Ex-Lover’s Gift Bazaar

Kim Mi-weol

Translated by Brother Anthony

Published in Koreana: Korean Culture & Arts (The Korea Foundation) Vol. 36, No. 2 Summer 2022, pages 92-102


Standing in front of the office lounge window, the park was visible, surrounded by trees, on the far side of an eight-lane highway. It was directly in front, so he could have easily gone to the park at least once on the way to or from work, but the Man had never gone there. When he looked down at it through the window, he often thought about going there, but when he passed by, it was as if such a thought had never crossed his mind.

Today, once again, display stands had been set up in the middle of the park. Actually, they were too large to be called display stands. There were six or seven people standing around them. A banner hanging on a tree behind fluttered in the wind. He was looking down from the window of a far-off, twenty-story building, so he couldn’t read the words on the banner, but the Man already knew what was written there.

“Bring a present from your ex!”

It must have been three days ago that they had started to hold what they were calling an “Ex-Lover’s Gift Bazaar” in the park in front of the office. The purpose of the bazaar was to help the underprivileged with the proceeds raised by selling gifts that had been given to lovers before a breakup, as it was discomfiting to keep them but a pity to throw them away. Kim, a manager who had noticed the bazaar for the first time on his way back from a business trip, told everyone he met in the office about it, saying that it was a novel idea and full of public spirit. So from that day on, every time the people at work stopped by the break room, they looked down at the bazaar outside the window and chatted about it. They joked, asking if Assistant Manager Kim didn’t have any gifts from his ex-girlfriend, whether the rumor was true that the car that Deputy Manager Lee was driving had been a gift from her ex-boyfriend, while Manager Park asked, “What would you do if you found a present that you had given to your ex-girlfriend there?”

Someone also asked the Man, “Don’t you have some gift from an ex that you still keep?” He replied that he didn’t. However, it seemed his quickness to answer or the cold expression on his face caused some misunderstanding, so that people teased him, asking if he weren’t feeling guilty about meeting an ex without his wife’s knowledge. For the past three days, the office was a pleasant place because of the bazaar.

But today, nobody was talking about it. During the morning meeting, the president had announced that the company was going to close down in three months’ time. It wasn’t just a reduction in staff or pay cuts – it was nothing less than total closure. Still, no one objected. The company the Man worked for was a foreign company, so if the overseas headquarters told them to downsize, they downsized; if it said to get out, they got out; and if it said they were closing down the Korean branch, they had no choice but to say goodbye. In fact, it was not at all unexpected. During the first few years after the company’s entry into the domestic market, they had maintained the top sales position in their field and had a lot of success, but after profits peaked, the business had slowly begun to go downhill and its market share had finally bottomed out three years ago. Everyone had been guessing that there would be some kind of restructuring one day. The only problem was that the timing was too fast and the method was too extreme.

Not surprisingly, immediately after the meeting, all hell broke loose, chemically rather than physically. That is, the air felt strange. Some gathered to protest the compensation offered by the management, saying it was irresponsible of them to pay only half a year’s salary. Some just up and left, saying that if would make no difference even if they went on working for another three more months. There were people who made calls to ask for advice on what to do in such a case, others sat there on the brink of tears, and there were some who openly smoked in the break room even though the entire building was a non-smoking area.

The Man just looked out the window. He was lucky. He had suddenly lost his job, but he didn’t have to worry about earning a living. Whether it was business acumen or a lot of luck with money, his wife, who ran a tiny cafe near a university, was earning as much as an employee in a large corporation, and she had not been hiding her wish that he would work fulltime with her. So when she heard the news that her husband had lost his job, she would be delighted.

It was a weekday afternoon and the park was quiet. Just a handful of people around the bazaar, at that. After a vacant glance at the banner fluttering above their heads, the Man left the break room. When he returned to his office, nearly half the seats were empty. He slowly swept the clutter from his desk into his briefcase, then emptied the drawers in turn. When he finally opened the bottom drawer, he saw a green paper package that he reminded himself to throw away every time he saw it. But far from throwing it away, the Man hadn’t even taken it out of the drawer in years. He picked up the package and looked at it for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and put it in a shopping bag.


