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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

4

Chapter 4

23

Thunk.

 

Dongju carelessly tossed his slippers off. One flipped over as it skidded across the security office floor. He set down a black plastic bag and opened the fridge. After a brief scan, he moved the food and fruit from the top shelf to the lower ones. From the bag, he took out bottles of soju and neatly arranged them on the now-empty shelf. Feeling a gaze on him, Dongju spun around.

 

Woogi was watching him.

 

With a tilt of his chin, Dongju signaled for her to mind her own business. Woogi looked away, and Dongju grabbed a bottle of soju, settling into a corner hidden from the window’s view. He touched the floor with his hand, noting its warmth—a stark contrast to the chilly corridor outside. Pulling a glass from his pocket, he expertly poured the soju and downed it in one gulp. It really did taste the best in a glass.

 

Stretching his legs and wiggling his toes, Dongju smiled to himself. Professor Hwang and Ahn would never have imagined he was in here. Reflecting on it, he thought himself quite clever. How had he even come up with the idea to test the guard? It was just a trial, yet it had worked perfectly. A whistle escaped his lips.

 

“Excuse me, where is Building 65, the Faculty Hall?”

 

A lady outside was asking for directions. Dongju pretended not to hear and took another sip of soju. The lady looked puzzled and tapped on the window.

 

“Hello?”

 

Woogi glanced at Dongju, clearly signaling him to go out and respond. It was only then that Dongju sluggishly got up. It wouldn’t do to help too quickly; people who were anxious appreciated it more when help finally came.

 

Slowly, he made his way over to the window. He pointed his chin toward the main gate, keeping his hands in his pockets.

 

“It’s a while away. Take the 5511 bus from the main gate; it’ll take you inside the campus. Get off at the Convention Hall.”

 

After giving a nonchalant explanation, Dongju returned to his corner to ponder. He wasn’t the only one benefiting here. If not for him, Woogi might have been too flustered to handle the situation. Dongju hadn’t just taken over the office; it was a mutual arrangement serving both sides.

 

Dongju, who usually didn’t care what others thought, now felt even less need to concern himself. He flattened a roll of toilet paper to use as a makeshift pillow and lay down.

 

Maybe I’ll bring some snacks tomorrow. A whole box of them.

 

Dongju closed his eyes. A pleasant drowsiness washed over him, likely due to the alcohol. It seemed like a good time for a nap.

 

***

 

I blinked while lying in bed. As soon as morning light hit, thoughts of the man drinking in the security office surfaced, along with how overwhelmed I felt whenever people approached. It was like someone was pressing down on my diaphragm, sitting on my ribs. Why did I even need to go to work? What was the point of all this effort? Life might be simpler if I stopped worrying about seeing people. No more stress, no more pushing myself…

 

But I couldn’t just stay at home, not with my mom’s watchful eyes on me. I lacked the confidence to convince her that this way of life could be fulfilling. I wasn’t even sure of it myself. Maybe it was more about avoiding misery than seeking happiness.

 

With a deep sigh, I realized I couldn’t lie in bed forever. I kicked off the blankets and staggered to my feet, feeling as though someone was clinging to my waist. Another sigh escaped as I stepped out of bed and made my way to the security office.

 

Seated at the desk, I watched people passing by, guessing their destinations: straight to the square, toward the Humanities building, across the lawn to the Pharmacy department, or to the main building…

 

Please don’t come to the security office… Don’t talk to me… I couldn’t answer any questions before that guy got here.

 

I looked at the clock. 9:30.

 

When was he coming?

 

“Are you poor?”

 

“Maybe you didn’t get an education?”

 

Despite the way he talked and how he drank in the office, I found myself waiting, wondering what would happen if he didn’t show up today. I let out a long sigh through my nose. A man who exploits others’ weaknesses is definitely bad, but… if I didn’t have any weaknesses, I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him in the first place. I couldn’t decide who to be angrier at, so I just seethed internally.

 

I imagined various possibilities: maybe he would stop coming on his own as time passed, or perhaps a situation or someone else would prompt him to leave. If I could just endure a bit longer, maybe the problem would resolve itself…

 

But I couldn’t come up with any reason for that to happen. It was just a hope. Then, among the people entering through the main gate, I noticed a familiar silhouette.

 

It was him.

 

The man was trudging along with a black plastic bag in one hand, swinging his limbs with a nonchalant air as if he couldn’t be bothered controlling them. Whatever was inside the plastic bag looked heavy. As he neared the security office, I averted my eyes, pretending to be absorbed in something.

 

Behind me, the door opened with the distinct clink of glass bottles. He walked in. Despite his presence, I kept my back to him, acting as if it made no difference whether he was there or not. I heard him plop down somewhere in the room.

 

Glancing to my left, one of his slippers lay sprawled out on the floor. Curiosity got the better of me, and I turned slightly to the right for a peek.

 

He was stocking the fridge with soju. It looked like he’d already cleared out the top shelf completely.

