Looking Around (3)
Park Yu-Min made an awkward face while staring at Kang Jin-Ho, before lowering his head in shame.
“I… Uhm… Actually…”
Kang Jin-Ho frowned a little.
He wasn't sure if this boy was bowing his head out of guilt or habit.
But one thing was for sure: Kang Jin-Ho was not amused by Park Yu-Min behaving like this.
The reason didn't matter.
“You walk home?” Kang Jin-Ho asked.
“Yeah…” Park Yu-Min replied falteringly.
“And where is your home?”
“My home? Well, uh, it's…” Park Yu-Min faltered again for some reason, then pointed somewhere – at the peak of a hill in the distance.
“It's located up there?”
Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes and took a look at the spot Park Yu-Min was pointing at.
The hill was so steep that people with perfectly functioning legs would've found it torturous to climb up.
However, he could barely make out a silhouette of a building at the pointed spot, though. Park Yu-Min with a bum leg was actually commuting from such a place every day?
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“Are you being honest?”
Why would I…
No, it's nothing.” Park Yu-Min quickly changed “Why would I lie to you?” to something else after remembering what he had done.
His guilty conscience prevented him from saying that.
“That's pretty high,” Kang Jin-Ho muttered.
“Yeah, a bit…”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly studied Park Yu-Min's leg before turning his bicycle around.
Kang Jin-Ho pointed at the bicycle's back seat.
Park Yu-Min hurriedly shook his head.
“N-no, I'm fine.
I can walk home, you know.”
Kang Jin-Ho sighed and quietly gazed at the scared boy.
“…Are you scared that I'll drag you somewhere and beat you up?”
Park Yu-Min flinched at that direct question, unable to answer.
His head faltered again.
Of course, that sight got on Kang Jin-Ho's nerves once again, and he shook his head.
“I won't do that.
If I wanted to hit you, I'd have done so already.”
“I don't care, so get on the bicycle.”
Park Yu-Min stood around undecided, but he eventually climbed up on the bicycle as if he had realized that it would be rude to keep rejecting the offer.
“Hold on tight,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
“We're setting off.” Kang Jin-Ho placed his feet on the pedals, then very gently pressed down.
Unfortunately for Park Yu-Min, though, Kang Jin-Ho's definition of 'very gently' was somewhat out of whack.
The bicycle shot forward as if its nitro boosters had been activated.
“Wha-wha-what is going on?! This bicycle, why is it so fast?!” Park Yu-Min cried out in alarm.
Kang Jin-Ho sounded uncaring, though.
“Hold on tight, or you'll fall off.”
Kang Jin-Ho's bicycle began shooting up the hill's steep side.
It maintained its high speed as if it wasn't going up but traveling down a steep hill instead.
Not to forget, it had passengers on board, too!
“Uwaaah?!” Park Yu-Min hurriedly grabbed onto Kang Jin-Ho's waist in shock, afraid that he would fall off if he let go.
However, Kang Jin-Ho didn't care one jot about what was happening behind him and leisurely continued to pedal away up the hill.
“H-hey, Jin-Ho? Can't you go slower, please?!”
Kang Jin-Ho replied in a disinterested voice, “I'm already going pretty slowly, though?”
“This is slow to you?!”
Is this still too fast, then?”
Kang Jin-Ho's bicycle continued to carry its dazed passenger, Park Yu-Min, up the hill until they finally reached the peak.
“Mmm…” Kang Jin-Ho licked his lips wistfully.
“It would've been nicer if the hill was a little higher…”
It felt like he was finally getting warmed up a bit, but the stupid hill had to come to an end there, leaving him feeling somewhat unfulfilled.
If only this hill was a bit higher; Kang Jin-Ho would have soaked in the satisfying sensation of a sweaty workout, which was something he hadn't experienced in a while.
Park Yu-Min fell off the bicycle and barely managed to sit upright, then stared up at Kang Jin-Ho in sheer disbelief.
you wanted the hill to what…?”
“Yes, a higher hill.”
“E-even a motorbike would have trouble getting up here, you know!”
“Really?” Kang Jin-Ho replied with an unconcerned attitude.
“Well, a bicycle is lighter than a bike, that's why.”
“That's not what I meant, though?!”
“You're always hung up on unnecessary things.”
Park Yu-Min shuddered before shaking his head urgently.
