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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

24

Chapter 24

21

“Did you finish proofreading the manuscript I gave you yesterday?”

 

I nodded.

 

“Good work. By the way, is the office cold?”

 

I shook my head.

 

“You’ve been in that hoodie all day. Is the AC too strong?”

 

Not knowing how to respond, I bowed my head and turned around. As I was leaving the office, I heard a voice from behind.

 

“Can’t she at least respond once?”

 

“She can hear you, Manager.”

 

“Well, that was the point. I want her to hear me.”

 

My hand paused on the doorknob for a moment before I twisted it open and left the office.

 

Standing at the crosswalk in front of the building, I noticed a crowd on the opposite side, each person dressed appropriately for the season and clutching different drinks.

 

Crossing the street with my hat turned backward, I immediately felt sweat forming under my arms and down my back. Passersby kept complaining about how hot it was.

 

I walked the whole way home. It felt like walking was all I was allowed to do.

 

In certain spots, I clenched my jaw and pushed forward with every step, as if braving a biting cold. Reaching my apartment, I paused at the door. Slowly, I punched in the lock code, feeling warmth for the first time that day. The door handle’s warmth spread from my fingertips to my palm as I turned it.

 

The door shut behind me, the brief warmth now fading into a chill.

 

The entryway light flicked on. I stepped in, dropped my bag on the sofa, and the light snapped off as I headed to the bathroom to peel off my hoodie.

 

I was drenched in sweat. The moment before I stripped and turned on the shower felt ice-cold. Afterward, emerging from the bathroom, the apartment seemed dimmer than before. I loaded the washing machine with my clothes, adding a bit of detergent and fabric softener. I pressed start and sat watching the clothes tumble—socks, underwear, and hoodie swirling together rhythmically.

 

“…”

 

The washing machine made a sound, telling me the cycle was finished.

 

The house was now completely dark. I flicked on the kitchen light.

 

I pulled the clothes from the washing machine and set up a small drying rack in the living room, hanging each item with care. I meticulously smoothed out even the smallest wrinkles on the socks, treating them as if they weren’t allowed to have any.

 

On the dining table sat half-eaten instant ramen. I removed the rubber band, opened the packet, and added the seasoning to the pile already on the table. In this house, the only things that seemed to accumulate were ramen seasoning and dust. They served as silent reminders that time passed even here.

 

I took the ramen and settled in front of the sofa, just out of reach of the kitchen light. The glow stopped abruptly at an invisible boundary. I broke the noodles into pieces and chewed thoughtfully; it felt more like I was eating just to chew and not because I was hungry.

 

The only sound was the crisp crunching of my chewing. In the corner, an unplugged fan stood still, its head bowed like a solemn figure.

 

Sweat trickled down the back of my neck. My fumbling hands felt clumsy and uncoordinated, failing to grasp anything. Glancing down, I saw no noodles left in the bag.

 

I bit at my nails and then tore at the skin around them, even where the tender pink flesh was already exposed. I knew it would bleed, but strangely, I couldn’t stop.

 

Suddenly, I patted around the area where I was sitting to make sure it wasn’t sinking, reassuring myself of its solidity. I lay down on my side and curled up, pulling my limbs close as if I couldn’t allow them to stray too far from my body.

 

I thought sleep would come. Even if it seemed unlikely, at some point, surely I would eventually fall asleep. I held onto that belief like a prayer.

 

I closed my eyes and silently called out to sleep, beckoning it like asking for a favor, waiting for some kind of dream to take hold.

 

***

 

Knock knock, knock knock knock.

 

It was time.

 

I looked at the clock—it was three.

 

Approaching the door, I peered through the peephole to see a man standing outside.

 

I opened the door, and he stepped in, greeting me with a “How are you?”

 

He placed his bag beside the coffee table, then moved the fan closer, plugged it in, and aimed it at himself. From his bag, he retrieved a pen and an envelope. I sat across from him and opened my laptop. He pulled a stack of papers from the envelope, setting one in front of each of us before taking out two bottles of juice and distributing those as well.

 

I picked up the top paper, noticing marks in red pen and highlighter.

 

As he flipped through the pages, he said, “Where did we leave off last week… Ah, asset seizure.”

 

He continued, his gaze fixed on the documents, “You don’t need to worry too much. We’ve put a preventive measure in place so the creditors can’t just seize the assets.”

 

He glanced at me briefly before returning his attention to the paperwork. “The term ‘preventive measure’ might sound complicated. See what I wrote in red at the bottom?”

 

My gaze wandered down to the bottom. Below the question ‘What is a preventative measure?’ was a written explanation. He reiterated the explanation verbally.

 

While listening to him, I searched related terms on my laptop, nodding to show I understood.

 

He went on, “Even if the assets are seized, we can get them back through litigation. But that takes time and money, so it’s better to prevent it from the start.”

 

I nodded again.

 

“We’ll also apply for an objection to the enforcement document before the decision comes out. We talked about this the last time. Do you remember?”

