On Leave (5)
Park Yu-Min looked up at the heavens above, a lost expression forming on his face.
It's as you can see.”
“...What's her condition”
“It's stage 4 stomach cancer.”
Kang Jin-Ho's expression stiffened instantly.
He didn't know much about cancers, but even then, he still knew that the diagnosis of ‘Stage 4' was the same as a death sentence with barely any hope of recovery.
He asked in a low voice, “What about surgery”
“The doctor said that the tumor has spread too much to her peritoneum, making it impossible to operate.”
Park Yu-Min didn't say anything else.
Kang Jin-Ho also wasn't hoping for an answer, either.
He simply had to ask something, as the idea of being unable to do anything didn't sit well with him.
Park Yu-Min shook his head.
“...There's nothing we can do.”
Kang Jin-Ho slipped his hand inside his inner pocket.
A packet of cigarettes he brought with him just in case entered his palm.
He pulled it out and mouthed a cigarette.
He lit it up and took a deep puff.
He told himself he would quit, but events like this continued to prevent him from doing so.
After taking another puff, Kang Jin-Ho quietly asked, “Since it's the fourth stage, it means the cancer has advanced a lot, doesn't it”
Park Yu-Min nodded.
“There must've been signs, though”
Park Yu-Min's head faltered, his mouth clamped shut.
Kang Jin-Ho could only sigh deeply at this sight.
I shouldn't have said that.”
“No, it's fine.
It's my fault, anyway.”
“It's not your fault, Yu-Min.”
Park Yu-Min had been staying at his pro gaming team's dormitory, so how could he notice the ominous signs of something wrong with the director If he had been staying in the orphanage like in the past, then he deserved some of the blame, but that hadn’t been the case.
Ever since his debut as a pro, he could only stop by the orphanage maybe once or twice a month, so criticizing him for not noticing the director's worsening condition sooner seemed far too cruel.
Park Yu-Min mumbled weakly, “I think she noticed the signs, but you know what our director is like.
She had never been the type to look after herself, and...
She kept delaying getting a check-up until…”
“I'm sure she had no choice,” Kang Jin-Ho replied with a sigh.
The director wouldn't have had any free time, to begin with.
She was caring for over twenty children, so where would she find enough time to see a doctor
'I should've paid more attention...'
After Park Yu-Min’s departure to be with a pro gaming team, Kang Jin-Ho once arrived unannounced at the orphanage and looked for tasks requiring a man's strength.
However, instead of doing that, he should have systematically resolved the work overload situation crushing down on the director.
Not thinking that far ahead had been Kang Jin-Ho’s mistake.
He sighed, then asked another question, “What about Se-Yeon”
Park Yu-Min slowly shook his head.
“She hasn't stopped by at the orphanage in a while.”
“I see.” Kang Jin-Ho stared at the distant skies above.
'Stage 4 stomach cancer, is it...'
The tumor spreading to the director's peritoneum meant modern medicine couldn't do much anymore other than delay the inevitable by a little.
The only choice available to the patient would be to either receive cancer treatment to try and prolong their life, or give up and work toward a peaceful death.
Kang Jin-Ho asked in a low voice, “Does she already know”
“Did you tell her”
Park Yu-Min slowly nodded.
not tell her.”
She's a strong person, not someone who would despair after learning about her situation.
That's why I...
I thought it was for the best to let her know the truth.”
“I guess you're right,” Kang Jin-Ho muttered, thinking that Park Yu-Min's decision had been logical.
“Who is taking care of the director”
“The other parish sisters take turns taking care of her.
just too busy taking care of the kids at the orphanage, you see.”
“What about your training, then”
“...In my current situation There’s no way.”
Kang Jin-Ho took a long puff of the cigarette as more frustration rose up his chest.
Unfortunately, watching the blue-gray smoke disperse in the air only made his pains grow stronger instead.
“I'm guessing you aren't getting enough sleep, either.”
“It's nothing compared to what the director is going through, though.”
“Even then, the living has to continue to live.”
“She's not gone yet!” Park Yu-Min yelled angrily as he shot up to his feet.
He turned around and glared daggers at Kang Jin-Ho, huffing and panting heavily.
Eventually, though, he quietened down and sheepishly turned his head away.
I know you didn't mean it that way...”
“No, I have made a mistake.
I shouldn't have said that.”
Park Yu-Min faltered as if he wanted to say something, but he simply sat back down on the bench in the end.
