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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

7

Chapter 7

17

0

Here they come.

Tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.

Woogi rhythmically tapped her pen against the corner of the desk five times. Leaning casually against the wall, Dongju flipped a peanut into the air and caught it in his mouth before standing up. Woogi spun her chair around, then slid off to the floor. Dongju flopped down into the now-spinning chair.

Knock knock.

Swoosh.

“How can I help?”

The group of male students by the window flinched. They hadn’t expected the tanned, burly man who now stood before them. Peering through a gap in the window, one of the students asked, “When does the female security guard work?”

Pressing close to the window, Dongju replied, “There’s no female guard.”

“Huh? But I saw her earlier.”

“She’s dead.”

“What?”

“That person is dead.”

Woogi, taking the seat Dongju had vacated, thought to herself, I must’ve died several times. She tossed an almond into the air, but it missed and landed on her forehead. Instead of throwing it away, she picked it up and placed it back into the bag.

Dongju scanned the male students’ faces, his expression questioning if they had anything else to add. The students exchanged bewildered glances. Finally, Dongju shut the window.

As they left, the students murmured among themselves, “You saw her, right?” and “It was even posted on the community forum.”

Dongju spun his chair around and slid to the floor, while Woogi stopped the spinning chair to sit.

The clock showed it was past 12. Woogi took a lunchbox out of her bag; inside was inari sushi. She put one piece into a paper cup and handed it behind her. The cup slipped from her hand. When she felt it return to her hand, she brought her arm forward. The cup now contained peanuts and almonds.

Woogi munched on a coffee-flavored peanut as she checked her phone and disconnected the Bluetooth from the speaker. The music stopped with a beep.

Dongju, now eating inari sushi, checked his phone and connected the Bluetooth to the speaker. Pondering for a moment with a soft “Hmm,” he selected a piano playlist starting with “Flower Dance.”

Woogi tapped her fingers rhythmically on the desk, matching the music, as she chewed on her sushi.

Knock, knock.

As Woogi was about halfway through her lunch, a knock on the window interrupted her. She quickly removed the sushi from her mouth and tucked it back into her lunchbox. The person outside spoke up.

“Do you have a delivery for the Art Center? The delivery guy mentioned they left it here at the security office.”

Please wait a moment.

“It’s fifty A1 size frames, so it’ll be the largest package.”

I’ll bring it to the door.

Struggling with the waist-high package, Woogi pushed it toward the door, but it barely budged due to its weight. She shot a quick glance at Dongju, who, without looking up from his phone, lazily stretched his right leg and nudged the package with his foot.

Woogi pushed again, and this time, the box slowly slid forward. After maneuvering the box outside, Woogi returned to her chair and Dongju to his corner seat.

***

Despite no mention of it on the forecast, snow began to fall that morning. Large, fluffy flakes filled the air.

I rose slightly from my chair to peer out the window, where a blanket of snow had already settled on the lawn and the ginkgo tree-lined path.

Ding.

A message arrived from the security guard.

It’s snowing, so we need the calcium chloride. Mr. Park will spread it on the road with the snowplow. Woogi, you sprinkle it on the sidewalk.

Just a few days earlier, the security guard had shown me how to use the calcium chloride granules and warned about how dreaded this task was among the guards. Despite wearing multiple layers of gloves, your hands would freeze, your legs would feel disconnected by the time you reached the library, and your arms would turn numb.

I pressed my temples with my hands.

Ding.

Mr. Jeong at the back gate security office has injured his leg, so it looks like you’ll have to take care of the back gate area too. Is that okay?

In short, I had to spread calcium chloride over the entire school.

The cursor blinked in the message box. I hovered my hand over the keyboard, hesitating.

It seemed like I was the only one available to do it.

Well, I guess I had no choice. No point in arguing.

I sent a brief reply.

Yes.

I did the math. The main gate to the middle gate would take about three hours, so covering the entire school would take at least six.

I rested my forehead on the desk and closed my eyes.

Slurp.

Crunch, crunch.

Glug, glug.

Slurp.

I lifted my head at the noises. It was Wednesday, and Dongju usually stayed in the security office until 4 p.m. Glancing back, I saw him intently staring at an almond. Clearly, he had nothing to do.

I pulled my chair closer to the desk and sat down. Then I enlarged the messenger on the left side of the monitor. The message from the security guard appeared in large font. Beside the messenger, I opened a blank document, set it to center alignment, and typed at the top:

Resignation Letter

I dragged the text to increase its size to 36 points.

“…”

I dragged the text again to increase its size to 96 points.

“…”

I gave a deep sigh.

“…”

Then, just as I was about to drag the text again…

Thunk.

A peanut flew at me from behind. Turning around, I saw Dongju giving me a quizzical look as if asking what I was up to. I faced forward again and continued typing the resignation letter in 96-point font.

I hereby submit my resignation due to exhaustion from snow removal duties.

From behind, Dongju Choi spoke with a tone of disbelief. “Not long ago, you were all nerves just talking about a complaint. Quitting already?”

Dongju, previously reclining, rustled as he sat up straighter, leaning forward with his arms inching closer to the desk. He squinted at the monitor and chuckled.

“Snow removal? How is that hard? Back when I was in the military…”

I opened the right drawer and pulled out a piece of paper. Dongju started to say something but then closed his mouth. I pointed to the bottom of the paper.

‘No initiating conversation.’

“…Well… Hah.”

His own handwritten clause seemed to stop him from speaking, his mouth opening and closing several times. I placed the contract on the desk and continued working on the letter.