The T-shirts the organizers of the event wore had a picture of a box with a broken heart on it. They shouted nonstop to the people who were hovering around the display.

“Give your bitter memories of old love to your neighbor as new love!”

“All the proceeds will go to our neighbors in need!”

There were all sorts of things on display. Books, records, writing implements, bags, gloves, scarves, various accessories, perfumes, dolls, and also expensive items such as laptops, DSLR cameras and an espresso machine, as well as memberships for things such as Thai massage parlors, online English conversation classes and swimming pool tickets. There was even a white poodle crouching in a portable cage. The Man was surprised to find out that there were so many separated lovers in the world, so many gifts exchanged before parting, and that there were so many different kinds.

“Come over here to donate an item.”

A woman in a broken heart T-shirt beckoned the Man. She must have guessed when she saw the paper shopping bag in his hand. He hesitated for a moment then hurried away without saying a word. He walked on until he came to the far end of the park. Some stone benches were placed there from where the bazaar was visible. He set down his shopping bag on the bench and lit a cigarette. Come to think of it, it had already been five years. It was a day when rain that hadn’t been forecast had been falling since early evening. Five years had passed, but the memories were still vivid.

The Man had gone out on some work-related business and was on his way back to the office. He was almost there and was in the underpass when a woman coming from the opposite direction had stopped him.

“Are you selling umbrellas?”

The Man had looked at her blankly, wondering what she was talking about, then opened his eyes wide.

“Oh! Hee-soo! You’re Hee-soo, right?”

“Don’t shout like that! Why are you carrying so many umbrellas?”

Hee-soo didn’t respond to the Man’s question, but pointed at the two umbrellas he was holding in each hand. They hadn’t seen each other for years, but from the way she talked and looked, it was as if they had been drinking together the night before. The Man had had no choice but to explain unwillingly about the umbrellas.

“Yes, this one is for Manager Park, this for Director Lee, and this is…”

He had no idea why he was talking like this, he suddenly thought. Still, somehow he couldn’t stop now that he’d started.

“It suddenly started to rain, I was on my way back to the office, and no one in the office would have an umbrella…”

“I don’t have one either. Can you lend me one of your umbrellas?”

Hee-soo had interrupted the Man’s rambling and suddenly reached out a hand. As he silently handed her an umbrella, she opened her eyes wide and burst out laughing.

“Are you really lending me this?”

“You said you didn’t have an umbrella.”

The Man didn’t laugh. Rather, looking serious, he had added that this was the latest five-tier umbrella. As if she wanted to check it out, Hee-soo took the umbrella and opened it. She had tilted her head back and frowned slightly, as if some water drops had splashed her face. And even though he was seeing her with his own eyes, he couldn’t believe that this was really the same Hee-soo that he remembered.

“What about you?”

“I can use one of these.”

“Still. What will you do when you go home?”

“It’s okay. Besides, I have another umbrella.”

“Really? Where?”

“Um, at home.”

He didn't know what he was saying. Even after she had disappeared he’d still remained standing in the middle of the underpass, dismayed, wondering if what had just happened was real or just a dream. He had been carrying four umbrellas, but now he only had three and her business card. It wasn’t a dream. What was even more surprising was that the office address on the card differed from his own by only the last number. Five minutes on foot. They were so close that he wondered how they had never met before.


Exactly a week after that, the Man had spoken to her on the phone. It was a call he only made after calling nine times but hanging up before the first ring. If he had been able to gather up the courage the tenth time, it was on the excellent pretext that he had to get back the umbrella she had borrowed.

They met five minutes from the office. The Man took her to a restaurant he had visited a couple of times with his co-workers. He remembered that Hee-soo had been very fond of sundae sausages when they were in college. He remembered that besides sundae soup, she liked pork back-bone stew and stir-fried intestines, but was hopeless at drinking. If she ever happened to drink, she would show up the next day with an unrecognizably haggard face, groaning that she felt as if she had a hedgehog in her chest. And that was when all she had to drink was a single glass of soju or one bowl of makgeolli.

