Chapter 3: Awakening
When Jiwoo was near the mall, he called In-Ah to ask where she was. She told him to come inside the mall. She was waiting for him at a cafe.
“Do you plan on staying there?” Jiwoo asked.
“It’s been a while since we last saw each other. We should at least have a chat.” She replied.
“How long are you free today?”
“About 2 hours?”
“Then, let’s go for a walk. We shouldn’t spend our time sitting around in that stuffy place.”
In-Ah didn’t say anything to him.
“What the hell? Why did she go quiet again? What did she not like about what I just said?” He questioned internally.
In-Ah was Jiwoo’s first girlfriend. He, however, felt like they spent more time quarreling than enjoying each other’s company. Jiwoo would prefer it if she told him what she didn’t like outright but she never did. Instead, she would get mad at him saying, “Do I really have to spell it out for you?”
Although Jiwoo didn’t think they were a good match, there were times when he needed her. In-Ah didn’t seem to want to break things off with him either, so they just kept meeting up.
In a sense, In-Ah was like a white shirt to Jiwoo. He hated white shirts but there were days when he must have them. For example, he would need to wear one at a talent show between each department or when he suddenly had volunteer work duty.
Of course, everyone had a white shirt of their own whether they liked it or not. It’s precisely due to the formal attire rule that a person should at least own one piece if he doesn’t want to be the odd man standing.
“I’ll head to the front of the mall. Let’s meet up there in 10 minutes.” Jiwoo said.
The line was silent for a while. He decided to hang up the call since In-Ah didn’t respond.
There were a lot of things Jiwoo clashed with his girlfriend on. He could put up with her any other time, but he was in no mood to do that today.
Things went this way even when they set up a date. It was like they were taking a test, they’d sit in a gloomy and suffocating room for hours. They would order a drink, browse the Internet on their phones, and occasionally speak when a topic pops up in their heads. After three or four hours of idly sitting, Jiwoo would say, “It’s stuffy in here. Why don’t we get going now?” In-Ah would abruptly stand up with her bag, frustrated, and then take her leave.
“Still, we haven’t broken up yet. I should at least get her a gift since it’s our 150 day anniversary.”
With that in mind, Jiwoo started to fret over a suitable present to buy. First and foremost, he wanted to maintain their relationship as it were. He didn’t want to be bunched together with the men who lost their jobs and their girlfriends. He felt the mental stress would be too much for him if they broke up now. It wasn’t because he would miss her. Rather, Jiwoo felt his anxiety would overwhelm him if he were to fall two steps at once.
On his way to the mall, there was an “Extreme Hunter” store. It was a shop which specialized in selling Hunter equipment. People could rarely see luxury sedans driven on the roads yet here, those cars were entering into the store’s parking lot.
His mouth dropped open on its own. He muttered, “So cool”, without realizing it.
Only hunters could gain access inside. The company believed unnecessary problems would arise if people, who weren’t their intended audience, entered their store. It couldn’t be helped from their end because each of their products was incredibly expensive.
The emblem tattoo of a Hunter was displayed outside the store. It was a symbol which represented the Hunters.
When individuals turned 18 years old, it was mandatory for all Korean citizens, naturalized in Korea, to take the Hunter exam from May 20th to 26th. Those who refused to take the test would be fined a penalty fee. Since it was a time and age where a country’s competitive status correlated to how many Hunters they had, the government made every effort to secure as many Hunters they could.
After several trials and errors, they finally settled on a method to determine who awakened as a Hunter. The procedure was as follows: a person’s right arm would be submerged into the swamp. When an individual with Hunter capabilities took the test, their chakra would react to the swamp’s unique substance and a tattoo would form on their arm subsequently. If a black tattoo appeared after they removed their arm from the water, that person would be recognized as someone who was qualified to be a Hunter.
The tested individuals were marked with an initial rank of F. The tattoos revealed what position they had, be it Dealer or Tanker, along with their abilities. Furthermore, the status levels on the tattoo changed by itself as if they were its own living entity.
Unfortunately, the 26-year-old Jiwoo had a clean right arm. If a tattoo didn’t appear in that exam, it’s over. There was no existence among Hunters who had a late awakening. Their chakra control abilities all manifested before the age of 18. The moment someone pulled out their arm from the swamp, their status was clearly distinguished—the Hunters vs the common folk. One side gained tattoos, wealth, and fame. For the rest, it was like an invisible loser tattoo was branded on their foreheads.
Jiwoo was marveling at the exterior of the “Extreme Hunter” store when he realized he was going to be late for his appointment with In-Ah. He frantically ran to his destination.
In-Ah arrived there first and was waiting for him. That didn’t mean she had been waiting for a long time.
Jiwoo, out of breath, stopped in front of his irritated girlfriend.
“You didn’t bring your car?” She asked.
“I had some things to take care of so I was already outside when you called.”
Anyway, he did arrive a little late and he didn’t want to get in a fight over nothing, so Jiwoo wrapped his arms around In-Ah’s shoulder to comfort her.
“Can I…? Look forward to our anniversary this year?”
“My friends all have boyfriends who make a lot of money. They get showered with gifts even when it’s not their anniversary.”
“So. Are you jealous?”
“Of course I am.”
“What do you want?”
It’s not like he was going to buy everything that she tells him to. But In-Ah swiftly responded with a question of her own.
“Why? Are you going to buy it if I say so?”
“I haven’t bought you many gifts during our time together. I might be able to get something for you this time around.” Jiwoo spoke as vaguely as he could.
“Really? Actually, there was something I always wanted.”
