Filming a drama was a series of hardships. Of course, there were the high-intensity schedules and all-nighters. No wonder some actors would faint during filming. Naturally, child actors were exempted from such situations. Although it was before the Labor Standards Act for children was established, the production team took the children’s physical stamina into consideration.
“Hey, don’t just pass by. Come take a look at these flatfish! If you try one, your lost appetite will return because of the scorching sun!”
“Look at this, really?”
“Have you been fooled all your life? There’s a reason why they say a grilled flatfish can make a dead man kick the grave and come out! Stop hesitating and come over! I’ll give you plenty of service!”
There was only the last shoot left. Since the scene required intense emotions, PD Yoo Myeonghan gave me two days to rest. But, sitting in a corner reading the script made me feel a bit restless, and though my mother’s cooking skills had improved, I still couldn’t sleep in, so I got up early.
“Do I have to grill and eat this?”
“You can grill and eat it or scoop a thick slice and dip it in soybean paste. If you want to braise it, just add sliced radish and red and green peppers to water boiled with kelp. If you need seasoning, the store owner in front will help you!”
“Are you a mom? You know everything, even the smallest details!”
In my past life, I learned all sorts of things by cooking and eating leftover fish. Thanks to my experiences at that time, I could even help the other merchants while I was selling a single fish. My mother occasionally looked at me with strange eyes, but she didn’t say much since it’s something you could learn from a cookbook. While I was promoting the fish in front of the stand…
“Kook, is she the child you filmed with?”
My head turned at my mother’s words. Between the maze-like alleyways of Namhang Market’s fish stands, I could see Yeon Su walking with her mother. I heard Yeon Su finished shooting today, but why didn’t she return to Seoul and come here instead?
“Do you need a yellow croaker?”
Unknowingly, I said a line meant for business. My mother was politely greeting Yeon Su’s mother. It’s said that mothers pass their traits down to their daughters, and Yeon Su’s bright personality resembles her mother’s. Even when the smell of fish got on her hands, she shook them off and held Yeon Su’s hand.
“Oppa, didn’t you know my filming ended?”
“I knew, the PD told me.”
“But why didn’t you come to the set? It’s the final shoot… I can’t stay here longer even if I want to because of a schedule at another broadcasting station…”
“Don’t you see I’m busy selling fish? Go away. Customers are hesitant to come in because of you.”
Yeon Su bit her lips. I couldn’t pamper her anymore just because she was cute. After this drama shoot, Yeon Su and I wouldn’t have any connection. She would grow up to be the actress I saw in my past life, and I would grow in my own way. I had no intention of igniting a young child’s heart. I slightly bowed to Yeon Su’s mother and shouted aloud.
“We have very delicious flatfish here! Don’t just pass by. Come take a look! Even if you die and come back to life, you won’t find flatfish in season like these!”
Would she know? That this shout…
That it signified to the world that she and I had different lives.
Facing the night sea where seagulls cry mournfully, a modest farewell party was held at a raw fish restaurant. As the filming period gets longer, a sense of camaraderie forms within the team. Yeon Su, the child actress of the female lead, was especially endearing on the set because of her warm personality. Thus, she was invited to this special farewell party.
“PD Yoo, you chose this raw fish restaurant for our farewell party out of many places. I don’t dislike it, but it’s not the best place for the child actress.”
“I wanted to go to a barbecue restaurant too, but Yeon Su insisted we come here. She said she wanted to go to the place where the senior actors and the filming team always enjoyed themselves and relaxed. I think she considered that we have more filming to do, so she chose a place where even the youngest staff members can feel comfortable.”
“Yeon Su is really thoughtful! I don’t know why kids these days are growing up so fast!”
Yeon Su wandered around the raw fish restaurant, exchanging farewell greetings with the filming staff. The filming period was not particularly short or long. During this time, many memories were made, and friendships developed with the production staff. The filming team adored Yeon Su. Perhaps it was because she had learned acting from a young age, but she was not shy around strangers and managed to pull off her role well among the many adults.
“Yeon Su, eat a lot. The mung bean pancakes here are delicious.”
“Camera director, you should eat a lot too. You lost some weight because of the hard work of filming.”
“Yeon Su, I appreciate the sentiment, but look at my stomach. Does it look like I lost any weight, huh?!”
At Kim Deukhyeong’s jest, the raw fish restaurant became lively. Yeon Su was with her mother but kept looking around for someone. However, it seemed she couldn’t find them, as she soon drank her soda disappointedly. Seeing this, Park Suyeong casually asked Yoo Myeonghan.
“PD, is Jang Yeongguk not coming today?”
“I guess it takes quite a while for him to prepare the fish because it is in season. He said he can’t attend since he’s helping his mother at the market.”
“Is that so?”
At Yoo Myeonghan’s words, Yeon Su pursed her lips tightly. Seeing her reaction, Park Suyeong clicked her tongue lightly and took a sip of soju before speaking quietly.
