The table was laden with fluffy white rice, a rich soup, pickled vegetables with a tangy flavor, and seasonal braised sea bass. It was a meal prepared with a mother’s love, for she could not send the guests who had come all the way from Seoul away on an empty stomach.
“I’m sorry there isn’t much to offer, but please enjoy.”
“Not at all! This is quite a feast. I feel bad for bothering you.”
“It’s not a problem at all. There’s still time before your train leaves, and since you’ve come all this way, it’s the least I can do. Please, have plenty.”
“It’s embarrassing that my stomach just had to growl at that moment…”
The incident began when a handbag filled with money was placed on the fish stand. In the quiet shop, Kim Seonghwan’s belly made a loud noise. Yeongguk’s mother was so startled by the sound.
“Is it to your liking?”
It seemed it was no exaggeration as Kim Seonghwan cleared his rice bowl as if he were starving. Even as a CEO, it’s not like he could freely use the company’s money. He must have been too busy to even properly eat a spoonful of rice.
“Would you like another bowl of rice?”
Kim Seonghwan, with a mouthful of pickled vegetables, nodded briefly. Yeongguk’s mother smiled contentedly at the sight. He finished not one but two bowls of rice and cleaned the soup bowl to the bottom.
“Ma’am, what is this soup made of? I’ve never had anything this sweet and salty in my life. Does it have a name?”
“There isn’t a specific name for it; it’s just something my mother used to make for me a lot. When I was a baby, I was wrapped in a blanket and brought to Yeongdo. I had nothing to eat and no milk, so I survived on what the sea provided. We couldn’t even afford sugar back then, so we used sweet potatoes to sweeten it. That’s still how I make it.”
It was a dish with such a story behind it. He had thoughtlessly eaten the unknown soup his mother had prepared, never wondering about its origin. In that sense, Yeongguk felt grateful to Kim Seonghwan for asking the question. It felt like he got to know another of his mother’s memories. After finishing his meal, Kim Seonghwan carefully put his spoon down and looked at her.
“What do you think of Yeongguk continuing to act?”
“If Yeongguk likes it, then it’s fine. He’s my only son. Even though it’s an age where he wants to play and have fun, he’s grown up so quickly and helps his mother instead. The market vendors call him a filial son. But as a parent, it breaks my heart. I wonder if I’m making him suffer this much.”
“No, Mother, don’t think like that. I’m just doing it because I enjoy it. Going to the market and meeting a lot of people is fun. If you think about it as gaining social experience early, there’s nothing bad about it.”
“Even though he says that his heart is different. He’s still not skilled with his hands, so he makes mistakes sometimes. Seeing that, he worryingly puts all the burden on his small shoulders. CEO, still, did I not raise my son well?”
Then, his mother took Kim Seonghwan’s hand and spoke.
“I don’t know what he told you but don’t take it too seriously. Although his words may be blunt, he’s not like that on the inside. I don’t even have a high school diploma, so I’m not good with numbers or understanding things well. So, if my son wants to do something, CEO, please guide him well.”
* * *
-Will that nobleman become one of my people?
Leaving Busan Station, Kim Seonghwan’s head was more cluttered than the train whistle as if someone had spilled paint on it. The dinner he had eaten in the shabby room was no less than any luxurious feast. The boy was different from his peers. It would have been justifiable for him to be ashamed of his difficult circumstances, but instead, he confidently displayed his life.
– That boy has many scars.
Kim Seonghwan couldn’t continue speaking as he saw the bond between mother and son. He had seen many people in the world, but not everyone with money was happy. In this world where people even fight each other over money, the mother and son, who seemed to possess the greatest happiness despite having nothing, stood out.
Is it because she’s in a lot of pain?
At first, he thought the contract payment was not enough. After all, he had watched the boy’s day with his eyes. At that age, he should have been playing with his friends on the playground, not working at the market and cleaning fish. The child, who never lost his happy smile towards his mother even while living in a small room, what was he hiding?
-You shouldn’t press too hard; he’s the type to slip away like a loach. He has scars that others can’t even imagine, so all you can do is hope that the locked door will open on its own. Just remember one thing: that boy is the once-in-a-lifetime nobleman in your life.
He had not sought out the boy because of the fortune teller’s words. The boy’s acting he had encountered on set that day had made his eyes shake as if they were experiencing an earthquake. Every time the boy spoke a line, his heart thumped as if he was going to have a heart attack. Even Park Suyeong said there was something different about the boy’s acting.
“I want some ssanghwa tea…”
On the train back to Seoul, eating a hard-boiled egg and drinking soda, he suddenly thought of the warm ssanghwa tea. The boy was like the lingering scent of the tea that filled his mouth. Feeling such an aura from a countryside boy with rough hair was unthinkable. The fragrance of the ssanghwa tea seemed to waft at the tip of Kim Seonghwan’s nose.
