As I finish counting the money we’ve earned for the day, I can’t help but think about the missed opportunity. Counting money has always soothed me and made me forget about the stresses of daily life, but the incident this morning left me stressed.
Only 500 simoleons in the register. That’s not much money considering that we have to pay the monthly rent on prime real estate. If I had that money my nephew had, I could easily buy this building from the landlord so that I won’t have to worry about paying rent every month.
The only customers we get are church-goers, mourners from the cemetery across the street, or fellow Koguryeons looking for kimchi which I personally make. Heck, Hae-won doesn’t even know that I sell kimchi just to make ends meet. Just adding an “organic” tag to the kimchi jars attracts those hippie-sters as they’re called here.
I look out the window to see if any other customers would be coming in. No church-goers, mourners, or hippie-sters. No one as usual since it’s a weekday. We only get more business on Sundays when weddings or funerals are held at the adjacent chapel. But I need more money. And that Shin-jae had the answer to all our problems.
My nephew Shin-jae, being the coward that he is, was scared off by Hae-won even when I was offering to sell the King’s Ginseng to him. Curse that woman! While I’ve managed to look over the shop the whole day, she just stayed upstairs to work on her Zumba routine, which makes quite a racket. Oh how I wish she would just stop that nonsense.
Looks like it’s time to close up for today.
“Looks like your uncle’s closing up shop!” Presto speaks close to my ear as we stand by the corner of the building, watching my uncle look out the window before flipping the OPEN sign to NOW CLOSE GET OUT. “Now’s our chance.”
At Presto’s hand signal, we make a sprint for the back door as soon as my uncle’s back is turned. I catch my breath for a moment and watch as Presto inspects the door. I attempt to turn the knob, but the door won’t budge. As expected of Uncle.
“Looks like cannot enter from here.” I conclude, but Presto chuckles.
“Just watch and learn, Park. You’ll finally have the opportunity to learn from someone like me!”
I give Presto a look that the Doctor would make if he Presto said something dumb. Instead of teaching me anything about the Doctor’s operations, he just likes to slack off on his computer or read dirty magazines.
“Door is locked, Presto. Uncle’s doors use high-tech Koguryeon security code. Even if me, I cannot do.” I explain to the ghost.
But before I could complain any further, Presto points to a dangling drain pipe that is about to burst with water over the back door. Maybe he’s smarter than I thought.
“Now let me just float up there aaannddd…”
Presto shakes the water pipe and I watch as the water falls on the door’s mechanism. A few sparks fly out and I hear something unlock. Looks like that did the trick.
“See? Now who said you can’t learn anything from video games?”
“A very amazing, Presto.” I praise him as he floats down to check what’s behind the door.
“That’s why the Doc always brings me around during heists. The Amazing Presto– Preston, the other henchmen call me!”
While it must be true that Presto is amazing, I doubt that the other henchmen call him that because they kinda pick on him.
“Coast is clear, Park. Let’s get that ginseng.” Presto gestures with a ghostly hand from inside.
“Why not just use your ghost power to go through walls and get ginseng?” I ask the ghost, thinking it might be more efficient.
“Well, I can phase through walls without problem, but the ginseng won’t. So you’ll have to carry it.” Presto explains. Why didn’t I think about that?
We go inside the flower shop and start looking around for where that ginseng might be hidden. There are no hidden cameras; we checked earlier. Presto and I go through the whole flower shop. We look at the potted plants, behind the counter, and the register, but we can’t find any clue as to where the ginseng might be.
“The basement.” Presto says in a hushed tone. “We haven’t checked it yet.”
I nod as Presto heads towards the basement door to open it for me. But then I remember what Aunt Hae-won said earlier and reflect on it.
I could go back to Koguryeo and get married to a woman whom I don’t know.
The Doctor can become an adult again with the ginseng.
Then they’ll accept me back into the family.
My aunt will be happy, but my mother will be happier.
But that would mean giving up the freedom I have here.
