The cubicle 23F has a new occupant, Woohyun notices when he does his weekly inspection. He doesn’t remember the previous occupant and he honestly doesn’t care what happened to him, but he’s pretty sure he’s never seen the blacked haired boy that has now taken his place because he would remember.
He has neatly combed hair, a well ironed suit and mainly looks like any other worker on the level D, but he quite doesn’t, or Woohyun would have never noticed him.
He ends up spending a good ten minutes in front of the cubicle just observing, watching the guy’s slender fingers gracefully type. The guy doesn’t seem to care nor does anyone around them, and he finally gives up and goes back to his office, one floor higher.
Woohyun doesn’t see him again until the week after, when his weekly check-up is due again, and he will be lying if he said he has been thinking about the guy the whole week, but now that he sees him he can’t help but stare again. He must be cold, because his nose is red, but there’s nothing in his behaviour that indicates so. He wouldn’t be allowed to, anyway. He also notices his eyelashes, so long they don’t seem to belong to a guy; but then again, he is not a normal guy or Woohyun would have never stopped twice in front of his desk.
As soon as he’s in his office again, Woohyun checks his name in the archive. Kim Sunggyu, level D, age: 26, address: H-62 complex, room 1337. Kim Sunggyu. Kim Sunggyu. He says the name aloud just to hear it, letting it roll out of his tongue. Kim Sunggyu sounds just like him.
He finds an excuse to go back to the level D again the next day, to scold the 16E cubicle occupant; he deserves it, but he would normally just send a warning email and go back to work. The guy just sits there, looking at him emotionless; there’s nothing he can say, even if he wanted to. He remembers the reason they are encouraged to send everything by email. He gets to see the 23F occupant again, though, his cheeks flushed today, probably due to the fever. Kim Sunggyu. He wonders if he has ever heard his own name aloud.
Kim Sunggyu turns into a thought he can’t get out of his mind. When he returns home that day, he can’t help but wonder what the other may be doing. Probably nothing, he thinks while turning the TV on; he has been in one of the level D complexes and the rooms barely have the basics to live; no TV, no radio, no windows. There’s no way he goes to the corridors to talk to his neighbours either, but he remembers the level D occupants are encouraged to have pen pals as long as they are also level D and live in other cities. He feels a little uneasy thinking that maybe there’s someone out there who knows Sunggyu’s deepest secrets when he only knows his name and age. But after all, it’s highly improbable that Sunggyu has any secrets at all.
He checks Sunggyu’s work thoroughly, trying to find the slightest mistake just to have an excuse to directly contact him, even if it’s just through email. His work is unblemished, however, and after thinking carefully about it, he decides to send him an message anyway. He rewrites it four times, just to end up with a silly Kim Sunggyu-sshi, very good work. Keep up with it. Level C Nam Woohyun. It’s so stupid Woohyun can already imagine his astonished face, those small eyes as open as they can get. He’s probably never received an encouraging email, after all.
The answer comes barely two minutes after and Woohyun finds himself incredibly nervous about it, but also incredibly stupid when he reads a short Thank you, I will. Level D Kim Sunggyu. What did he expect, anyway? Does he even know who he is? Well, of course he has to know Nam Woohyun is the department director, the level C assigned to their section, but he hasn’t even looked at him once so he’s just an email address in the life of Kim Sunggyu.
Instead of a girl as usual, Woohyun asks for a boy that day. There’s a thin boy at his door half an hour after, a couple of years younger than him probably. He has the same emotionless expression than the girls the company usually sends, and the same fair smooth skin. He doesn’t even ask his name, which use will it have? Nobody under the level C can talk, and this boy is probably level E at best.
He can’t talk, but he can moan and whine. Like an animal, Woohyun thinks. He’s also more aggressive than any of the girls he’s been with before, and leaves scratches and bite marks on his back when he goes. And he’s the closest he has been to feeling satisfied. Close, but not there yet, and Woohyun finds himself scribbling on his bed, unable to sleep.
Kim Sunggyu-sshi, this report was particularly good. Kim Sunggyu-sshi, as you have been doing your job so meticulously, I want you to do some special reports for me. Kim Sunggyu-sshi, congratulations again, today’s work was very good. Kim Sunggyu-sshi, meet me in the module Q23 toilettes.
At the end of the night all of them are crossed-out and Woohyun can’t decide which one sounds worse.
