“You never take the bus?!”, Bogum asks in a surprise, as they are planning to go home. Son Jii has never stepped a foot in public transportation before. But who’s to blame anyway; the only daughter of a rich family, born into a 'loving' and unopinionated mother and an ambitious and stern father. Her parents have given her safety and protection in their own means since she was a child. Who is to blame.
She shakes her head to the question asked by the guy, with so many contrasting backgrounds. He, on the other hand, comes from a simple family, a small family in modesty. Public transportation is a daily hustle that can’t be avoided. However, little did they know that they have more in common. Bogum chuckles at her “no” and raises his left eyebrow after, “So? What do you say? Want to give it the first try?”. The nearest bus stop is right across the street, right across the hospital building. That’s also where Bogum has to take his bus.
Seeing it just across, Son Jii’s mind also flows to the thought of her car, parked in the hospital. She has no idea when she’d be able to take her car home if she is to take the bus. At the same time, she also doesn’t know what to expect knowing she never ride one before. As much as she trusts Bogum, they practically just know each other and she doesn’t know if this man can protect her. She worries there might be pickpockets, s, drunk men, stinky seats… the list goes on and on. Nonetheless, the thought of going back to the hospital is as worse. She doesn’t want to risk going back in there and meet her father or even his colleagues.
The traffic light turns red and pedestrians’ turn green. Before Son Jii opens to agree, Bogum is already dragging her by the arm, “Let’s go! It’s green”. He rushes himself and also Son Jii, just so they don’t catch the pedestrian’s red light. Son Jii was surprised, but she’d agree anyway.
They both stand by the bus stop. Just in time, a few minutes later, the expected bus arrives. Bogum lets Son Jii step in first before him. The driver asks Son Jii for her ticket and she looks bewildered. “Oh, I’ll pay for her”, Bogum cuts in and pulls out his wallet. “Y-you don’t have to—“, Son Jii pulls out her purse but it’s too late. “Consider it a first-timer treat”, Bogum says and smiles to her. She scoffs at him and says quietly, “Thank you”.
Both of them squeeze in. Luckily, there are two empty seats at the back. Bogum signs her to go for the seats. As both of them succeed to be seated, Son Jii just realizes how cramped the bus seats are. Her shoulders are touching Bogum’s, including her thighs. She can feel his body's warmth just at her left. To avoid any sign of awkwardness, her eyes roam through the room. Bus passengers are after all varied. There are office workers, students, ahjummas, or people like them, who are just casually hanging out somewhere. The stereotype that was planted on Son Jii-- only poor people ride the bus, slowly melts down.
Not everything told in childhood is basically true, just like how a mother would wake a daughter up for school and scold her of being late when there’s still 30 minutes left to sleep. Just like how parents tell their children to not mistakenly swallow fruit seeds or else, the fruit will grow on top of their heads….. All these made up stories just to protect their children, but they fail to acknowledge how long a child’s memory can last. Just like Son Jii, it becomes a part of her growing up, let alone the stereotypes.
Son Jii looks up to her left, to Bogum. Bogum notices her and flashes her a smile, “So, first impression?”. His eyes shine brightly like an innocent child who’s looking for reassurance. “Well, not as bad as I thought”, Son Jii pouts and looks away to the window. She has to admit it. The skies turn grey, clouds getting heavier, it is not the best weather to be exact. But at that moment, Son Jii really has forgotten she had her car parked somewhere else. She has forgotten that her dad just ruined her day.
The bus ride takes another 30 minutes. Fortunately, for both of them, their houses are in the same direction. Son Jii’s stop is the first one. As they’re approaching the designated bus stop, “This is your stop. Do you want me to walk you home?”, Bogum offers. The bus stop is still 15 minutes-walk away from her house. She is contemplating because she is actually not familiar with the bus stop’s surrounding. “No, no. It’s okay, I can use my Google Map”, Son Jii points at her phone.
Bogum seems to doubt her. “I’ll walk you until you’re familiar with the street”, he says. At one point, she’s relieved that someone is accompanying her but at the same time, she feels indebted to Bogum for his help today. “No-no, it’s okay, really”, Son Jii declines again as she stands up to get off. The bus finally stops and she takes a step outside.
