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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

2

Chapter 2

11

The chill from the floor seeped into Dongju’s calves and thighs as he took a sip from his tumbler. The beer, left sitting for too long, had turned lukewarm.

Dongju was leaning against the door leading to the rooftop on the fifth floor of the Humanities building, a place that was almost always locked and seldom visited by students. He slid down until he was practically lying on the floor.

With his eyes closed, the indistinct face of a man floated behind his eyelids—a blurry image that appeared every time he drank. Anxiety gripped him; he feared he might forget this face. But as the features sharpened, a greater fear washed over him. The man’s voice, initially a murmur, grew louder and clearer…

Dongju’s eyes snapped open. He downed the rest of his beer in a quick gulp, exhaling sharply as he stared at the wall opposite him. The man’s face and voice faded into silence.

How long had he been sitting there? Ten minutes? Fifteen? He checked his phone—thirty minutes had already passed. He had been away too long. Professor Hwang would surely be looking for him. Gripping the railing, Dongju stood up.

***

At the copier, Professor Hwang glanced at the door as Dongju entered the department office. Checking his watch, he beckoned Dongju over with a quick wave. Dongju reluctantly shuffled toward him, the scent of alcohol trailing behind him.

Professor Hwang frowned deeply, lowering his voice so only Dongju could hear. “I told you to stay off the fifth floor.”

Dongju remained silent, offering no response.

Professor Hwang exhaled loudly through his nose. “I’ll really break that tumbler.”

“I’ll be more careful,” Dongju muttered. It was clear from his face that he didn’t care at all.

Professor Hwang sighed and waved his hand as if to say there was no point in speaking further. Dongju gave a slight nod and walked over to a seat by the window.

As Dongju sat down, the TA next to him, Ahn, frowned.

Ahn let out a long exhale, repeating the action a few times. Then, as if he couldn’t stand it any longer, he leaned over the partition. “Dongju.”

Dongju looked at Ahn.

“Didn’t I warn you?” Ahn said. “You reek of alcohol. It’s coming over the partition.”

Dongju responded impassively, “It must be what I drank yesterday. I’ll be more careful.”

Ahn crossed his arms. “Think I’m a fool? Do you think I can’t tell the difference between the smell of alcohol from yesterday and the smell of someone who just drank?”

Dongju turned his head toward the monitor as he spoke. “I was drinking until this morning.”

“I have three diffusers in the office because of you, you know.”

It seemed like Ahn was determined to make a point. People in the office peered over the partitions to sneak a look at them.

Dongju responded nonchalantly, “It must smell lovely.”

“What?” Ahn’s voice abruptly rose in volume.

Professor Hwang, having observed the situation, walked over to Dongju and Ahn. “Hey, Dongju. How do you expect to work the next day if you drink until the morning, huh? Go to the security office and pick up our parcels.”

He gave Dongju a knowing nod and glance, signaling him to leave.

Ahn watched, a smirk forming as he noted the silent exchange. As Dongju got up to leave, Ahn said loudly enough for him to hear, “This is mostly your fault, Professor. You always cover for him, that’s why he continues like this.”

“When have I ever—”

Ignoring the conversation, Dongju walked out of the department office.

***

Dongju left the Humanities building and headed to the security office.

From a distance, he saw a guard sweeping the ginkgo tree-lined path in front of the main gate. However, even from here, Dongju could tell that this security guard wasn’t the usual staff member.

Dongju squinted to get a better look.

The guard was supposed to be a man in his mid-fifties, but this person was a girl. The girl was sweeping the ginkgo leaves with a broom as tall as herself.

She was wearing a uniform. It seemed to be made for an adult male, as it looked baggy on her. Her hair was short, and her skin was pale, as if she had just left home for the first time today. She looked to be in her early to mid-twenties.

I guess she’s the security guard, Dongju thought.

“Excuse me,” Dongju called out to the girl.

She slowly raised her head, her expression wary.

“I’m here to collect a package for Professor Jeong-sik Hwang from the Philosophy Department.”

“Oh…”

The girl hesitated and stepped back. She stood there, her eyes darting back and forth.

Maybe she’s new and doesn’t know the procedures.

Dongju pointed to the security office with his chin and said, “I think it’s in there.”

The girl looked toward the security office and moved toward it, her steps awkward and tense. Meanwhile, Dongju followed at a slower pace.

As she propped her broom against the wall of the office, it tipped over. She paused, unsure of whether to pick it up, then left it there and went inside. Dongju leaned against the wall, hands in his pockets.

There was something Dongju always heard whenever he was in situations like this.

“How do you manage to stink of alcohol every time you walk in here?”

“Your parents work themselves to the bone to pay your tuition, and all you do is drink.”

“Do you think you’ll stay young forever? Keep drinking like that, and even at forty, your body will be worn out.”

The guards would continue their relentless commentary as they searched for whatever package Dongju was there to collect.

When people first met Dongju, they often questioned whether the scent they noticed was actually alcohol. By their second meeting, they were sure that he did smell of it. By the third meeting, they began to comment on it—some out of concern, others in rebuke, or simply to nag.

