ve never desired them, and turn my gaze back inside the aquarium.




“You’re so good, are you sure you’re not attending some academy?”


Hyuncheol kept his eyes fixed on the presentation material, occasionally letting out exclamations of amazement.


I pretended not to look but still stole a few glances at his face.


Hyuncheol stopped scrolling and stared at me.


I quickly shifted my gaze to the laptop screen before our eyes could meet.


“I couldn’t make something like this even if I was in college for ten years,” Hyoju said with a laugh.


“It’s not that we’re lacking; Woogi is just exceptional,” Hyuncheol told her.


“I think we are slightly lacking.”


“Thanks for being with us, Woogi.”


As Hyuncheol and Hyoju continued their banter, I didn’t meet it with a smile. Instead, I acted as if their praise didn’t matter, as if I hadn’t expected anything. I avoided eye contact and stared blankly at the laptop.


Hyuncheol cracked his knuckles. “I really need to do well in this presentation.”


“Yeah. We can’t afford to mess up these perfect slides.”


11:45 AM


The time displayed at the bottom of the screen caught my eye. I checked my wristwatch, mimicking someone pressed for time. Hyoju noticed my restlessness.


“You need to head out, right?” she asked. “Let’s catch up in our next class.”


“We’ll make sure we’re well-prepared.”


Unable to look at their faces, I gave a slight nod, hardly noticeable enough to be considered a goodbye, and left the classroom. I walked quickly through the lobby and down the stairs.


After descending a floor, I allowed myself to slow down.


Now alone, the earlier scene replayed in my mind. I wanted to go back and savor the moments that had slipped into my mental aquarium. Yet, something inside me resisted the temptation to indulge in these reflections.


Don’t get your hopes up. It’ll only lead to disappointment.


My expression, which had softened, hardened again.


Reaching the ground floor, I stepped out of the building and into the blinding sunlight. I closed my eyes against its brilliance, and for a moment, a comet-like streak of light flashed through the darkness.


I bent over, feeling dizzy. I propped myself up with my hands on my knees and waited for the sensation to pass. It was a side effect of staying up all night working on the presentation material. The caffeine I’d consumed every three hours was wearing off.


Slowly, I raised my head and opened my eyes.


A classmate once asked me why I put in so much effort, and I found it hard to respond. It struck me that some people start with such a low negative score that they have to work twice, three times, or even ten times as hard just to get to baseline ‘zero.’ If that effort can make them appear almost on par with those who are in the positive, then it must be worth it to put in that extra work.


Of course, the fact that I had to exert more effort than most to reach zero was something I kept to myself.




I walked through the living room of my house. Glancing at the kitchen, I noticed ingredients on the dining table: kimchi, pork, and garlic.


I went into my room. After dropping my bag by the door, I flopped onto the bed. I closed my eyes. Like an electronic device unplugged from the socket, sleep rushed over me all at once as if the power had gone out. My sense of reality quickly faded. Just as I was about to fall asleep…


The door burst open.


My head throbbed, and my heart beat slightly faster. My sense of reality snapped back.


“Thought you’d just sneak in, did you?” said Mom.




“Come out here for a minute. Help me with this.”


I remained motionless, only my chest rising and falling with each inhale and exhale.


Mom took a few steps into the room. “Are you sleeping?”




She nudged me lightly. “I know you’re not asleep.”




“I’m going to head to the kitchen, okay?”




As if urging me to get up, Mom turned on the room light and went to the kitchen.


I sighed softly and crawled out of bed like I was pulling myself out of a swamp.


When I reached the kitchen, Mom handed me her phone. “Read this for me.”


The screen displayed a recipe for kimchi stew. As she pulled out some pork from a plastic bag, Mom said, “I make it all the time but still can’t remember.”


I had once printed out a recipe for kimchi stew in large font for Mom because she complained that standard recipes were too small to read, she disliked videos, and always asked me to read the steps aloud. A few days later, I found the printed recipe in the trash. Mom had thrown it away, scolding, “Is it too much to ask you to read this one thing for me?”


“Put… Uh—”


My voice cracked. It always happened when I hadn’t spoken all day.


“Start by heating sesame oil in a pot and frying the kimchi.”


“Do I have to fry the kimchi first? Can’t I fry the pork first?”


Here we go again.


“I guess whichever is fine.”


“Fine? But why does it say to fry the kimchi first?”


“That’s what it says. Each recipe is a bit different. Why do you always ask?”


“Because it’s confusing.”


“It doesn’t matter which one you do first.”


“Surely one way tastes better.”


Although it was typical of Mom to nitpick, it still annoyed me every time. I ignored her comments as much as I could and continued reading the recipe.


“Add one tablespoon of minced garlic and one tablespoon of sugar.”


“Then what?”


“Pour in eight cups of rice water.”


“Rice water? Can’t I just use regular water?”


“That’s fine.”


“How do you know?”


“We used regular water last time.”




“The last time we had kimchi stew.”






The words “Please, stop” almost escaped my throat.


“When did that happen? Why? Who did it?” Answering these endless questions always drained twice as much energy. I managed to keep my composure and continued reading.


“Add the pork and a tablespoon of soybean paste.”


“Why soybean—”


“Don’t ask why we add soybean paste. I already showed you that thing online, remember? It’s to remove the gamey smell from the meat.”


“Alright, alright, I won’t ask.”


“Boil over medium heat until the meat is cooked.”


“What’s after boiling?”