An uncomfortable silence ensued before Park Yu-Min quietly broke it.
“After running the orphanage alone for a while, I finally realized how hard the director has worked for us all these years.
I literally don't have any time to sleep.
Everything seems to be in utter chaos, but I'm still trying my best.
Even then, I still can't fill the void left behind by the director.”
“I always thought I'd repay her after making it big as a pro, but I was being naive.
I thought she'd wait and everything would be fine until I became successful, but...
Maybe, I shouldn't have waited and…”
“That's enough, Yu-Min.” Kang Jin-Ho abruptly cut Park Yu-Min off.
“Don't whine like that.
Nothing will change even if you do.”
“...You're right.” Park Yu-Min wiped his face, then got up again.
“In any case, that's the situation.
The kids must be waiting for me, so I gotta go back now.”
“...Are you going to keep looking after the kids this way”
Park Yu-Min shrugged his shoulders in defeat.
“What choice do I have”
“...Forget I said anything.” Kang Jin-Ho stopped himself from voicing what was on his mind.
The current Park Yu-Min wouldn't be able to hear anything, anyway.
“Anyway, go on ahead first.”
“Mm You have another business to take care of” Park Yu-Min asked, his head tilting slightly.
I need to stop by somewhere first.”
Park Yu-Min nodded in understanding, then waved goodbye.
His steps taking him toward the hospital's gates were slow and tired.
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly watched his departing back for a while, then turned around to re-enter the building.
He directly headed to the elevator and went back up to the ward with the director's room in it.
He opened the door and was greeted by the director's surprised face.
She asked while blinking her eyes, “Oh, my Jin-Ho You were still here”
“Director, would you like to go for a stroll with me”
Taking a patient outside for a stroll wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
Placing a person in a wheelchair was the easiest part; next up was attaching and dangling all kinds of fluid packs and hoses on the wheelchair itself, then covering the patient with a warm blanket.
It was only then did Kang Jin-Ho receive the necessary permission to go outside from the nurses.
The nagging from those nurses almost made Kang Jin-Ho quit right there and then.
However, he wasn't so slow-witted as to not realize that the director’s condition was just that grave.
“...It's so warm out here,” said the director, Sister Yi Hye-Suk, with a gentle smile after Kang Jin-Ho had brought her over to the hospital's garden.
'I need to keep out any and all cold winds from her.'
The weather was warm, but there was still the danger of coldness invading the director's frail body.
Kang Jin-Ho sneakily unleashed a little bit of his qi and warmed up the surrounding air.
She glanced at him and asked, “Have you been enjoying the military life so far, Jin-Ho”
“I heard it can get rather difficult, though.”
“They had been exaggerating, ma'am.”
Yi Hye-Suk gently chuckled.
“I think you're the only person who can say that about the army, Jin-Ho.
And I also think no one else is more qualified to say that than you.”
The sunlight cascaded down on her gray hair as she talked.
Seeing her out of her usual nun's habit and in a patient's gown made Kang Jin-Ho belatedly realize that she was just a human being, just like everyone else.
He had also noticed how small her body was.
How difficult had it been for her and that small body of hers to act as the pillar of support for so many children over the years
Yi Hye-Suk glanced behind her and asked, “Was Yu-Min looking after the children properly”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
“Yes, he was.”
“I'm worried about him.
It must be difficult for him.”
“He'll do a good job, ma'am.”
“You think so”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded again without saying anything.
Yi Hye-Suk sighed.
“Even so, I can't help but worry.
Yu-Min has his own life to live, after all.
He shouldn't be tied down like that.
It's wonderful to see him care so much about his siblings, but he should be out there, searching for the meaning of his life.”
“...You're right, ma'am.” Kang Jin-Ho couldn't think of anything else to say in front of Yi Hye-Suk after she had taken the words out of his mind and spoke them out loud.
“Yu-Min depends on you a lot.
You know that, don't you”
“Yes.” Kang Jin-Ho replied stiffly.
The way he answered might have come across as uncaring, but the director knew that wasn't true.
She smiled gently as if she could read him like an open book and patted his hand holding the wheelchair's handles.
“Yu-Min's become a lot brighter after meeting you.
He used to be a quiet child who didn't talk much, but one day after school, he began telling me about things that happened to him.” Yi Hye-Suk's expression became a little emotional like she was having flashbacks.
“Ever since that day, Yu-Min began talking about you all the time.
Jin-Ho this, Jin-Ho that...