This pattern had become a familiar part of Dongju’s interactions, especially with the guards, who didn’t hesitate to speak their minds. They would make remarks like how they would’ve beaten his legs with a stick if he were their son. Dongju would listen to these words expressionlessly while waiting for the package.

Today, however, there were no such comments.

Dongju waited patiently.

Soon, the window slid open, and a package was passed through. As he took it, the window closed with the same deliberate pace.

Dongju checked the package: To Professor Jeong-sik Hwang, Room 403, Building 105, Yeonjung University.

He peered inside the window but couldn’t spot the girl, almost like a ghost had handed him the parcel.

“Thank you,” he said to the empty space.

Tucking the package under his arm, Dongju turned to leave. Just then, another security guard came out of the duty room. Dongju tried to avoid him, but it was too late.

The guard spotted Dongju from a distance and called out loudly, “Dongju, you been drinking today, too?”

Dongju’s brow furrowed slightly. He already knew what the guard was going to say.

True to form, the man continued, “You shouldn’t take your health for granted. Keep drinking like you do, and you’ll wear out quickly. You might even go before I do.”

Dongju gave a perfunctory bow and walked past the guard. He hesitated, then stopped and turned to ask, “Is that person new here?”

“Oh, her? Yeah, she started working here this week.”

“When is her shift?”

“She works Mr. Kang’s old hours, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.”

“As if. Try to come when I’m around next time.”

“Why?”

“She doesn’t talk much, so you might find it a bit frustrating.”

Dongju glanced once at the security office. “Okay, thank you.”

With a formal nod, Dongju headed back to the Humanities building.

***

It was just past 3 p.m.

Dongju got up from his seat.

“Where are you going?” Professor Hwang asked.

“To pick up a package.”

“That’s the supplementary textbook I ordered; it’s heavy. Come with me at 5 to get it.”

“I’ll just go now.”

“Why?”

Dongju didn’t answer and left the department office.

When Dongju arrived at the security office, he knocked on the window and said, “Is there a package for Professor Jeong-sik Hwang of the Philosophy Department?”

Shortly after, the window opened just like yesterday. But even after waiting, the package didn’t appear.

Dongju looked through the open window. The girl he saw yesterday was struggling to lift a box.

Dongju watched her struggle for a moment before speaking. “You can’t lift it. Just push it to the door.”

The girl hesitated, then slowly adjusted her stance and started pushing the box.

Dongju walked up to the front of the office. He tapped his heel on the ground as he waited.

Finally, the door clicked open.

The box started to emerge through the crack, pushed by the girl from the inside. When it was halfway through the door, Dongju stopped it with his shin. The girl continued to push against the box, seemingly puzzled by the resistance.

While blocking the box, Dongju asked, “Do I smell like alcohol?”

The girl didn’t respond.

“I do, don’t I? I just had a drink.”

“…”

Feeling the continued push against the box, Dongju looked down.

The girl was still trying to push the box out. He braced harder with his leg to keep it in place. Eventually, the force against his shin disappeared. It seemed she had given up.

As if the previous interaction hadn’t happened, Dongju asked, “Are you new here?”

“…”

“What’s the deal? Why are you a guard? You seem young.”

Again, the girl didn’t respond.

Dongju wondered if her silence was just due to extreme shyness.

Let’s see just how bad it is.

“Do you find this job easy?” Dongju asked.

“…”

“Or are you poor?”

“…”

Dongju threw out the questions and watched the girl’s expression. Her eyes flickered slightly, but that was it.

How can there be no reaction at all? I can’t tell what she’s thinking. She doesn’t seem shy. Maybe she’s annoyed.

Dongju crossed his arms. He searched for things to ask that might make her angry.

“Is it that you don’t really know how to do anything else?”

“…”

“Maybe you didn’t get an education?”

“…”

The girl’s face turned pale, but that was it. She didn’t say a thing.

Having exhausted his attempts to provoke a response, Dongju said, “Wow, you really don’t talk, do you?”

He sat down, speaking more to himself than to her. “It’s fine.”

Leaning his arms on the package, he tried once more. “Why don’t you speak? I saw you yesterday, it’s not like you can’t.”

“…”

“Ah, you’re not going to answer, huh.”

Dongju chuckled to himself, realizing the pointlessness of his question.

Resting his head on his arm, he sat there in silence for a while. It felt like the constant crackling noise from a speaker had suddenly stopped. There was no annoying nagging, no headache.

A breeze drifted through the security office window and flowed out through the door. Dongju took a carton of soju from his pocket, inserted a straw, and took a long sip. It was warm from having been stashed there a while ago.

The girl sat in the office, neither sad nor angry, just resigned.

Dongju tossed the empty soju carton into a nearby trash can. He absentmindedly brushed his hand over the package and said to the girl, “See you around.”

Standing up, he pulled the box out the door and lifted it from underneath. Then, he began his walk back toward the Humanities building, his slippers shuffling along the path.

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