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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

8

Chapter 8

29

Dongju took a sip of his drink, his eyes focused on the back of Woogi’s head. Even as he stared, images of her face flashed through his mind—the face that had quietly listened to the security guard. Dongju recognized that look. It spoke of resignation, as though being misunderstood or criticized hardly mattered anymore.

 

Was this a sign that Woogi didn’t care much about what people said, willing to shoulder the blame for Dongju’s mistakes? Or was it possible that she was seething with irritation but chose to keep it hidden? Dongju, frustrated with his own preoccupations, threw a peanut against the opposite wall. It hit with a sharp snap and shattered.

 

Woogi stood up from her seat. Dongju turned his attention to the bottle of alcohol. He poured more soju into his glass. Woogi walked out of the security office. Should he ask why she had said nothing? He doubted she would answer, but the silence was too heavy to ignore.

 

He stared blankly at the glass, watching the clear liquid ripple.

 

Suddenly, he looked up at the clock. It was 3:30 p.m.

 

Dongju glanced at the items next to him, then downed about a third of the remaining soju. He rolled the empty bottle toward a corner and pulled out another from the fridge. He overfilled his glass. That should be enough. Dissatisfied, Dongju grabbed a few peanuts and scattered them on the floor.

 

The door to the security office opened with a creak. Woogi stepped in, her eyes briefly sweeping the floor before looking up. She sat down, seemingly oblivious to the mess.

 

Dongju waited. It was only 3:40. As the shift change neared, he wondered what Woogi might do. Maybe she’d tell him to clean up before he left, or ask if she had to be scolded by the security guard again because of him. After getting into trouble the day before, surely she wouldn’t just overlook the state of the room.

 

Shortly after, Woogi got up from her seat and went to the cabinet. She ignored the chaos around her. She rummaged through the cabinet, found something, and returned to her seat, never once glancing at the items scattered on the floor.

 

Dongju understood what it meant.

 

It was the ingrained habit of someone used to covering up and overlooking others’ mistakes.

 

He watched Woogi intently. Rising to his feet, he quickly swept up the peanuts, wiped up the spilled soju, and returned the bottle to the fridge. He then walked around the office, spraying deodorizer in various corners.

 

Hiss. Hiss. Hiss.

 

Hiss.

 

He aimed the last spray at Woogi’s shoulder.

 

Woogi flinched and looked at him. Dongju stared back at her expressionlessly.

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

Dongju set the deodorizer down on the desk and left the security office.

 

***

 

“Yikes, you scared me.”

 

As the door opened, a male professor about to enter the office took a step back in surprise. Dongju recognized him immediately.

 

Professor Kang stood at the doorway, gave Dongju a once-over, and said, “Move aside, student.”

 

“It’s customary for the person leaving to go first,” Dongju replied.

 

“I don’t think so. Elders first.”

 

Professor Kang firmly pushed Dongju’s shoulder and moved past him into the office. Two more people followed him inside. Then… Woogi entered.

 

Dongju’s eyes trailed after Woogi as she walked past the round table in the center of the room and halted at the conference room door.

 

“Aren’t you leaving?” Professor Hwang, who had come in after Woogi, asked Dongju, noticing his fixed stare. “What is it?”

 

“What’s happening?” Dongju asked, his gaze still locked on the conference room door.

 

Professor Hwang glanced at the conference room and spoke with evident annoyance. “Ah, I don’t know. It seems students have been posting security-related complaints on the school community board lately. Professor Kang decided we needed to verify the facts and called a meeting with the Student Welfare Team and the security staff. I’m just standing in for the administrative head.”

 

“And what does Professor Kang have to do with this?”

 

Professor Hwang lowered his voice and said, “Well, Kang has always been keen on these matters. It seems like it’s just kids messing around, but he insists on checking everything out.”

 

After Professor Hwang finished speaking, he entered the conference room. Dongju mulled over what he had just heard.

 

Professor Kang. The community. Complaints. Woogi…

 

He could almost picture how the meeting would unfold: Professor Kang dominating the conversation with his usual rhetoric while Woogi sat silently, listening. Dongju remembered the resigned expression on Woogi’s face as she listened to the security guard. Before he knew it, he started walking toward the conference room.

 

But then, he stopped.

 

What can I do anyway?

 

Exactly. What could he do? Pull her out? Not only would that look strange, but it also wouldn’t reflect well on her.

 

It’s not even my business.

