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    Loves Error

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    Woonu sat with his hands intertwined and his head bowed in silence. He didn’t even ask where we were going. He seemed pretty set on doing whatever I asked and, once my business was over, bid me farewell and leave.

    “Where are you planning to board the boat? Busan or Incheon?”


    “If you don’t have a passport, you must be trying to smuggle yourself over. So, where’s your first stop—Japan or China?”

    Receiving no response, I cast a fleeting glance to the side. Woonu blinked, his mouth agape in astonishment, his entire being pivoted towards me.

    “I told you to settle the hospital bill before you leave.”

    “I-I can’t. I have to go.”

    “Are you indebted to that person you call hyung?”


    “Then why are you doing as he says? Because you’re a fool?”

    Who was the real fool here?

    Woonu, who had turned to face me, shifted his hips and pressed his face against the windowpane. “It’s not that.”

    His voice was tinged with passive grievances. Why was it that he had no pent-up frustration, despite being able to act in such a way? Given the life he had endured, you would expect rage and hatred, rather than pent-up frustration, to have firmly taken root within him. Woonu wasn’t a fool because he lacked intelligence; he was an emotional fool. Unlike me, who never knew what to do with my rising temper and anger, the little rascal had adapted to the things that should have incited his ire.

    I figured he’d just laugh it off and brush it aside, maybe saying he’d heard it all before. But oddly enough, when it became clear he was siding with that Taewook guy, I felt this twist inside me, like my insides were contorting.

    “So why are you trying to do something like smuggle into another country?”

    “Hyung didn’t tell me to do it.”

    “Then who did?”

    “Where are we headed right now?”

    After a while, he finally asked where we were headed. He must have been feeling uneasy with the way I kept pushing him, but while he probably wanted to exit the car as soon as possible, my curiosity had already evolved beyond mere interest long ago.

    “Why are you asking about something entirely different instead of answering me? I asked you who told you to do that.”

    I had never driven with someone sitting beside me before, sneaking glances at them from the corner of my eye as I navigated the roads. When we reached the red light, I accidentally nudged the car in front of us. But as I dealt with the other driver, all my attention was on Woonu, worried he might flee while I was away from the car. He sat there obediently, meeting my gaze. The instant our eyes met, I couldn’t help but think, “This guy’s pretty good-looking.” Luckily, it was just a scratch, so I exchanged contact details with the other driver, and we resolved the issue calmly.

    As I got back into the car and fastened my seatbelt, Woonu reached out his hand to me. I was puzzled by his gesture until he rubbed my cheek, lowering his gaze as he focused on my hand.

    “Doctor, your car is clean.”

    I noticed there was soot on my hand, likely from when I touched the rear end of the car I had bumped into earlier. Woonu’s hand on my cheek felt rough yet warm.

    “Could you grab me a wet wipe from the compartment in front of you?”

    Woonu opened the glove box and retrieved a wet wipe, using it to wipe my face before handing me a fresh one. The words “thank you” lingered on the tip of my tongue. When I glanced at him, I noticed he was clenching the used wet wipe in his hand, as if afraid of dirtying the clean car. I was about to reassure him that it was fine, and he could just toss it in the handle or leave it on the floor for me to clean up later, but Woonu beat me to it.

    “I really need to get to the station. Please let me off.”

    “Which station?”

    “I… need to go to Busan. I’ll take the KTX.”

    “You don’t have any money on you right now. Did you forget you left it all at the phone store?”

    “Ah… you’re right.”

    Now that we finally had a destination, I increased the speed of the car. Internally, however, I questioned myself about a hundred times, “You insane bastard, what are you doing?” Throughout our ride to the highway, Woonu continued to sheepishly assure me I could just drop him off at the station, but by the time we finally reached it, he had already fallen asleep.

    My shoulders were starting to feel stiff, so I pulled into a rest stop on the highway. Woonu was dozing off, his head lightly bumping against the window. I shook his shoulders, and he woke up in surprise, wiping away his drool with the back of his hand as he sluggishly blinked. His eyes reminded me of those of a cow, especially with those brown eyelashes of his. In fact, even his personality reminded me of a cow, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard the sound of a moo— come from the rascal’s mouth one day.

    “Your eyes remind me of a cow.”

    “Doctor, you have big eyes too. They may not have double eyelids, but they’re wide, both vertically and horizontally. It’s pretty.”

    Woonu often told me I was pale and pretty. In the beginning, his comments made me feel awkward and embarrassed, so I would try to shame him for it, but later on, I started liking it when he called me pretty. Whenever I told him he was handsome, using various expressions and comparisons to beautiful things, all in vivid detail, he would flash me a bright smile and describe my appearance just as it was. I came to view his clumsy and straightforward inelegance as another form of preciousness, of loftiness. Woonu was my only disaster—the one that saved me.

    “Let’s get off and take a short break.”

    Woonu stepped out of the car, stretching his body to relieve the tension in his muscles. Then, with quick and peppery steps, he headed straight for the restroom. How could someone’s gait seem so unsteady? I wondered. His back wasn’t a bad sight by any means, perhaps because his shoulders were broad and his legs long, despite his thin figure. If he just put on a little more weight and learned how to dress properly, he’d be pretty popular with the ladies. I watched as he finished his business and stepped back outside, shaking the water from his hands as he let his gaze wander over to the food that was being sold. He was probably hungry. Nevertheless, he quickly turned his head away, seemingly conscious of the fact that I was still waiting for him. Unlike before, his steps were wide and forceful as he made his way back to me.

