On January 10th, 2012, Mingyu woke up at 6 in the morning, something he had never done before in his life, having been awake till 3, unable to sleep. Why?
He was going to go to school today.
Yes, Mingyu, a 15 year old, 7 foot tall boy, was so excited to go to school that he wasn’t able to sleep. Excited wasn’t even enough to describe what he was feeling- thrilled, euphoric, elated, with a rapturous heart beat growing in intensity by the hour.
For someone who feeds off social activity, Mingyu needed to go to school, make new friends, and talk to new people. However, this made up only a small part of why he was so excited.
No, Mingyu did not care as much as he did before about socializing, and meeting new people, or making new friends, with whom he could simply text with aimlessly, quite like his friends before.
This change in Mingyu’s perception of prerequisites for a satisfactory life was solely due to Wonwoo.
After finding that the library was of no use for actually composing music, Wonwoo and Mingyu headed to latter’s house, where they toyed around with his music-making equipment for several hours. Wonwoo explained how he arrived at his lyrics, how he drew inspiration for music, how he translated his ideas into music, and the usage of the music-making software Mingyu had downloaded. But after more than an hour, neither of the two could come up with anything they deemed ‘worthwhile’.
“Tell me about yourself,” asked Mingyu, lying back down on his bed, having given up on his music. Wonwoo spun around on Mingyu’s chair to face the other, and yet again ran his hands through his hair, a small grin making its way on to his face.
“Nobody has asked me that before,” he replied, shrugging. “OK. I was born on July 17th, 1996. Which makes me a Cancer, if you’re into that kind of stuff. PHJ High School, 11th grade.”
“Hey, I’m supposed to go to the same school! But I’m in 10th grade…” trailed Mingyu, clearly deep in thought. “No offense, but are you sure you’re in 11th? ‘Cause you’re kind of small.”
“Excuse me?” exclaimed Wonwoo, laughing at Mingyu’s nerve. “Just because you’re gigantic doesn’t mean everyone else is! And I’m 6 feet 5 inches, mind you. I’m just, like 3 centimetres shorter than you!”
“Well, 3 may be a bit lacking there…”
“Come here, you punk!”
As they quite roughly wrestled with each other, their laughter resonated downstairs.
Wonwoo stayed at Mingyu’s house for longer than his parents liked (“Wonwoo, he’s a complete stranger! You can’t stay the whole day with some kid you found on top of the library!”), during which they composed close to five seconds of music, and instead wasted their time talking with each other. Mingyu was definitely more talkative between the two, and happily gave Wonwoo a full-fledged bio sketch of not only himself, but his family, and his friends from Gyeonggi. He found out that Mingyu absolutely hated rainy weather, unlike himself. He did not like cats at all, and yearned to get a pet dog. His favorite subjects were lunch, recess, and art (“I can’t think of anything else about school that I like”), unlike Wonwoo, who liked Language, Computer Science, and Music, and generally disliked having to sit alone during lunch, or being asked by scores of people about what he was writing during recess (“Hey, now that we’re friends, you don’t have to sit alone!” said Mingyu jovially, unknowingly touching Wonwoo deep in his heart.)
What struck Wonwoo the most was that his family owned a group of hospitals and his parents were wealthy doctors themselves. This was in deep contrast to Wonwoo’s familial background- his whole family was proud to be pioneers in the fishing trade, and while it did not earn them as much as they needed, everyone in the family responsibly took it upon themselves to make a living in the fishing industry.
Now, Wonwoo was definitely not embarrassed of his family’s choice of employment. He knew it was what they enjoyed, and that they wanted to keep the family tradition alive- something he respected. However, for some reason, he could not bring himself to tell Mingyu that his parents were fisher folk. He did not know why, but he did know that he was going to keep their jobs a secret for some time.
All in all, Mingyu was quite different from Wonwoo. But something about Mingyu made him very interesting- not in a bad, abnormal way, but in a good, ‘I really like you because you seem fun’ kind of way. Wonwoo could not put his finger on what exactly it was that made Mingyu engaging, but the philosophical rapper in him told him that that was just the charm of friendship. And Wonwoo was content knowing that Mingyu was his friend.
These feelings were shared by Mingyu, who, after Wonwoo left his house, sat upstairs in his room and excitedly recollected the hours of conversation that they had, something he did whenever he met someone knew. His heart beat incessantly fast, recounting the amount of fun he had with Wonwoo. He laughed again, replaying Wonwoo’s lame jokes, and silly gags in his mind, and smiled uncontrollably as he thought of how enjoyable Wonwoo’s presence was, and how entertained Wonwoo seemed to be in the presence of Mingyu. He liked making friends, and the fact that Wonwoo, someone Mingyu had grown to like in the past eight hours, was his friend, made Mingyu very content with his life. Yes, maybe Gyeongsangnam wasn’t that bad- if it housed people like Wonwoo, it definitely wasn’t…
It was therefore, incredibly exciting for Mingyu, to think of going to school with him, for school was the land of people, of new endeavours, of drama, of wisdom and knowledge, of love and heartbreak, and most importantly, where Mingyu could spend most of his time with Wonwoo.
