Leveling Up From Rank F Chapter 7

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Chapter 7: Awakening

Payday was finally here.

Although it was the smallest check Jiwoo had received in his life, he felt somewhat content with it.

The moment Jiwoo was home, he called Chun Kijeong.

“Hello.”

As usual, Kijeong answered the phone with a tone that implied how much of a hassle this was.

“Sir. I’m calling you because I can pay back the first 500,000 won. I got paid today.”

“You shouldn’t pay back the large amount you borrowed in small amounts. Your money will be leaking then.”

“But still, please accept it. Having a 3.5 million debt feels different than having a 4 million one.”

“Do you have money leftover to use after paying me?”

“Yes. I do.”

“I see, then. Until your situation gets better, you can use the money however you like. Don’t feel too pressured, pay it back slowly since I won’t tell you to pay interest.”

“That’s good enough for me. I can only give this much since I just started working this month. I can get an advance in my salary starting next month. If you could wait until then, I think I’ll be able to pay you back everything I borrowed.”

“Don’t you have another billed payment for next month?

“What?”

“From Lims.”

“Oh!”

“I expected as much.”

“Even so, I’ll figure out a way to take care of it.”

“Take your time, don’t overwork yourself. This is when it becomes apparent, the gap between those with experience and those without. It’s not difficult for me to borrow money and I’m in no hurry to use it either, so repay it at your own pace. How much more do you owe?”

“About 1,200 now.”

“It seems you’ll be able to pay it back soon then. Of course, it won’t be easy. I believe I have experienced what life has to offer. In my early years, I had it hard after I got scammed too.”

“You did? I thought this only happened to me because I was dense. I blamed myself a lot and it made things even more difficult because I was so disappointed in myself.” Jiwoo said. He didn’t mean to complain, but as he talked to him, the stuff he had bottled inside naturally came out.

“Let’s meet up sometime and have a meal together.” Chun Kijeong said.

“No, I can’t. I don’t have the money to treat you to a meal yet. I’ll earn more. After I pay you back, I’ll treat you. It won’t take too long. Once my debts are settled, I’ll bring you to a really nice restaurant.”

“That won’t do. My borrower might pack his bags and make a run for it. I should know your home and work address.”

“What? You’ll come find me…at my workplace?”

“Of course. Why would I trust you and lend you my money otherwise?”

“You should’ve told me that before you let me borrow it.”

“Anyway, I’ll have to see if my loaner is working diligently. I’ll drop by for a surprise visit sometime next week.”

“But even if you come, I won’t be able to make time for you.”

“I know. It was a joke.”

Kijeong thought Jiwoo would notice if he teased him a few times. When he saw Jiwoo didn’t get the hint and continued to give serious replies, Kijeong gave up.

“By the way, what did you think about our company Jiwoo?” Kijeong posed the question to him.

“What? Of course…I regret leaving. Back then, I thought it was a great opportunity to join Lims.”

But now that he thought about it, Jiwoo had a lot of regrets. During his time at Kijeong’s company, he was ashamed to be working for a small company and it hurt his pride too. That’s why he secretly prepared to change jobs. When he heard news he had been accepted by Lims, he left for the company without any hesitation. After he entered Lims, he discovered they were nothing special. They only looked amazing on the outside.

“Is that so? Well, I talked to someone I know in the HR team today. There might be some good news coming soon.”

“Really?”

“But don’t give leave notice to your workplace yet. I’m not sure when they’ll start hiring, also there’s no guarantee they’ll hand the position to you either.”

“I’m pretty much a traitor to the company. Will they give me another chance?”

“If there are benefits, yes. They don’t need someone kind, but a person who can work efficiently.”

“I’m not good at work either.”

“So for starters, you have to make sure they don’t realize Ahn Jiwoo is bad at his job.”

“Thank you Deputy Manager. You went out of your way to speak to the HR team because of me.”

“It’s because I’m short of 500,000 won. I’m afraid you’ll run with my money.”

“But I told you I would pay back the 500,000 won today.”

“See you next week.”

The line was cut off.

Jiwoo was full of new expectations. It felt like his future had some hope as he thought about how easily he could get re-employed soon.

Jiwoo wrote minus 50 on a post-it note.

No matter how narrow the path, he believed he could overcome anything someday so long as he kept moving forward.