“What is this delicious smell?”
The glistening skin of the crispy fried chicken was enticing. The market’s whole fried chicken was deep-fried in a large iron pot. Its savory aroma and crunchy texture made everyone’s mouths water. One by one, people gathered at the Namhang Market Merchant Association building.
“Yeongguk! Are you treating us all today?”
“Of course! Enjoy it to your heart’s content! This cold beer is on me as well!”
“Today is a real feast! Let’s savor the fried chicken that Yeongguk is treating us to!”
Merchants gathered at the Namhang Market Merchant Association building. They were grateful for Yeongguk’s help with the filming crew before and wanted to show their appreciation. With pure hearts, they cherished even a single fried chicken. They were truly grateful people.
“Today is the first time Yeongguk’s drama airs!”
“That’s right. That’s why we’re all gathered here!”
“Amazing, isn’t it? Who would have thought Yeongguk would be on TV! It’s like we have a great actor born in Namhang! If he becomes famous, I’ll hang a huge banner at the market entrance to celebrate!”
The drama Man of August was going to have its first broadcast. Thankfully, everyone at the Namhang Market Merchant Association had assembled after finishing their hard day’s work. The smell of sweat and clothes soaked in seawater lingered, but it felt warm and friendly. They were people who fiercely lived their lives in Namhang, their foundation.
“But Yeongguk, it won’t be good if you don’t appear much. The broadcasting station can be heartless and cut you off quickly.”
“Hey, watch your mouth! Be quiet until you have something positive to say! Why do you have to jinx things from the start?”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that…”
“Anyway, I’m grateful! We get to eat delicious chicken and drink sweet beer today!”
“That’s right! I take back what I said earlier. My big mouth always gets me in trouble. We’re all gathered here to watch Yeongguk, after all!”
“Good! Now, as a reward, have a chicken leg!”
Namhang is a cozy place. Just as the height of the waves varies, so do the people. But like the creatures and seaweed in the ocean, they shared an inseparable bond. Even now, they gathered and sang sea shanties together.
“Alright, everyone! Focus now! It’s starting!”
At the chairman’s shout, the local broadcast was momentarily turned off. As the opening sequence of the drama appeared on the screen, everyone could hear the nervous gulping of saliva.
The opening sequence alone showed the amount of effort put into the drama. It was PD Yoo Myeonghan and Writer Choi Eunsuk’s debut work, but the broadcasting station seemed to be putting in considerable effort. Everyone leaned in as the curtain rose on the first episode.
“Wow, it’s amazing!”
After the drama ended and a brief silence, exclamations of admiration burst forth. Everyone eagerly applauded. It was no wonder, as the first episode of Man of August was practically Yeongguk’s life story. He played the lead role as a child actor, filling a large portion of the screen. And his acting was exceptional.
“I’m still in awe. I’ve seen Yeongguk perform many times, but he completely transforms into a different person in the drama. Look at the goosebumps on my arm!”
“It’s lucky that you only got goosebumps! I almost dropped my beer while watching!”
“Yep, that’s quite something. I thought he was born to be a merchant, but now I see he’s a full-fledged actor! In my opinion, Yeongguk’s acting was the best. Ajumma, what do you think? You always watch dramas!”
“Quiet, let me savor the lingering emotions! Yeongguk, will you keep acting? In my eyes, you’re a born actor!”
Yeongguk licked his dry lips. He knew the pain of his past life and vowed never to act again. Just as there was no paradise without greed and desire, there was no end to acting. There’s no end to an actor’s selfishness and ambition. Yeongguk didn’t want to lose sight of those around him because of his obsession with acting. It was then.
“Hmm? Yeongguk, comfort your mother a little.”
His mother’s shoulders were shaking. Her quivering was so intense that even her wrinkled fingertips were trembling. It must have been the same in her past life. An old mother who wouldn’t leave the screen to watch her son on television. But her cruel son never mentioned his mother in any media or award ceremonies.
The boy embraced his mother’s shoulders. The shaking seemed to stop when his small arms wrapped around her heavy shoulders.
“I’m not crying because I’m sad.”
His mother smiled; her eyes reddened.
“Yeongguk’s mother! Why are you crying? On such a joyous day as today, should the main character cry? Do we have to create a sea of tears?”
“I’m just so happy, that’s why. Seeing my beloved Yeongguk so happy, my tears just naturally flowed. Now, I’ve cried enough.”
For the first time, Yeongguk heard his mother’s cheers. Her eyes were filled with tears, but she didn’t look sad. She seemed to have everything, like someone who owned the world. It was then that Yeongguk realized his mother’s happiness wasn’t far away. The door locked inside the boy’s heart began to open gradually.
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