Both of the boys’ smiles were wider than ever as they spotted each other at the intersection leading to the school- Wonwoo carrying a rather empty-looking backpack, and Mingyu heaving a heavy bag filled with both the enormous amount of supplies his mother had thrust at him (“You have to be prepared for anything! Pack these sanitizers, and I’ve got a few snacks on the counter for you…”) and the equally enormous amount of stationery that Mingyu had carefully selected and packed, aside from all of his textbooks.
“Dude, are you carrying a boulder or something?” asked Wonwoo, as he caught up to Mingyu and offered to help carry his bag.
“Nah, just some stuff… my mom gave me a lot of food because she’s scared I’ll get scared and starve myself,” Mingyu replied, masterfully avoiding the subject of his unusual obsession with stationery.
“What does getting scared have to do with starving yourself?”
“Don’t question my mom, OK? Doctors go a bit nutty after some time; they have to remember all kinds of useless bull that they don’t have space for any common sense.”
Wonwoo laughed, his nose scrunching up at the bridge. Mingyu thought this aspect of Wonwoo’s smile was incredibly cute, but made sure his thoughts were not heard.
“OK, why is your bag, like, empty?” the younger one asked, slamming his hand onto Wonwoo’s back to estimate the amount of books he had in his bag.
“Once you get to 11th grade, you stop caring about shit that doesn’t matter to you. I only care about my codes, for which I need a notebook, and a computer, and like, two other notebooks for Language and Music,” he said wistfully, adding, “You’ll do the same once you grow up, young grasshopper,” on looking at Mingyu’s surprised face. While Mingyu had never read a storybook, it was mandatory in his house to study every subject diligently, regardless of whether he liked it or not. Mingyu could not have even imagined himself deliberately missing any classes- especially heavy subjects like Physics, and Chemistry.
“In fact, I’ve got a really good plan- to solve your list of problems. You go to school like a good boy for these few weeks. Next month onwards, we’ll bunk classes and I’ll take you around Gyeongsangnam- and show you that it’s actually a pretty awesome place,” Wonwoo said, stopping in front of the large brown doors leading to the entrance of their school.
“I’m not sure, man,” Mingyu replied, reluctantly. “My parents would kill me if they found out I was missing classes.”
“Give me your schedule, I’ll lead you to your class,” Wonwoo said, indifferent to Mingyu’s dilemma.
Mingyu’s gaze stayed locked to the ground as he obediently followed his friend, frantically over-analysing the situation. He knew Wonwoo was disappointed that Mingyu didn’t agree to bunk school with him- it was obvious from the way he just changed the subject of the conversation. And Mingyu did not want to be the source of Wonwoo’s disappointment. A stream of curses ran through his head as he realized that he had upset Wonwoo, and he determinedly made up his mind to correct himself.
Wonwoo stopped in front of a small class, a signboard with ’11-B3’ printed onto it hanging above the entrance. Mingyu peered into the class to face a small group of students, most of them with their heads buried in large textbooks. A few of them looked up, but went back to their work just as quickly. He turned to look at Wonwoo, who smiled and motioned for him to go inside.
“Thanks, dude,” Mingyu said quietly, to which Wonwoo tiredly rolled his eyes.
“We don’t say thank you. Real friends don’t do that,” he said, exasperatedly, patting the younger one’s back, before turning back and walking towards his class.
“Right,” Mingyu replied cheerfully. “Also, I think I’m OK with the whole ‘skipping school’ agenda you proposed.”
Mingyu watched as Wonwoo spun around, his smile slowly widening, before he put both of his thumbs up, evidently thrilled that Mingyu had agreed.
After he made sure Wonwoo had disappeared from his sight, Mingyu hunched over to an empty seat, deep in thought, obviously questioning his decision of agreeing to skip school.
Well, it’s not like anyone’s going to catch me skipping school, right?
Yeah, mom and dad will be busy in the hospital, and nobody apart from Wonwoo even knows me in this stupid place- no one can even tattle tale on me.
I guess so…
But when Mingyu thought of his friend’s-no, real friend’s- wide smile, his crescent-eyes shining against the corridor lights, Mingyu could not help but feel excited about his ‘escapade to be’, however dangerous it sounded.
He really enjoyed being friends with Jeon Wonwoo.
On February 11th, 2012, Mingyu met Wonwoo at the intersection leading to their school. But instead of heading into the large, off-white building, they walked straight ahead, towards a long road labelled ‘Boo Seungkwan Street’.
Gyeongsangnam had not yet received respite from the towering clouds that menacingly stood, suspended in the harsh, winter air. The sun remained hidden behind the clouds, and Mingyu was especially annoyed to feel raindrops slowly falling on to his messy head of brown hair.
“When will summer come?” Mingyu groaned, looking up to the sky and shaking his fists. “Why is it always so cold and depressing here?”