Jiwoo didn’t necessarily think his life was only filled with misfortune. He had Chun Kijeong who took care of him and helped him out. His relationship with him was that of a guardian figure. In addition, although Shin Yongha was not too useful, he had a friend who constantly worried about him. Finally, there was the convenience store owner who gave him an opportunity to pick himself up again.

However, Jiwoo didn’t abandon his wish for his life’s problems to be resolved just a little bit more.

***

While Jiwoo brushed his teeth in the bathroom, he stared at his water dispenser. If he so much as went close to it, he wouldn’t feel good. As a result, he had to go outside to buy water. Jiwoo had no way to find out whether it was because of his house or his body. He did think about going to the hospital, but he was in no rush since he was fine as long as he didn’t go near it.

When he told Yongha about his symptoms, his friend said it must’ve been due to his deteriorating health. Yongha explained how fatigue could lead him to suffer from nightmares and how it would affect him more than others. He then asked if Jiwoo had any bad dreams lately to which Jiwoo responded that wasn’t the case for him. His friend was at a loss for words there. He then told Jiwoo he didn’t know what was wrong with him either.

Waking up to get to work steadily became more difficult. When Jiwoo woke up in the middle of the night, he didn’t feel tired and couldn’t go back to bed. Due to the constant lack of sleep, Jiwoo was less focused compared to other days.

Despite being exhausted, he received his customers without making mistakes. He organized and sorted through the products, and diligently carried out his duties.

He was completely used to the work so he was much more relaxed than he was at the beginning. Back when he was clueless, he worried what he would do if a customer came in asking him about something he didn’t know. But now, it wasn’t a concern as he could adeptly handle things.

“Ahn Jiwoo, the part-timer god of convenience stores!“

It was not too far-fetched to call him by that nickname.

He recognized the customers who came to buy a smoke. Before they came in, he put the cigarette packs out on the counter and had the items ready for them to check out. Over time, he memorized who smoked what brand and who bought one or two packs. He felt much more comfortable since there were less things to be nervous about at work.

Jiwoo was now able to secure some free time for himself.

Kijeong also stopped by for a surprise visit as he said he would. While he was on his break, Kijeong brought four books with him to give to Jiwoo. The books all contained material that was beneficial to his job.

After spending his time productively, his shift was already over. He couldn’t believe how fast time flew.

Then one evening, the store was swamped with customers. Jiwoo thought he finally had some leisure time once the busy hours died down, when he got a call from Yongha.

“Hey, we haven’t met up for a long time.” Yongha said out of nowhere.

“It’s not that big of a deal?”

Jiwoo immediately changed his response after saying that.

“Yongha, can you stop by my house briefly today? I’m getting off work soon too.”

“Alright. I’ll head there first. You didn’t change the password, did you?

“Yeah. It’s the same so come on over. I’d be more grateful if you go and clean the house, cook dinner, and do my laundry too.”

“In your dreams.”

Jiwoo was curious if Yongha would also feel strange or get headaches if he passed by the water dispenser. He told his friend several times that he experienced dizziness while he was at home, but he didn’t specifically say the symptoms manifested when he walked past the dispenser. Therefore, he thought of using Yongha as a test subject to experiment on.

As Jiwoo was heading back, he received a call from his friend again who updated him on his arrival. He picked up his pace anticipating he might finally be able to solve the mysteries of his house.

The moment he opened the front door, Jiwoo made eye contact with Yongha. He was standing in front of his dispenser, drinking a cup of water, staring back at him absentmindedly.

“Oh, you’re back?” Yongha said.

Jiwoo didn’t even need to ask if Yongha felt anything off. His expression couldn’t have been any more relaxed. Jiwoo put down his bag and studied the other’s expression. His friend went around the living room and kitchen to find something to munch on. His expression didn’t change despite passing by the dispenser.

“How can there be nothing to eat? You should’ve told me earlier to buy something beforehand, I’m starving here.” Yongha nagged at him as he opened his fridge and looked inside.

“Hey. Do you feel anything?” Jiwoo asked.

“What? I just said I was hungry.”

“No, I didn’t mean hunger. Like dizziness or…”

“Huh? Oh. Come to think of it, you did mention that before, didn’t you? I completely forgot. I don’t really feel anything though?”

“Really? That’s weird. Is it just me?”

Jiwoo tilted his head and approached the dispenser. After seeing his friend remain completely unaffected, he began to have groundless expectations that he too would be fine. As soon as he got near it, his body shrank back from fright and fear.