    The worn-out toes of his sneakers brushed against the tips of my shoes, catching my attention. Seeing their sorry state prompted a sigh from me. If there was even one aspect of him that wasn’t so pitiful, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to sympathize with him. It felt like he had walked straight out of a melodrama. I had never been one to lend a hand to a neighbour in need, but suddenly, a surge of love for humanity welled up within my chest. It was ridiculous.

    “Doctor, aren’t you going to take a bathroom break?”

    “I wish you’d stop calling me doctor. And stop standing so close to me.”

    “Then, what should I call you?”

    Now that I thought about it, it was pretty vague. I was much older than him, so it would be embarrassing to have him call me “hyung,” but I also wasn’t old enough to be called “ahjussi.”

    “Just don’t call me by any sort of nickname.”

    Looking back, I think I was scared of turning into another Taewook. The answer I was searching for, the one that would lift his spirits and restore his smile, was standing right in front of me. I reached into my wallet, pulled out a card, and handed it to him, only to be met with a blank stare. I tilted my head to where he was looking before.

    “Buy whatever you want to eat.”

    “Are you hungry?”

    “Not hungry, just a tad bit peckish. I just felt like having rest-stop food since it’s been so long and there’s nothing else to do.”

    “Doctor—oops… You sure you don’t want to choose the food yourself?”

    “I’m not a fan of crowded places, and I’m not picky either, so just grab whatever you feel like.”

    He took a moment to himself, seemingly hesitant whether to accept it, but a smile soon replaced his hesitance, like a blooming peony, and he walked with a newfound lightness. How can someone be that skinny? I thought, a furrow forming between my brows as I watched him go. Just then, I got another call from my old classmate.


    -I just finished setting up the phone. When are you planning to swing by and pick it up?

    “I don’t have to go today, do I? Could you just wrap it up along with that guy’s belongings?”

    -Sure, no problem.

    If I were in his shoes and someone had brought in a man who not only looked ragged but was also painfully thin, with bruises on his face to boot, and then asked me to set up a phone for him under their name, I would’ve definitely been curious about who he was. But Glasses managed to rein in his curiosity, choosing his words carefully to avoid putting me in a tight spot.

    -I’ll keep them safe. Drop by whenever it suits you.

    “Yeah, thanks.”

    -Hey, but did you know?

    Just as I was about to hang up, Glasses’s voice cut in.

    “Know about what?”

    -This is the first time you’ve told me thanks.

    “I never thanked you before?”

    -Never. You didn’t even realize?

    “Yeah… I didn’t realize.”

    I heard a chuckle from the other end.

    -I’m not saying this to make things awkward for you. I was just happy to hear a thanks. I’m hanging up now.

    I must’ve been happy to hear Woonu thank me for even the smallest things and take influence from him, thanking others in turn. I always thought of myself as indifferent, but I had no idea I was so lacking in manners.

    I glimpsed Woonu approaching me from afar, a big grin on his face. He didn’t need to hurry; he could’ve just taken his time, but he chose to rush anyway. My eyes were fixed on his feet, fearing he might trip and fall.

    “Doc—ah… I bought the food.”

    “Get on.”

    I took a peek, curious about what he bought, but a stuffy sensation washed over me, as if I were already suffering from indigestion before even taking a bite. All he had purchased was a bag of walnut cookies, a lone rice cake skewer, a cup of baby potatoes, and two small water bottles. Maybe it was because he wasn’t greedy for much, or maybe because he was being mindful of me.

    “Doct… Here’s your card and the receipt.”

    I felt strange as I took the card. What the hell am I doing? I thought. This wasn’t some picnic excursion. What on earth was I doing, bringing someone who was so clearly involved in illegal activities so far out, and even thinking of bringing him to Busan? If only, if only he had just bought everything he could get his hands on, I might’ve been able to get a hold of myself and turn the car around. Helpless was I to the feelings of praise and pity that welled up inside me when he didn’t act in any way that would kill my affection for him. Compassion triumphed over anxiety and doubt.

    “You don’t like what I bought? Should I get something else?”

    “…Let’s just eat.”

    Woonu ate with gusto, but kept a watch on me as he did. Whenever I took a bite, he would copy me and take one of his own. Although it was my third time seeing him eat, my perception changed each time, as if there was still so much more to discover. Initially, I just thought he was a good eater, but the more I watched, the bigger the lump in my throat grew.

    There was one potato left. Woonu pulled his hand back and waited meekly for me to eat it as it sat on my lap. I thought of the times when Jaehee and I would use our chopsticks and forks to fight for the last bit of the snacks our mom made. Even when I was full, I insisted on winning the last bite, acting triumphant afterward, and having too much fun teasing my younger sister.

    As I tapped and rolled the last potato around in the cup, Woonu’s eyes followed its movement. How can he be so obvious? I thought. The idea that someone as easy to read as he was couldn’t possibly be a liar grew stronger in my mind. My distrust of humans continued to reach its limit with each and every figure in Woonu’s life I encountered. Yet, I found myself able to let another person into my boundaries. All it took was a single being I happened to meet one day to completely break me apart and rebuild me anew.

    “You eat. I’m full.”

    Woonu didn’t refuse; he quickly shoved the potato into his mouth and chewed. His sizable Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. Potato crumbs adorned the corners of his mouth as he swallowed, but the sight still made me feel satisfied. In that moment, I was fully immersed in the feeling of facing another human being.

    chapter 1 has finally come to an end! :D
    i’ll be back in 2 weeks to continue with chapter 2, which is rather long >< hope everyone's having a good summer!

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