“I’ll tell you after it boils. You’re going to ask again later anyway.”


“Tell me now. I need to know what’s coming.”


“We add the seasonings.”


“What seasonings?”


“I’ll tell you when it’s time.”


“Can’t you just tell me twice? Is it that hard?”


I slammed the phone down on the table with a thud, drained by the pointless back and forth. I just felt like giving up on trying to accommodate my mom and everything else.




“Is this the presentation script?”


“Really well written…”


I nodded without looking at Hyuncheol and Hyoju. I tried not to expect too much. However, I couldn’t deny the tingling anticipation in the corner of my heart.


All night, as I worked on the script, I had to consciously push away any expectations about their reactions. Occasionally, I’d tap my head with my hand, trying to refocus on the words in front of me.


Hyuncheol and Hyoju exchanged looks. Then, as if contemplating or perhaps troubled by something, they aimlessly scrolled the mouse wheel down.


By now, it had been quite some time without the kind of response I’d hoped for. I pretended to be indifferent to their unusual behavior and kept my eyes glued to the screen.


“Um…” Hyuncheol broke the silence.


What did that “um” mean? I tried to read into his tone, pitch, and the drawn-out length of the sound.


“Did you write this because of the grade for the first presentation?” he asked.


That caught me off guard. I nodded as if to say I was responding simply because the question had been asked.


Hyuncheol hesitated, then said, “But we prepared a script for the second presentation to try and do better.”


“It’s nowhere near the quality of what you’ve done, though,” Hyoju chimed in, her voice tinged with sarcasm.


Something was off. Suddenly, I realized this was ‘that moment’—the kind where speaking up could correct any preconceived notions about me, resolve misunderstandings, and set things right. It was a moment I had let slip by thousands of times in my life.


“I didn’t want to say it because it sounds like I’m putting myself down…” Hyuncheol trailed off.


I sensed that this might be the last chance to seize ‘that moment.’ Even someone completely oblivious would notice it, and even the biggest fool wouldn’t stay silent. But as I clearly felt ‘that moment’ passing, I still said nothing.


“We stayed up all night writing the script. But then you come along and effortlessly turn in better, making us feel useless,” Hyoju blurted out. “In our past team projects, I never had the courage to speak up because everything you did was always better. This isn’t just about my grades. So when you always had the presentation materials ready, I acted happy about it… Initially, I was genuinely grateful. But as time went by, I started feeling worse about myself. Am I just a spokesperson for you? A puppet?”


She continued, sounding more and more agitated, “Other students envy being in your team, riding on your coattails for this class, but the guilt hits hard.”


Even after missing ‘that moment,’ there’s still a chance to turn things around. If you say things like “You’ve got the wrong idea” or “That wasn’t my intention,” you might be able to mend the relationship. At the very least, if you say, “How could you say that?” or “Is that really how you see me?” it might not feel as unfair.


But those words seemed trapped inside me, surfacing in my throat every time I inhaled, then sinking back down with every exhale, like they were part of my breath. Yet they never left my mouth.


In situations like these, people often take my silence as a sign of rejection or indifference, which only tends to make things worse. Hyoju’s voice grew more intense as she spoke.


“What do you really think of us?”




“How can you not say a word? Is it true what the others say? Do you not like acknowledging us because we’re not in your league? Is that why you ignore us?”


My lips twitched.


I blinked.


My breathing became ragged.




But that was all. As always, no words came out.


In such moments, silence can be interpreted as agreement.


“I thought maybe you had your reasons for staying quiet, but you can talk. I’ve heard you on the phone with your mom.”


“We were really surprised when we heard you. We were so careful and considerate, wondering if maybe you couldn’t speak.”


Hyuncheol grabbed his laptop and bag, which lay within reach, and stood up.


It seemed too late now. This was it. My desperate attempts to fit in had failed.


A shadow loomed over me from within. I needed to escape before being consumed by it. I told myself urgently that it was inevitable. Maybe it’s better this happened now. I’ve never been good at getting close to people. Honestly, I never truly wanted to. I’m better off alone. At least you don’t get hurt when you’re alone.


That’s right. I’m meant to be alone.


“Fine… We’ll use your script for the presentation. Just read it like a robot.”


“Yeah. There’s nothing left to discuss. I won’t let your grades get messed up. Don’t worry.”


With that, Hyuncheol and Hyoju walked toward the classroom entrance.


I didn’t look in their direction. I kept my eyes fixed on the darkened laptop screen, my reflection staring back at me.


I thought to myself, Nothing will change. I was always alone. I could just continue living as I have been…


I lifted my gaze to the door. Naturally, Hyuncheol and Hyoju were gone. They hadn’t come back.


I slowly looked around.


“Isn’t she top of the class?”


“Heard she carries every group project.”


“Basically just ignores everyone.”


“Thinks she’s better than us.”


“…doesn’t talk to anyone…”


“…knew it would be like this…”


“Wondered how long it would last…”


“What’s even her deal?”


From inside the aquarium, I can see out, but that’s all I can do. I can never truly be part of it.


I thought I was always aware of this, but maybe I’d forgotten for a moment. I was always in the aquarium, but now it felt even more painfully clear.


I am in an aquarium.


There is no water in my aquarium.


It only contains old silence and habitual resignation.

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टिप्पणियां लोड नहीं कर सके
लगता है कि कोई तकनीकी समस्या थी। पेज को फिर से कनेक्ट करने या रिफ्रेश करने की कोशिश करें।
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