“I'll never get on your bicycle again ever.”
“Didn't you get here quickly in a relatively comfortable way?”
“Yeah, but it feels like my lifespan has gotten shorter…”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled and asked Park Yu-Min another question, “Okay, so.
Where's your house?”
Kang Jin-Ho followed Park Yu-Min's pointing finger and turned his head.
He found himself staring at a half-collapsed shack that was still somehow standing upright.
Kang Jin-Ho couldn't help but scratch his chin at this sight.
Why did it feel like he had seen several similar buildings like this back in Zhongyuan?
'Right, it reminds me of the huts used by those Vagrant sect fellas.'
Realizing that the modern era also had buildings like this sent a fresh shock to his system.
A half-decent signboard proclaiming 'Seongsim Orphanage' could be seen hanging on the front wall of the building. Even the half-decent signboard seemed to have been hand-carved out of wood by an amateur…
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow and asked, “This is your home?”
“Does your mother run this orphanage?”
“No, I'm the one running it.”
“…?” That straightforward reply momentarily left Kang Jin-Ho speechless.
So, what Park Yu-Min was trying to say was…
Kang Jin-Ho frowned a little.
The signboard said orphanage, which meant kids without parents lived here.
“Since you're here…
Would you like a cup of water?” Park Yu-Min sheepishly asked.
“Sure.” Kang Jin-Ho had no reason to refuse, so he unhesitantly followed Park Yu-Min and entered the orphanage's grounds.
He was greeted by a rusty steel door just past the perimeter wall.
The door opened with an ear-splitting screech, only to unleash a group of little kids flooding out from the inside
“Yu-Min Hyung's home!”
Park Yu-Min patted the heads of every kid that rushed outside, then placed a finger on his lips.
“My friend came to visit today, so can you keep quiet for a little while? I'll play with you all later, okay?”
The young children replied in unison, “Mmhm!”
A woman's voice came from inside the doorway afterward.
“You're back, Yu-Min?”
A middle-aged lady with a kind face stepped outside and stared at Kang Jin-Ho with slight puzzlement.
“And this young man is…?”
Park Yu-Min replied sheepishly, “Ah, he's…
a friend, ma'am.”
Kang Jin-Ho lowered his head a little and introduced himself.
“My name is Kang Jin-Ho.”
The middle-aged woman smiled gently.
I think this is Yu-Min's first time bringing a friend here.
Although we don't have much to offer, please make yourself at home.”
Kang Jin-Ho drank the cup of water Park Yu-Min brought, then stepped outside the building.
The inside was way too chaotic to hold a decent conversation.
The space was quite cramped, and all the yelling and crying of the kids were raucous enough to make his head spin, too.
He always preferred quiet places even back in Zhongyuan, so an environment like this orphanage was like poison to his system.
Park Yu-Min asked worriedly, “Your complexion doesn't look so good.”
“You're rather amazing to stay sane in that place.
I thought my ears would fall off.”
“You get used to it if you live here long enough.”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded slightly at that answer, but at the same time…
'I made a mistake.'
Park Yu-Min probably didn't want to live in an environment like this, either.
Yet Kang Jin-Ho had thoughtlessly run his mouth off. He had to reflect on this later.
“In any case, thanks for the ride home,” said Park Yu-Min.
“…Even though I did something terrible to you.”
“I'm really sorry about that.”
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at Park Yu-Min before slowly opening his lips, thinking that this might be his only chance to ask, “Why did you do it?”
Park Yu-Min flinched a little, then fixed his gaze on the ground.
Kang Jin-Ho continued. “I'm not thinking of blaming you or making you pay for it.
It's just that I'm curious.
why did you do it?”
Park Yu-Min hesitated.
He looked undecided for a while before letting out a long sigh.
“You can see our building, right?”
“It looks really run-down, right?”
“It had been some time since the government grant was cut off.”
“After the handling of all the national subsidy was transferred to local government entities, the screening for the grant became so much stricter, you see.
Our orphanage's qualifications had always been a bit shaky, and in the end…
we got excluded from the list of eligible organizations.”
“Excluded, you say?”
“They want us to close the orphanage.”
“What will happen to the kids, then?”
“They'll be sent to other orphanages.
But the kids here are a little special, as you might have noticed.
Some have stunted IQ, while some others have slight physical disabilities…
If they get sent to other orphanages, they'll either get ostracized or bullied.”
