BACK TO THE FUTURE: REPLY 2004 [ PART 2 ]

By jesse

“Please enter your passcode.” Taek slowly and carefully punched in the numbers 1709. “You have one voice message.”

        “Hey, Taek!” It was Sunwoo’s voice. “Don’t forget we’re meeting tonight! By the way, when are you going to get a handphone? Who in the world still uses a pager these days? Tell Deoksun to buy one for you, OK?”

        He put down the phone and opened his weekly planner, in which he had meticulously written down every important date, event and appointment; Deoksun’s weekly flight schedule, Sooyeon’s dance lessons, his Baduk matches, birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings, so on and so forth. There, written right below June 9 in small, tidy handwriting: 6pm, Dongryong’s restaurant.

*****

        Sunwoo walked into the restaurant chatting away happily with Taek. They had just dropped their kids off at their parents’ place. “Jaewoo really likes to play with Sooyeonie. He kept asking me when we will see her again,” said Sunwoo. “Did you see how happy he was just now?”

        Taek nodded. “But…” He paused and looked at Sunwoo. “Last night, I asked Sooyeonie who she liked more – Bogummie or Jaewoo. And she chose Bogummie.”

        “Heol… Really? Aigoo, my poor son… What should I do?” Sunwoo laughed in disbelief. Just then, they spotted Deoksun waving at them excitedly. She was sitting at their usual table and motioned them to hurry over.

“Look at this, Chef Bong’s special curry pasta!” Deoksun exclaimed, pointing at the menu. Next to an illustrated pot of pasta was a photo of Jungbong smiling confidently in his chef uniform with two thumbs up. “Shall we order this too? Shall we?”

        “Wait. Jungbong hyung is the chef here now?” Taek asked. “I thought he just started hosting a new cooking show?”

        “No, he’s not,” Sunwoo replied, “It’s just that once in a while he would create a new dish for Dorongnyong’s restaurant. And I heard the response has been very good.” All of a sudden, Deoksun jumped up and dashed to the entrance. She raised her arm and shouted, “Aigoo! President Ryu!”

        “Aigoo! President Sung!” Dongryong raised his arm too and shouted in reply. Junghwan, who came in with him, was taken aback by this sudden gag performance. He quietly distanced himself from them and watched them from a corner.

“It’s so great to see you! It’s so great to see you! It’s so great to see you! It’s so great to see you!” The two friends greeted each other excitedly, making heads turn and drawing curious looks from all the customers in the restaurant.

        They were still giggling as they walked towards the table when Junghwan frowned at them and said, “Tsk, tsk, tsk… Just how old are the two of you already? Stop being so childish! It’s so embarrassing…”

        “Well, what’s wrong with that?” Sunwoo asked. “Dorongnyong is really a president of a chain restaurant now! He just opened his 18th branch in Gimhae! Am I right?” Dongryong nodded gleefully and everyone cheered for him, patting his shoulders and applauding his success.

        “Hey, hey, hey,” Dongryong calmed them down and said, “Let’s go upstairs! We just finished renovating the rooftop. Shall we have grilled sirloin steak tonight?”

        “Oh yeah! That’s my favourite! Let’s go!” Deoksun grabbed Taek’s hand and eagerly followed Dongryong as he led the way up the stairs.

        The first thing they saw on the rooftop was a big and spacious teepee, decorated with Moroccan rugs, soft and fluffy cushions, and a coffee table stacked with all sorts of board games. Outside, a barbeque pit has been set up in front of a long dining table overflowing with food and drinks – Korean beef steaks, thinly-sliced frozen pork belly, marinated beef short ribs, sausages, a thick seafood pancake, sweet potatoes, corn, mushrooms, various side dishes, dipping sauces, a huge bowl of lettuce, bottles of soju and chilled Hite beer.

        “Wow, this place is fantastic!” Sunwoo exclaimed in amazement. The gang couldn’t believe their eyes as they explored the cozy roof terrace.

        Dongryong looked around at his childhood friends whom he had spent his youth with, and said, “Ever since we moved out of Ssangmundong, I really miss eating, chatting and playing with you all in Taekkie’s room. So I decided to turn this into a place where we can meet anytime and just hang out together, just like how we used to.” Then, he flicked on a switch by the door and immediately, the entire roof terrace was magically lit up with fairy lights that twinkled in the evening sky.

        “Dongryong-ah…” Taek smiled at him and said, “Thank you.”

Moved by Dongryong’s sweet and thoughtful gesture, the gang was lost for words and looked at him with tears in their eyes. “Hey!” Dongryong finally broke the silence and asked, “Are we going to stand around all night long? Let’s eat!”

Deoksun took out an iPod from her bag and connected it to a speaker dock on the coffee table. Music filled the air, accompanied by the crackling sound of charcoal burning. Taek was cutting sausages when she sat down next to him and asked, “Do you remember this song?”

Taek listened for a while and nodded. “Lee Seung Hwan’s ‘As Much Love as There Is in the World’,” he replied.

“Yup, I loved this song so much back then,” she reminisced.

“It was your favourite song during the concert.”

Hearing this, she sat upright, tilted her head towards him and asked, “Come to think of it, how did you know I was alone that day? I am quite sure I didn’t tell you anything.”

“There’s nothing I don’t know about you.” Taek smiled and continued cutting sausages.