 

This would definitely signal to the other security guard that someone was drinking here…

 

Suddenly, he turned his head toward me. We exchanged a silent stare.

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

The man gestured with his chin as if to tell me to mind my own business.

 

I quickly looked away.

 

I realized I probably looked pretty pathetic just then. But before I could figure out what to do, my eyes had already lowered, and my head had turned away.

 

Pathetic or not, there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t like I had any other options. I couldn’t drive him away, get angry, or demand an explanation.

 

I gripped an eraser that was on the desk.

 

The man started to whistle. The sound grated on my nerves. Each note felt like a taunt that said, “Are you upset? It’s your fault. What’re you going to do about it? You can’t kick me out. What’re you going to do?”

 

The more I dwelled on these thoughts, the clearer each note of the whistle became. Moreover, the smell of alcohol was starting to make me feel increasingly agitated. My head throbbed like an overloaded computer.

 

I took a deep breath. Was there really no other option? No alternative to having this man frequent the security office? If only I could handle the questions myself. Then I wouldn’t need his help, and he’d have no grounds to file a complaint…

 

The man yawned loudly and shuffled to his feet. I glanced at the clock—it was just past 2 p.m. Was he leaving already? There was still another two hours to go until the shift change. Anxiety crept in about how I’d manage if he wasn’t here and someone came with questions.

 

My attention shifted to the sounds behind me: the fridge door opening, the clink of soju bottles, the door shutting again, the rustle of his clothes, his footsteps approaching the door, the sound of him slipping on one slipper, then the other…

 

Bang.

 

He was gone.

 

Through the window, I watched the back of the man as he staggered away. I couldn’t ask him to stay; I didn’t have the right, and he’d probably scoff if I did. Everything was his call. He came and went as he pleased.

 

I shook my head and stared at the center of the desk. I couldn’t keep this up. It was only a matter of time before someone asked a question while he wasn’t around. Plus, he was like a ticking time bomb—quiet for now, but if triggered, he could use my vulnerability against me to get what he wanted. He was unpredictable.

 

I looked around nervously like a meerkat. It felt impossible to avoid now. This wasn’t an issue that could go unnoticed, nor was it a situation that time would fix. I had to take matters into my own hands.

 

***

 

From afar, Dongju could see someone standing in front of the security office.

 

What is he asking?

 

Dongju didn’t bother to hurry. It wouldn’t be so bad for Woogi to struggle a bit. That way, she’d need him even more.

 

By the time Dongju got close, the person was saying goodbye and leaving the security office. Dongju glanced inside the window. Woogi was sitting in her usual spot.

 

I guess it wasn’t anything serious.

 

Dongju paused, adjusting the box he carried labeled, Beer Snack Combo Set (10 Types). He reached the door of the security office and turned the handle.

 

Clunk.

 

“…”

 

Clunk, clunk.

 

“What the…?”

 

Clunk, clunk.

 

…It’s locked?

 

That couldn’t be. She had clearly seen him heading toward the office.

 

Dongju tried the handle a few more times, but it was futile. He dropped the box in front of the door with a thud, then walked over to the window.

 

Inside, Woogi was indeed there. There was also a monitor next to the window. Dongju had glanced at it earlier without much thought, noting only that something was unusual.

 

Taking a few steps closer, he examined the monitor. A campus map was on display.

 

Soon, the screen changed, and a message appeared.

 

Please state your business.

 

Dongju pieced together the situation. Woogi was using the monitor to display the map and answer inquiries, allowing her to respond without speaking directly. This meant Dongju was no longer necessary.

 

The door being locked was intentional. It was a clear message: “You’re not needed anymore, so don’t come in.”

 

Dongju let out a hollow laugh. He stood by the window and stared intently at Woogi. She seemed completely oblivious to his presence, her eyes locked on the computer screen.

 

Dongju tapped on the window slowly, forcefully.

 

“So you don’t need me now?”

 

No response.

 

Woogi still didn’t look at him. Dongju paused, trying to think of ways to get inside. He leaned his arms on the windowsill.

 

“The alcohol inside—it’s mine. I need to take it, so open up.”

 

Woogi fiddled with the keyboard for a moment, then nodded slightly with her chin.

 

Huh?

 

As Dongju stood there blankly, Woogi gestured more pointedly with her chin.

 

…The monitor?

 

Dongju stepped back from the window to see the monitor better. A message appeared on the screen:

 

Alcohol is prohibited on campus.

 

Dongju stared, taken aback. Soon, more text appeared.

 

Alcohol is prohibited on campus :)

 

A smiley face...?

 

Woogi’s face remained expressionless, yet it oddly seemed like she was smiling.

 

Pressing close to the window again, Dongju said, “You’ve seen me drinking, and now you’re saying alcohol’s prohibited?”

 

Woogi fiddled with the mouse. Dongju looked at the monitor again.

 

Please state your business.

 

Dongju gave a dismissive grunt, clearly frustrated. He took a few steps back from the security office, feeling a stiffness in the back of his neck. Aside from cracking his neck side to side, there was nothing else he could do.

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