Chapter 1:

One Corner

Can You Read Me?

Friday, June 21. 11:59pm.

‘I love you.’

Yan reads that climactic sentence on his phone, processing every word in his head. After 200-ish long chapters, several overly long arcs, a slow-burn of a romance, and maybe the occasional fanservice scene here and there, the two leads finally get together… and that’s it. At the bottom, there is a huge bold caption written ‘THE END’, dashing any hopes he might have had for the story to continue.

Disappointed, he closes the last chapter of the hit web manga series Just Confess Already!, wondering what he has been doing for the past few days of his life. Seriously, he’s been scrolling through his phone for much of the past few days just to trudge through this mediocre series, and to end it right on a confession… It makes sense given the title, but it just doesn’t feel right. He isn’t the most experienced reader of the romance genre, but even he can tell the story ended quite badly.

Sighing, he goes to the review page, preparing to see many scathing reviews from disgruntled readers just like him. Instead, he finds a healthy 7.51 rating, with many top reviews writing great praises for the story and characters. All that disappointment invalidated in a single moment. Well, he was going to write a rather mean review, but in fear of being judged by the invisible eyes of the internet, he meekly put an unassuming rating of 7.5, along with the following words:

It was nice.

This ambiguous message can be interpreted as sarcasm by the haters and mild praise by the fans. Good enough for him. At least he won’t wake up with many notifications. With that, Yan tiredly puts his phone by his bedside and finally properly lies down on his bed, awaiting yet another new day.


Saturday, June 22. 9:00am.

The alarm clock rings. Yan crawls out of bed, sluggishly turning off the alarm before beginning his Saturday routine. A slow, relaxing start, as is every single weekend for this young man, even better now that summer holiday has officially begun. Sure, there’s summer homework and all that, but that can be left for later. Within a few minutes, he finds himself robotically sitting at the table, eating a bowl of congee his mother had kept warm since last night, giving him a boost of energy and comfort. Ah, the magic of rice cookers. Added with the rays of sunlight shining into the apartment, it is practically a perfect start to the day.

‘Going to the bookstore today?’ his mother asks, sitting leisurely at the dinner table.

‘Yeah,’ he answers.

‘I’m not going to cook lunch, so remember to buy takeout for us on your way back.’


‘Oh, and wake up your siblings later.’


It’s always like this. He sometimes feels just a little guilty for responding in such a monotone, autonomous manner, but his parents have gotten used to his attitude, so it’s fine to an extent. Besides, he really can’t think of anything more to say. It’d be weird to one day talk like a total extrovert to his parents. Surely they’ll think he got possessed or something. Well, maybe not that extreme, but they’ll be weirded out at the very least.

Without any fuss, he does the rest of his usual chores: putting the empty bowl in the sink, folding some laundry, shaking his siblings awake (to no avail), and changing into a simple t-shirt and shorts. Everything is practically being automated, just like every other day. Oh, he doesn’t forget to rub his face a bit to get his facial muscles going, else he might be stuck in a permanent poker face otherwise.

‘I’m heading out,’ he says to his mother, carrying his drawstring bag as usual.

‘Have a good time. And don’t forget to buy takeout before you come back.’


‘Don’t forget!’

‘Yeah…’ With a click, the door shuts.

The morning breeze feels quite nice. Without too many people crowding the streets, the air is fresh and comforting. Still, the summer heat is in full swing, and the sunlight that gave him so much energy earlier now is making him want to melt on the spot. Despite only being a couple minutes walk away, the journey to the bookstore feels almost like a trek, the wind slowly pushing him forward to the next patch of shade under the tree, and the next.

‘Ugh…’ He’s been living in a subtropical climate practically his entire life, but he can never get used to this pain.

Finally, the bookstore’s entrance is before him. Bookstores like these are rare nowadays, proudly facing the street instead of being nestled safely inside a large mall. As he opens the door, a blast of cool air instantly gives him relief, the whirring of a ceiling air conditioner welcoming him in. This has been his sanctuary of two hours every single Saturday, and it will be once again today. Nothing is better than some reading in a cool, sheltered area for a Saturday morning, after all.

‘Yo,’ the clerk waves at him. ‘Manga section again, Yan?’

‘Yeah,’ he responds. It’s the same person every weekend, but Yan still didn’t know his name.

With that, he walks straight to a small corner of the store, a place where no sunlight reaches, yet a place where he feels the most bright. It used to be a place where no one other than a few dedicated visitors would stop by, but now, the place has become… well… ‘infested’ with loud teenagers around his age. Not that he’ll ever call them like that outright. He can’t be bothered to deal with the consequences.

Bunch of loud ass idiots…

Scanning through the shelves upon shelves of manga, he finally picks the first volume of a manga titled Romance in the Walls, a story apparently quite well-received by the audiences on Readit. Oh, and he remembers some of his online friends on Harmony also recommended it a few weeks ago. Ignoring the small but noisy crowds, he sits down on the floor next to a couch, his back leaning against a shelf. A little uncomfortable, but it’ll do.

He already knows the general background before he flips the first page: female lead, romance, and set in Hong Kong in the 80s. Based on the art style, he guesses the story will appeal to the nostalgic feelings of the audience. However, as someone born long after the 80s, he has no particular expectation going into the manga, only hoping that the story will be somewhat interesting compared to Just Confess Already!. Not that that story’s a high bar to begin with.

‘Good morning…’ he mutters as he starts reading.

Immediately, the first page hooks him in. Although he has never lived through the period, he feels as if he is breathing the same air as the characters, the claustrophobia of the extremely crowded buildings caging him in, the roaring of the aeroplane engines resonating in his ears. He is still in the same city, yes, but he feels older, his mind like that of his father— no, his grandfather’s as he looks upon this environment he can only see in photos today.

Without a watch and his phone stuffed inside his pocket, all sense of time is jumbled, lost in his dive into the past. The characters, if put into real life, are far older than him. Yet somehow, he feels a kind of strange connection with them, deeper than the average romcom protagonists around his age. It’s as if he is reading a Hongkonger's autobiography, not a work of fiction written by a Japanese author.

Nostalgia is such a strong weapon, isn’t it?

‘Wow…’ He closes the volume. His eyes have barely blinked, his back suddenly very sore from his terrible reading posture. The loud teenagers are still there, but he is no longer agitated by their voices. Pulling himself away from that fantastical world in the past, he is once again back in reality, in the digital age, where buildings like the ones in that manga are being torn down, replaced by soulless glass towers and minimalist flats.

He sighs. That’s the power of manga for ya.

‘Hey, is that Romance in the Walls?’

‘H-Huh?’ He almost jumps at the sound of the strange voice. He feels a shadow casting upon his body, and as he looks up, he sees the face of a girl around his age, her draping hair practically slapping his face. Her eyes are sparkling behind the round frame of her glasses, her body leaned over to peek at the volume in his hands, pressing him to a corner.

‘You’re reading Romance in the Walls, aren’t you?’
Memo Alfonso
Peace Sign
Cherry Star
MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon