Instant noodles and a triangular rice ball, that was her dinner. When she just got employed, she told her mother that she had grown up and that she didn’t need to worry anymore, but she didn’t know that it would turn out like this. Lee Eunhye swung the convenience store plastic bag around as she opened the door. Although she would be able to reduce her waste if she ate at the convenience store, she didn’t want to eat while being conscious of the gazes around her. She wanted to eat at least in leisure. It was 10 p.m. Her company held people back for no reason again today. Whether it was the company moving or expanding, it never seemed not busy since she got employed. Also, the company neither actually moved nor became bigger.
She turned the kettle on and took off her stockings. She could see a rip around the thigh. She noticed it two days ago, but it was covered up by her skirt, so she was able to wear it for a few days more. She took off the casual-style women’s suit, that she bought because someone told her that female employees look good in it, and washed her hands. She should have paid rent with the money to buy something like that.
The company that told its employees that they should dream together had not paid her for two months now. The aim of the company, to become a global business, was the dream of the company, not her own. Her dream was to get a decent salary so that she could live worry-free about rent, eat out from time to time, and give her parents some money regularly.
Her company said that they needed cooperation from the employees in order to achieve the company’s dream and pleaded with, no, coerced them every single day. The employees who went against them had their desks removed without a sound. A senior of hers who quit the company three months ago in search of his dream sent her a message a few days ago, asking if the company was doing okay now. At first, she thought that he was worried about her, but she found out the truth through someone else. That senior, who boldly kicked himself out the door, went traveling and rested for a month before jumping back into the workforce two months ago, did not manage to get a job. The reason he asked was that he might be able to return to the company. That was what made Eunhye stay at the company like her life depended on it.
She put some hot water into the instant noodles and microwaved the rice ball. Her mother probably thought that she was eating decent food. After all, she cooked every day before she became independent. She liked going grocery shopping as well. Now that she actually left the house to live by herself, and she had no salary, she realized that the cost of vegetables was akin to the cost of gold. It was an old saying that cooking for yourself is cheaper. These days, only people with decent salaries could cook for themselves. A single bell pepper cost 1,500 won, while a combo of a triangular rice ball, instant noodles, and a canned drink cost 1,700 won as an event. Every single penny was worth a lot to her, so she couldn’t afford the luxury of cooking her own side dishes. Above all, the effort and time that she would need to invest into doing that was a waste. Even if she did cook, it was obvious that it would just get stuck in the refrigerator for days, so buying food from the convenience store was convenient in many ways.
“Yeah, hi. It’s been a long time.”
As soon as she placed the instant noodles and the rice ball on the foldable table, she got a call. It was from a college friend. This girl went around telling everyone that she was preparing to become a civil servant.
“You want to go traveling together? Sorry, I don’t think I can make it this month. I want to go too, but you know how I am doing. If I don’t get a salary this month either, I really will have to look into getting a weekend job.”
The instant noodles were getting bloated. Her reason was telling her to hang up quickly and start eating, but her emotions were telling her to console her friend. The two fought intensely.
“What? You’re quitting goshiwon? If you say so, then no one can stop you, but it is a bit of a pity. You tried hard for two years.”
Her friend told her that it was simply too embarrassing to continue that life. She would press on if she had the confidence to pass in another year, but she didn’t. She was looking for a place to work and rejoiced, saying that she might be able to get into a big company if she got lucky. Eunhye wished her luck, but she was smiling bitterly. This girl had around the same GPA as her during college. She did graduate from a 4-year course, so she should be able to apply, but whether she would actually reach the interview stage was debatable. Eunhye had written numerous resumes during the recruitment season of the big companies, but she had only ever advanced into the interview phase once, which she eventually failed. She consoled herself by thinking that she should start at a mid-sized company and climb her way up, but that company was not paying her salary, so she did not have anything to tell her friend.
Her friend told her that she would take her on a resort vacation if she got employed and told her to just look forward to it. Eunhye could remember five to six such promises off the top of her head. If they got employed, if they left goshiwon, if they got a raise; until now, none of her friends fulfilled that promise, including herself.
She scooped out some noodles with her chopsticks and put them in her mouth. Her company clearly went too far by saying that they couldn’t serve her lunch because they didn’t get any ingredients for the company restaurant. Everything frustrated her at this point. Apparently, they were going to calculate dinner as 6,000 won and add it to their salary, but that salary was nowhere to be seen for two months. She only had the grit to stick with this company and get that money no matter what.
After slurping the instant noodles, Eunhye probed around the floor looking for a remote. It was 10 past 10, the time for a drama, the eternal friend of someone who eats alone. It was a good thing that she bought a big TV with her first salary. When she watched TV on a big screen, she could forget about her worries. It was a moderate form of escapism that was good for her mental health.
Her channel was fixed on KBS. On it was ‘Doctor’s Office,’ which was hugely popular recently. Eunhye liked romantic comedies, but she also liked thrilling political dramas. Usually, she would have immersed herself in the world inside the screen while munching on her rice ball. Today, however, the breathtaking plot made her stifled instead. She wanted to take a breather, but when she focused, she felt like she was choking. If her salary problem had been resolved, she would have ordered some fried chicken and watched it intensely, but right now, it just tired her out.
Besides that, the characters that fell into the depths of ruin because of a single mistake didn’t seem all that unfamiliar to her. They were side characters who were flicked outside the main ring because of one mistake after sailing smoothly. The main character would encounter crises but would do well in the end. The failures of the side characters would become a bridge that leads him to success, and their despair was a foothold for his improvement.