 

Dongju turned around. After taking a few steps, he stopped again. He remembered that Woogi had once covered for his mistake. Dongju slightly furrowed his brow as if troubled by a headache.

 

He stood still for a moment, wrestling with his thoughts.

 

Ah, it’ll be a hassle if I get involved…

 

But then he broke free from his hesitation and strode back, grabbing his laptop.

 

It’s also because I hate seeing Professor Kang enjoying himself.

 

As he entered, everyone turned to look at him—all except for one person. Dongju took a seat next to Professor Hwang.

 

The professor glanced around at the others before whispering to Dongju, “What are you doing?”

 

“You told me to write the meeting agenda.”

 

“When did I—?”

 

Professor Hwang cut himself off. He didn’t want to give the impression that the Philosophy Department was disorganized. He shot Dongju a look that said, We’ll talk about this later.

 

He then reassured the others with a casual, “Let’s continue.”

 

The attention shifted away from Dongju.

 

Seated at the far end, Professor Kang, tapping his shoulder with a massage stick, said, “As some of you might have seen, there have been continuous complaints on the school community board about the security guard, Ms. Woogi Kim.”

 

Professor Kang squinted at his phone, holding it at arm’s length. “The main complaints are, um… that Ms. Kim ignores the students’ questions. People are asking why she’s even here if she just ignores everyone while being paid with their tuition fees, and that she clearly doesn’t care about her job.”

 

Dongju didn’t turn his head toward Woogi but kept her within his line of sight.

 

Woogi sat quietly, listening to Professor Kang.

 

“Is this true?” Professor Kang pressed.

 

“…”

 

“You need to speak up, whether it’s true or not. This isn’t going to resolve itself by you staying silent like an elementary student in the principal’s office.”

 

“…”

 

Still, Woogi said nothing, her gaze fixed on a spot on the desk, her face expressionless.

 

Dongju felt he could almost read the thoughts passing behind Woogi’s impassive facade. Her blank expression seemed like a defense mechanism to hide her feelings, or perhaps an attempt to not feel anything at all. To resign oneself, one must shut down one’s senses, much like closing the aperture to darken a photograph.

 

“Do you have any idea who might have written this? We need to hear everyone’s side to get a clear picture.”

 

Silence followed.

 

“So you don’t know anything? Figures. These kinds of posts keep popping up, two to three times a day. It’s hard to believe there’s no issue at all. Wouldn’t you agree?”

 

Again, Woogi didn’t respond.

 

Faces must have flashed through her mind when Professor Kang asked his questions. Yet, Woogi buried even those faces in silence. Dongju often thought that if someone is doomed to sink to the bottom of the sea, what difference would it make if a few more iron weights were added to their ankles? They’re going to sink regardless. Yet, it’s not easy to be the one who personally adds those weights.

 

Remaining silent, forfeiting the chance to explain, is never easy.

 

“Here’s another post,” continued Professor Kang. “It says male students are often called to the security office to chat, as if the security guard wasn’t hired to work. Did this really happen?”

 

“…”

 

“If you just want to hang out with the boys, why be a guard? I don’t care what you do, but why cause trouble for the students?”

 

Dongju’s eyebrows twitched. His eyes slid toward Woogi. For a moment, he caught a flicker of uncertainty in Woogi’s eyes. But after blinking a few times, her gaze became calm again. Likely, no one else had noticed Woogi’s brief disturbance.

 

Dongju exhaled sharply through his nose, a heat rising within him. It felt like a dampness that only he could sense was emanating from Woogi. In this conference room, it seemed as if they were the only two slowly getting drenched.

 

Professor Hwang, almost restraining himself, spoke up toward Professor Kang. “The boys probably followed her to the security office. You can’t claim that she invited them over to chat.”

 

“Even if the boys went there on their own, it’s still a problem. Boys will be curious when there’s a young woman involved. It’s quite natural. Hey, don’t write this down in the meeting notes. It’ll just make things more complicated if the students see it,” Professor Kang waved his hand dismissively at Dongju and looked around, trying to persuade the others. “Have we ever had issues with a guard before? Never. But just one or two months after she joined, there’s all this noise. Can you honestly say not even a little bit of the blame is on her?”

 

Dongju let out a scoff.

 

Professor Kang appeared not to have heard him. He tapped the desk in front of Woogi with his massage stick. “Excuse me, speak up. Huh? How can you not say a word? Are you openly ignoring a professor right to his face? What, you don’t want to talk to us?”