“I’m guessing this mall sells it”
“Alright. Let’s go inside and see it. What is it?”
“Will you really buy it for me? Wow, I have to brag about this.”
“Let’s see it first.”
“But you’ll still buy it for me, right?”
“Like I said, let’s go and see it together first.”
There was a battle of nerves between Kim In-Ah, who wanted a clear-cut answer, and Jiwoo, who wanted to avoid giving one.
They took the escalator up. The distance between the floors was pretty long so Jiwoo got bored while it was moving. He leaned on the side of the rails and saw a man on an escalator coming up from the bottom.
The man had a Hunter’s tattoo on his right arm. His shoulders and arms were packed with muscles, and his tight shirt looked like it was going to burst open because of his ripped body.
Jiwoo stretched his neck out to check out the man’s engraved tattoo. He got a good look until the Hunter got off and went on his way. He thought the Hunter looked cool even just standing on the escalator.
“I wonder what kind of Hunter he was? Did he do raids? Didn’t they say Long-distance Dealers earned approximately 100 million won a month?” Jiwoo sighed in envy.
While he was full of questions, In-Ah was clinging to his side chattering away. Everything she said went through one ear and out through the other. She mentioned something about searching on the Internet about a gifted bag her friend got from her boyfriend. She wanted to find out what brand it was and its price. Apparently she discovered it was a little over 6 million won. Jiwoo couldn’t understand what she was being so noisy about.
“There’s something I have to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“At my company…”
“Let’s talk about that after we finish shopping.”
“Well, because our moods will sour.”
Jiwoo was going to ask why she thought that but closed his mouth instead. In-Ah went straight to the corner of the shoe store.
“Oppa¹. There’s a friend of mine who married early at the age of 20. She was still attending school but she got scolded by her mother-in-law for buying her a 2 million won bag.
“Why? Because it was too extravagant?”
“No. Her mother-in-law said to come empty-handed if she was going to give her something like that. She won’t accept gifts less than 5 million won.”
“Oh, no. Oppa. You can’t call her nuts. I get where she’s coming from. A woman needs stuff like that.”
“I’m telling you now, I won’t be able to buy it if that’s what you want. Not like I’d get it for you either.”
“It’s not that extreme.”
Was this some kind of tactic? After hearing 5 million and 2 million won, he felt a bit relieved when he saw the 890,000 won sling-back pumps. This didn’t mean he was gladly willing to buy it, but he thought they could quietly move on from the topic with this purchase.
Jiwoo went to the check-out to buy the pumps, when he saw the man from the escalator put his stuff down first. Anyone could tell they were of good-quality in a single glance. The shoes that In-Ah picked out were decent. However, it was no match compared to the shoes on the counter waiting to be bought. They were fancy and had an appealing design. It was as if they were waiting for Cinderella to come and put them on.
“Oh wow, you must be a Hunter.” The clerk smiled as they gently placed the shoes inside the box.
“Yes.” The man responded coolly.
“You have a keen eye for women’s shoes.”
“My mother only wears this brand. She knows how they’ll fit without trying them on. She finds this brand comfortable on her feet.”
“Your mother must be proud to have a kind son like you.”
“I can’t see her often so I only do these simple gestures.”
“Oh my, I’m jealous. She must be overjoyed with you.”
“No, I’m not particularly good at anything.”
There were people waiting behind him. The clerk should’ve quickly scanned the item and been done with it. But for some reason they were dragging out the conversation.
“Your total is 4.7 million won. Will you be using your Hunter Card?”
The man handed his card over.
“Will you be paying in full?”
“What? Yes. Of course, I’d be paying it in full. Hahaha.”
“What’s so funny?” Jiwoo thought.
His patience was wearing thin as the wait got longer.
“Alright then, I hope you have a great day.”
It was finally his turn to pay, but the man was back.
“Would it be okay if I leave this here and look at other items?”
“Pardon? Yes. Go ahead. Many new products came in. You might find more goods to your liking if you take your time to browse.”
“Yes, I was about to head out but I noticed some nice stuff.”
The man placed his shopping bag on the counter and looked around the store. Jiwoo did the same with the shoes that In-Ah chose.
“Forget it…” In-Ah said out of nowhere.
“Huh?” Jiwoo spun around to face her.
“Don’t buy it.”
“You said you wanted them for a long time.”
“Ah, yeah. Whatever, it’s fine.”
“What’s wrong? Why are you acting like this?” Jiwoo snapped and yelled pretty loudly. His sudden outburst and change in attitude made her flinch.
“Okay. Buy it if you want.” The way she phrased it made it sound like she was doing him a big favor.
“Buy it if I want? Am I going to wear it then or am I doing this for fun?”
“Ugh, seriously! Alright. I get it, so buy it.”
Jiwoo gave his girlfriend a fierce stare, but she avoided his gaze and spoke to the clerk.
“We’ll be buying this so please wrap it up.”
“Yes, that’ll be 890,000 won. How would you like to pay? In full? Or…”
“In 6 month installments.” Jiwoo replied.
“Very well. I’ll help you set that up.”
In-Ah’s face turned beet-red. It seemed like steam would rise from her head any minute now. It took a while for Jiwoo to realize “installment” was the magic word that triggered In-Ah. He thought it was ridiculous.
As soon as Jiwoo got the shopping bag and his card back, In-Ah strided out first without looking back. He chased after her.
¹ Oppa means “older brother”. It’s a word commonly used by females in Korean culture. Women use this title to call men older than them. They use it toward their blood-related brother, male friend, or boyfriends. It can be used endearingly or casually.
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