"Noona, do you really have to start working at the age of 40?"
Mo-gun looked at his sister. Her pearls glistening oddly in contrast to a modest plaid dress with an apron tied around it. His eyes flickered around the house which was swamped in boxes holding the remnants of a once happy family home.
“Your husband will come crawling back, once he gets tired of that woman.”
Jieun looked out the window at the bustling Seoul center, dazzled by the activity and liveliness.
“Probably, but I won’t take him back. I haven’t felt alive in so long. I need to escape and finally do something that makes me happy.”
She picked up an old, raggedly book and ran her hand over it.
Mogun looked at the recipe book his grandmother had passed down and gave a rueful smile. His sister, who was born in one the largest conglomerate in South Korea was going to run in a small restaurant in Gangnam. His entire family had supported Jieun through her depression and were on board when she finally decided to move on.
“Noona, if selling snacks to office workers makes you happy, I’ll help.”
In an ideologically farther place in Gangnam, Yubin looked at her mother, whose broad smile added to the wrinkles that ran like deep ravines around her beady eyes. Yubin did not miss her subtle attempt at rubbing her lower back.
"Eomma, you need a comfortable seat, let's get one of those new memory foam ones."
Kira sighed and then said in a mock stern voice "Yes, yes but what about the food? Never mind my back. We need more side dishes, can’t serve our customers just rolled up omelets, restaurants give at least five side dishes.”
Yubin avoided her eyes.
Kira had run a tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes) stall for 25 years. It had become something of a legend in Gangnam She had added fish cakes and other delicacies over the years but one thing she always failed at was her kimchi. She could never get it right.
“Eomma, er, that is, um, your kimchi is…” a cold gust of wind hit Yubin in the face, she thought her ancestors were sending signals to abort the mission.
How does a Korean child tell her mother that her kimchi is the worst?
"We don't need kimchi, this is going to be a tteokbokki, jjigae(stew) and soju restaurant. I'm sure people can do without kimchi." Kira waved a hand airily.
They looked at each other for a while. Yubin at her indomitable mother who had a sad Achilles heel, and Kira at her daughter who was outspoken like her.
Yubin went over to her and put his hands on her shoulder. Kira felt something cold touch her neck. She looked down to see pale pink pearls winking at her.
"Now you're going to be a grand lady, eomma."
It was a Friday night, and a group of office workers had just been released from work. They headed to the food street in search of the momentary happiness that calorie laden snacks offer.
"Look! two new places have opened up."
"The tteokbokki place looks good. It’s run by the famous ahjumma whose stall was in the corner of DJ street"
"Ah, but the snack bar has light beer. It looks so cheerful."
The group of six stood in the middle of the street, some being swayed towards the aromatic tteokbokki and some hearing the crackle of freshly fried chicken coming from a place set up with modern, shiny, chrome interiors.
Kira looked at the indecisive faces and shouted, "Free Tofu stew for party of 5 or more."
Mogun who was carrying a container of chicken heard this and quickly rushed to his sister.
“I can’t believe her, she’s been stealing customers all day, coming up with random offers. This is not fair.” Jieun tapped her well-manicured hand on the table.
“It’s business noona, we have to keep up. I’ve hired someone to look into ahjumma.” Mogun didn’t reveal that he’d hired someone to look for his brother-in-law’s mistress, who had gone into hiding during the divorce proceedings.
His sister seemed happy enough while cooking but at the end of every business night, as he bid her goodbye while she sat in the empty restaurant, he could see tears well up in her eyes. He was secretly glad of the business distractions.
Jieun looked around the half-full restaurant and stared at her phone before shaking her head and dialing a number. She looked out the window to see Kira, who sat on a comfy chair and smiled smugly at the line waiting to be fed at her restaurant.
An hour later, and Kira’s smile had vanished to be replaced with a scowl as she watched the spectacle of grown-up women drooling over a kpop idol, who had somehow decided to grace a small snack bar with his presence.
“That woman is using her rich friends to lure customers.” She wailed.
Mogun’s spies had been busy, and he was handed two pieces of information. One was about the ahjumma and her sad history with selling kimchi and the other was the location of his sister’s tormentor.
He dressed himself carefully and went to deal with the mistress first.
By evening, Mogun was back, his sartorial magnificence destroyed beyond repair and the strong smell of kimchi marring the delicate cologne he’d worn. His sister relieved him of the two bags of kimchi and went to the kitchen.
“Mogun, where did you get the kimchi from? This is delicious” She shouted happily.
Mogun looked at the restaurant opposite, where people were bursting out of seams. He didn’t have the heart to tell his sister that while looking for the woman who’d destroyed her marriage, he’d gone to her parents’ house, only to be accosted by that woman’s mother for impugning her daughter's character and bullied into buying her homemade Kimchi to pacify her wrath.
Noona is the honorary term for older sister.
Ahjumma is a term for an older woman.
This story is part of the ink well's short story contest.
The logline I used was:
Mama Cecilia is the best chef in town, until Mama Rosa opens her restaurant down the street and a culinary customer-stealing battle ensues.