Even though summer was passing by, the motor of the ice factory was running non-stop. Ice was as precious as fish in Namhang, something that couldn’t be lacking. Tens of tons of ice were consumed daily in Namhang Market. Nowadays, the workers at the ice factory can’t rest even if they want to. It was no exaggeration to say that they were producing ice continuously due to the surging crowd.
“Yeongguk! Are you planning to carry that heavy thing by yourself?”
“It’s okay! Just give me a few more!”
“Ah, don’t do it! Say it now if you can’t handle it so you don’t hurt your back!”
Numerous pieces of ice were stacked on the handcart. Small trucks would deliver the ice in places with wide and well-maintained roads, but in maze-like areas, people had to carry it themselves. Like the old man who used to collect feces while ringing his bell in every alley, the ice cart would pass through the market stalls.
“Okay, let’s go!”
With the command, the wheels slowly rolled with a creaking sound. Surprisingly, it didn’t require much strength to move the handcart. If you tried to rely only on strength, you would quickly become exhausted, and your fingertips would soon hurt. If you had a natural skill like water flowing, it wasn’t extremely difficult.
The most basic task in selling fish was filling the ice. The more ice you filled, the better the fish quality was maintained. In his previous life, he had carried and filled hundreds of thousands of kilograms of ice while selling fish, so this much was nothing to him. The skills he learned then remained engraved in his body even though it had grown weaker. Ignoring the amazed looks from others, he hurriedly moved before the ice melted.
“Yeongguk, you’re delivering ice again today!”
“What’s the point of sitting at home on weekends! I need to earn some pocket money!”
“Take a break once in a while. Your mom will be worried!”
“Alright, take a break! Have a drink before you go! If my child were half like you, I would have no wishes left!”
Weekends were as busy as a beehive. The market was so crowded that there was no need to solicit customers. His mother repeatedly told him to rest on weekends. However, during such times, the market needed more hands. Moreover, he owed the Namhang Market merchants, so it was only right to repay them. Besides, earning pocket money was quite enjoyable.
At first, the merchants tried to dissuade him, but they eventually gave up when they saw him handling the work more efficiently than most adult men. They compromised by telling him to take it easy.
“Wow! It’s sweet and refreshing!”
“That’s right! It’s because of the barley tea I brought this morning! Take this bottle. It’s perfect for quenching your thirst! You’re working hard today, Yeongguk! Are you not exhausted?”
“I’m fine! Pushing the handcart may look difficult, but it’s a piece of cake once you get the hang of it! The merchants are having a harder time than me! Don’t worry, just sell a lot of fish! We all have to become rich!”
“Oh, my! Our Yeongguk is the pride of Namhang! Such a sweet-talking child!”
Pride is such an exaggerated word. The people of Namhang loved him unconditionally.
On days when there was not even a single thing to eat, they would secretly put it in his pocket, and the fishermen would sometimes give him an octopus caught in their nets. He wanted to repay their love and attention. Unlike his previous life, it was a relationship he wanted to maintain for a long time.
Before he knew it, the ice piled up on the handcart was gone. There was no place in the market that his hands hadn’t touched. Was it because he was diligently working? He felt that the hem of his pants, which he wore often, had become shorter. It felt like he was growing every day. He wondered if he was this tall around this time in his previous life.
A man was wandering between the market stalls, seemingly looking for someone. The face looked familiar. He cautiously approached and made his presence known.
The man was startled and fell on his bottom in the market.
The blaring horn of a fishing boat approaching, the lively wriggling of fish in the water, and the rough accents of the sailors all seemed to harmonize together like a melody. Kim Seonghwan felt his nausea from the city fade away as the waves swayed with the sea breeze.
Kim Seonghwan recalled the conversation he had with the boy earlier.
– “I’m considering acting in an independent film.”
It was unexpected. He thought the boy, who wanted to act, would naturally want to appear in a terrestrial drama or a commercial film being prepared in Chungmuro. After all, wasn’t he the child who didn’t refuse hard labor to help alleviate his mother’s struggles? But an indie film? At first, he couldn’t understand the boy’s decision.
“Kim Seonghwan, you still have a long way to go.”
He chastised himself for wanting to reap the harvest before even properly cultivating the land. In that regard, the boy was a clear actor, even comparable to fertile soil. His aspirations for acting were clearer than anyone else’s. Some people act for money, while others act for fame. At this point, even established actors need to think about why they are acting.
“Yeongguk, what inspired you to want to appear in an indie film?”
– “My pure heart was moved.”
But the boy said he wanted to become an actor for the sake of acting. The group of people making independent films is diverse, ranging from college students majoring in film to filmmakers who couldn’t spread their wings when they were young. They have different conditions, but their core is the same: a pure passion for film.
“Indeed, the more I see, the more charming it is!”
