Three Views of Nikko
Super Junior, Siwon/OC/Donghae
PG, AU, ~7,500w
Two days in Nikko through the eyes of three people.
Hyekyung: Part II
“Yah – Donghae-ah, keep still - ”
“Yah, Choi Siwon! Why can’t you go somewhere else to take photos?!”
“Because it’s too crowded and you’re short enough – by the way, do you still have those potato chips? They’re seriously addictive - ”
Hyekyung can’t help but chuckle as she watches Siwon fiddle with the buttons on his DSLR, holding it a precarious few inches above Donghae’s unruly mop of hair, the concentration on his face a complete contrast to Donghae’s disgruntled expression as he rummages for the bag of Calbee gyoza-flavoured potato chips that they had impulsively grabbed from the corner 7-11 just before starting off on their sightseeing trip. Just as he fishes it out from the plastic bag she decides to join in - “Donghae-sshi, could you pass me my milk tea too? It’s the Asahi one, here let me have the potato chips -”
“Ah, wait for a moment - I think it’s in the other bag with the rest of the drinks…”
Siwon guffaws as he lowers his camera, the expressive energetic laugh that still tugs at the corners of Hyekyung’s mouth even as her heart twists at how much she’s missed it. “Okay, we’ll stop making your life difficult – I think I saw some space the other side.”
Hyekyung watches him saunter off. She feels something cool against her hand and accepts the bottle of tea from Donghae. She then realizes that she is still holding onto the Calbee chips.
“Siwon - ”
She finds him comfortably settled at a corner. “Here – you forgot these.”
“Oh – thanks. You want some?”
The three girls next to Siwon walk away, taking out muscat grapes. Hyekyung steps forward. “Yeah, why not.”
They munch in silence, looking at the dark hills mottled with yellow, orange and purple gliding past them, listening to the guttural cry of the birds overhead. Hyekyung has been on the cruise often enough to know that it is nearing its end and vaguely wonders if she should return to where Donghae is, in case she should lose him in the crowd. But she does not feel like doing so. Beside her she hears Siwon clear his throat.
It was strange how the term of address still came so naturally to her.
“Have you been in Japan all this while?”
She does not answer, staring at the silent waters below her. She has imagined this conversation – wanted this conversation – more times than she can recount, but now that it is actually happening her mind is blank.
“I called your number but it wasn’t in use. I went to the address you gave me but the house was put up for sale. I even went to your school to ask if they had any information on your whereabouts, but they said you’d dropped out – I was so shocked, I didn’t know what else I could do…”
“I know.” She still does not dare to look at him. “I know – and I’m sorry… I didn’t – I didn’t dare contact you after what happened.”
Haltingly at first, then so quickly she almost tumbles over the words, she tells him of everything that occurred after he left for Seoul; the news of her appa’s excessive debt from his secret gambling, the accounts from her umma of their efforts to borrow money, the dreadful, stupefying moment when she had found out that her family had finally resorted to her own savings that she’d set aside for her own education. Her burning rage and misery as she packed her bags for Korea, believing that her dreams had been dashed, and the slight spark of hope that the elderly owner of the Turtle Inn chain had offered her in a contract position at the ryokan. The look in Siwon’s eyes as she finally comes to a stop is almost unbearable to see.
“Why didn’t you tell me anything? You could have emailed me from Japan, I’d have gotten in touch with your family right away to help - ”
“No - I didn’t want your help.” She immediately regrets her abrupt tone as she sees the shock on his face which he just manages to conceal.
“Hyekyung-ah, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way - I was just afraid something had happened to you... ”
“I know…” She turns away, biting her lip. She will not – cannot - tell him that her umma had called her after she had noticed Siwon at their boarded-up house, after she had told her sister to follow him as he made his enquiries at her university. “Is he a friend of yours, Kyung-ah? He looks like he comes from a good family – perhaps you could ask him if he could offer us a helping hand, none of your other friends could do anything for us - ” she had slammed down the phone before the other had had time to finish.
Siwon is still waiting. She looks back up at him. “I just – wanted to settle things on my own. It was my appa who got us into this mess. It’s only right that we should handle it ourselves.”
“I see.” He looks away. She watches his profile and wonders how he can look exactly the same, exactly the way she remembers him, even down to the fresh, slightly citrusy scent of soap that always lingers around him. She wonders if he thinks the same way about her. “And have you managed – to settle everything?”
“Yeah, just about.” She allows herself a small smile as she thinks of the conversation she had with the Turtle Inn owner a few days earlier. “Actually I’ve just been offered a permanent position… I’m thinking of accepting it. I’ve grown to like this place quite a lot.”
“Really?” Siwon snickers. “You were complaining about not getting any cable channels and you said you saw more ikemen in one evening at Tokyo than in three months here… I thought you would have preferred to work in the city.”
“Pabo,” Hyekyung laughs, playfully clouting Siwon on the shoulder. “I must have turned into an obaasan already then. I can’t believe you still remember I said that.”
“’Course I do.” He gazes at the lake, dark and smooth as glass. “I remember a lot of stuff.”
