Like almost every other night, Choi Taek was finding it hard to sleep. The clock on the room wall illuminated from the street lights outside his window showed the time to be ten minutes past 2 AM. Taek shifted his head on the pillow, trying to get more comfortable. If it was another regular night he would have reached for the pills on top of the desk to help him nod off but tonight he can’t risk it. The next day was the start of a series of important matches and he couldn’t chance not waking up.
He pulled his blanket over his face. Even the lights from the street were shut from him this way. He took a deep breathe in the cocoon of total darkness, willing his brain to rest. He squeezed his eyes shut.
Ten minutes later Taek gave up trying to sleep. Peeling his body out of the cover, Taek turned on the lights. His opponent tomorrow is ranked 9-dan. Taek has played him a few times before, and while Taek had won more matches against him, Lim Ji Yeon 9-dan had beaten him the last time they faced each other. Taek set up his baduk board next to his mattress and promptly recreated their last match.
Choi Taek has always believed in hard work. While luck and fate plays as factor he knew that working hard skews luck to his side. Fortune favours the bold, they say. For Taek, patiently laying up the groundwork before a bold move carries the action to its intended impact.
He could still remember each stone that was played in this match, up until he resigned after an exhaustive ten hours game. He remembers and can perfectly recreate many other important matches in his life too. Sunwoo often accused him of having a head full of only baduk and just remembering things that convenience him. But Sunwoo was wrong; his attention was not exclusively baduk.
Placing the last stone before the surrendering move, Taek was finally tired enough that he knew when he rest his eyes now he would fall asleep. He thought of setting up his alarm clock but the thought of walking to the desk seemed a very momentous task. At least Appa would wake him up for breakfast. Nowadays Ahjumma was very adamant that he eats breakfast before competitions. With that thought in mind Taek placed his head down and almost instantaneously fell asleep next to his baduk board.
“Oppa, are you making coffee again?”
Taek stopped stirring the coffee cup in his hand. He turned towards the door of his room. Jinjoo was peeking through the partially opened entrance. Taek beckoned his sister in. “Yes, Jinjoo-yah. Do you want some?” He lowered the cup to the girl’s eye level.
Jinjoo looked inside the cup and made a face. “No thank you oppa. This black one is so bitter. I like it better when milk is added.”
Taek smiled. He slowly brought the coffee cup to his lips. He sipped and promptly winced. The liquid was still very hot, it burned his tongue. The bitter taste of the drink was barely registered by him.
Taek can still remember the first time he tasted a blend of coffee and milk. He thought he could also remember the exact taste. He had tried to duplicate the same taste but success has been evading. He didn’t think it was something that can be added by coffee or milk anyway.
“I like it better when milk is added too.”
Jinjoo simply shook her head at Taek. She sat down on his couch. “Omma asked if you are going to be back for dinner. I don’t know why she need me to ask. You never eat dinner with us when you have matches.” Jinjoo crossed her legs and without pausing, “How long will it be again today, oppa? You should tell the other ahjusshi that humans need rest. The board will not go away if you leave it for a night right?”
Taek grinned at his sister. Seeing Jinjoo’s narrowed eyes however he took another sip of his coffee and carefully blanked his face out of any expression. “Tell Omma… I will eat breakfast with her, Appa and you again tomorrow okay?” Jinjoo nodded. Taek fondly rubbed her head before seeing her out. He needed to get dressed for the match.
The first thing that Taek noticed was Deoksun had her hair down again.
Then he registered that Deoksun was wearing lightly. These days the temperature had dropped significantly that even Taek was feeling it. Deoksun did not even have a coat.
Nor was she wearing shoes.
The third thing Taek noted was the determined, almost defiant look on Deoksun’s face.
“That’s not true. I’m going to the concert right now.”
He watched Deoksun climbed into Dongryong’s truck and watched the two left together.
“Korean Baduk Association please.”
While the taxi was heading to the match venue, Taek’s mind was nowhere near.
More than any black and white stones ever could, Deoksun occupies the largest territory in his mind.
His is a repository of the many expressions Deoksun shows; her smiles, her grins, her laughter. How she narrowed her eyes when she was annoyed, the way she looked when she was sad. Her silent frustrated tears and how she hated showing it to others. Taek remembers the freezing coldness of the sea water seeping into his shoes, how gleeful Deoksun looked dragging him to the sea edge. Her absolute shock when Taek carried her across the field; how she felt in his arms, how her arms felt around his shoulder. He even remembers the way Deoksun cried after his forehead was cut open playing a wrestling match.
Perhaps by inflicting that physical scar on his head, Deoksun staked a claim to its attention.
Taek was so attuned to Deoksun that for the longest time he naturally arranged his actions around her. He timed collecting his milk in the morning to coincide with Deoksun’s going out for school. He allowed Deoksun to fuss over him, knowing well that Deoksun only ever fuss with people she cares about. Taek had little friends, the Ssangmundong boys were his closest and there is little he would not do for them. But Deoksun, Deoksun was his sun. In Taek’s monochromatic world of baduk matches and endless preparations Deoksun was a bright spark bringing colour to his otherwise lifeless existence.
He had carefully planned his confession. It would be the day after the tournament, he would take her to see a movie. He would hold her hand while watching the movie and confess his feelings afterwards. He was confident he could win the tournament and hoped the success act as momentum for his next, more important move. In the end he couldn’t even make it.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to come tomorrow. There’s something that came up. ”
Taek can lie easily. He had perfected his blank face across a many baduk boards.
“I won’t take the pills tonight.”
“I did not look inside your wallet.”
“I am okay with her dating. Sunwoo-ah, it has been 5 years.”
He was finding it impossible to keep on lying to himself though. He has been wasting time, playing pointless moves when defeat was apparent since the start. No matter how many years passed, the owner of his heart has never changed.
“We have arrived.”
Taek looked outside the window. They have indeed arrived at the baduk club. He tightened his fingers on his bag’s strap and reached a decision.
“Can you wait for me here? It may be a while so please keep your meter running.”
The taxi driver nodded. Taek stepped outside the car and saw there were already reporters waiting in front of the building’s entrance. Some already noticed his arrival and were heading towards him, camera poised for taking.
Taek took a deep breath. It is time to forfeit. He only wished that the victor would be there, and accept his surrender.
I will always stay by your side
And won’t ever leave you
“Deoksun-ah, can you make me the coffee like before? Where you add in milk.”
Ah. This is the taste.