On Leave (3)
“Man, how boring...” Kim Su-Gwan groaned while glancing at the posts popping up in the online forum of the bicycle club he belonged to.
This club used to be the country's top road bike community; lively and interesting exchanges between the members constantly happened in this club a few months ago.
It somehow felt like all the passion had simmered down a bit lately.
Back when the unknown monster made his appearance, new messages would continuously inundate the forum.
Whenever that monster showed up, the club members would rush out and try to snap photos of him, and they would even broadcast the route he was taking...
“Yup, those were the fun times.”
The unknown monster must have lost his interest in bike riding, as he hadn't shown up in months.
"Maybe that's why there's so little life in the forums..."
Since this downward momentum wouldn't be good for anyone, the club decided to hold a qualification-style tournament not too long ago, but too few people applied, and the whole thing eventually fizzled out.
An online club's main reason for existence was people having the same interest coming together to form a community.
However, the members pouring their all into the club would inevitably reach that period in their lives when their wives or job hunting dealt too many critical hits to their free time.
Their activities would slowly wind down until new members joined the club and gradually superseded them.
At least, that was what Kim Su-Gwan told himself—he told himself into thinking that the club was currently going through that phase.
That didn't mean he felt any better while watching his beloved, always-lively club slowly wither away, though.
"...It was so much fun not too long ago, too."
Hadn’t there been a time when the club prepared for a relay to catch up to the monster, only for their target to not appear at all, so everyone just got drunk out of their minds on soju Or, how about when they tried to chase after the monster with a car, but they accidentally jumped the traffic light, so they got stopped by the police and received all sorts of scolding, and a hefty fine...
In retrospect, maybe they shouldn't have done those things.
But at the time, it was so much fun.
Everything they did together back then had now become precious memories among close friends.
Precious memories were beautiful and all that, sure.
But watching the people whom he shared those memories with gradually disappear one by one left such a bitter taste in Kim Su-Gwan's mouth.
Those people, the precious club members...
Burning in their shared passion for road bikes and enthusiastically discussing all things bicycle-related...
Gone were those days, it seemed.
Kim Su-Gwan logged off, then stepped away from his computer.
“I guess I'll go for a ride...”
Riding on his bicycle was the perfect remedy whenever he felt down.
His favorite bike was still going strong, after all.
In fact, it was still capable of going really fast, except...
“...It's just that the owner is a third-rate, that's all.”
What good was a fast bicycle when Kim Su-Gwan himself was a third-rate rider As long as he didn't exercise enough, it would be impossible to reach any decent speed regardless of how much money he had sunk into his bicycle.
Even then, so what To a person who simply enjoyed bicycle riding as just that—a chance to ride a bicycle—going fast was just an added bonus, an attractive side dish.
Kim Su-Gwan was searching for his helmet hidden in the corner of the room when his phone suddenly vibrated.
“Mm Did someone send me a text”
Before he could confirm, though, the phone rumbled crazily as if it was suffering from convulsions.
“W-What the hell!”
Was someone spamming him with texts or something Kim Su-Gwan hurriedly picked up his phone and turned it on, only for his eyes to open wide in shock.
Its vibration wasn't because of some mere texts or the messenger app going berserk.
No, the chatroom app for his club was the culprit, which had been set to notify him whenever a new comment was posted.
It barely buzzed him once a day, but right now, the whole phone was going mental from a deluge of new posts.
“Could it be!” Kim Su-Gwan dashed back to his computer and turned it on.
“H-Hurry up, will ya!”
Tension filled his eyes as he impatiently waited for the computer to finish booting up.
When it did, he quickly launched the web browser.
Even as he did this, his phone continued to vibrate like crazy.
He logged on to the forum, accessed the message board, and lo and behold, what he had been thinking about was happening there for real!
– The monster is back! Everyone, the monster is back again!
– In the middle of pursuit! I repeat, in the middle of pursuit!
– Wowsers, how long has it been! Where is the sighting
– The beast is on the move toward Gangbuk.
– Welcome back, Mister Monster! Where had he been all this time
– Judging from his short hair, he must've enlisted.
It would be hard to see five new posts pop up on the message board on a normal day, but now Every time Kim Su-Gwan refreshed the page, new posts would pop up so fast that he could barely catch up.
The phone rang loudly, forcing Kim Su-Gwan to tear his eyes away from the computer and look at the caller's number.