The triangular rice ball she was holding snapped in half and the top half fell onto the ground. It just had to be the part with the pork cutlet in it. She was about to pick it up to eat it but decided not to. She suddenly felt so tragic. The main character eventually avoided all the traps set by the hospital director and achieved victory in the political struggle within the hospital and held a celebratory party. It was such a desperate struggle, but the main character and his friends reached a happy ending without a single person dropping out midway.
Eunhye thought: ah, they are the main characters of life. They get rewarded for their hard efforts. The episode was a hopeful story where justice got served, but for some reason, it was hard to watch it today. Their lives were too distant from her own. Just as wide as the gap between the pork belly they were grilling and her snapped rice ball.
She switched the channel to YBS. ‘Doctors’ was also a drama that she watched. She usually watched ‘Doctor’s Office’ when it aired and downloaded ‘Doctors’ separately.
“Today must be a special day.”
A friend she hadn’t messaged in a long time sent her a message. She was asked what she was doing and replied that she was working at a company. Her friend then immediately asked what company it was. Eunhye waited for a little before writing that it was a mid-sized company. Mentioning the name of her company probably wouldn’t do any good after all.
-That’s good. I need to find employment too. I keep not making it, so I’m going to aim lower.
She didn’t know whether her friend needed consolation or not, but the message ended after a ‘see you next time.’ Eunhye sent a smiling dog emoji. The dog on the screen was smiling, but her own lips were probably not budging even a millimeter.
About half of her colleagues from college didn’t have jobs. They were all decent people too. They looked like they would soon find employment and find decent men or women to get married to, but most of them hit a block in the first step – finding employment. There was someone who managed to get into a big company, and that guy would always say sorry if he was asked to come to a get-together. Apparently, the general manager of his department practically lived on a mountain, so he was dragged to various mountains every weekend. He said that ‘social clubs’ within big companies were a business within a business that was beyond the level of college clubs. He even said that the connections made in those ‘social clubs’ would be reflected in his work life, so she could understand his feelings when climbing all sorts of mountains every single weekend. That guy liked the city more than the mountains, yet his profile picture made him look like a professional hiker.
“Everyone’s having hard lives.”
Eunhye lay down on the floor. She was in desperate need of some beer, but she couldn’t dream of something like that until she got her pay. If she didn’t get her payment next month, she would have to tell her mother about it and borrow some rent. Working part-time on weekends was a given.
Inside the drama, Yoonseo busily moved between the patients while fluttering her white gown. In the beginning, there were many comments ridiculing her for using her popularity to get the role, but those comments had disappeared without a trace now. Eunhye also thought that Yoonseo’s acting skill was good. Although there were times her pronunciation was off and she couldn’t hear what she was saying, she definitely wasn’t bad.
Lee Heewon approached Yoonseo, who was wiping her sweat. Eunhye liked that actor. She liked Kang Giwoo from ‘Doctor’s Office’, but she thought that Heewon was above him in terms of acting skill. The operating room scene he showed last week was so good that she replayed it three times. The way he collapsed on the spot due to exhaustion after finishing operating on the heart valves seemed to prove who was the best in terms of acting skills among actors in their twenties.
A date between Yoonseo and Heewon followed. She had a lot easier time watching this than ‘Doctor’s Office,’ but still, she couldn’t help but compare her own situation to them.
Maybe today was not a good day to watch dramas? It was when she was about to change her channel to a cable channel. The screen changed and an unfamiliar man appeared. The man was calling someone on the phone. Only after watching for a long time did she realize who that was. It was ‘Bigfoot’ who appeared throughout the drama from time to time.
-Mom, your son is a doctor. I have a lot of money. You did everything you had to do by raising me. So don’t worry about that and get some rest. Money? I should be sending that to you. Starting next month, I’ll be sending some your way, so look forward to it. Don’t send it all to me. If you have any money to send to me, then you should buy some good things to eat. Or you can go shopping.
Bigfoot was on the phone with a big smile. Eunhye lifted her finger that was about to change the channel. After finishing the call, Bigfoot’s phone was caught on camera. His remaining balance according to his banking app was 300 thousand won. Right above that was 3.6 million won, which was his salary, but it seemed that most of the money left his account in just one day.
“Well, he gets paid a lot.”
Eunhye smiled bitterly when she saw that number. She felt like 3.6 million was a decent wage no matter how hard his life was. Bigfoot’s empty bank account and her own empty bank account couldn’t be viewed the same way. Bigfoot was a doctor, while she was an employee of a company that didn’t even pay her.
Bigfoot got a call again as he sat at his desk.
-Yes, father. I just called her. She recognized me today and even told me she’d send some pocket money. It’d be good if every day was like today. Money? Don’t worry about it. I have what I need. There you go again. You two raised me. Of course, I can gather money easily. At that time, I’ll build you two a house. A house with a garden so that mom can walk around. I’m going down tomorrow. I can get off work after a long time. Alright, see you tomorrow.
It seemed that his mother who he had just called had dementia. Health is definitely more important than money – Eunhye thought as she sat up. It was just two simple monologues, but she wanted to focus on the drama. Perhaps it was because of Bigfoot’s shaky voice when he ended the call.
Someone opened the door to the room that Bigfoot was in. It was a middle-aged actor.
-Doctor Kim, come to work tomorrow.
-I’m off duty tomorrow.
-I know, but the shifts changed. Doctor Choi has something to do tomorrow.
-Just change with her. You know whose daughter doctor Choi is. She has an appointment with the director, so what can I do about it? You should take her shift. This is all experience. Also, when I was around your age, we didn’t even get notified like this. We were called out while sleeping.
The man left after leaving a barrage of words.
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