Nevertheless, she can feel that Bogum follows her getting off. “I really said it’s okay”, Son Jii turns to him, a bit annoyed. Bogum is not shaken at all, he answers, “Yes, I got you. I know you can do it. I just want to take the next bus”. He shrugs his shoulder. “But, why would you---, ah, forget it. Bye then, see you around”, Son Jii waves to him and begins walking away. She takes out her phone from her pocket and begins navigating.
From afar, Bogum is watching her walk away as far as his eyes could see. He feels the responsibility to, as he is the one who invited Son Jii to the bus.
Son Jii is finally home. By the time, she learns that Bogum’s family isn’t as financially capable as Son Jii’s. He needs a sponsor to go abroad and he needs to take subways or buses to his destinations. She just figures he doesn’t have a car of his own, like her. Those explain pretty much the difference between their families.
Ms. Park is home, Son Jii noticed from the shoes lined up in front of the entrance door. Her father, however, is probably still talking about the medical school she should be in. She couldn’t forget how forceful his father was that particular night. She couldn’t forget the first time her father threw one of his statues to the floor, leaving it shattered. She couldn’t forget how furious those eyes were when looking at Son Jii. She definitely didn’t want to go back to that certain moment, but nothing could actually fix what had happened. The incident was left hanging as Son Jii left for the Netherlands.
As Son Jii walks to the living room, she notices small cardboard placed on the table. The cover has her name written on it ‘To: Park Son Jii’. Her mother enters the room, seeing Son Jii wonders on that box. “Didn’t I tell you to pick it up from Mr. Choi?”, her mother asked.
“Yes, but he wasn’t around”, Son Jii answered while sitting down to open the box. “Well, you should’ve told me. Because of that, Min Ho dropped it this morning”, her mother pointed her chin at the box. Ah, so Min Ho dropped it. Good for him. Son Jii thought. Her mother continues walking to the kitchen, talking to the helpers. Son Jii opens the box on her lap. Inside, she finds an old photo album and a simple child-made bracelet.
When she opens the photo album, a postcard slides down. Son Jii picks it up and reads Mr. Choi’s handwriting on it. It says,
Dear Son Jii,
Turns out I also have documentation of your childhood. You must’ve noticed that I was a fan of photography and took many photos of all of you. These would bring back memories. My homecoming present to you. I’ve saved my own copy 😊
Choi Min Soo
Son Jii starts browsing through the photos and finds photos of her, Soo Young, and Si Won. They were all really happy. There are photos of them with bicycles, photos of them on dinner tables, with both parents. Ms. Choi looks so beautiful when she was young. No wonder she gave birth to beautiful children like Siwon and Soo Young. In one of the photos, Son Jii notices that there is another boy standing beside the three of them. He looks solemn, composed, and in Siwon’s age. He doesn’t show any emotions, unlike the three of them who smiles brightly to the camera. Son Jii can’t recall who that is. The group is always the three of them, not four.
The album sure does bring back memories to Son Jii. A smile creases on her lips. Childhood is a happy time and nobody can turn back the time. Childhood is free of worries, no drama, no hard assignments, and no pressure. As she puts down the album, she lifts up the bracelet. The bracelet that is always worn by her and Soo Young in the photos. It is their handmade friendship bracelet. She has no idea how it ended up in Choi’ residence. Seeing the bracelet gives her a bittersweet chill. She wishes things are still the same between her and Soo Young.
She packs the album and bracelet back into the box and takes the stairs to her room. “Son Jii- ya, where’s your car?”, her mom calls again, her head pops out from the kitchen. Ms. Park notices that her daughter got home without any sound of the car engine. “I left it in the hospital, will take it back tomorrow”, she is still halfway the stairs when answering. Getting no reply from her mother, she knows Ms. Park has agreed or doesn’t bother anymore.
As she reaches her bedroom, her phone notification rings. She doesn’t realize that she hasn’t been on her phone since she was in the café. She puts down the box and pulls out her phone. There are five messages from Ah Roo, of course. One from her father who asked her whereabouts, and the newest one from Bogum that reads,
“You can tell me if you need another escape”
Son Jii smiles at her phone.