Chapter One: Darkness

He wakes up from his position sprawled on the ANJELL dorm living room floor. They just had another victory party last night, their seventh album was a success. It was mid-morning and it is eerily quiet. Tae Kyung must be off visiting Mi Nyeo again, after all she’s back at least temporarily. Maybe he went with Mi Nam to visit her. Where the heck is Shin Woo? Maybe they all went and left him alone. He walks to the kitchen, grabs the banana on the counter and eats it for breakfast. He takes the quart of orange juice from the fridge, only realizing it was almost empty. He drinks from the carton and shoots it straight to the bin after downing the last gulp.

These days he goes about his ANJELL duties as if nothing was going on inside. But he feels dark inside, really. He smiles his usual Jeremy smiles but lately he’s been taking way too many of those bus trips. He had to be careful with his outings, but sometimes he doesn’t really care. He dutifully notes the day’s schedule so he can be back just in time for their activities. But he had been keeping to himself a lot, even Hyung-nim noticed already.

He tells himself he isn’t envious of their love life. Hey, Shin-woo didn’t have one, so why be envious? Nor is he jealous that he wasn’t Mi Nyeo’s choice. Nor is he insecure of Mi Nam’s space as the new star in their band. He just feels empty. He had even taken to writing lyrics, nobody knows this. But he has a stack of lyrics in his room with drumbeats to accompany them. They will have their time, he tells himself. And it isn’t now.

Aigoo, I think I need to take that bus trip again. Maybe a longer one. What’s wrong with me?

So, after tidying himself up, he proceeds to his journey that day. He checks their schedule on the bulletin board and writes it down. He takes his scooter out from the garage, rides it to the bus station and parks it at the appointed stalls. He wore normal jeans and shirt that day, and of course idol-shades. And a backpack.

He waited for his bus, only to change his mind at the last minute. He’ll take a different bus today. A longer route also with no passengers. He decided to take the seats at the very back of his new bus and just see the world pass him by. Or just see himself passing by the world, whichever way it was.

He watched people as they rode on and off the bus. He saw lovers. He saw parents. He saw children. And he marveled at this — this ordinariness. And how contentment, happiness still exists in it.

I must be tired of being an idol to be fascinated with this kind of life this much, he thought to himself.
Ani, ani, he says while shaking his face. Omma would so kill me. After all didn’t I leave my comfortable ordinary life in the UK for the lights and everything?

He takes his notebook out of his backpack and begins to write. Yes, he’ll be on this bus ride for a while.
Off and on is how life goes
On a bus or a train
Off to the road
To walk a path known
But where do I go?
Where does a restless heart go?

When everyone had alighted the bus at the last stop, ahjussi bus driver called out, “Pabo-yah? Aren’t you coming down?”
Jeremy calls back, I’ll take another ride. Maybe 2-3 more rounds, ahjussi. Nae?

“Gureom. Kinchana? Is there anything I can help you with? Maybe join me for lunch and we can talk about your woes?”

Jeremy shouts back, Ani, will not be a good idea to do that. He takes off his shades.

“Ah, ANJELL Jeremy-ssi! What are you doing on a bus?” the bus driver exclaims.

Jeremy shushes him. It’s my secret sanctuary ahjussi. I always take the other bus, but decided on this route today.

“Ahrasso. Okay son, I think you must be carrying some heavy burden to be doing this. So, let me just buy you lunch this once and always feel free to take my bus. I will forget you are an idol. Your secret’s safe with me. You now have two magic buses, nae?”

Jeremy feels warm with the bus driver’s statement. A friend. He earned one today.

Kamsahamnida, ahjussi. Lunch it is then., he says as he walks toward the front of the bus to join the bus driver on his lunch break.

The bus driver did buy his lunch for him that day and told him not to feel guilty about it. He was made to feel at ease as the bus driver talked about other things. His family, his daughter who was at school, his own journeys. Jeremy found it interesting that ahjussi was well-versed on life. And for the first time in so many days, he felt at home. And he felt his heart starting to smile again.

He took three more rounds on his new magic bus after eating lunch with his newfound friend. He notes ahjussi’s shift schedule in his notebook. He’ll try to make a point to be on his bus when he takes the longer trips. It’s more safe that way.

Reaching home on his scooter, Jolie comes up to him wagging her tail, as if knowing her master was out on another one of those sentimental bus rides. She licks his hand to comfort him. I have a new friend today Jolie. You’re still my best friend, but I have another friend. The dog barks back at him with happy eyes. They hear the AN van’s engine purr as it parks in the garage. Tae Kyung calls out to him “Dongsaeng, ya! Where have you been?” He replies, Was just here and went out for a bit. You were gone early this AM. “I left a note for you on the bulletin board.” Tae Kyung scurries and grabs Jeremy’s wrist to show him his note. Alas it fell to the floor since the sticky pad’s adhesive was a bit weak for the board’s surface. On it Tae Kyung wrote in his orderly handwriting, “Join us at the park. Just hanging out today.”
“We missed you today dongsaeng.” Tae Kyung says realizing why Jeremy didn’t have a clue.
“We actually are starting to miss you everyday.” Shin Woo adds.
Mi Nam asks, “Kinchana, Jeremy-a? We’re not close but I worry about you too, you know?”

Yes, there was a lot of love around him. And he’s grateful for it. But somewhere in his heart there is a void, that’s giving him more trouble than ever. And none of his fingers can point and fill it.

Komawoyo, hyung! Kinchanayo. I just didn’t know where you went. Don’t worry. I’ll join next time.Jeremy assures them, guilty for saying another lie. He smiles and and rambles across the room like his normal self, wishing that someday he will be saying truths again.

Pali, pali. Loneliness leave me. he kept telling himself.

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