«────── « ⋅❀⋅ » ──────»
The hot sun shone down on the student cafeteria located on the east side of the campus, which at lunchtime looked like a battlefield. Kang Jung Won, a cheerful nutritionist, stands in the center of the battlefield.
Her job is to organize the portions and menus of nutritionally balanced meals for the students, as well as to write the tedious reports required by the administration office. She does not, however, refuse when asked to help scoop rice or organize the line when the cafeteria is full.
“Mrs. Kim, the tofu is almost empty.”
One hand held the rice spoon, while the other picked up the chicken thighs with tongs.
She returned to filling the nearly empty plate of side dishes, a smile on her face.
A well-built Ajumma1Korean term for middle-aged women whom she had addressed as ‘Mrs. Kim’ soon returned with a new tray full of small tofu plates. Jung Won paused the line of students carrying their trays for a moment while the Ajumma replaced the empty trays. Then, for a few seconds, she stared at the hungry faces of the students who were the same age as her sister in awe.
So lovely. These freshmen looked like children out for a picnic in the spring sunshine. Cheerful little kids who were ecstatic about their trip.
“Unnie, add a little more.”
“Auntie, ask for a big chicken thigh.”
“I’m Yoon Seok Jun from the economics faculty. I love you. Won’t you be my girlfriend?”
The upperclassman on a diet, the freshman back on campus with a voracious appetite, and then the innocent-looking freshman. But wait, what did he just say?
Jung Won could have served more rice or an extra chicken thigh. But… what? Why did that kid suddenly say something so stupid?
Jung Won looked at the student in front of her as she was about to spoon the rice. Looking at his young face, he didn’t appear to be an old student. Or maybe a new student?
Hearing the loud declaration of love in the middle of the cafeteria, all the students in line noticed Jung Won, who was wearing a white apron and holding a rice spoon and chicken thigh tongs in each hand. Meanwhile, the other ajummas spooning soup were holding back their laughter.
This nutritionist, who started working at the cafeteria last year, has a young face in comparison to the other employees. She frequently assists in scooping the rice, and no one usually notices her, but she occasionally encounters unexpected situations such as this.
She once shyly accepted a chocolate gift from a student on Valentine’s Day. But when it’s this obvious, she panics. However, as if they didn’t notice her panic, this incident became a spectacle for the students who were waiting in line while exhausted and hungry.
“It’s better to just say bluntly that you want extra chicken thighs.”
“I can buy my own chicken. I’d be more grateful if you gave me your heart.”
“If you keep acting like that, I’m not going to give you any chicken thighs, and the people in the back are waiting longer because of you.”
Jung Won spooned out the rice with her right hand and placed a chicken thigh on the white food tray with her left hand before saying firmly, ‘next!’.
The other students standing behind the boy who had just confessed his love were observing the scene while holding their hungry stomachs. There was also the sound of students giggling.
While working in this manner, some strange things took place. But, on second thought… Kang Jung Won, you still have a lot of fans. Jung Won tried to hide her happy heart by pretending nothing had happened.
“Hey, I don’t like people who try to interfere with other people’s interests.”
“OK, I’ll be more cautious next time, but I still love you.”
Aside from love, another thing in this world that was unbearable was the hunger of these youngsters. Those who were mature appeared to realize that the romantic drama between the freshman and the cafeteria attendant’s Unnie had ended. Their focus has returned to the steaming hot brown rice and the juicy chicken thighs.
Aigoo, these kids are really cute. Too bad, Noona is not interested in younger men.
Jung Won had just felt that things were getting back to normal when she heard another shout.
“It looks like that kid is for real. Why didn’t you accept it?”
Oh. My. God. That was the voice of her prince. The prince was carrying a white tray and joining the line. How could I not notice? He must have seen the embarrassing scene earlier too. Hah, it’s all because of that freshman.
Her mood, which had been happy because she got a declaration of love, disappeared instantly. Embarrassed and panicked, her hand holding the rice spoon trembled.
“You didn’t do anything wrong to me, really. You’re not going to give me rice?”
“Ah. No, that’s not it; that kid doesn’t seem to know anything yet. New student.”
“That seems to be the case. Looking at his overflowing enthusiasm. Well, that’s enough. Thank you.”
Jung Won had the impression that she had received both a declaration of love and a declaration of heartbreak. Even so, she had to keep spooning rice onto the students’ plates.
While listening to the requests of the big students who wanted more rice or the female students who always wanted one less tablespoon of rice, and while joking with the students, she already knew, without realizing it, that the busy lunch hour had passed.
As soon as the students left the cafeteria, it became much quieter, allowing her to start doing other work.
Due to the students’ excessive enthusiasm for the chicken thighs that hadn’t appeared in a long time, let alone for dinner, the existing supply of groceries had run out just for lunch. Chicken appears to be their favorite food.
“How fortunate you are to have received such a declaration of love.”
“What a love declaration; they’re still kids, and I’m already old.”
After some free time, the ajummas working at the cafeteria and Jung Won finally had lunch together. They didn’t forget to tease Jung Won about the incident during lunch. In the midst of the monotonous busyness of everyday life, this type of incident appears to be quite interesting for them.
“However, your age difference isn’t too far.”
“That kid is still a freshman, Auntie, and I’m already 26.”
“Oh, you’re quite old as well.”
Jung Won just looked uninterested, even though the ajummas laughed at Jung Won who was like their own daughter. Hee Won is now 20 years old. She never imagined herself dating a man younger than Hee Won.
