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    A road with only dust rolling. Some parts were broken, and the sidewalk was just a dirt path. Across the street was an empty field, but the land was so vast that leaving it as it seemed like a waste. However, there were no people to build buildings, and having only elderly people made it feel excessive to turn it into farmland, even though the existing farms were already enough.

    As I walked stepping on the weeds, an old signboard caught my eye. Jisoo’s Supermarket. Stepping over the low threshold and going inside, it felt dark despite the sun being up and the lights being on. There was no sign of anyone, so feeling awkward, I decided to pick out what I needed first: cooking wine, salt, soju, and some snacks. I chose snacks that weren’t too hard, just in case.

    Planning to fix up grandmother’s house when I got back, I bought a light bulb and a bag of nails. I picked out a few more items and placed them on the counter. Now I had to pay for them.

    “Excuse me, I’d like to pay…Is anyone here?”

    At that moment, the door creaked open and an old man, or rather a middle-aged man, appeared, scratching his disheveled hair. He paused when he saw me. In such a rural area, it must be surprising to see a new face among the usual customers. But only for a moment; he resumed checking out my items with a sullen expression.

    “Also, please give me some cigarettes. The ones grandmother smokes.”

    I wasn’t sure if I said it right, but seeing him bag them without a word, it seemed he understood. I glanced around briefly before speaking up.

    “Do you happen to know the house up there, the one standing alone?”

    “I know it, why?”

    Sensing caution in his gruff tone, I quickly backed off with an innocent look on my face. But I didn’t shut my mouth either.

    “I was passing by, um. I tried to help, but the house looked in bad condition. The house looked in bad shape. It’s just an elderly couple living there, and the phone doesn’t work. It seemed dangerous. Do their children visit often?”

    “Sure, they come once or twice every holiday.”

    Since when did once or twice a year become often?

    “And we help them out sometimes.”

    “…It doesn’t look like you help them at all.”

    “What?”

    “I mean, I’d like to pay.”

    I pretended not to notice the harsh tone and quickly handed out my card. There are some things I owe you, so I figured I could at least pay. I pretended not to notice the harsh gaze, but the man roughly swiped my card. I was worried that I might not have enough money, but seeing that the payment was made without any problems, it seems that wasn’t the case.

    “Oh, by the way.”

    The moment I was about to leave, the man suddenly spoke.

    “There’s no grandfather at that house. He passed away quite a while ago.”

    This time I couldn’t help but be greatly taken aback. So the grandmother had been lying to me from the very first day? Was she afraid of a bigger man than her? But the grandmother had seemed so kind. Dementia, maybe? The moment when she told me to go watch TV in the room even though the TV was broken came to mind.

    I hid the items I bought without grandmother’s knowledge behind the tiller, and returned with a confused mind. My friend’s grandmother, whose face I can’t even remember, also had dementia. At first, it was just forgetting small things, so my friend didn’t feel a sense of urgency, but because of that, he ended up losing his grandmother. It was an accident. Nobody’s fault, just an accident.

    “Oh, good work. Sit down and have some apples and pears.”

    “Thank you.”

    As I was about to hand the bag over and sit down, I flinched for a moment. It seemed I would be eating the fruit set in front of me. Why so much? Time passed quickly as I watched them playing Hwatu, chatted with each other, and talked about myself. For some reason, when I said I had suffered for several days after waking up in the mountains, they expressed pity for me with sympathy.

    When I said it might just be temporary amnesia, the woman who had been suspicious of me relented and even invited me to stay for dinner. I had to decline because grandmother wanted to go back.

    I barely returned the money for the errand and returned safely to grandmother’s house. As soon as I arrived, I changed the light bulb and fixed the loose door without grandmother knowing. All the equipment at grandmother’s house was too rusty to use, but luckily I had new equipment with me.

    Honestly, I didn’t understand why I carried such things in my bag, but thanks to that, I could easily fix the drawer pull, remove dangerously protruding nails, and completely tidy up, so I begrudgingly accepted that it was a good thing.

    While grandmother was preparing dinner, I took the opportunity to clean the places she couldn’t reach and lined up the heavy jars that were crooked. Just then, grandmother brought in some steamed potatoes as a snack before dinner. I would surely gain weight by the time I went back.

    “…!”