“Our director knows this, and that's why she just can't close this orphanage, you see.
We somehow managed to keep the lights on by whatever donations and support funds we could find and also by getting jobs and working day and night.
Even with that, our budget had always been running tight, so we kept moving to cheaper places, and eventually…
Well, you can see our current home.”
And what happened?”
“That day, he…
That old man who showed up with the principal asked me if we had somewhere else to go if we get chased out of here.”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
He was finally getting a grasp on what had gone down that day.
Park Yu-Min continued his explanation.
don't have anywhere to go.
There is no other place we can go next for shelter.
In two years, I must leave the orphanage, too.
I've been delivering newspapers in the morning to scrounge up some money to support us, but what will happen once I'm forced to leave? Even worse, the orphanage will be forced to shut down if we are chased out of this building.
what about those kids? What will happen to them?”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“You deliver newspapers? With your leg?”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly turned his head and glared at the heavens above.
He had also been a cripple once upon a time, and that meant he knew how exhausting it was to walk with a bum leg.
But this boy was delivering newspapers despite his condition?
“Wait, there are companies willing to hire you as a paperboy?”
This whole area is located on a steep hill, and bikes can't get up here, you see.
Not many people want to deliver stuff to this place.”
“You deliver stuff in this area?”
“It's not as hard as it sounds, though.
They actually bring the newspapers up here, see? All I have to do is take it easy and deliver them while going downhill.”
see.” Kang Jin-Ho chose to stop his questioning there.
He had already figured out most of the situation by now.
Park Yu-Min lowered his head.
“I'm really sorry.
I know I shouldn't have done something like that, but…”
“No, it's fine.” Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
Your crime wouldn’t automatically be forgiven because you had been under immense pressure and had been threatened.
But he also understood that some crimes couldn't be helped depending on the circumstances.
He had experienced similar situations plenty of times himself, after all.
He looked at Park Yu-Min.
“Still, it's a relief that you get to stay here, at least.”
Park Yu-Min sorrowfully shook his head.
“What do you mean?”
“I was an idiot.
You can't be a worse idiot than me even if you tried.”
“I already knew those people weren't the type to help us just because I went along with them, but…
But I stupidly forgot.”
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes narrowed.
Park Yu-Min didn't notice it and continued.
“They want us to vacate the premise.”
“They want to redevelop this land, but…
It's not a government-led project, so we won't get any compensation for it.”
“Can't you stay put and hold out?”
Park Yu-Min shook his head.
“But how? How can we hold out? With what power? The landlord wants us out of here when our rent duration is up, so how can we cling on? And next month is the end of the rent agreement, too.
When that happens…
We won't have anywhere else to go.” He covered his face with his hands.
“If I only knew this would happen…
If I only knew, then I would have…”
After a weighty, lengthy silence passed by, Park Yu-Min raised his head and stared at Kang Jin-Ho.
“I'm sorry for what happened.”
“No, please let me apologize.
Only then, maybe I'll feel a little better inside…
I'm really, truly sorry.”
Kang Jin-Ho silently stared at Park Yu-Min, then slightly nodded.
“I'll accept your apology.”
“Buy me cola.”
“…I'll buy you two cans.
Is that okay?”
“Two cans? So many?”
Park Yu-Min chuckled hollowly at that reply.
After that day's event, the last of his sympathizers in the school disappeared.
The fellow students that once looked at him with pity whenever Choi Yeong-Su tormented him only glared at him with contempt now. Their change made him feel like he was all alone in the world.
What made this situation all the more unbearable was that he had brought it upon himself. Moreover, Park Yu-Min himself believed that he deserved all the hate, too.
He cautiously raised his voice.
“Can I ask you something?”
did you give me a ride home?”
Kang Jin-Ho pondered his answer for a bit.
Why did he do it? Was it pity? Or the memories of his old self? If not, then what…? None of them seemed like a clear-cut answer.
So, Kang Jin-Ho chose the one that sounded closest to what he felt.
“It was just on a whim.”
I happened to see you while riding my bicycle.
Since I saw you, I chose to speak to you.
And after speaking to you, your home seemed far, so I gave you a ride.”
“Even though I did something terrible to you?”
Kang Jin-Ho replied with a nonchalant shrug, “It had been a minor inconvenience, that's all.”
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