“Mm It's Mister Turtle on a Hill”
He answered the call and was instantly greeted by an excited voice.
- Have you seen it yet
A smile involuntarily bloomed on Kim Su-Gwan's lips at that question lacking context.
"Yes, I have.
How can I not when my phone's been going crazy for the last few minutes"
- It's been such a long time since the Named Boss showed up, so shouldn't we go on a proper raid this time
“Eiii~, you know we can't catch up to him on our bikes.”
It's such a waste to let him just slip through our fingers again...
"I also want to be there, but he'll be long gone by the time I get there on my bike.
You know no one's faster on their bike in Seoul than that man."
- Damn it.
We could've followed him with a car if it weren't for all those traffic lights...!
It's too bad.” Kim Su-Gwan ruefully licked his lips.
Obviously, many people had tried to chase after the mysterious monster, but they had been forced to taste the bitterness of their defeat.
The reason for that was simple enough: none of them could keep up with his bike's speed, and it was also impossible to drive a car as fast as one wanted in the middle of a city.
If only the mystery monster rode his bike on one of the national highways or one of the ring roads on the outskirts—unfortunately, a bicycle rider would never travel on roads like that.
“Besides all that, I see folks who hadn’t been active jumping out of the woodwork now.”
Everyone is losing their mind messaging each other, it seems.
“Hah. They should've at least kept in touch.”
That's not as easy as it sounds when we all have lives, you know Wait, now that you mention it, why don't we do our regular get-together once more We'll put aside our bikes and just share booze and catch up.
"Sounds good." A content grin floated up on Kim Su-Gwan's face as he conversed, his eyes drifting toward the message board.
The route the mysterious monster was taking was being updated in real-time through various posts, rendering the GPS utterly obsolete in this case.
Kim Su-Gwan could only tut softly at the accuracy of the incoming reports.
"We're supposed to be a bicycle club, yet instead of riding our bikes, we're too busy stalking someone else minding their business..."
Despite his complaints, Kim Su-Gwan's expression couldn't hide how much fun he was having right now.
Rather than doing nothing, maybe I should try to scout that monster”
Kim Su-Gwan suddenly thought of a way to revive the ailing club and began tracking the route of the monster in earnest.
The sound of the wind passing by him was loud and scary.
This is good.'
It had been too long since his last ride on his bicycle, and Kang Jin-Ho was thoroughly enjoying the sensation.
However, he could hear the creaks and groans coming from the Golden Elephant.
No matter how well-maintained the bicycle was, maybe not having any passengers for too long had affected it negatively, judging from all those creaks.
'Looks like it needs some maintenance.'
He had been in the army, so he hadn’t been able to pay much attention to it.
Even so, seeing the bicycle that had served him loyally as his feet for the past few years in such a state somewhat soured Kang Jin-Ho’s mood.
“...I'm sure it'll smooth out if I ride it for a bit more.”
While he thought about asking Jo Gyu-Min to take the bicycle away and have it checked by professionals, Kang Jin-Ho continued to pedal away toward his destination.
A sound similar to a motor churning came from the cogs.
Other people might freak out if they heard such noises from a bicycle, but these noises were natural and unworthy of concern for Kang Jin-Ho.
There was no need to be alarmed.
The bicycle's crank creaked and screamed from the abuse.
If the Golden Elephant were a living, breathing creature, it would undoubtedly be cursing its master right now.
Unfortunately, a bicycle wasn’t a living being, and the only method it had to plead with its master to stop the abuse was to creak and groan constantly.
“Hiiieeek! W-what is that!”
People driving in their cars freaked out and craned their heads forward to stare when a bicycle suddenly zoomed right past them.
However, it was too late by then, as the bicycle had already become a small speck in the distance.
The driver in one of the cars gasped and muttered, "Did that thing have nitrous attached to it or something"
His passenger tilted his head.
"Isn't that illegal"
Nitrous on a bicycle would be illegal."
“Oh. What if that was a normal bicycle, then”
"That's a bit hard to tell, I guess It's not like there's a speed limiter on a bicycle or stuff like that." The driver shrugged his shoulders.
The passenger didn't stop his questioning, though, and continued, "Mm. What would happen if a bicycle exceeds the speed limit set for cars on a public road"
“W-Wouldn't that be considered speeding”
"Hey, don't ask me.