*****

16 October 1994

Taek got into his car. He started the engine, took a deep breath and reversed the car out of the parking lot. He couldn’t shake off the nagging feeling that Deoksun had lied; she always dressed up for dates and gatherings, even when going to Apgujeong for MacDonald’s.

While waiting at the traffic lights, something shiny caught his attention from the corner of his eye. There, sticking out of the CD player was Lee Seung Hwan’s ‘My Story’ CD album. It was Deoksun’s – she had just bought it and insisted on playing it when she drove the gang back last Sunday.

He stared at it for a long while, until the car behind honked. The lights had turned green and it was time to go. He gathered himself and released the hand clutch.

Turning into the carpark, he made sure the wide spot was empty, and carefully reversed the car into his usual parking lot.

“Choi Taek 9-dan, you’re here!” Mr. Yoo was waiting by the stairs when Taek arrived. The competition room together was already packed with reporters, together with the judges and his opponent Lim Jiyeon 9-dan. Cameras flashes blinded his eyes as he walked towards his allocated seat.

But he did not sit down. All eyes were on him as he stared at the Baduk board, considering his next move. The room quieted down.

“I’ve decided to forfeit this match. I’m sorry,” he announced, addressing his opponent and the panel of judges. Murmurs filled the room, along with even more camera flashes. He bowed and said, “It’s a personal matter. I’m really sorry.” He bowed once more before exiting the room, leaving the crowd bewildered by this sudden turn of events.

With heavy steps, Taek trudged down the stairs and towards the carpark. It was the first time he ever forfeited a match in his professional career.

He was so lost in thought that he was right in front of his car when he suddenly noticed it – a van had parked itself next to his Toyota, making it impossible for him, given his driving skills, to retrieve his vehicle.

He froze in his tracks. He looked at the van, then at his car, and back at the van again. He panicked. He looked down at his watch; it was 4:33pm. His hands tightened around the strap of his messenger bag. And he began to run.

‘Run, Forrest! Run!’ Jenny shouted.

“Why are you here? How did you know to come here?” Deoksun asked. Taek smiled, still panting heavily, simply grateful that he made it in time.

*****

“Eat more,” said Deoksun as she placed another piece of sirloin steak in Taek’s bowl.

He nodded. “You too,” he said with a smile. “Oh yes,” he reached into his bag and pulled out a bottle of Yamazaki 18 Years. “Junghwan-ah, here,” he said and handed it over to him.

“Oh yeah!” Junghwan examined the bottle of whiskey excitedly and took out his wallet. “How much was it, Taekie?” He asked, opening his wallet.

“Ah, it’s OK. It’s nothing,” Taek shook his head and continued eating.

“Wait! What is this?” Dongryong exclaimed.

“This is whiskey!” Junghwan replied, “Hey, do you even know what’s whiskey?” He held the bottle up for Dongryong to see, but his friend grabbed his wallet instead.

“Who is this?” Dongryong took a photo out from Junghwan’s wallet, looked at it and showed the rest. Junghwan tried to snatch it back, but Deoksun managed to seize it just in time.

“Aish!” Junghwan cussed and sat down helplessly. In the photo, Junghwan had his arm around a girl. Deoksun recognized her immediately.

“Wang Jahyun?!” She shouted with her eyes wide open.

“Who’s that?” Taek asked.

“My best friend in high school,” she explained, “We hang out together with Miok, Junghwan’s sister-in-law…”

“Ah… that Joey Wang?” Dongryong recalled, “That girl who broke her arm in Gyeongju?”

“Yeah…” Deoksun replied and turned to Junghwan, “Are you two dating? Why didn’t she tell me anything?”

“Wow, not bad!” Sunwoo remarked, “You’re finally dating someone!”

Junghwan ruffled his hair in annoyance and explained, “It’s not that… I… I haven’t confessed yet.”

“What? Another one-sided love?” Dongryong couldn’t believe his ears.

“Heol… This guy is really…” Sunwoo sighed.

“Hey, Kim Junghwan! Ja Hyun is a really nice girl. Don’t you dare to hurt her, OK? I won’t let you off if you do,” warned Deoksun, “Also, if you like her, just confess. Don’t play with her feelings.”

“Aigoo… this guy is really hopeless,” Dongryong shook his head and said, “Do you wish to remain single all your life? Huh?”

“I know… I know…” Junghwan took the photo back and said, “I’ll confess, OK?” He sank into his chair and heaved a deep sigh.

“Anyway…” Sunwoo patted Junghwan’s shoulder and said, “Just give it a shot. Who knows, maybe she likes you too! Honestly, the two of you actually look quite compatible together, right guys?” Taek nodded while Deoksun raised her eyebrows.

Just then, Dongryong turned to her and said, “Hey, lend me your phone.”

“Why?” Deoksun passed him her phone innocently.

“Let’s call Jahyun now and ask her if she likes Kim Junghwan!” Dongryong giggled and started searching for her number.

“Don’t do that!” Junghwan cried, and tried to snatch the phone.

“Why not? Just confess your feelings for her!” Dongryong started running around the roof terrace, while Junghwan chased after him. “Tell her how much you love her!” Dongryong teased him as the rest laughed and watched them chase after each other for a long time under the deepening night sky.

 

 

*Even Forrest Gump wouldn’t be able to run from Hongik Baduk Club to Seoul Olympic Park in time for the concert at 5pm. Taek ran to a taxi stand, of course.

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