 

I searched my notes from our previous meeting.

 

The man waited briefly, then said, “It’s a bit complicated, so I’ll go over it again, just to be sure.”

 

He elaborated on the objection to the enforcement document, and I looked at my notes, nodding.

 

The man leaned over to look at my laptop screen.

 

“Ah, you wrote it down. Good.”

 

He continued to explain the administrative steps we needed to take.

 

“See where I’ve highlighted? That document is crucial; make sure you prepare it.”

 

There was also a star next to the highlighted section. I looked between that and the documents I’d prepared to ensure everything was in order.

 

Flipping to the last page, he remarked, “Looks like we’re done for today. You’ve put in a lot of effort.”

 

I nodded my head in acknowledgment. The man packed up the documents and pens back into his bag while I cleared away the empty juice bottles. Standing up, he shouldered his bag, turned off and unplugged the fan, returning it to its original spot.

 

As he walked to the door, he reminded me, “Like last time, if someone comes knocking or tells you to open up, call the police right away.”

 

He put on his shoes. “I’ll be going now.”

 

Just as he was about to exit, I called out, “Wait.”

 

The door remained ajar. Hearing my voice, he swung it open again and peeked his head through, scanning the living room.

 

“Did I leave something behind?”

 

In a quiet voice, almost a whisper, I asked, “Would you like to get dinner?”

 

***

 

“I need to make a call, so I’ll just follow,” said the man. “Could you lead the way?”

 

I nodded and began navigating on my phone. Not being used to going out, even finding the restaurant with the map felt like a maze. I frequently checked over my shoulder, noticing the man was too engrossed in his phone call to realize whether we were going the right way or not.

 

This looks like it…

 

“You’re quite the navigator,” he commented, stopping in front of the restaurant we almost missed. “I’m not that good with directions. Shall we?”

 

He opened the door and entered first. I followed closely behind. At the counter, he engaged briefly with the server, who nodded and showed us to our table. Before walking away, the server warned, “The AC doesn’t reach this corner well, so it might get a bit warm. Is that okay?”

 

“Yes, that’s perfect,” said the man. He then muttered under his breath, “They keep it cranking at the office… I swear I’m going to get sick.”

 

Settling in, the man took out his phone, still partially distracted.

 

“How’s work these days?” he asked.

 

“It’s bearable.”

 

“I heard proofreading can really strain your eyes.”

 

“It’s okay.”

 

“What should we order?”

 

Honestly, I didn’t have a specific thing I felt like. I had always felt a deep sense of gratitude for his help, and though preoccupied, I’d wanted to thank him properly. The past year had flown by in such a blur. I decided that tonight, at the very least, I would express my thanks by treating him to dinner.

 

While he was still looking at his phone, he asked, “Have you decided?”

 

I pointed to a dish on the menu that I had researched beforehand.

 

Standing up, he said, “I need to make a quick call. I’ll order on the way out.”

 

He stepped out briefly and returned soon after. As he picked up the menu again, he asked, “Do you want to add anything?”

 

I nodded.

 

As he browsed the menu, he said, “How did you decide on this place? I really like sushi.”

 

“…You mentioned it before.”

 

“I did? When?”

 

“About six months ago.”

 

“Ah… I must have talked about all sorts of things.”

 

I hesitated before saying, “Thank you for all your help.”

 

“It’s no big deal,” he replied, eyes still on the menu.

 

Just then, our food arrived, and the man and I began to eat in silence.

 

Feeling the need to engage in conversation, I ventured, “How’s work for you these days?”

 

“It’s bearable for me too.”

 

“Everything is well?”

 

“Yep. I’m completely healthy.”

 

We ate in silence again.

 

Uh…

 

I noticed I’d spilled soy sauce on my clothes. I glanced around the table for a moment. Then, I heard a noise from across the table.

 

“Ugh.”

 

Looking up, I saw the man had something on his hand. He called out loudly to the server, “Excuse me, could we have some wet wipes?”

 

The server quickly brought over a few. Handing one to me, the man asked, “Need one?”

 

I took it and wiped my clothes while he cleaned his hands.

 

Immediately after, I put another piece of sushi in my mouth and chewed. When was the last time I’d had a meal with someone? Swallowing the food felt difficult.

 

Despite suggesting dinner, I found myself barely eating. I tried to force a bite, set down the sushi, then hesitantly picked up another piece, only to put it down again.

 

Observing me, the man shook his head and said, “Ah, I’m full. I usually have dinner late, so I can’t eat much right now. Did you have enough, Woogi?”

 

I nodded.

 

He put down his chopsticks and suggested, “Should we get the leftovers to go?”

 

We left the restaurant shortly after. Outside, he held up the shopping bag of leftover sushi and asked, “Is it okay if I take this home?”

 

Again, I nodded.

 

The man smiled. “See you next week.”

 

As he turned to leave, I replied, “Take care, Jin-han.”

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