Her throat catches. Perhaps she hadn’t imagined him glancing at the old note they had left in Hippari Dako after all.
“For me? Ah, thanks – isn’t this a frog? I’ve forgotten the Japanese term for it, it starts with a ‘k’ right -”
“Yeah, kaeru. I can make other animals too, I’ve gotten quite good at origami actually.”
“I knew you had it in you.” He chuckles, pressing the frog lightly. “You’ve done it so well to match the design on the paper… it looks like you’ve really settled down here.”
“Yeah, maybe.” She pauses. “But I never - ”
The sound of a crash makes them both turn inside. Hyekyung gasps as she sees Donghae sprawled in an ungainly heap on the wooden floor, camera and plastic bags scattered around him. She darts through the concerned passengers already making their way over, crouching down – “What were you doing?! Look at your hands… quick, you should go to the washroom - ”
“I’m fine,” Donghae sounds sheepish as she helps him up, taking care not to touch the broken skin on his palms where he had tried to break his fall. “I didn’t notice the step, I must have tripped – ah, thanks, I’m sorry for the trouble - ”
“Never mind, as long as you’re okay.” Siwon grins reassuringly as he retrieves Donghae’s camera. “Aigoo, still as clumsy as ever… anyway I don’t see any scratches on it – I’ll put it back into your bag - ”
“Here, I can do it,” Hyekyung holds out her hand, using her other to pick up Donghae’s bag from the floor.
“… All right.” Siwon’s tone makes her look up. There is a strange expression in his eyes – shock? sadness? resignation? – but before she can place it the ship jerks slightly as it arrives at the dock and they are hurrying to make sure they haven’t left anything behind, joining the crowd to alight from the ship, walking up the slope to the nearest restroom so that Hyekyung can help Donghae clean up his wounds. It is only when she bids them goodbye – she needs to nap before she returns to work, they are going to spend the afternoon at the Kegon waterfalls and then the Akechidaira ropeway – that she realizes that Siwon had not said a further word to her after that moment.
“Mmm, that looks good.”
“It’s just porridge.” But Hyekyung smiles her thanks at her colleague’s compliment anyway, carefully placing the food on the tray together with her own curry rice and hojicha. “I’ve left some curry for you in the microwave.”
“Thanks,” The receptionist waves as she returns to her work. “Have a nice dinner, all right?”
There is no response when Hyekyung knocks on Donghae’s door. She opens it with her master key, slipping her feet into the rubber slippers at the door and padding noiselessly into the room. As she expected Donghae is fast asleep in front of his laptop, the music playing from its speakers – Hyekyung smiles as she recognises Super Junior’s My All is in You, Donghae’s liking for bubblegum K-pop really transcended understanding – not quite loud enough over the gushing of the Daiya river outside the ryokan.
Hyekyung quietly sets the tray down, pushing aside the random things on the table that seem to be scattered everywhere in a state of cheerful chaos. She reaches out and gives Donghae’s shoulder a gentle shake. “Hae-ah. It’s me.”
“Wake up. I brought dinner.”
“Dinner?” He raises his head from the crook of his elbow, slowly pushing himself upright. “I’m… not hungry.”
“I know. But you’ve barely eaten anything today.” She has not missed the faint stink of vomit from the bathroom, even though he has left the windows open. “And you had such a bad fall in the morning. Here.”
He looks hazily at the bowl she pushes forward. “Jjuk?”
“Yeah, with yuba tofu. It’s okay if you don’t want that, but just take something…” She gestures to the table. “You need to eat for all this to work.”
The moment she says the words she realizes how facile they sound. Because she knows, just as well as Donghae does, that the prescriptions, the bottles and the pills cluttering up most of Donghae’s table can never really - work. They are only meant to relieve, to prevent, to strengthen; to prolong. Just as she knows that Donghae will not be able to keep down more than half the amount of food she is persuading him to eat.
But if he notices the change in her expression he does not show it. Instead he nods, reaching forward to the tray to place her own plate in front of her. “You should eat too, Hyekyung-sshi.”
“Yeah, I will.”
She watches as he picks up a spoonful of jjuk, chewing slowly on the pieces of tofu. “Mmm.” A bright beam begins to break half across his face, crinkling his eyes into crescents. “Mashita!”
“Oh, it’s just porridge - ” But his grin is so warm, so sincere, that she finds herself smiling in return, and the unease that has misted her mind since the previous day begins to lift. She wants to help Donghae smile like that everyday, she thinks, snatching up her spoon as Donghae makes a threatening gesture at her plate. She wants to stay by his side forever. Even if forever was just a few months more.
Note: An ikemen refers to a good-looking guy, while an obaasan usually describes a middle-aged woman. 'Pabo' is Korean slang for 'idiot', and 'mashita' means 'delicious'.
I was told that the frog symbolizes ‘return’ in the Japanese culture because the vocabulary for ‘frog’ (kaeru) is phonetically similar to the verb for ‘return home’ (kaeru). It’s a habit to carry frog-shaped charms when going on a trip for a safe return home, but it’s also seen as a symbol to ensure that things you normally give away or see off, such as money or friends, will return back to you.