“Shut up; this is the best kind of weather,” Wonwoo retorted, smacking his friend’s arms before looking up and spreading his arms, his eyes closed in bliss as the rain gently drizzled on to his face. “Anyways, the place I’m taking you is going to make up for any disappointments you had in this ‘cold and depressing place’.”
Mingyu wished Wonwoo had not brought that up. He was still extremely scared about getting caught, and found himself frantically checking their surroundings every minute or so, in case someone suspicious was… monitoring their activities. He stuck to Wonwoo very closely as the latter nonchalantly led the way, afraid of getting lost and possibly kidnapped. Or maybe murdered. Or mugged. Or a bunch of other scary things.
After a few minutes of walking on wide streets lined with huge, fancy houses, they turned into a relatively narrower street, with numerous tiny shops standing side-by-side on either edge of the road. The rain had started to pick up speed. Mingyu looked around and found many walls graffitied with swear words in bright, bold designs, and large electricity posts covered in dust, wires hanging in a haphazard fashion. Most of the shops resembled the rest of the city- old, worn out buildings, painted in the most dull colours one could find- except for their smaller sizes.
“Behold, the land of treasures unfathomable,” boomed Wonwoo’s deep voice, his arms outstretched and pointing to a small, dingy building, its roof seemingly struggling under the weight of a far too large signboard, which read:
Experience the best of hamburgers in all of Gyeongsangnam
“Hamburgers!” exclaimed Mingyu, throwing his long arms up in joy. By that time, the rain had begun to fall rapidly, slowly starting to drench the duo.
“Yeah, and not just hamburgers. The best hamburgers in Gyeongsangnam,” Wonwoo excitedly said, frenziedly pointing at the signboard’s by-line. “I swear; they’re awesome.”
Mingyu was tempted to tell Wonwoo that it was not much to serve the best hamburgers in Gyeongsangnam, as the province simply had no other hamburger shops, but was too elated to ruin the moment.
They hurriedly walked into the shop to avoid being soaked any further, and gravitated towards a small table in the right most corner of the shop. It was gloriously warm inside, and the two happily huddled up next to each other and basked in the toasty heat, Wonwoo graciously reciting “bless you” each time Mingyu sneezed.
Mingyu was introduced to Hoshi, aka Kwon Soonyoung, Wonwoo’s close friend (as a result of his visiting the shop every other day), and had a hearty discussion about the value of hamburgers in a dilapidated society, before a stray thought drifted through his mind- his new year’s resolution.
But both of the two elder boys quickly managed to sway Mingyu’s resolve by telling him things like, “When are you going to enjoy life? You can only have fun now,” and, “Just shut up and eat, Mingyu. No one’s going to find out.”
And so Mingyu happily chomped away on his food, now and then eyeing Wonwoo and smiling.
“Isn’t this the best place in the world?” Wonwoo exclaimed in between bites, overwhelmed with how delicious his food was. Mingyu excitedly nodded, before asking if the restaurant was any popular.
Carefully putting his hamburger down, Wonwoo turned to Mingyu, a serious expression now replacing his smile.
“Not many people know about this place, but I’ve been coming here since, like, forever. Even the library. From now on, both places are our special places- like a best friend secret hang out spot, OK?”
Mingyu liked the sound of that.
On December 14th, 2013, during one of Mingyu and Wonwoo’s school-skipping shenanigans, they were unfortunately caught by the Mingyu’s gardener, who lived quite close to Hoshi’s Hamburgers and became unreasonably frenzied on seeing Mingyu outside of school.
They had happily skipped school on most days (Mingyu adamantly demanded that Wonwoo attend class at least on alternate days), so this was the first time they had ever been caught.
In retrospect, it was probably a bad decision to start running at a mad pace on catching the gardener’s sight, but the two delinquents had never been caught and the first thing that came to their mind was to run. With Wonwoo’s booming “RUN!” echoing across the street, the boys hurriedly swung their backpacks across their backs and ran like lunatics, all the while screaming for their life. After what seemed like hours of running, they turned into a small alley and collapsed by its brick walls, panting crazily.
Mingyu Wonwoo looked at each other, unable to catch their breath.
And then they laughed.
Hysterically, at that, still trying to breathe normally. Wonwoo’s head rested on the wall as his deep voice rang within the small, deserted alley, while Mingyu lied down on his back, unable to sit up straight.
They laughed and laughed until their stomachs hurt, like nothing else mattered. Without a care in the world.
“That was the most scariest thing we’ve ever done,” Mingyu said, grinning at Wonwoo.
“But it was also the most fun we’ve had,” Wonwoo replied, clutching his heart. “I’ve never felt more thrilled!”
“Yeah,” Mingyu said, looking at Wonwoo’s crescent eyes. Wonwoo was happy, and he was too. He couldn’t think of a world that didn’t involve his friend, and was grateful beyond words for having met him. Nobody else could make the world seem so bright and happy even against a dark, depressing reality. Somehow, the clouds that forever towered over Gyeongsangnam did not matter anymore, because Wonwoo could always make them seem like they didn’t exist.
“I’m so happy I met you, Woo.”
“Me too, Gyu.”