 

Then, Woogi’s blinking stopped. Her eyes shook intensely as if she was looking into memories rather than the space around her. To Dongju, it felt like looking into a mirror.

 

Do your parents know you drink like this?”

 

When someone made the same expression as he did, it felt like he was watching himself. Dongju believed that some moments were too overwhelming, even for the most resigned. During those times, Dongju would let go of himself even more. He felt he had to become the person who deserved those harsh words, someone with no right to push back. Despite surrendering to this mindset, Dongju realized there were still aspects of himself he hadn’t fully discarded.

 

He stared intently at Woogi. Professor Kang’s voice seemed to come from afar. A sudden impulse struck Dongju to ‘pull her out’—from whatever memory she was in, to snap her out of that intense gaze.

 

Professor Kang, waving his massage stick, said, “They say it’s the root cause, and there’s a reason for that. It refers to the person at the center of the wrongdoing. Remove the root, and the problem sorts itself out. The young female guard is the root of this issue. Does anyone disagree? This person has—”

 

“Ah… this again.”

 

All eyes turned to Dongju. He spoke as if he had just remembered something.

 

“Boys will inevitably be interested in young women. The young woman is the root of the problem.”

 

Dongju looked at Professor Kang and continued, “That’s exactly like last year when you said the reason women get harassed is because they wear short skirts. You said that was the root cause.”

 

Professor Kang’s face hardened instantly.

 

Dongju, undeterred, went on, “No wonder it sounded familiar. Weren’t you almost dismissed from your position over that?”

 

“…”

 

Silence filled the room.

 

Professor Kang’s expression seemed to say, Crazy bastard. But he didn’t say a word out loud.

 

After a moment of stunned silence, Professor Hwang appeared to jolt back to reality, delivering a loud thump to Dongju’s back. “Hey, hey, that’s enough now. Come out. Is this why you…”

 

Grasping Dongju’s arm, Professor Hwang pulled him toward the door.

 

Dongju yielded his right arm to the professor while clutching his laptop with his left hand. Turning to the bewildered onlookers, he announced, “It seems like this meeting is over.”

 

Without looking at Woogi, Dongju left the conference room.

 

***

 

I cracked the window open slightly. A cold breeze blew in.

 

I felt exhausted, like someone who had just completed a long voyage. It was embarrassing to feel tired despite having done nothing.

 

Outside, the world swayed like a sailor experiencing land sickness. I waited for it to settle, like debris sinking to the ocean floor. Spending most of my energy on maintaining silence, I sometimes felt as if I was born to do nothing. If this is how it was going to be, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to suddenly turn 80. Why was I so young, and why had so much time been given to me? It seemed the only thing I could do was to resign myself as much as I could.

 

The thought that too many days were still ahead of me suddenly made me feel scared.

 

Was it acceptable for someone who’s never moved forward to exist? How could you justify the existence of such a person in the world?

 

“It’s cold.”

 

Behind me, I heard Dongju’s voice. I closed the window. Normally, I would have left it open as a joke, but I wasn’t in the mood for that today. I even felt embarrassed to joke around with him.

 

I wondered what Dongju Choi thought when he saw me sitting there in the conference room, looking clueless. He must have thought, “What’s wrong with her? She doesn’t say a word, even in a situation like this. That’s too much.”

 

I decided to pretend I hadn’t noticed, like I always do. I’d never heard his thoughts, and if I’d never heard them, then I didn’t know them; if I didn’t know, then they had no meaning or impact on me.

 

I looked out the window again.

 

Embarrassment fades over time anyway…

 

“They owe you their lives.”

 

Suddenly, Dongju Choi said something I couldn’t quite understand. Who owes me their lives?

 

“The guys who used to visit the security office. They’re still around because you stayed silent. It could’ve sparked some nasty rumors.”

 

“…”

 

“Professor Kang, too. If you had spoken up, it could have led to his dismissal.”

 

“…”

 

“They should be thanking you or something.”

 

I picked at a hangnail. I felt awkward. It wasn’t like I did it on purpose. I was keeping my mouth shut. I felt embarrassed as if I had received an award for something I hadn’t done.

 

But since I didn’t say anything this time either, just like that, it was being passed off as if my silence had saved several people.

 

I knew it was a misunderstanding… but I decided to let it go uncorrected. To do otherwise would be too embarrassing.

 

I stopped picking at my hangnail.

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