“So, this was the place you were talking about.”

As she entered the restaurant, Hee-soo had seemed to recognize it.

“Have you been here before?”

“About three or four times. My boyfriend likes the sundae here.”

For a moment, the Man had stopped dead, without realizing it. But he soon raised his head and looked around the dining room as if he had stopped deliberately in order to find a seat. When he ordered two bowls of sundae soup, the waiter gave him a look, suggesting there was something missing. It was Hee-soo who quickly responded to that look.

“A bottle of mild soju, please.”

Then Hee-soo had made herself useful laying out the cutlery, pouring water into cups and putting some radish kimchi from a jar into a bowl. She looked as if she were still in her twenties, her bare skin without makeup and a haircut that showed the contours of her round head. The Man unscrewed the cap and opened the soju bottle.

“Aren’t you married yet?”

“What? Why?”

“You just said you have a boyfriend.”

“So what? Can’t a married woman have a lover?”

“Oh, so you are married?”

Hee-soo smirked as she poured soju into his glass.


The Man drained his glass. He had thought his world would come crashing down if she said she was married and he felt momentarily dizzy when she said she wasn’t.

“And you?”

“And me what?”

The Man understood perfectly well that Hee-soo was asking him if he was married.

“You’ve already done it, haven’t you?”

“Done what?”

He wanted to avoid replying. If he couldn’t avoid it, he wanted to delay answering as long as possible. He would have to lie if he couldn’t delay, but he wasn’t that great at lying. The food arrived.

“You’re still the same, the way you can’t understand things right away.”

She smirked again and took a spoonful of soup. The Man also began to eat silently. She asked if the liver didn’t taste too strong, but he could taste nothing. He was merely reflecting, having realized how difficult it was to say straight out that he was already married.

“Anyway, I got it half right. One right and one wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“There were two things I had vaguely imagined about you before.”

The Man raised his head from his bowl of soup. His eyes were shining, not because he wondered what the two things were, but because although they hadn’t met, she had been thinking of him through all those years.

“One is that you would become a writer.”

“A writer?”

The Man laughed for the first time since entering the restaurant. Hee-soo remembered things that he had completely forgotten. He had once written fantasy novels. He had created a fantasy club room on the early Internet and uploaded a feature-length series. He had even submitted a story to publishers specializing in fantasy literature. Every time he did that, Hee-soo had been at his side. This time you’ll definitely be chosen. Because your story is really, really, really fun. Hee-soo had said that every time.

“And the other one?”

“The other thing was that you would surely marry early.”

The Man didn’t say anything. He had no way to respond.

“Somehow I had a feeling, from the moment you told me not to come to your wedding.”

“What? When did I say that?”

Now there was no way not to respond.

“It was a long time ago. I mustn’t come to your wedding if it happened before I was married.”

Really? Did I say such an embarrassing thing? I don’t remember.

Still, the Man blushed. He thought he might have said that while he was drunk. But Hee-soo looked completely unconcerned.

“How do you remember all that?”

She answered without blinking an eye.

“Why not? I remember everything you said.”

The Man emptied the last glass. He suddenly felt unbearably frustrated and upset. Now he was the one feeling as if he had a large hedgehog in his chest.


The years had passed, but Hee-soo still couldn’t drink much. The two had shared one bottle of soju, the Man drinking five or six glasses while she drank two at most. Still, Hee-soo’s cheeks, as well as her earlobes and the back of her neck, were all red. Her eyes were bleary and she bowed her head. She even staggered slightly as she went out through the door.

“You’re still the same.”

Hee-soo grumbled over the fact that the Man had paid for the meal one step ahead of her.

“They say if you meet someone to pay off a debt, you’ll incur a new debt.”

She pressed her cheeks with the back of her hand to cool her face.

“You mean this way we’ll have to meet again?”

