Chapter 128: Powerless (3)
Just when did it start to go wrong Kang Jin-Ho couldn't tell.
It felt like the fog of powerlessness rising from the floor had enveloped him and was pulling him deeper and deeper into an endless quagmire.
The bed he lay on seemed to have become mushier, like it was swallowing him up.
This sensation of helplessness...
What a uselessly familiar feeling it was.
It was something Kang Jin-Ho never wanted to feel again.
His life had always been a struggle against the hand dealt to him.
From the moment he lost his family, fate had never smiled in his direction.
Not even once.
It always tried to snatch away something from him, or if not, it would torment him.
During his first life, Kang Jin-Ho was too powerless to resist his fate.
All he could do was get pummeled by the headwinds and run away.
The same thing used to happen in Zhongyuan, too.
He seemed destined for another life of being crushed by fate, only to master martial arts and grow strong enough to finally resist.
He revolted when pressured.
He fought and clawed back when attacked.
I still failed.'
The final memories from Zhongyuan could never be called pleasant in any sense of the word.
Kang Jin-Ho could still vividly recall the hostile glares of the people he had always considered enemies...
as well as the man he thought was his ally.
He had never opened himself up to any of his allies, but he still believed they had his back.
However, that turned out to be false in the end.
However, all those things changed after he returned to the modern era.
Kang Jin-Ho's life of constant struggle against the forces wanting to rob him finally gained its calmness.
The new life was peaceful at the very least.
He no longer had to constantly be on edge to protect himself and his things.
That was until now…
Others would never truly understand it, but this event felt like a signal flare to Kang Jin-Ho.
A flare alerting him that this bastard called fate was about to end his peace and start robbing his life once more.
That couldn't be it.
Kang Jin-Ho swore he would no longer let anything be taken away from him.
'My thoughts are messy...'
Kang Jin-Ho pushed himself off the bed.
He had never been a heavy sleeper, to begin with.
Moreover, it had always been harder to sleep on days like today.
Even though sleep might liberate him from all these useless thoughts making a mess of his head, he knew when to give up on things he was incapable of performing for the time being.
He opened the door and stepped outside of the room.
Kang Yu-Hwan was in the living room and smiled brightly at his son.
“Son! How could you not even say hello to your own dad after coming home”
“My apologies, Father.” Kang Jin-Ho politely bowed.
That flustered Kang Yu-Hwan.
“E-eii, don't be so stiff like that, son.”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled a little and tried to reassure his father.
“Some things happened, that's all.
No need to worry, father.”
“In the military”
Kang Yu-Hwan narrowed his eyes.
“...Nothing happened while you were serving, right”
Please don't worry.”
That's a relief, then.” Kang Yu-Hwan slowly nodded.
Kang Jin-Ho headed to the entrance.
“I'm going outside for a bit.”
Kang Yu-Hwan furrowed his brow a little.
“Are you meeting someone”
I'd like to get some fresh air.”
“Mm... I see.
Don't stay out for long, son.”
“Yes, Father.” Kang Jin-Ho bowed again, and then he exited the house.
“Hmm…” Kang Yu-Hwan let out a heavy sigh.
He had been wondering if Baek Hyeon-Jeong's worries were for nothing, but now...
Having seen Kang Jin-Ho's expression, he finally understood why his wife was so concerned.
Their son had never been an expressive person.
The whole family had already gotten used to his expressionless face, so his gloominess was especially noticeable today.
“I hope it's nothing serious...” Kang Yu-Hwan quietly muttered while staring at the doorway where his son exited.
Kang Jin-Ho rode on his trusty Golden Elephant and traversed the streets.
The air rushing into his lungs began to refresh him a little, and it felt like the tight feeling in his chest was finally coming undone.
Unfortunately for the other road users, his appearance was like a sudden thunderclap in the night sky.
“W-what the heck was that!”
“Wasn't that a bicycle”
“No way! That had to be a motorbike! What kind of a bicycle can go that fast”
“Why don't you chase after it and find out”
“You mad! Following that thing is an accident waiting to happen!”
“We still have bike gangs in this day and age”
The occupants of various cars were getting into various arguments while Kang Jin-Ho rode away into the darkness.
He suddenly applied the brakes and turned the bicycle's handle, causing the tires to slide on the asphalt below, leaving behind black skid marks.
That wore the tires down a lot, but the current Kang Jin-Ho was in no mood to care about such things.
“Fuu-woo...” Kang Jin-Ho sucked in a deep breath and looked up.
He had been pedaling away aimlessly and without much thought, and his actions had brought him back to a rather familiar location.
He really wasn't thinking about where to go while riding his bicycle, yet his body seemed to have sought out the familiar roads all on its own.
