The voices had been bothering Youngjae the whole morning. When Himchan entered the room to tell him he was leaving, the younger boy just pulled the covers over his head and growled. He was too busy trying to protect his sanity to deal with another bout of coaxing to see his sister. The voices got louder, and Youngjae didn’t even notice when Himchan left with a sigh.
Youngjae lay miserably on his bed as the voices babbled, mixing together and creating a din in his head. He tried listening to a few. Some were reciting to him his past regrets; others were speaking nonsense, not even forming any words as they filled his ears. His head pounded. It was unbearable.
“ENOUGH!” he screamed. The voices stopped abruptly, as if the invisible mouths whispering them had disappeared.
“That’s a first,” he mumbled as he climbed out of bed. He normally had no control over them. Perhaps, perhaps he was finally getting better. Leaving the small storeroom-turned-bedroom, he made his way to the fridge.
Himchan’s apartment wasn’t very large. It consisted of a main room that had doors to three others - a bedroom, a storeroom (now Youngjae’s bedroom), and a bathroom. The main room had a kitchenette in the corner, where there was a refrigerator and an electric stove. The main room itself served as a living room, with a single couch at one wall beside the front door. Youngjae took exactly six strides to get from his room to the kitchenette on the other side.
He opened the fridge. There wasn’t much; some milk, a plate of leftover kimchi they bought from the store, and a half-eaten sandwich that was probably Himchan’s. Seeing his choices, Youngjae took the sandwich. Himchan could nag at him later. For now, he just wanted to relax.
Youngjae walked over to the window and looked out. The high school across the road was teeming with students. Thinking about it, he hadn’t been to school in years. At his age, other kids would be studying till midnight for their exams, worried about college choices. But him? He never went to high school. He never even completed middle school.
He shook the thoughts away. If he wasn’t careful, the memories would return, and maybe the voices too.
The front door clicked and Youngjae turned just in time to see Himchan enter.
“Hey Jae,” the older boy greeted, grinning. “You finally got up.”
His face fell when he saw the sandwich.
“What about your sister?” Himchan asked, walking beside his friend with his hands in his pockets. Night was falling, and they entered a familiar dusty alleyway.
“Stop spouting nonsense, I don’t have a sister,” Youngjae growled angrily, kicking over an empty beer can that was in the way.
“She misses you, Jae,” Himchan insisted. Youngjae couldn’t have forgotten. He was denying it. His little sister was only seven when he left her. That was three years ago.
“Shut up,” Youngjae glared at him. Himchan knew he was pushing Youngjae’s limit.
“Little Jaehwa, she’s growing up. Don’t you want to be there for it?” He asked gently. “Maybe you should go back hom-“
“I said SHUT UP!!” Youngjae roared, turning on Himchan and hurling a blind punch. Himchan caught his fist immediately. Youngjae snatched his hand back, running it through the right side of his platinum blonde hair. The left side had been shaved off.
They walked for a while in silence. Himchan set his mouth in a grim line as he felt the anger from Youngjae burning like a vicious flame. He would have comforted the younger boy, but Youngjae was not the kind of person who appreciated concern.
“I can’t let her see me,” Youngjae said quietly. “Not like this.”
Three years before, Himchan had been living by himself. He had a stable job at the local bakery and enough money to get by. He knew nothing of his parents, and the orphanage had been so kind as to kick him out once he graduated from high school – not that he had attended the graduation ceremony, anyway. He had found Youngjae wandering on the streets with his little sister Jaehwa. He took them in and gave them food and shelter. Youngjae was only fifteen years old then.
With Himchan’s help, Youngjae managed to find his mother’s sister and left Jaehwa in her care while he continued staying with Himchan. In the three years that they had lived together, Himchan had learnt that Youngjae was a complexity all on his own. Why he hadn’t stayed with his aunt, why he had to drop out from school and live on the streets at fifteen years old, why he didn’t want to see his sister; these questions were still left unanswered. Each day just added a new side to the huge puzzle of Youngjae’s mind.
Himchan continued to visit Jaehwa regularly, and each time he went she’d ask if Youngjae was coming. It broke his heart. Youngjae seemed to want to erase his past completely, including his sister.