How should I know that"
The people who had witnessed an event they had never even dreamed about were freaking out, but Kang Jin-Ho remained oblivious to all the mental damage he was causing as he blissfully pedaled away to his destination.
The Golden Elephant left behind long skid marks as it came to a noisy stop.
"Hmm..." Kang Jin-Ho climbed off the saddle and scanned his clearly-not-okay bicycle for a while before parking it in a corner and putting a lock on it.
After he was done securing his ride, he turned and stared at a large signboard proudly proclaiming, 'Seongsim Orphanage.’ The orphanage had moved to this new location after Kang Jin-Ho had asked Jo Gyu-Min to take care of it.
'It feels like the building's vicinity isn't as clean as it should be...'
The orphanage director, a nun, had a direct, upright personality and would have never accepted the orphanage's vicinity being this untidy.
In their previous location, didn't she ensure the floors were meticulously clean even if the rest of the building was about to collapse in a heap
she can't keep up anymore due to her age'
The dirty surroundings didn't concern him, however.
They could be cleaned later, after all.
With that in mind, Kang Jin-Ho opened the front gate and stepped inside.
When he entered, kids noisily running around playing came to a stop and turned their heads in his direction almost simultaneously.
Kang Jin-Ho involuntarily chuckled at that scene as it reminded him of a clan of meerkats standing upright in alarm.
He looked around and asked, “Where's Yu-Min”
After he spoke, the children finally recognized him, and they all rushed toward him.
Kang Jin-Ho looked down as the kids clung to his legs.
Maybe, they failed to recognize him for a moment due to his short hair After realizing that Kang Jin-Ho had been the one who opened the gate, the orphaned kids warmly welcomed him back.
It was just that Kang Jin-Ho would have preferred it if the kids chose a different method of welcoming him back.
I rescind my opinion about them being meerkats.'
were like cats.
Not just any cats, but those way-too-friendly ones that acted like puppies.
Kang Jin-Ho lightly picked up one of the kids clinging to his leg and asked her a question, "You know where Yu-Min is"
“Opha~, vhere haf yu been” the girl asked back with a slight speech impediment.
Kang Jin-Ho patted her head and smiled back.
"I was away protecting the country."
"Heh~." The girl grinned and dug into his chest in a happy embrace.
Who knew whether she understood what Kang Jin-Ho had said or not The answer might not even matter to her.
"Mm..." Kang Jin-Ho was unable to do anything after finding himself surrounded by little kids in the blink of an eye.
If it had been one or two kids, he might have sneakily pushed them away, but with over ten of them clinging on to him, he simply had no answer.
"But, uh, I need to get through..."
These kids were clinging to him because they liked him.
Knowing that, Kang Jin-Ho just couldn't bring himself to push them away like strangers.
In that case, he only had one option remaining.
It was to give up on going inside and just stay here to gently pat all these kids on their heads.
Seeing these kids who didn't want anything from him but still liked him nonetheless made him feel kind of ticklish inside.
“Vhere haf you been”
“Mm... Well...” Kang Jin-Ho's smile was slightly cramped.
It seemed that this little girl didn't understand what he said earlier.
In fact, none of these kids did.
With the current time being what it was, plus today being the middle of the week, the older kids responsible for restraining their younger siblings were still at school.
Kang Jin-Ho tried to think of another way to escape, but he just couldn't see any.
Cold sweat began to trickle down his forehead.
He didn't dislike being surrounded by these young kids, but he still had to do something about this situation.
Otherwise, he would simply be wasting his time here.
That in itself wasn't such a bad thing, but his objective for coming here was something else, was it not
“Uhm, can you move out of the way for a bit”
“...I guess not.” Kang Jin-Ho didn't need long to realize that using dialogues to solve his current situation was unrealistic.
A kid that one could reason with wouldn't be a kid anymore.
Indeed, a kid was a kid precisely because they were unreasonable and selfish.
Kang Jin-Ho began pondering some more, but thankfully, he heard Park Yu-Min's voice coming from inside the orphanage building.
“What's going on” Park Yu-Min emerged from the entrance and discovered Kang Jin-Ho.
His eyes widened instantly.
Park Yu-Min was carrying a child on his back, a baby in a pouch in front, and a ladle in one hand.
Kang Jin-Ho took a good look at his appearance and slowly opened his mouth.
“...Did you get married while I was away”
"Huh" Park Yu-Min couldn't say anything and simply blinked his eyes in bewilderment.