“Does that ring on your necklace mean you’re waiting for someone? Is he in the military?”
“Yes? Oh, this…”
All of the ajumma’s attention is now focused on the ring-shaped pendant that hangs around Jung Won’s neck. The ring appeared to be made of real gold.
“It’s a good luck ring that my mother gave to me, but I can’t wear it because of my job, and it’s too big on my finger.”
“Oh, I see.”
Their voices sounded disappointed at Jung Won’s explanation. It seemed like they were already thinking all sorts of things about the ring necklace that never came off for a second from Jung Won who didn’t like wearing accessories. Jung Won simply smiled and took a change of clothes from her small locker.
“You want to go catch bugs again?”
“No, I’m not. I’m going to help plant rice. Hopefully, it’s not finished yet.”
As Jung Won took off her bandana and white apron and hung them back up in her locker, the oldest ajumma who was the head of the kitchen suddenly spoke to her.
“You should get an award from the horticulture faculty.”
“You work more diligently there than the students of that faculty, right?”
“This hobby of yours is very strange. Why do you like playing in the fields and paddy fields so much?”
“Yes, yes. Hehe.”
Jung Won just chuckled softly in response to each of the ajumma’s remarks as she picked up her rain boots.
That’s right. Jung Won had been attentively attending lectures at the horticulture faculty, where she also worked. Not only the professors, but also the doctoral students at the faculty, recognize Jung Won’s enthusiasm and knowledge more than their juniors.
Jung Won is also often entrusted with the keys to the greenhouse during vacation or exam season when students are busy. People frequently look for her in the horticulture faculty’s greenhouses or gardens when the cafeteria is closed on weekends or when she leaves the cafeteria early, as she does nowadays
“Let’s be honest. You go there to see Kim Jae Hyun sonsaengnim, right?”
“No, I didn’t. How could I dare do something like that…”
Jung Won was surprised and shook her head when one of the youngest ajumma asked her a question. Her question was direct and to the point. Her cheeks, however, flushed unconsciously, as if to reveal her true feelings.
“But, that seonsaengnim is quite handsome too.”
“How handsome? He’s very, very handsome.”
The ajumma laughed at Jung Won’s enthusiastic response, but Jung Won didn’t care. Her breath seemed to stop when she first met Jae Hyun, who was in the doctoral program at the greenhouse.
She had never seen such a handsome man since she was born, but her prince, who had rarely appeared in the greenhouse, now appeared to have relocated there. He was apparently working on a major paper about creeping roses.
“I will be right back.”
If she stays any longer, the ajumma will likely tease her even more. Jung Won quickly donned her hat and exited the cafeteria. Biking from the cafeteria to the greenhouse took about 10 minutes, while biking to the rice planting site took about 20 minutes.
Should I pay a visit to the greenhouse to greet my prince? I might as well look at the roses that might be in bloom.
Jung Won, who had begun pedaling her bike, came to a halt when she heard someone calling her name. When she turned around, she saw Myong Hun running in the distance, sweat streaming down his face. The voice of Hee Won’s playmate sounded frantic.
“Noona, please. Hurry up and save…”
“What’s wrong with you? Are you sick?”
“It’s not me, it’s Hee Won. She’s acting really weird.”
“Weird? What’s weird?”
Myong Hun’s pale face indicated that something serious had happened to Hee Won. Jung Won tried to brace herself despite the fact that both of her legs felt weak at the same time.
“That’s not it. She looks fine, but her actions are strange.”
“How strange do you mean?”
Jung Won calmed down the panicked Myong Hun and asked again patiently.
If he said Hee Won was fine, then it wasn’t some horrible incident like an accident or something like that. Then, what could have happened to Hee Won? Was she kidnapped by her boyfriend? No, she wasn’t. If that had happened, Myong Hun would have been looking for Hee Won instead of looking for her right now.
Jung Won pushed aside the strange thoughts that filled her mind and demanded an answer from Myong Hun.
“She said she was going to marry someone.”
Because she was busy imagining strange things, Jung Won thought she heard wrong and asked Myong Hun again. The word ‘marriage’ didn’t cross her mind at all.
Myong Hun replied as if he was about to cry while Jung Won felt like he was going crazy.
Oh my God. My sister, who’s only 20 years old, already wants to get married?
“You, are you messing with Hee Won?”
“I told you, not me.”
“Then with who?”
It turns out Jung Won didn’t hear wrong. This news was as bad as ‘kidnapped by a man’.
Although she was aware that Hee Won was prone to causing mischief, this time it was too much. How dare she say she’s getting married to someone she’s never met?
“I don’t know either. She said it was the guy in the newspaper.”
Newspaper? I don’t think Hee Won would know someone so famous that they would appear in the newspaper. Then, who do you think it is? The famous person who appeared in the newspaper?
Jung Won closed her eyes for a moment, recalling something that came to mind.
That contract wife advertisement. No wonder Hee Won obeyed when she scolded her yesterday.
That little girl.
Instantly, Jung Won furrowed her brow and her eyes glowed with rage.
You haven’t learned your lesson yet, Kang Hee Won.
How could she fall for such an ad when she has no idea what her partner is like?
According to Myong Hun’s story, today was the first day of the ad’s round of interviews. It turns out that Hee Won was eager to attend the interview.
That kid, I’m at a loss for how to dissuade her.
Jung Won realizes at that moment that the freshman who confessed his love to her in the cafeteria is still better than her sister who suddenly wants to marry.
«────── « ⋅❀⋅ » ──────»