    I guess I got tired from moving, so I dozed off while eating the piping hot potatoes on the warm floor. But a thought that crossed my mind made my eyes shoot wide open. Wow, this is crazy.

    “Why? Do you want another one?”

    “Uh… yes.”

    I obediently put the potato she handed me in my mouth. I forgot about the phone call…

    Maybe I’m the one with dementia. With a sense of dejection and self-loathing, I instantly devoured one potato. As I ate and reached for the next potato as if there was room for more, grandmother stood up.

    “Where are you going?”

    “To the garden.”

    “Why to the garden?”

    “To get some green onions and scallions.”

    “I’ll get them.”

    “Don’t bother and stay put.”

    I hesitated at her firm rebuke, but when I persisted saying “I’ve just been resting for days so my body is stiff,” she said:

    “Then just bring what we need for tonight’s dinner.”

    “Yes.”

    “Grab the green onion stems and gently pull them up. Got it? Brush off the dirt as you pull to make it easier, don’t use too much force.”

    “Alright.”

    She handed me gloves and a cart, and I listened carefully to her instructions before heading out the gate.

    “I’ll be right back.”

    “Sigh. Now I see why you suffered out there. Don’t overdo it.”

    “…Okay. I’ll really go now.”

    Not listening to a word, like a stubborn puppy, I avoided grandmother’s exasperated gaze and pushed the old green cart that must have once carried lots of crops. With only two hours until sunset, it seemed best to hurry there and back.

    The distance wasn’t far, but the uphill path to the garden was tough. Rather than regretting coming out unnecessarily, I felt ridiculous starting out already drenched in sweat before even doing anything. The sight of me must have been comical because I couldn’t help but chuckle at myself.

    At first, I wandered around a bit but grew accustomed to it, though it took longer than I expected. While savoring the joy of harvesting and thinking about growing my own vegetables when I returned home, in that moment, in front of grandmother’s house were parked terrifyingly jet-black cars – one, two, three, four, five, six…

    “What the…?”

    It was already odd to see six black cars on a rural road, but the sight of burly men in suits standing with hands clasped in an ill-fitting posture was more chilling than facing a water ghost. Especially, when they were all staring straight at me.

    The grandmothers gathered in the morning also kept watching me, but that was more like admiring a cute grandson. These men, however, were staring with such intensity that it made my hair stand on end. Their unwavering gazes followed my every move as if they were ready to chase me if I ran.

    My knees went weak and I gripped the cart tightly to avoid falling over. I had no idea what I’d done wrong to earn those piercing looks. It’s one thing to stare at a passing dog out of boredom in such a quiet place, but staring at a person like this seemed rude.

    Fear mixed with irritation as I wondered who they were. Security personnel? Or gangsters? The latter seemed more plausible, but their clean, crisp appearance lent some credibility to the former.

    Regardless, I couldn’t help but worry. Having fallen on a downhill slope before, I carefully made my way down at a plodding pace. Even as I got closer to grandmother’s house, the men didn’t approach or speak to me. Their piercing stares finally eased, and they lowered their eyes.

    That wasn’t the only absurd thing. A man with a sharp, snake-like appearance stepped away from the group and approached me, standing by my side as if to escort me. I had no idea what he was doing or who these people were. I could only guess that one of grandmother’s sons had come.

    Inside the wide-open gate, I saw someone talking to grandmother while sharing a cigar. It was the first time I’d seen her look so relaxed since I’d been here. I was so taken aback by her expression that I forgot to announce my return.

    Even from behind, the man didn’t seem to be old enough to be her son. Was he a grandson then? I stood there, observing him. It was odd that I felt drawn to him just by looking at the back of his head. Even the way his shoulders and back looked under his clothes indicated he was someone of importance. Judging by his high-end clothing and the fact that he brought so many people with him, he seemed quite successful.

    “You are here.”

    “Yes?”

    The man standing next to her says something unexpected. I turned around without realizing it, wondering if someone had come. Just the same fierce-looking men standing in a row with stoic postures. Unlike my bewilderment, grandmother and the man with the striking back seemed to understand.

    They talked quietly to each other in voices that could not be heard up to this point, and suddenly the grandmother turned her head towards me. The slow, nodding motion was utterly baffling. I had no idea what it meant. It seemed like a gesture of approval, but for what?

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