Honestly, even I got a little fed up back then.
Maybe that's why Even though we have only met a few times in total, maybe that’s why it feels like you and I are old friends, that you're someone I'm already close with”
Kang Jin-Ho quietly listened, unable to say anything.
It felt like something was stabbing him inside.
He raised his head to glare at the distant sky and noticed how mercilessly clear and pristine it was.
How oblivious could the heavens be
“After I'm gone, Yu-Min will lose someone to lean on except you.
I was hoping that you'd continue helping him out.”
“Please don't worry…”
“It's fine to be just his friend.
Then, he might not feel that he's all alone in this world.”
“...Understood, ma'am.” Kang Jin-Ho barely managed to reply.
He bit down on his lip as the warmth from her frail hand traveled up his skin.
He quietly sent a strand of his qi into her body and scanned the situation inside.
That was when he discovered a lump of dense, potent turbid qi filling up her abdomen area.
Kang Jin-Ho was no god.
Even if he could find a different method of treatment than modern medicine, it was still limited to a specific field.
If he could use his knowledge of martial arts to heal every known type of illness, he would no longer be a warrior but a doctor—a healer.
Maybe, the ones called the Demonic Doctor or the God of Medicine in Zhongyuan might know a way to heal cancers.
However, Kang Jin-Ho's knowledge of medicine could only be called average at best, leaving him with barely any options to choose from.
And that was what made this situation even more unbearable to him.
“After I'm gone, I hope the children will grow up as wonderful adults...”
“...Ma'am, you must overcome this,” Kang Jin-Ho gritted his teeth and muttered softly.
However, Yi Hye-Suk slowly shook her head.
“It's His will whether I live or die, Jin-Ho.”
“And it seems that He thinks I've done everything I can in this life.
I'm rueful, of course.
But no more than that.
I'd still feel this way even if death were to come for me later.
Life will always leave behind lingering regrets, and there can never be the perfect moment to leave.
That's why we can only accept our end when it arrives,” the director spoke in such a devastatingly composed manner.
She was clearly not trying to disguise her feelings or console herself.
How should Kang Jin-Ho describe this feeling The feeling he was getting by listening to her No suitable words came to his mind.
just seemed at peace.
Maybe, even a little pitiful.
Whatever it was, it seemed so...
“...Ma'am, everyone still needs you.”
Yi Hye-Suk smiled gently.
“Yes, that might be the case.
However, a person is bound to be 'alone' someday.
You understand what that means, don't you”
“Being alone is difficult and lonely.
It makes you unimaginably sad and bitter.
Children who can't let go of the past will fail to create new connections and build new bridges.
Sooner or later, we are all bound to leave.”
Would things be different for him Back when Kang Jin-Ho lost his family and thought the world had abandoned him, and when he thought he was all alone.
What if he willingly stepped forward and tried to find a new 'world' for himself Maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have lived his first life that way.
It was too late to ponder that now, though.
“So, let's face what's to come with our heads held high, Jin-Ho.”
“Mmhm. We should go back.
I'm sure the nurses are getting worried about us by now.”
“Okay.” Kang Jin-Ho carefully pushed the wheelchair and headed back to the hospital room.
However, Yi Hye-Suk’s gaunt throat as she sat in the wheelchair continued to bother him.
After returning to the room, Kang Jin-Ho gently placed Yi Hye-Suk on the bed, fixed the blanket, then bowed his head deeply.
“Ma'am, I'll come to visit again.”
Yi Hye-Suk called out to him.
A gentle smile formed on her lips again.
“...I will.” Kang Jin-Ho turned around and exited the room, his expression hard and unmoving.
This is wrong.'
He knew full well that the director's opinions were correct.
And there might be no way to fight against the life you were dealt with.
Even so, this...
this wasn’t right.
Countless bastards who had committed many crimes were still brazenly strutting around in this world, unabashedly enjoying their ill-gotten fruits, yet why did someone as good as Yi Hye-Suk had to die so soon Kang Jin-Ho just couldn’t accept this reality.
He simply couldn’t accept that the final moments of a person who had sacrificed her entire being for the sake of strangers had to be this miserable and lonely.
At the very least, a few more years would have been—
Kang Jin-Ho tightly clenched his fist while his cold eyes glanced at the room behind him.
'Fine, I shall find a way.'
Having made up his mind, Kang Jin-Ho gradually picked up the pace as he walked out of the hospital.