Dongju Choi said in a knowing tone, “You’re staging a protest, aren’t you? If you quit, I won’t be able to use the security office either, so you’re saying I should help out, right?”

I didn’t confirm or deny his suspicion, focusing instead on my resignation letter as if it were a solemn ritual. Dongju stretched his arms behind him, touching the floor with his hands.

“Go ahead, write it. Let’s see if you actually have the guts to quit.”

I pressed the print button. The printer whirred to life. Just then, I noticed another group of male students approaching the security office from afar. Touching my forehead, overwhelmed with frustration, I grabbed the freshly printed resignation letter and stood abruptly.

In that instant, Dongju’s arm shot out in front of me. Looking down at him, I saw his expression shift between annoyance and resignation.

“From the main gate to the library.”

That was about a third of the school. His offer to help with even that much was significant, but I felt like I could push for more. I moved past his arm toward the door.

Dongju said incredulously, “More? Are you crazy?”

His voice rose in panic, clearly picturing himself doing more than a third of the work. Emboldened, I grabbed the door handle. Just as I turned it…

“Wait!”

I paused.

Dongju fell silent, deep in thought.

“Half and half. No more.”

I considered pushing further, sensing he might agree to even more, but pursuing that felt slightly unfair. So, I decided to settle for the offer.

I turned around without a word. I could feel Dongju scrutinizing my expression. Feigning ignorance, I sat back down in my chair. I neatly stacked the resignation letter and the contract, placing them back in the drawer.

***

“What’s this… the sea…? But I can’t hear the waves. What’s that? It’s the security guard. What’s he saying? It’s cold? What does he mean it’s cold? It’s warm, though. But why is it warm? Isn’t it December?”

Dongju jolted awake to find himself staring at the ceiling of the security office. It had all been a dream. Reality hit him quickly as he remembered dozing off after drinking. His heart raced slightly from the abrupt wake-up. He lay there for a moment, just gazing at the ceiling.

“This year is terribly cold,” he heard the security guard’s voice from his dream.

Suddenly remembering something, Dongju swiftly turned to check the clock: 3:58…

3:58?

He shifted his gaze toward the window. Woogi was sitting at the desk, and outside, the other security guard appeared ready to switch shifts with her. Grabbing his padded jacket, Dongju quickly exited the office.

Outside, the security guard was chatting with someone near the window. Dongju quietly closed the door and circled around to the back of the security office, heading toward the Humanities building.

“Yeah, that’s right. We should meet up with Mr. Park again sometime.”

As the sound of the security guard walking toward the office reached his ears, Dongju also started moving away. After a short distance, he heard the door of the office swing open behind him. Then came the security guard’s voice.

Oh Lordy, it reeks of drink in here! Ugh! There’s even bottles rollin’ on the floor today.”

Dongju froze, squeezing his eyes shut and then opening them again. In his haste, he had left behind evidence of his recent drinking. He realized this could be more than just a minor inconvenience; he might not be allowed to use the security office anymore.

Reluctantly, Dongju turned back. The security guard stood there with the door open.

“Woogi, come ‘ere and take a look for yourself! Is this a security office or a drunk’s den?”

Woogi emerged from the office and stood next to her colleague. Dongju crossed his arms and watched. The situation was undeniable, and Dongju wondered what she could possibly say to make it better.

The security guard raised his voice as he spoke. “Are you so outta control that you can’t even clean up after yourself? Did you think that just ‘cause I haven’t nagged you for a few days, you could treat this place like your own bedroom?”

Dongju’s eyes flickered nervously. Something was off.

Out of control… ‘cause I haven’t nagged you for a few days…

The security guard was speaking as if Woogi had been the one drinking.

“This ain’t how responsible people behave. I’ve told you time and again to stop drinking, but instead of quittin’, you’ve turned the office into this mess, haven’t you?”

“…”

“This is why addiction is dangerous. It only gets worse over time. Eventually, you’ll be beyond help.”

“…”

Clearly, the security guard was under the impression that Woogi had been the culprit behind the ongoing drinking in the security office. It seemed this wasn’t the first time she had been scolded for it.

Woogi just listened quietly to the accusation.

“Seeing how the alcohol in the fridge keeps disappearing, you’ve been drinking more and more. I’ve told you, if you can’t quit, at least try to cut down, but you don’t listen at all.”

“…”

“If this happens again, there’ll be consequences. I’ll be back in ten minutes, so make sure everything’s cleaned up by then. Understand?”

The security guard finished speaking and walked toward the lawn.

Dongju observed Woogi’s expression.

She didn’t seem particularly aggrieved or angry. She entered the security office nonchalantly as if she was used to such situations. Dongju remained standing in place even after Woogi had disappeared from view.

***

Why didn’t she say anything?

Dongju waited, expecting some reaction from Woogi. Surely, if she was being unjustly scolded because of him, she would show some sign of irritation. Yet, observing her throughout the morning, Woogi appeared unaffected, as usual.

Then, unexpectedly, Woogi’s fist extended toward Dongju, making him flinch.

“What’s this?” He looked at Woogi’s hand and saw she was holding out a paper cup. Inside, he found inari sushi.

Dongju watched Woogi’s back as she stood still, hand stretched back.

Is she really just going to let this slide?

Taking the sushi from the cup, Dongju filled it with almonds and handed it back to Woogi, who accepted it. Soon after, the crisp sound of almonds being chewed filled the air.

Dongju listened, finding the sound oddly unfamiliar. He continued to watch Woogi for a long time while listening to the rhythmic crunching.

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