“That’s right. I did it on purpose, so as to meet you again.”

The Man had felt surprised at himself when he said that. He never said an unnecessary word to the female employees in the office, so he didn’t know that he would be capable of making this kind of facile married man’s joke. It was because he thought that Hee-soo had become more comfortable now, and that everything was fine.

“Would you like to go for some coffee?”


“Or a beer?”


Hee-soo took her hands from her cheeks and laughed out loud.

“What do you mean, fine? Unable to decide. You’re the same as ever.”

You too, the way you keep laughing out loud at the slightest provocation is the same as in the old days. And the way you stagger after a single glass of soju.

The Man was about to respond like that when he felt a vibration in the pocket of his jacket. He pulled out his phone but by that time, the call had already ended. It was a call from home. The Man’s wife was busy working at her recently opened cafe, so she always came home after midnight. However, no matter how busy she was, she always went home in the afternoon to prepare his dinner, then went out again. The Man hadn’t told his wife in advance that he would be eating out because he hadn’t known that he would meet Hee-soo on the very same day that he called her. He’d thought of it too late and realized that he should call back right away. But then Hee-soo had taken the lead and started walking, so he put his phone back in his pocket.

They sat facing each other in the cafe. As she fiddled with her cup of coffee, she asked, as if they had just met.

“How many years has it been? Eight years? Nine years?”

“I don’t know. Is it that many?”

While the Man was completing his military service, she had gone abroad for language studies. And when she finished and returned to school, he had already transferred to another school. After the Man transferred, he had cut off all contact with the people at his previous school. So the last time they had met must have been early in their third year of college, just before he enlisted. The Man was more surprised that they had only spent two years together than that nearly ten years had passed since then. For the Man, those years were a deeply and intensely engraved time that could be exchanged for all the rest of his twenties.

“How could you disappear so suddenly?”

He was lost for a reply.

“I thought we were special.”

Hee-soo said things like that so easily, the Man thought. Even at the time, when he had desperately wanted to see if he really had a special relationship with her, he hadn’t asked.

Hee-soo was popular. She wasn’t a particularly noticeable beauty; her clothes were simple, gauche even, but strangely, wherever she went she drew people’s attention. Her cheerful and gentle personality, of course, played a part in attracting people. Everyone even said that alcohol tasted different when she was there and when she wasn’t. There were also several male students who had confessed their feelings to Hee-soo. However, Hee-soo, who was always pleasant and friendly to everyone, defended herself and kept away from what she was so afraid of when men actively approached her. The only man who remained close to her until the end was the Man.

For the Man, such preferential treatment was both hugely gratifying and bitter. The bottom line was that if he wanted to be close to her, he mustn’t get too close. They took classes together, ate together, and wrote papers together, but the Man always felt like he was standing behind her, not beside her. Hee-soo was always ahead of him, and it felt as if he were always chasing after her. She didn’t walk quickly, but she never stopped and waited for him. To the Man, it seemed they were in a ceaseless walking race. He was often tempted to run. If he ran, he could catch up with her right away as she walked just a few steps in front of him. However, one of the basic rules of the race was that one of his feet must be on the ground at all times. So he couldn’t run. At the time, the Man never imagined breaking the rules. It would have been better to disappear silently from the race. At the time, he had believed that was the best thing to do.

“Oh wait, I almost forgot.”

Seeing Hee-soo digging through the bag she had put on the chair next to her, the Man remembered that they had met today because of an umbrella. She waved something under the Man’s chin. It wasn’t an umbrella. It was a flat package wrapped in green wrapping paper.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a gift.”

The Man had looked at Hee-soo once and opened the wrapping paper. Then he looked at Hee-soo again.

He remembered. In contrast to her usual laughter and chatter when with other people, when she was with him, Hee-soo didn’t say much. Instead, she wanted to hear what the Man had to say. In particular, when he was talking about the story he was currently working on, she would concentrate as if she didn’t want to miss anything, the trivial background descriptions or the main incidents. It wasn’t because she was interested in fantasy novels. She didn’t even care about the fantasy novels that were published. She only reacted enthusiastically to his stories, and seeing that, the Man couldn’t help believing that Hee-soo considered him special. So he worked even harder to create a story to tell her.

