BACK TO THE FUTURE: REPLY 2004
“If I had made this move instead, then I would be able to save these stones. I was too focused on attacking. His strategy is so weird. I’ve never seen anyone play like that before,” Choi Taek 9-dan thought, his body heavily slumped in a leather armchair. He had just lost a match against a newcomer after 433 moves. As he replayed those moves one by one in his mind, the study room’s door swung open.
fanart by sonagi
Taek was jolted out of his thoughts. His serious expression instantly softened into a gentle smile. It was 5-year-old Choi Sooyeon, who just returned from kindergarten. She ran towards her dad, carrying a pink Hello Kitty schoolbag. Just like her mom, pink was her favourite colour – at least until her next birthday.
“Our Sooyeonnie is back?” He lifted his daughter up onto the armchair and hugged her tight. “That’s right,” he thought, “Winning isn’t everything. What matters most is my family.” He asked her about school, and she babbled on and on about Bogum, the new boy from Busan, who was – as she described – always quiet and expressionless but cute in a dorky way.
“Ah, I see… Our Sooyeonnie is in love with Bogummie,” he teased her with a straight face.
“Noooo!” She screamed, waving her small hands frantically in front of her dad.
“No? Don’t lie… Are you going to marry Bogummie?” He asked with a cheeky grin, tickling his daughter’s belly, leaving her squirming in the armchair and laughing uncontrollably.
“Sooyeonnie! Quick, get changed!” Deoksun yelled from the kitchen. “Uncle Sunwoo will be reaching soon!”
Sooyeon wriggled her way out of her dad’s arms and ran to her room. Taek got up and walked to the kitchen. Deoksun was busy washing lettuce. He slipped his arms around her waist and hugged her from behind.
“Have you heard?”
“It’s OK to lose, right?”
Deoksun wiped her hands dry with a towel, turned around and looked into his eyes, gently caressing his sullen face. “Of course. You’re a human. Do you think you’re a computer? Even a computer can’t possibly win all the time.”
He chuckled and replied, “A computer that plays Baduk? Eyyy, that’s impossible!” Just then, the doorbell rang.
“They are here!” She removed her apron and rushed to open the door. Sunwoo and Bora walked in, arguing over the difference between US and UK shoe sizes. Sunyoung came in asking Deoksun if she needed help, and headed straight for the kitchen. Jinjoo entered arm in arm with Choi appa, confiding in him the problems she faced with a particular classmate who refused to contribute in a group project.
“Unnie!” Dolled up in a pink polka-dotted dress, Sooyeon happily ran towards Jinjoo.
Jinjoo bent down and hugged her niece. “Aigoo, our Sooyeonnie has grown taller again. So pretty, unlike your mom when she was your age.”
“Ya!” Deoksun shot her a glare and sulked.
“No, that’s not true.” Taek stopped setting the table and jumped to her defense. “Your mom was pretty, even when she was a child.”
Deoksun grinned widely and shouted, “See? See? I have always been so pretty! Heehee!”
Sunwoo gave up arguing with Bora and walked over to the dining table. He inspected the cutlery and exclaimed, “Wow, Choi Taek 9-dan, all the chopsticks actually matched! Good job!”
“Of course,” Taek replied, “we only bought one type of chopsticks.”
“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to our Choi appa… Happy birthday to you!”
Everyone was waiting for Choi appa’s reaction, but he continued to stare at his birthday cake, with two candles that read “60” burning brightly.
“Quick, make a wish!” Deoksun nudged him.
He took a deep breath and said, “My wish?” His eyes still fixated on the candles. “In the past, my wish was for Taek to live like others his age… for him to stop taking sleeping pills and sleep soundly at night. Now, my wish had come true. What else can I wish for?” He looked at Taek. “Thank you, son, for growing up so well.” He smiled with tears welling up in his eyes.
“And?” Sunyoung urged him to say ‘it’ – only she knew how hard he had been practising in front of the mirror for the past two weeks.
