018

DERANGER
visiting a memorial chapel always gave you the creeps when you were a kid.
 
the dead's ashes are kept there. it's always silent. the sound of the birds chirping outside adds up to the mood. and the occasional whistle of the wind always manages to bring chills through your spine.
 
it feels different now as you stand in front of a small compartment, looking at a small picture of a man whose prominent monolids resemble seulgi.
 
"this is probably joy or mum." seulgi pertains to the presence of a fresh flower inside. "they visit here sometimes without telling me."
 
you keep silent as you watch seulgi put another flower inside.
 
"it was on the new year's eve when it happened," she starts. "he and i were celebrating together on the rooftop of his new apartment when he was struck in the head by a stray bullet."
 
you covered your mouth with a hand.
 
"he's dead on the spot." seulgi swallows, eyes casting down. "what's weird is i tried to wake him up even tho i know he's gone. i could see the blood bursting out of his head."
 
not knowing what else to say, you hold her arm.
 
"there were several suspects for celebratory gunfire. but the authorities never found whose bullet it was. it was an unsolved case." seulgi sighs. "but you know what's worse than that?" she looks at you. "it's some of his relatives saying that what happened to him is some punishment because he was gay."
 
your mouth falls open.
 
"i don't understand." seulgi squints her eyes. "we are all going to die someday. why is it that when religious people die, they say it's a natural occurrence? but if a sinner dies, it's a punishment?"
 
you feel your insides churning. you clench the sleeve of her coat.
 
seulgi looks your hand, then to you. "my dad was a closeted gay for years, even after he had me. like you, he was afraid of coming out to his family."
 
you nod. now you know the reason she brought you here.
 
"he and mum met as freshmen at the university. it was fraternity night," seulgi says. "they were eighteen or nineteen, i think. a baby was conceived as the result of their alcohol-intoxicated . since dad's family doesn't want gossips and wants to take responsibility for their son's indiscretion, they arranged for my parents to get married.
 
"they lost their first child together through miscarriage. but they continued living together as a married couple," seulgi continues. "eventually, i was born. but it was after my first birthday when my dad decided he couldn't take it anymore. he said he felt he's living a lie. so, he told mum and everyone the truth and filed for a divorce. it was an amicable breakup between the two of them, but the kangs couldn't accept it.
 
"my mum remarried a year after, and joy was born a few months later," seulgi adds. "dad, on the other hand, left his family to fend for himself along with his partner at that time. i was under the custody of my mum while he tries to work his arse off as everything was taken away from him after his family disowned him."
 
you frown at that.
 
"long-story-short, after a lot of hard work, he was able to get back to his feet and even got more successful than he previously was." seulgi smiles a little. "he put up a small chain of a cafe with his best friend and was able to grow it to a few branches around town."
 
"hm? which cafe is this?"
 
seulgi smirks. "ever heard of schindlee's cafe? that's his. he was a huge fan of that crazy philosopher."
 
you blink, familiar with the said cafe that's started to garner popularity lately. "that's your dad's? wow! why didn't you tell me!"
 
"why would i tell you? it's not like it's already a big chain of a business. and that's not the proper way to win a woman's heart."
 
"still." you playfully push her.
 
"that's the reason i took up marketing so i could help expand the business," seulgi says. "currently, it's his best friend--aunty minhee--who's doing the overall management of it while i help her on the side with some work too."
 
you are trying to put things together in your head when something clicks.
 
"wait. you said he died on new year's... was that the reason you...?"
 
she nods. "not only yours. i dropped out of all of my classes last semester."
 
"you could have told me!" you yank her arm. "i could have helped you!"
 
"it's fine. i wasn't in my best self at that time. and i wanted to see you again. at least i have another reason."
 
you blush at that.
 
"a lot has happened after dad's death," she continues. "i was treated like an outsider by his family during the funeral, and another disappointment cos i'm like him--gay." she shrugs.
 
"that's when i also started having problems with joy's dad. after my lawyer talked to me about dad's assets, joy's dad was expecting i'd give them some--like a payment for keeping me and nurturing me all these years.
 
"i did give them a sum of cash, but it wasn't enough for him after finding out the numbers my father had in his bank accounts," seulgi continues. "i think he was expecting i'd give them the right to one of dad's properties. what a bastard."
 
"what did you do then?" you ask.
 
"i sold all of his properties, cars, stuff, and donated a part in charity. and, boy, joy's dad was surely pissed." seulgi shakes her head. "i bought a small space for myself and a simple car to live by while i saved the rest. i tried to live a semi-minimalist lifestyle, like how my dad taught me."
 
you stare at her. "i didn't know you went through something like that too."
 
seulgi takes in a deep breath. "we all have our challenges, our battles. my dad used to say everyone in this world is dysfunctional. some are just good at hiding it. but there's nothing wrong with being dysfunctional, you know? the problem arises when we try to appear perfect for others--or when we expect others to be perfect for us."
 
you smile and look away. "couldn't agree more."
 
"it was tough for me last semester. i've never felt so alone and lonely. it was only joy, mum, and aunty minhee who genuinely cared for me. thanks to them i'm still here standing, continuing my life, preparing myself to take on the business if my pretty professor would pass me this time around."
 
"yah. you still have the guts to flirt like that when you're in front of your dad? have you noticed he's only ten years older than i am?"
 
"oh really?" she looks at her dad's birth year. "ahh. yeah. wow. so, we're only ten years apar--"
 
"it's eleven years, seulgi. eleven."
 
"fine. eleven. doesn't matter, anyway."
 
"to others, it does matter." you fold your arms.
 
she raises an eyebrow at you. "why do you always care about what others think? do you know that's a recipe for self-destruction?"
 
"is it not bad that i want to belong? like be treated as normal?"
 
"what for? striving to impress people, but what for?"
 
you couldn't answer.
 
seulgi glances over her dad's compartment. "my dad used to live the same life as yours. but then he realised that pleasing his family and other people is a never-ending process. no satisfaction is lasting. it is only the beginning of a new striving. the more you strive to please others, the lesser satisfied you feel, which will cause you only suffering.
 
"don't get me wrong. i'm not asking you to do the same thing he did. i know it's not the same for everyone," seulgi adds, reaching for your hands and squeezing them. "but i want you to know that what you did last night, being firm with your decision of not coming back with your ex, is a brave move. if you had agreed to marry him, you would be signing up yourself for depression."
 
you smile a little as you squeeze seulgi's hands back. "thank you. that made me feel a lot better. now i finally understood why and how you learn those things even at your age."
 
"it's all because of him." seulgi gestures her head to her dad. "the hardships he faced taught him a lot about life, and i'm lucky he was able to impart that knowledge with me."
 
"i'm kind of envious of you. it seems you got your life figured out already. while me, still trying to start mine."
 
"hey." she pulls you closer and hugs you. "never regret anything you've done. things are meant to happen that way for a reason. everything will only make sense once you look back. but it's never too late for anything. what matters is you've done something to start it."
 
you hug her around her waist, turning your head to face her dad's compartment. "it was lovely meeting you today, mr kang. i'm glad i've got the chance to meet your daughter."
 
"she's glad because i'm good in bed too," seulgi says to her dad.
 
you pinch her sides.
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