But he couldn’t remember how, with his magic swords and dragons and time travelers and vampires and tales of the underworld and ghosts, he had come to tell her about his own childhood. However, he could clearly remember that they had been drinking beer at a fried chicken restaurant in front of the school, and even though he had already hinted that he was talking about himself, he was embarrassed to speak in the first person, so he had chosen the third person as if he were telling someone else’s story.

He was in elementary school and a national drawing contest was being held. All the participating students began to draw on the paper distributed by the organizers. But the Boy did nothing, just sat still. Because his family was poor, his parents couldn’t afford to buy the Boy crayons. When the Boy’s homeroom teacher became aware of the situation, he called the pupil who was class captain and ordered him to share his crayons with the Boy.

The two students sat side by side with 36 colored crayons between them. The Boy picked up a blue crayon. Then the class captain said.

“Hey? I was just going to use blue.”

The Boy picked up a red crayon. Then the class captain spoke again.

“Hey? I want to use red now.”

The same situation was repeated throughout the drawing contest. The Boy could not properly use the colors he wanted. So the blue sky had to be colored yellow and the red apples had to be purple. Even then, the class captain took the purple crayon while he was using it, so half of an apple was purple and the other half was maroon. Because of the jumbled colors, the picture was naturally messed up.

But who would have thought it? The Boy’s picture was chosen for the top prize! The judges praised the award-winning work as a masterpiece that showed through its unique and novel sense of color the aesthetic truth that it isn’t always best to draw objects as they appear. The result was that the Boy received, along with a certificate, a set of the finest 48-color crayons. It was the latest product, one that had even appeared on TV commercials that claimed they didn’t break easily and smelled like flowers, as well as including 12 different colors that weren’t in the set of 36 owned by the class captain. Now the Boy was free to draw whatever he wanted with the 48-color crayons.

“Is that the end?” Hee-soo asked.


If the story had ended there, it would have been a warm story with a beautiful happy ending, like a fairy tale. But the class captain didn’t want that.

“The prize is mine. It’s a drawing done using my crayons.”

The class captain protested to their homeroom teacher. Now if it had been a fairy tale, the homeroom teacher would have rebuked the class captain for being so selfish. The class captain would have repented for his mistake and apologized to the Boy. However, in the Man’s story, the homeroom teacher only looked troubled, because the class captain’s father was the chairman of the school’s Fundraising Committee and his mother was also the general secretary of the Mothers’ Association, providing considerable support to the school, both materially and morally. It was impossible to ignore the class captain’s request, although it was unfair to take the Boy’s crayons, so the teacher had to struggle to find a judgement worthy of Solomon. Luckily, the Boy spoke up.

“The class captain is right. This isn’t my prize.”

The Boy graciously handed over the 48-color crayon set as well as the certificate with his name engraved on it. At that, the class captain was rather hesitant to accept, because his pride was hurt by the Boy’s reaction.

“Forget it. You keep them. This is so lame – I don’t want them.”

The Man stopped talking after delivering the class captain’s words. Hee-soo was sitting there, seemingly asleep. But as he remained silent, she suddenly opened her eyes and raised her voice as if to show she had not fallen asleep.

“So what happened? Did he give him the crayons or not?”

“He gave them to him. In the end, the class captain got them.”

“Right. Bad guy.”

Then Hee-soo closed her eyes again.

“Those crayons… I still have them.”

This time she must have been sound asleep as she didn’t respond to the Man’s words. The Man let her stay sleeping, sprawled on the table, and drank the beer she had left.

He had not coveted the crayons. Actually, the Man’s family was wealthy; his parents bought him anything he wanted. Besides, it wasn’t that he was jealous of his friend’s talent. On that day, either boy might have won, for honestly speaking, there was no real difference in talent between the Man and his friend. All their classmates knew that. So he couldn’t figure out why he had acted so nastily that day. Anyway, with the homeroom teacher’s mediation, if it could be called that, the friend ended up with the certificate and the Man got the crayons.