Although Kim Seonghwan’s body felt like it was melting from the long drive, he suddenly felt his fatigue disappear. The boy’s eyes, wandering around Namhang, were like the sea. Not only when he was acting but also when he was attracting customers at the fish market, selling ice from a handcart, and showing filial piety to his mother. Like the waves that change direction thousands of times daily, the boy’s appearance was colorful. However, it seemed like there was an indescribable cornerstone in the boy’s heart, like the blue sea all year round.
“It feels so refreshing!”
Kim Seonghwan shouted awkwardly in a regional dialect toward the shimmering blue sea. Just looking at it made him feel cooler. Already, fishermen were bustling on the breakwater and wide rocks. They all seemed to have come to experience the thrill of a full catch, like the fishermen with dreams of a full boat. Kim Seonghwan also quite enjoyed fishing. However, he had never experienced such a thrilling sensation before.
Some might ask why he was so fixated on a child actor who was no different from being unknown. He mimed the motion of bending his waist and winding a fishing reel as if catching a fish. Kim Seonghwan instinctively knew it.
That the boy with that name would become the greatest catch.
At that moment, a mother cat passing by the shore stopped and looked at Kim Seonghwan. After all, he must have looked like a madman miming a fishing line in the air. The kittens also followed their mother with quick steps. It was time to wipe his nose in embarrassment. Suddenly, the mother cat, who had gone quite a distance ahead, turned her head and blinked at Kim Seonghwan as if she thought the same thing.
* * *
“Guk, take a break on weekends. You went to the ice factory again today!”
The mother’s sharp gaze turned to the boy. Usually, she would find it hard to even look at her precious son, but even she was upset at this point. After finishing school on weekdays, the boy would come straight to Namhang. She had repeatedly told him to take a break, but he was still working at the ice factory.
“The work at the ice factory may look difficult, but it’s not tiring. And I get to see the market merchants, which is nice.”
“What’s not tiring? You’ll get frostbite.”
“I’m doing it because I like it. I’ve received so much from Namhang. I can’t give everything back, but it’s good to give a little, right? I help out when I go around and also earn some pocket money. Oh, the shopkeeper at the snack store gave us bellflower juice for you and me to drink. He said not to catch a cold in the late summer heat. The kind lady at the snack store also gave us some misugaru. They’re such grateful people, right?”
She couldn’t find any words to say when he smiled and asked.
The boy, who received so much love from Namhang, was so proud, but his mother felt bitter. How did he grow up so fast? Was it because he had a bad mother and had to struggle? As if reading her thoughts, the boy quickly added an explanation.
“Mom, do you remember? When we first set up a stall in Namhang. Back then, Mrs. Yang gave us lots of side dishes. She said we couldn’t eat enough at the inn. It was when we lived in Nakwonjang.”
“Why bring that up now…”
“It wasn’t so bad back then either. We slept hugging each other tightly every day. There were tough times, but I don’t dislike it when those memories come to mind. Because I also have good memories with you, Mom.”
The place was filled with rough sailors. The mother, who had to protect her son alone, must have had a hard time. She even got scolded by the inn owner for cooking rice late at night to feed her son.
“Our current room is also like that. On days when it rains heavily, rainwater drips from the ceiling, and in winter, the pipes freeze, and we can’t even get cold water, let alone hot water. So, let’s make new memories in a better place now.”
She would hardly sleep a wink on rainy days, emptying the water-filled pots. In winter, she would warm the water over a briquette fire for her son, even if she had to wash her hair with cold water.
“How about we move to an apartment?”
“The CEO said he contracted a small apartment in Yeongdo for us to rest comfortably.”
CEO Kim Seonghwan had offered to rent them an apartment without any conditions. Even after excluding the deposit, he insisted it was something he wanted to do for them, repeatedly persuading the boy who refused.
“How can we just accept something like that? No matter how nice it is, it would be uncomfortable.”
“CEO said he would come to Yeongdo later and talk to you in person. And if we don’t move to an apartment, he said I shouldn’t think about acting.”
Kim Seonghwan, the CEO, was truly a grateful person. He was someone who made great efforts to consider the boy’s situation from his perspective. After all, he even joked that his mother wouldn’t be able to refuse after signing the apartment contract.
“What? How did the conversation turn out like this?”
“He said that if you’re comfortable, I can be comfortable when I’m away. What’s the use of living well alone? The thought of you lying in a cramped room will keep popping into my head.”
“I don’t know how to repay such kindness.”
“I’ll work hard to repay it. Let’s do that. Us.”
The boy hugged his mother’s shoulders with both arms.
“From now on, let’s live happily.”
Fishing boats that had gone out for fishing operations shone their lights on the beach, twinkling. The play of light reflected in the waves seemed to shine like a panorama of their past lives. How much weight had been carried on those slender shoulders? The boy promised. From now on, as your son, I will protect you.
 A district in Seoul known as the hub of the South Korean film industry.
 A traditional Korean multigrain powder. It is usually mixed with water or milk and served as a beverage.
 A small, cheap inn or lodging house.
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