Kim Sunggyu-sshi, good job yesterday too. It’s irrelevant and totally pointless, but he can’t find another way to keep in touch with him. This time the answer takes a little longer, but comes eventually. Thank you. Of course.
He sends the same email every day during the following two weeks, everyday without fail. The answer is always the same too, always fast, and Woohyun is starting to think Sunggyu has a draft saved for the occasion until one day he gets a Thank you, Woohyun-sshi. Woohyun can’t help but imagine those words coming out of his mouth. Woohyun-sshi. It sounds so good, even if it’s just on his mind.
Kim Sunggyu-sshi, I’m sure you have the sweetest voice in the world.
How stupid, actually, sending the first thing that came to his mind. But now the damage is done and it really was what Woohyun wanted to say.
He doesn’t get an immediate response as usual. Of course, because the message is not the usual. He doesn’t get any response one hour later, and he starts to worry. Two hours later he gets paranoid, checks his records again in case Sunggyu has been transferred and someone else occupies the 23F now. But he hasn’t, and there’s no way he hasn’t seen the email.
The occupant of the 65D cubicle serves him as a scapegoat when he finally decides to go to the level D. He reprimands her briefly, the same lack of response as usual, before heading towards the row F. Casually, or so he thinks. Nobody lifts their gaze to look at him as he walks between the cubicles, of course, not even Kim Sunggyu, perfectly combed black hair.
He does look at him slightly, eventually, after Woohyun has been standing there for fifteen minutes, but averts his eyes quickly. He hasn’t looked higher than his necktie, probably, because it’s not polite to look at someone from a higher level in the eyes, but Woohyun’s already been there for too long and he has already made his point, anyway.
When he reaches his office again, there’s a new message in his inbox.
Thank you, Woohyun-sshi. Level D are not allowed to speak, however.
And what would you like to say if you could speak?
There’s a pang of excitement every time he opens his mailbox as he arrives at his office; he doesn’t quite remember having felt such extreme emotions ever since he was a kid.
There’s nothing I have to say, that’s why level D are not allowed to speak.
He starts going to the level D much often, almost everyday, after convincing his level B responsible that personal scolding was much more effective. It is not, because the level D are unresponsive one way or another, but he gets to learn the almost unperceptive changes in Sunggyu’s mood. And yet he thought level D didn’t have those.
Do you know how to do it?
Sunggyu is tired on Monday, probably lack of sleep.
I know how to talk but I haven’t done it for 20 years so my vocal cords are probably atrophied.
He is better on Tuesday, but his hair his somehow a little bit less perfect than usual so he probably overslept.
I could teach you.
He is cold on Wednesday, probably because the level A responsible has decided to do some cutbacks and the heating in the level D now works less hours a day.
I’m not allowed to do it.
He is wearing his pajamas under the suit on Thursday, he notices only thanks to a slight piece of clothing showing on his hem. Woohyun sends an email to his level B supervisor as soon as he’s back in his office, asking him to please increase the heating in the level D since it’s affecting the level D workers.
Nobody would hear you, only me.
He’s moody on Friday, probably because the weather has gone bad and it hasn’t stopped raining in hours. Although he highly doubts Sunggyu knows.
Why would you want to hear me talk?
His hair is shorter on Saturday, just slightly, his sideburns a bit more defined.
Because you are beautiful, and I’m sure your voice matches your face.
He is happy on Sunday, Woohyun just knows, although he’s not smiling. He wants to think it is because of him.
I don’t think we are allowed to have this kind of conversation, Woohyun-sshi.
Life is boring if we only do what we are allowed to do, aren’t you bored with your life?
I don’t know what is boring because I don’t know what is not boring.
Woohyun replays Sunggyu’s emails on his mind every night, imagining how his voice would sound if he said it aloud. It’s kind of scary how much he thinks of the other; it’s kind of scary how much he likes him. Somehow. He can’t know for sure what he feels, because he’s not used to feel, and he has no idea why he is so attracted towards Sunggyu because well, he is pretty, but that’s not something Woohyun would have noticed before. And honestly, he knows nothing about him, most of his answers being I am not allowed to do that.
He has never done anything he wasn’t allowed to, never thought of doing it, but now he wants to do all the forbidden things for a boy he doesn’t know at all.
What do you do in the evenings?
Do you have pen pals?
Do you think about something when you are all alone in your room?
What do you think about?
I think about the work I have to do the next day. I think about my favorite foods from the canteen. I think about a new suit when my old suit starts getting dirty.
Do you think about me?
Sometimes I do.