“And…” Choi appa shifted his weight uncomfortably in his seat. He cleared his throat, took a deep breath and finally muttered, “I love you… I love you, son.”
Taek smiled with a tear rolling down his cheek. “I love you too, dad.”
“Ya! It is supposed to be a happy occasion. Stop crying!” Jinjoo snapped at them. “Dad, the candles are melting fast!”
Choi appa fought back his tears and blew out the candles to everyone’s applause. The noise woke Sooyeon up, who had dozed off in Deoksun’s arms. She was delighted to see the cake and pleaded her mom for a huge slice with extra cream.
The evening went on leisurely, filled with laughter and silly banter. Jinjoo taught Sooyeon how to make a paper lion, while the men lounged in the living room drinking hot sake, which Taek had brought back from a recent trip to Japan, paired with boiled sweet potatoes. In the kitchen, Sunyoung demonstrated to her daughter-in-laws how to make the perfect kimchi paste.
“Dammit, how much fish sauce again? Aish! I can’t do this…” Bora threw her hands up in frustration. “Hubby! Can you come here for a while?” Both Sunyoung and Deoksun froze in shock at her sudden outburst.
Sunwoo excused himself and hurried over. “Yes, dear?”
“I don’t know… I can’t do this… cooking is so hard, dammit, it’s my fifth attempt already…”
He calmly took out a Nokia 6610 from his pocket, created a new draft message and typed in his mom’s kimchi paste recipe. “Here,” he said, placing the phone down on the kitchen counter, “Just follow these steps. Even I could memorise the recipe by now!” He patted her head and walked off sniggering.
Deoksun burst out laughing and sneered, “Hey, I thought you were good at math? How is it that you can’t remember such simple proportions?” Bora pouted sulkily and stared at the ground.
Sunyoung jumped in and said, “Ey, it’s OK! Let’s try it again! Don’t worry about it…” Hiding behind her mother-in-law’s back, Deoksun made a funny face and Bora glared at her angrily.
“The Tortoise walked and walked; never ever stopping until he came to the finish line. The animals that were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise that they woke up Hare. The Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late…” Taek stopped reading and quietly put down the storybook.
Sooyeon had fallen asleep. A faint but steady rhythm of snores could be heard. “Does that Busan boy snore too?” He wondered, feeling slightly jealous of his daughter’s new infatuation. Admiring her pretty little face, he was reminded of the first time he met Deoksun, and the fish candy, which he couldn’t bear to eat. Slowly, he tiptoed his way to the door, switched off the lights and closed the door behind him.
In the kitchen, his wife was wiping clean bowls with a dish towel. The house was peaceful and quiet once again, now that everyone had left. Taek paused and relished in the simple yet surreal happiness of being alone with the person he loved most.
“Yes?” She continued wiping the bowls. In six hours’ time, she would have to fly to Shanghai, but there were still plenty of chores left to do.
Taek took the bowl and towel from her hands, and put them aside. She tried to protest but he shook his head. “I’ll do it tomorrow. Let’s go and rest.”
“But I still need to vacuum the floor, wash the clothes, pack Suyeonnie’s schoolbag, scrub the toilet, clean the windows…”
“I’ll do everything tomorrow, OK?” He reassured her, patting her head. Over the years, he had learnt how to manage basic household chores. And that included frying up a decent plate of kimchi fried rice, thanks to Chef Bong’s dedicated coaching.
She relented and said, “Alright then.” Her face was beaming with pride. The boy who used to drink milk in front of his gate every morning had grown up to become a thoughtful and dependable head of the family.
Taek took her by the hand and led her into the bedroom, but Deoksun stopped him right in front of the bed and said, “I need to shower first.”
He shook his head. “No need,” he said, pulling her towards him. He hugged her, burying his face in her hair and took a deep breath. “You smell nice.”
“Really? But I was in the kitchen all day long.”
“Mmm,” he nodded, “Smells like kimchi.”
“Ya!” Embarrassed, she pushed him away and smelled her own hair before she said, “I’m going to shower.”
He grinned and asked, “Together?”