- onMarch 7, 2016
- Vol.31 Spring 2016
- byHwang Jungeun
- Kong’s Garden
Tr. Jeon Seung-hee 2015116pp.
It was at the bookstore where I saw the girl.
It was spring, a season that always seemed to drive us crazy with its beginning-of-the-semester frenzy. I was just standing around absentmindedly before the store closed and after I had sent away most of the customers who had rushed in at the same time. We sold cigarettes then. We displayed the cigarettes on locked shelves behind little glass doors by the counter. There were rules about selling cigarettes, and I always followed them. Since students frequented the bookstore, we only sold cigarettes to customers who presented their IDs, except for those customers we knew well.
That night, a girl came to the store and stood in front of counter and asked for two packs of cigarettes. She was wearing a school uniform with a ribbon around her neck and was holding paper money in her right hand. She was pretty and looked at me as if she was challenging me, although she also looked a little anxious. When I told her that I couldn’t sell cigarettes to a minor, she said that she was on an errand. The adults were outside, she told me, and gestured outside. I turned my head and looked out to see two men standing near the phone booth. One of them was wearing a hat and looking in our direction.
Now, can you sell them to me? She asked me a little more forcefully.
When I told her, Tell them to come down and buy them themselves, she hesitated for a moment and then went out. I saw her walk up the stairs, approach the men, and talk to them. It seemed that she had told them what I’d said. Now the man wearing a hat was slowly walking down the stairs.
The man looked smaller and thicker at the counter than outside. He was solidly built, wore a darkbrimmed hat, and smelled of smoke. Didn’t that young girl ask for cigarettes just now? He asked politely: I asked her for me. Why didn’t you sell her the cigarettes when you saw me outside?
His eyes were blank. They were shaded by the brim of his hat, although I could see that they were blood-shot and yellow-white. When I said that he had to show me his ID if he wanted to buy cigarettes, he seemed to grin, rummaged through his pockets, and took out his wallet. It was worn-out leather. He took out a card that looked like his ID but didn’t hand it to me. He held it in his hand and stared at me. And why should I show you my personal information just to buy a few packs of cigarettes? Why should I do that, a full-grown man? How can I trust you and show you my ID? Please, try to be a better cashier next time, he said.
He thrust his ID back into his pocket and then strolled out of the bookstore. The other man and the girl were waiting for him at the top of the stairs. They stood next to the phone booth and discussed something. When the men said something, the girl either nodded or shook her head. The men took their hands out of their pockets and touched the girl’s head and the sides of her slender body. Every time they did this, the girl shrank back a little, and laughed. Above the girl’s head, flowers were falling like solid, dry snow.
What should I do?
It really was a strange scene. It was very strange, even though there weren’t that many things that made it immediately odd. They were just standing together and talking. The men and the girl looked so unrelated. I thought that they couldn’t possibly know each other very well and felt very uncomfortable thinking this. I tapped the counter with the tip of my finger and hesitated. Should I step outside now and ask her what her relationship was with them? Where and when had she met them? Did I have the right to ask her that? Should I just call the police? If so, what should I tell them? A girl was talking with some men? Was that criminal enough to report to the police? Was that a crime? Even if it was a crime, was it my duty to report it? What should I do if my actions later put me in danger? What if I became the target of some plot to get back at me for my suspicions? After all, the bookstore would always be here and I would always work here.