Sure, I miss mom and my younger siblings, but I hate it back in Koguryeo.
Should I still take Aunt Hae-won’s offer?
“PARK!” Presto shouts but it sounds like a loud whisper. “No time to daydream, kimchi! Let’s look for that ginseng and get outta here!”
I shake my head and follow Presto to the basement.
“You shouldn’t have driven off Shin-jae like that with your crazy proposal.” I tell Hae-won. “Now we’d have to sell more things to pay this month’s rent!”
“It was a win-win situation, Man-shik!” Hae-won justifies herself. “If Shin-jae agrees to that arranged marriage, my sister would be happy. And we’ll be able to get rid of that ridiculous ginseng from out inventory!”
“Woman.” I barely address Hae-won with her given name anymore. “That ginseng cost me a fortune because I thought that it would make a great investment if some stupid rich person comes by to gawk at how exotic it is. Why, just claim that it cures incurable illnesses the organic way and we’ve got ourselves a sucker.” Like those hippie-sters.
“You know, you only care about yourself and your money.” Hae-won says out of the blue. How dare she. How dare she accuse me of caring about myself when I’ve been working my ass off for the last 30 years in this stupid country just to keep this shop afloat even with the economic recession.
“Now listen here, woman.” I glare at her. “Who comes up with all the money throughout all the time we’ve been married? Me. ME, THAT’S WHO!” I shout.
“Stop shouting at me.” Hae-won talks back. “It’s your own greed that got us into debt in the first place. And you’re not even doing anything about it.”
“I’M WORKING ON IT, WOMAN.”
“STOP CALLING ME THAT! I’M YOUR WIFE!”
And then an awkward silence. I think my high blood pressure is getting to me as I’m having trouble standing. I sit on the nearby chair while looking at Hae-won, who seems to be at the brink of breaking down and crying.
“If you’re going to cry, do it now.”
“You’re sleeping in the basement tonight.” Hae-won moves to the drawer to pull out my pajamas and throws it at my feet.
“Good night, Man-shik.”
“So this must be where they keep all the good stuff.” Presto comments as we find the stairs leading down to the basement.
“Now we go down and look for ginseng.” I look at Presto as he nods in agreement.
“Hey, this is a pretty cool place.” Presto looks around the basement filled with plants being grown.
“But it is hot down here.”
“Not literally, Park. I mean, I find it amazing that your uncle can grow plants down here.” Presto looks at a bush with pink flowers. I’ve seen those same flowers on display upstairs.
“Anyway, let’s look around.” Presto gestures as we investigate the basement.
Presto and I check under the stairs and see crates and boxes stacked in a disorganized manner, but it’s nothing but junk. None of the plant boxes being grown here have ginseng in them, so it must be in a container of some sort.
“Ohh, dog treats!” Presto exclaims. “Do they have a dog?”
Then I remember that they actually did. “Yeah, I think they had golden retriever named Sparky. But that was long time ago when I was small.”
“Huh.” Presto just looks at the jar. “Why does he still have these dog treats, though?”
“Maybe they got new dog?” I shrug as I continue searching for the ginseng.
“What’s that on the bookshelf?” Presto points as I look beside the computer table and see a jar with something familiar in it.
“That one, Presto. That’s the King’s Ginseng.” No doubt about it. It says so on the jar in Koguryeon.
“Well, then let’s hurry and get outta here!” Presto says.
But as I place my hands on the jar to pick it up. I hear the door upstairs opening.
“Shit.” Presto curses. “That must be old Man-whatsisname.”
“Hide, Presto!” I tell Presto as I prepare for the inevitable. My uncle’s already coming down the stairs. I look around to see if I can hide somewhere, but there aren’t any suitable places for me to hide in time.
But maybe this is my chance to finally tell my abusive uncle of what I really think about him.
I’ll tell him how I really feel about him and Aunt Hae-won.
I’ll get out of this basement and give the ginseng to the Doctor.
I’ll just make a run for it if things go south.
I can do this.
Be brave, Shin-jae.