“It’s funny how someone who usually acts so mature can be so clueless at times like this.”
“Mother, does it hurt a lot?”
In the small room with yellow wallpaper, I massaged my mother’s arms and legs, which were aching from hard labor. Her hands, almost painfully thin, made my heart ache just looking at them. With these hands, she had led the handcart. How much burden had she carried on her narrow shoulders? These thoughts quickly flowed through my mind. I should have known this in my past life. The fact that my mother devoted herself so much to me. No, I wanted to pretend I didn’t know. Because I was that kind of person.
“Stop worrying, my child. Mother is fine. It doesn’t hurt.”
My mother never showed any signs of pain, fearing her son might worry about her. Hadn’t she lived the same way in her past life? Even as she withered away, she was like a hedgehog, only looking out for her child.
“Yeongguk, do you enjoy acting?”
“It’s just okay.”
“Ay, my son, how can I not know your heart? The people at the broadcasting station back then were really kind too. There’s not much time left for shooting now, right?”
“Yes, we have one more session left.”
I nodded briefly. The shooting in Yeongdo was nearing its end. However, I had no intention of acting ever again. There are limited roles for child actors in Korea. Their pay is also at a similar level to that of extras. Traveling all around the country was impossible to claim those few roles. I shouldn’t pursue it anymore.
“Will you continue acting?”
“I don’t plan to. No one will hire me anyway.”
I experienced it fully in my past life. A paradise could not exist because human desire existed. The same went for actors. There could be no end to acting because of their existence, their selfishness, and greed. If I were to act again, I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be caught up in those same desires.
“Yeongguk, was it really not fun?”
My mother could not be deceived. After all, wasn’t I deeply engrossed in acting to the point of earning the nickname “crazy” in my past life? However, my feelings while filming Man of August were different. Rather than feeling overwhelming pressure at the filming site, it felt warm and comforting, as if I were nestled in my parents’ warm embrace.
“Today, everyone from the shoot is gathering together to help out. Weren’t you going to go? That girl, her name is Yeon Su, right? She’s so lovely. She looked quite sad when she said filming had ended. She said she heard it from Yeon Su’s mother. You seemed to follow her a lot, and I bet my son is sad not being able to see her one last time.”
“It’s okay. I said goodbye at the shoot last time, and if I didn’t help out on a day like today, Mother would have to clean up all by herself all night.”
“Mothers are truly happy when they have such a kind son like you. Even so, my child, Yeongguk…”
My mother stroked her son’s head with rough hands.
“I hope you are happy.”
* * *
“The Seoul-bound Saemaul train departing Busan Station at 7:45 a.m. is entering platform 7.”
The staff’s voice echoed through the speakers. Yeon Su’s face was full of deep regret as she was about to leave Busan. Was it because of the things that happened during the shoot? The deeper the memories, the more emotions were contained in every trivial thing. However, there were things she could not shake off.
“Yeon Su, the train is coming.”
Yeon Su lifted her head at her mother’s words and looked at the train entering the station. Following the staff’s instructions to step back from the yellow line, passengers about to board the train eagerly moved to form a queue. Once she boarded that train, she would have no reason to return to Busan. Even if she visited Busan for another filming, there would be no chance to meet him. A deep sigh turned into poignant regret in her eyes.
“My dear, why do you look so sad?”
“Are you upset because you couldn’t see Yeongguk?”
Her mother was not unaware of why her daughter had lacked energy since morning. She had always been a lively child on the set. But after meeting the boy, she changed. She had become hesitant even to talk and would try to stay right by his side. More so, she had followed him even more than her own mother. She didn’t dislike her daughter’s behavior. She understood it was the first love everyone would experience at least once.
Moreover, the boy was so polite and smart that she didn’t feel the need to intervene.
“Next time, let’s come to Yeongdo with Mom and visit Namhang Market to see Yeongguk again.”
“Of course! When have I ever lied to my daughter?”
Only then did Yeon Su’s face begin to brighten. Seeing her daughter’s expression change at the mere mention of his name, she smiled bitterly. It wasn’t as if they were Romeo and Juliet. She felt vague guilt as if she had torn the two apart. As the train arrived at the station, passengers began to board one by one. It was at that moment.
“Your shoelace is untied.”
As Yeon Su was about to step forward, she noticed her shoelace was untied and stopped momentarily. Since the train would stop at the station for about five minutes, she still had time. While trying to tie her shoelace with a hand full of regret, her mother’s eyes widened like lamps, and a smile blossomed on her lips. The reason was simple.
“Cutting it close.”
At the familiar voice, she naturally looked up. There he was, the boy Yeon Su had longed for, drenched in sweat. Like a scene from a movie, he knelt on one knee and tightly tied her shoelace. At that moment, she realized a heart could beat as loudly and intensely as the train’s horn.
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