Kang Jin-Ho's grip on the bicycle handle tightened as he stared at the orphanage building.
The soft light emanating from the windows looked so...
'I see now...'
Kang Jin-Ho wasn't the one suffering the most right now.
Indeed, the orphanage's children and Park Yu-Min were going through a hard time several times worse than Kang Jin-Ho's.
They were about to lose someone as important as their mother, after all.
Kang Jin-Ho quietly bit down on his lip.
'I'm not strong at all, Director...'
What did Sister Yi see in him to say he was strong Wasn't he so pathetic that he couldn't even withstand some little waves and was even getting swept away uncontrollably
Now wasn't the time to get lost in his own little world and mop around like this.
No, he should be focusing on supporting the stumbling, staggering kids with his strength.
Kang Jin-Ho parked his bicycle in the usual spot and headed to the building's entrance.
He reached out and grasped the door handle, but he couldn't open the door.
He stood there, his head leaning against the door frame.
Eventually, though, he slowly opened the door and stepped inside.
The orphanage wasn't its usual self.
Everything seemed so eerily quiet.
That only made everything feel strange.
Not hearing the noisy, lively voices of the children almost made Kang Jin-Ho wonder if he had entered the wrong orphanage building altogether.
After sighing softly, Kang Jin-Ho took off his outdoor shoes and walked on the floor.
He did his best not to make any loud footsteps while heading to the living room.
Park Yu-Min mopping the floor raised his head and discovered his friend.
“Uh You're here again”
“...Jin-Ho, the doorbell isn't for decoration, you know Please ring that first before coming inside.”
“...Got it.” Kang Jin-Ho sneakily averted his gaze after that slightly stinging rebuke and scanned the surroundings.
“...What time do you think it is now The younger kids are off to bed already.
The older ones haven't come home from school yet, though.
However, they should be home pretty soon.
Hold on for a sec.” Park Yu-Min got up from the floor and loudly called out to one of the rooms.
The door to the room flew open, and the kids began to flood outside.
“You came! Hyung!”
“Oppa! Nice to see you again!”
All the kids, even those with speech impediments, quickly ran up to Kang Jin-Ho and clung to his arms.
“...M-mm.” Kang Jin-Ho was taken aback by their same-as-usual greeting.
They didn't pay any mind to his reaction and continued to welcome him as if nothing was wrong.
“Oppa! Are you out on your vacation”
“...Yeah.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
One of the boys piped up, “Wow, you got one so soon Is it okay to go on a vacation all the time I mean, you're supposed to be a soldier, right When are you going to protect this country”
A girl quickly defended Kang Jin-Ho.
“It's fine! Oppa's too handsome for that! Ugly guys will protect the country instead.”
“Ugly guys will cry if they hear you say that!”
I forgot to think about your plight."
In all honesty, Kang Jin-Ho was...
He figured the orphanage would be blanketed in the same sort of atmosphere you would find in a funeral filled with mourners.
It was quite unexpected, as the children here were behaving pretty much the same as usual.
So much so that Kang Jin-Ho and his depressed mood stood out like a sore thumb.
Park Yu-Min patted his friend on the back.
“Have you had dinner yet”
“Uh... Yeah, I did.”
“No, you haven't, have you”
Kang Jin-Ho's expression cramped up.
“...It feels like I'm always having a meal whenever I come here.
Can't I skip it this time at least”
The reply to his question came from another source.
“Hyung, why haven't you had dinner yet”
“Goodness, Oppa! You've lost weight, haven't you!”
“Uwoo-oh!” Seong-Eun, one of the hearing-impaired children, began waving his arms around in anger after following the conversation through lip-reading.
Kang Jin-Ho saw that genuinely angry reaction and had no choice but to raise his hands and feet in defeat.
I'll have dinner here.”
It didn’t take him long to learn that it was a mistake to eat dinner here.
“Yu-Min...” Kang Jin-Ho quietly muttered.
Park Yu-Min raised his head and looked at his friend.
“You know I'm not picky about food, but…”
“...But, why this, again”
The kitchen staff have already gone home for the day, you know They'll only be back by tomorrow morning.”
“I know that.
Still, this…” Kang Jin-Ho sighed deeply at the sight of food laid out on the table before his eyes.
Park Yu-Min became defensive.
“Sure, there are some side dishes left in the fridge, but those are for the kids, you know Imagine how uncool it’ll be when the kitchen staff come to work tomorrow, and they find out we have already finished the food they made”
Kang Jin-Ho could understand that.
Moreover, he wasn't really looking forward to a fancy meal, anyway.
That was why he had to ask, “Don't you have a packet of ramen”
“Why ramen when I prepared curry for you”
“...Huh.” Kang Jin-Ho stared at the plate of curry before his eyes and groaned deeply.