Soon after, they had entered middle school, and not long after that, the Boy died, killed in a hit-and-run accident, it seemed. Of course, it had nothing to do with the Man. But every time he looked at the crayons in his drawer, he felt guilty. He never used them. But he didn’t throw them out either. Even as a child, he thought he deserved to feel guilty every time he saw them.

Inside the green wrapping paper was a set of 48 crayons. Written on the outside of the plastic container was, “Non-toxic crayons that won’t stain your hands.” The Man put it back in its packaging. Hee-soo’s voice cut through the rustling of the paper.

“Nowadays they even have 128-color crayons.”

She was gazing into the distance, as if suddenly reminded of her childhood.

“The best I ever had back then was 48 colors.”

It had initially been a 12-color set, but with each grade change, she said she had pestered her mother for an ever-growing number of crayons, in 18, 24, 36 and 48 colors. She said she couldn’t figure out why she was so obsessed with the number at the time as she always used the same colors. It must have been like adults increasing the size of their apartments. She also added that gold crayons and silver crayons didn’t get much use, but she was stingy about lending them to friends.

The Man suddenly tried to remember whereabouts of the 48-color crayons he had practically stolen from that friend a long time ago. He couldn’t remember throwing them away, but he couldn’t remember seeing them at home either. They might have been thrown out by his parents as they packed while moving house several times. Anyway, now he had another pack of 48 crayons.

“Thank you, but isn’t this too much in exchange for lending you an umbrella?”

“No. It’s something I’ve been wanting to buy for you for a long time.”

Hee-soo’s expression was so serious that the Man couldn’t decide whether it would be better to confess or not. For in actual fact, his role had not been that of the Boy; he had been the class captain, so if he revealed that he didn’t deserve these crayons, how would she react? Would she take the crayons back, accusing him of being a nasty boy?

“Of all the stories you told me, that story was the best.”

What he had really worked hard on were stories with magic swords, dragons, time travelers, vampires, the underworld and monsters. But Hee-soo remembered nothing about them.

It was ten o’clock at night when they left the cafe. This time, as usual, Hee-soo took the lead and walked quickly, heading toward the subway station. The man followed her with the crayons in his hand.

“Which way are you going?”

“I have to stop by the office for a while.”

“At this time of night?”

“Yes. He’s working overtime today. We’ll go home together.”

Apparently, she was referring to her boyfriend. The Man walked a little faster. Hee-soo was walking slowly. Still, somehow, he couldn’t get ahead of her. So he asked the back of her head, “When are you going to get married?”

She looked back.

“Invite me to the wedding. I have to repay you for this.”

The man smiled as he held up the crayons.

“Never. Why would I show you that kind of spectacle?”

Even though he knew it was a joke, the Man was conscious that Hee-soo had not replied that she would not get married. He found it amusing that he was nervous about her marriage while he himself was already married, but he didn’t smile. Long ago he had imagined her, still single, coming to his wedding. And himself, still single, going to her wedding. At the time, he had thought he wouldn’t be able to stand either situation. But looking back now, what he really couldn’t stand had been his helplessness, the fact that he couldn’t do anything about it. He was pathetic and he couldn’t bear it.

The entrance to the subway station loomed in front of them. She would now have to head for her office. Once they parted like this, unless they met again by chance, he wouldn’t deliberately call her and ask to meet again. Hee-soo hadn’t said that they shouldn’t see each other again, but he knew that it was what would happen.

Hee-soo abruptly asked, as if finding the long silence awkward, “That class captain, what do you think he’s doing now?”

The man answered right away, since he knew the answer.

“He’s probably just an ordinary salaried office worker.”

“Um, then what about marriage?”

“He probably met an ordinary woman and got married in the ordinary way.”

“Hey, it’s a real blessing to live an ordinary life in a world like today’s!”

