- onJuly 1, 2021
- Vol.52 Summer 2021
- byPark Min-Jung
- Barbie Vibe
Seshiru said she’d prepare snacks in the shared kitchen and bring them back to the room. From that time on, she went to make snacks whenever Juhee came over. While Seshiru was away, Juhee looked uneasily around at her belongings. There was a single bed and a small desk. You could see right through the transparent glass door into the bathroom. Next to the closet was a sizable suitcase . . . At these times she would stare quietly at the large photo of U-Know Yunho hanging above the head of the bed.
Juhee and Seshiru quarreled on the first day. If they hadn’t made up then and there, the Sunday afternoon Korean tutoring sessions would’ve been cancelled. Seshiru had said that most of the Japanese men they’d met on the way to the gosiwon, from the money changer to the part-time worker at the Sindang-dong Tteokbokki restaurant, had remarked on Juhee’s good looks. Juhee never liked to hear these kinds of comments, and had come to object to them even more strongly after seeing the video. Seshiru kept chattering on as if she just viewed them as compliments.
“Mamoru-san doesn’t usually say girls are pretty, so even I was surprised. It’s because you have the kind of face that Japanese guys like. Such a cute look.”
But the moment Juhee heard the next sentence, her suspicions rose.
“Juhee-shi, you’ve had plastic surgery, too, haven’t you? Lots of Korean girls do. It’s ubiquitous.”
Juhee was surprised both by Seshiru’s use of the word “ubiquitous” and by her expression, all smiles after saying something so rude. She frowned and said, “Seshiru-san, that’s not a nice thing to say to someone. Would you talk that way if you were in Japan?”
“What’s wrong? I said it because you’re beautiful. And it’s true, a lot of Korean girls have had surgery.”
“A lot of Korean girls have had surgery? Then is it true that most Japanese girls shoot AV?”
Seshiru’s face hardened. Juhee was shocked at her own words, but she kept on talking.
“It’s the same as saying that. Do you get it?”
Seshiru pursed her lips. She began to cry. It took Juhee an hour or more to calm her down, apologizing over and over again. That’s how the session ended. As they parted, Seshiru got her money ready. She desperately held it out to Juhee, who was refusing it.
“This is all I want. Nothing too fancy, just someone to talk with. At any rate, I promise not to say anything to make Juhee-shi angry in the future.”
At JuJu House the next day, Seshiru bumped into Juhee, thrust something in her apron pocket and skittered away. It was a Kanebo brand cleanser that was very popular with Koreans, known for dispensing foam in the shape of a rose. There was a Post-It note stuck to the package. Juhee-shi, I’m sorry. I won’t make any more mistakes. Seshiru. Just before going home, Juhee hurriedly handed Seshiru the new lipstick that was in her pouch to return the favor.
Seshiru and Juhee met in Myeongdong on Christmas Eve as planned. Seshiru handed Juhee a package. “It’s a Japanese hotpot my mother sent. Since I don’t cook much, I want you to take it.” Juhee accepted it, a little bewildered.
But I don’t cook either, Seshiru. Juhee said she hadn’t thought to bring a present, so the pancakes would be on her.
The pancake restaurant was about twenty minutes from JuJu House on foot, in the vicinity of the department store. It was very far from the subway station. Juhee said it was farther than she expected, teasing Seshiru. Seshiru linked arms with her without speaking. It was the first time she’d done that.
As they walked, the crowd kept getting thicker. Juhee realized the people weren’t just Christmas revelers out for a good time when she noticed some of them wearing masks. She and Seshiru had inadvertently joined a protest march. Looking around, she saw picket signs covered in slogans. “Out of the mire of this historical injustice and on to the path of true reconciliation and healing!” “For the victims and their families, and for all of us who are living in the same age, we require a settlement.” Seshiru clung a little more tightly to her arm. “What is this protest about? I shouldn’t be around a protest . . . You know, we foreigners are a bit vulnerable.” She hid her face against Juhee’s shoulder.
Juhee patted Seshiru and said, “It’s okay, Seshiru-san. This is a peaceful gathering. It’s to support war victims.”
Seshiru’s eyes shone as she answered, “Oh, really? I’ve taken part in anti-war demonstrations since middle school. My grandmother died in the ravages of war, in Japan, you know.”
Juhee felt an odd feeling come over her and she looked at Seshiru, who was standing on her tiptoes as if trying to see something in the distance. Her eyes reddened with tears as she looked around. Juhee felt as if she had duped Seshiru. Seshiru, your grandmother and the elderly war victims they are talking about here are a little different . . . You said your grandmother is at Yasukuni Shrine.
Juhee could never say this to Seshiru and she felt a little miserable. “Seshiru-san, shall we take another route?” she asked earnestly, but Seshiru shook her head. “It’s all right. Let’s just keep on going.”
Translated by Kari Schenk
Park Min-Jung debuted in 2009 when she won Writer’s World’s newcomer award for her short story “The Private Life of Count Saint-Simon.” She has authored the short story collections When a Ghost Gains a Body (2014) and The School for Wives (2017). She won the 2018 Young Writers’ Award for the short story “Seshiru, Juhee” that is excerpted in the Summer 2018 issue.