Yongha was surprised by Jiwoo’s reaction and stood by his side.

“Is it here? If you try to come here, you end up this way?” Yongha asked, pointing to the water dispenser.

Jiwoo was in no state to give a reply so he nodded instead.

“What kind of feeling is it?” Yongha asked.

Jiwoo shook his head without answering the question. It felt different from before. His heart was beating madly. It was as if he had encountered something terrifying; it was difficult for him to breathe properly.

“Are you…okay?”

Yongha saw Jiwoo’s expression had changed.

“Jiwoo, do you want to go to the hospital?”

“No, not that. It’s not to that extent.”

Jiwoo went to sit down on a sofa, his heart was racing intensely.

After Yongha saw his reaction, he began to test his curiosity by provoking him. Jiwoo saw Yongha’s feet creep toward the dispenser. His friend covered his face with both hands and turned his head to the opposite side. As he did that, he inched forward little by little. Eventually, Yongha’s legs were stretched right in front of the dispenser, but he was completely fine. Except for the tense anticipation expecting something to happen, nothing else changed.

Jiwoo stared at Yongha with a blank face. Yongha also returned that stare.

“You.” Yongha began, eyeing Jiwoo suspiciously.

“You’re not playing with me, are you?”

Jiwoo could understand why his friend might think that, but he shook his head. He never wanted to get close to the water dispenser ever again.

“What if I die at this rate? I didn’t feel anything at first. But then on top of feeling dizzy, I felt nauseous too. This time, my heart almost stopped beating.” Jiwoo explained.

Yongha wanted to show there was nothing wrong with it by acting a little bolder. He poured a cup of water from the dispenser, he touched it, and then stood right in front of it. Whatever force that was bothering Jiwoo, it was certain, Yongha was unaffected by it.

“But still, you should call a shaman if it’s this weird.” Yongha suggested.

It wasn’t an idea he didn’t think of before, but Jiwoo didn’t have the time or the money.

“I’ll come over and clean it sometimes. I thought about it but you can’t go near the dispenser. At this rate, dust will pile up and spread all throughout the house. This could be a more serious problem than you think. Imagine if the radius of which you can’t walk through increases.” Yongha said with a quite grave tone.

“Do I have to move somewhere else?” Jiwoo asked.

“Don’t you think you need to? How long do you plan to avoid it and live like this?”

Jiwoo stared down at the area in front of the dispenser. He still had no clues as to what was going on.

There was only one certain fact. His situation was getting worse as the symptoms and its effects on him were severe.

***

Jiwoo was filling his stomach with food left over from the convenience store while reading the book Kijeong gave to him. He then received a Kakaotalk message from Yongha.

When he checked the picture sent to him, it was his living room. The furniture had been rearranged.

He was about to text, “What is this” but a call from his friend followed immediately.

“Did you see the image?”

“Yeah. What did you do? Were you at my house just now?”

“Yep. I must be a genius.”

“Why do you come up with such useless ideas?”

“Think about it. The dispenser is a necessity for you, yet you can’t go near it. That’s why I made it so the two of you can cross paths.”

Jiwoo laughed nonsensically because all this talk about the water dispenser sounded as if they were talking about a woman named Jung Soogi.

“I’m going to move Lim’s trash over there. They take up space anyway. We’ll just put them aside with the stuff you don’t use.”

“Yeah. That’s a good idea.”

“I think more space will open up if I take out the refrigerator, but I can’t do it alone. For now, I moved the dispenser. I’ll move the fridge on the weekend. I talked to my friend and they said they’ll come to help. Buy us jajangmyeon.”

“Alright. I never thought about doing that before.”

“Even if you did come up with it, you wouldn’t be able to move the dispenser. You said your heart would stop if you went in front of it. The idea just occurred to me, so I got started on it right away.”

“Well, aren’t you quite motivated and smart?”

“Right? I really must be a genius.”

“A customer is coming. Let’s talk later. Thank you for moving it.”

“Okay. Good luck with work.”

Jiwoo hung up the phone. As he did so, he smiled to himself thinking he should’ve came up with the idea earlier.

카톡 / Kakaotalk: A Korean messenger app.

정수기 / Water dispenser: Pronounced Jung Soo-Gi. The joke here is that the water dispenser in Korean sounds like a woman’s name.

짜장면 / Jajangmyeon: A Korean-Chinese noodle dish with black bean sauce.

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