Hee-soo raised her voice, as if annoyed that the bad guys lived happily ever after. Even though it was just speculation, the Man felt it was somewhat unfair of her to make a straight face and showed hostility toward the class captain.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean living happily ever after.” He hesitated, then continued. “There was a girl he liked…”


“No, well… It just didn’t work out.”

Hee-soo didn’t see that the Man’s face had turned red.

“It’s kind of sad. But then you mean he doesn’t love his wife?”

“No, that’s not it. His wife is a very nice woman.”

“Then what? Does he have a house?”

“A house? They have a small apartment in the suburbs... Half of it still belongs to the bank.”

“In that case he’s successful. He has an apartment, a job and a wife!”

There were a lot of things he wanted to say, but the Man could neither agree nor disagree. Hee-soo stopped walking. He wondered if they had come to the point where they were to part, but as she looked into the man’s face, she said, “And the Boy grew up to be you.”

That was all the man remembered.

When he woke up, he was in the subway. There were few people on the midnight subway heading out to the suburbs. He called his wife. He apologized for not contacting her sooner. Even though his wife said it was okay, he kept repeating that he was sorry over and over again. Suddenly, he heard a sob from somewhere. He looked around, but the only thing reflected in the window was his face, exhausted.

Hanging up, the Man reflected that he shouldn’t have said that. But he couldn't remember what or to whom.


There were more and more people thronging around as the office workers who had just left work joined in. The voices of those wearing broken heart T-shirts grew even louder.

“Please donate a gift from an ex!”

“All proceeds from the sale are used to help the needy!”

As the man turned to throw his cigarette butt into the ashtray, he saw a familiar building far to the north. When he looked down from the office, the park seemed close enough to touch, but looking up from the park, the office was far away, maybe because it had become a place where he could no longer go. He didn’t have to go to work, so he wouldn’t be coming to this part of town in the future. He wouldn’t run into Hee-soo on the way to and from work, even by chance. And he would live one way or another. The Man picked up the shopping bag he had put down on the bench. Time would pass like that, like the past five years. And just like the ten years before that.

He began to return the way he had come. If he cut across the bazaar venue and exited by the side entrance at the back of the park, he would be at the subway station. He was almost at the entrance to the bazaar. A stand for stationery set up in one corner struck his eye. There was no one looking and even the seller seemed to have gone somewhere. Pencil cases, notebooks, fountain pens and leather diaries were lying on display. The Man was about to take one step closer.

“Are you here to donate something?”

When he turned around in surprise, a woman in a broken heart T-shirt was smiling at the Man. She, too, must have noticed the shopping bag he was holding. When the Man didn’t answer, she seemed to guess that he was hesitating over whether to donate something and asked if he had written down the story.

“What? The story?”

“Yes. The story behind the gift.”

She explained that it was often the story that made the gift more special, so she asked for a story when she received an item as a gift. She said that there were people who read the story first and then bought it. When he looked again, small folded notes were attached like tags to the back of the items on display. She offered him a ballpoint pen and a broken heart-shaped note.

“You can write the story of how you got the gift or the memories of your ex-girlfriend.”

The man refused to take it. He tried to excuse himself by saying that he was just looking at the stalls on the way home and did not intend to donate anything. However, without even giving him time to finish speaking, the woman handed him the piece of paper and then went to the people asking about the prices.

The Man looked down at the note in the palm of his hand. He wondered if she would accept it even if he revealed that the item in the shopping bag was a gift, yes, but not from an ex. Of course, even if she accepted it, he had no intention of writing the story down. Certainly not. Such an embarrassing story? However, even while he was inwardly shaking his head, on the other hand, he was thinking about what kind of story he could write if he wrote one.

He had no idea. His mind went white, then black, then painted over with some unknown color. Nothing came to mind. However, one thing was clear: it would not be possible to write in the first person. Like the day he had first talked about himself to the woman he was sitting with long ago, he would have to use the third person this time as well.

“He…” Maybe “he…” Something like that.