Park Yu-Min had to be an Indian in his previous life or something.
He had to be! Otherwise, he had to be suffering from turmeric obsession!
Park Yu-Min held his ground and spoke in a proud voice, “I cooked this masterpiece earlier in the afternoon.
I'm telling you, it'll be different this time.
It's definitely delicious!”
Kang Jin-Ho sneaked a quick glance around the dining table and met the gazes of other kids.
They were all making unimpressed faces while shaking their heads.
'Yup, it's not delicious.'
Making bad-tasting curry was certainly a notable ability, alright.
After all, making curry had to be easier than ramen, no In that case, just what had Park Yu-Min been doing to fail at something as simple as curry
'No, hold on.
This isn't a failure, is it'
Seeing how Park Yu-Min was so confident of its taste, this couldn't have been a matter of his cooking skills but his tongue.
It had to be faulty, somehow!
Kang Jin-Ho scooped up a spoonful of this curry and mouthed it, only for his eyes to squeeze shut all on their own.
He had eaten all the grub the military had thrown at him without any complaints, but this curry was one step too far—even for him.
Park Yu-Min smiled and asked expectantly, “So It's good, right”
Kang Jin-Ho opened his eyes and stared at his friend.
“You fed this to these children earlier, didn't you”
“Yeah, I did.
that was child abuse.”
“I'm calling the cops.”
After somehow finishing that plate of so-called curry, Kang Jin-Ho waited around in the orphanage until the high school-age kids came home from school.
Once all the greetings were done, Kang Jin-Ho and Park Yu-Min stepped outside the orphanage.
Since a nighttime teacher was on duty, there wasn't a strict need for Park Yu-Min to stay.
Park Yu-Min glanced at the Golden Elephant.
“Leave that here for now.”
“Mm Why” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“I mean, we're going out to get something to drink, so riding a bicycle is not a good idea.”
“Why do you say that” Kang Jin-Ho's head tilted even more.
Park Yu-Min stared wordlessly at his friend before finally saying something, “Don't tell me you didn't know.
Riding a bicycle while drunk is also considered drunk driving, you know”
“Wowsers, you were an accident waiting to happen, weren't you”
Kang Jin-Ho rubbed his chin, his head still tilting in confusion.
He initially thought Park Yu-Min was joking, but his friend's expression was saying otherwise.
Kang Jin-Ho asked one more time to make sure, “Legally”
It's drunk driving.”
“...I didn't know.”
Kang Jin-Ho might have a driver's license, but he really had no idea that there was such a law.
He felt rueful about it, but his Golden Elephant would have to stay put for now.
The two of them began walking on foot toward the downtown.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at his friend.
“Should we grab a taxi”
“Nah, it's fine.
Don't be like that.” Park Yu-Min shook his head.
It seemed he had figured out why Kang Jin-Ho wanted to ride the bicycle even though the latter hadn't said anything.
“You don't have to worry about it, Jin-Ho.”
One of Park Yu-Min's legs was not 'good,’ and it attracted other people's attention whenever he had to walk around outside.
That bugged Kang Jin-Ho.
Well, he knew what it felt like to be subjected to such gazes, after all.
As a disabled person, Kang Jin-Ho had thoroughly experienced such gazes before, and he fully understood how cold and scary they could be—the gazes of people looking at someone different from them...
“Let's go over there.”
Kang Jin-Ho and Park Yu-Min headed to a pub with a quiet atmosphere and ordered a round of soju.
Once they settled down, though...
Their conversation dried up.
It wasn't that they stopped talking, but more like they had no idea what to talk about.
Park Yu-Min finally broke the ice.
“It must've been tough to get a new leave so soon, Jin-Ho.
I didn't mean to make you come here, you see.”
The 'Park Yu-Min' on the phone speaking in a tearful voice was already long gone by now.
In only a matter of a few hours, he had reverted back to his old self.
Kang Jin-Ho couldn't understand why.
This boy was informed that a person as close as his mother didn't have long to live.
So, how could he stay this composed But, it wasn't just Park Yu-Min.
Even the orphanage didn't seem any different from the usual.
It was as if the world hadn’t changed at all, and only Kang Jin-Ho was jumping up and down in fluster, which made him feel rather weird.
“The kids are unexpectedly...
calm about it, aren't they” Kang Jin-Ho cautiously spoke up.
The 'kids' in his question also included Park Yu-Min.
Since he couldn't directly ask about his friend's composure, he chose to beat around the bush a little.
Park Yu-Min quietly stared at Kang Jin-Ho.
Just as the latter failed to read the intent behind that gaze and grew puzzled, Park Yu-Min slowly spoke.