Yoon Moonjoong opened his eyes before the alarm clock even sounded. He looked at the digital clock after slowly waking up. 05:59:57. Moonjoong started his day by gently pressing on the button on the beeping clock.
Moonjoong had started to wake up before the alarm clock rang when he hit the age of 60. He felt that the saying, ‘You sleep less as you grow older’ should instead be, ‘You get a clock built inside you as you grow older’. It is only natural that a body thrown into the flow of time for a long time will remember that flow.
Moonjoong relaxed his slightly cold waist as he came out to the kitchen and yawned while boiling some egg soup. Putting water in a pot and cracking in two eggs around the time the water boils completed half the steps to making the soup. He took out the side dishes that were sent by his children and prepared a table for a simple meal.
It was a table for four, but he always sat alone. His eyes unconsciously swept the empty seats next to him and then went towards a frame hung next to the dining table.
The smiling face of his wife could be seen under an origami flower. She was probably around 50 years old then.
“Are you eating breakfast there?”
Moonjoong muttered a few idle words before picking up the utensils. His wife, who had promised to grow old together with him, must have had no more regrets, because she passed away after seeing their two daughters get married. It was due to heart disease but she left indifferently without giving him time to attempt anything. Even when she was alive, she was usually so impatient that she didn’t even say her goodbyes as she left. On the day of the funeral, Moonjoong tilted a glass of alcohol to himself while staring at the portrait of his smiling wife. He’d repeatedly muttered that she had no affection.
Moonjoong went to the living room and turned on the TV after finishing a plain meal with egg soup and pickled vegetables. It was the TV that his first daughter gifted him, a bulging 30 inch CRT TV. An acquaintance had once offered to buy him a 40 inch LCD TV, but he had refused, saying that he had a better one at home.
He changed the channel to the morning news and picked up the newspaper. The empty house was turned into a somewhat lively place as Dalgu came over panting and turned over in front of the sofa.
Moonjoong patted Dalgu’s head. Dalgu had been gifted to him by Junmin and was the child of a Shiba Inu. Moonjoong especially favored it because of how loving and joyful it was. Dalgu’s mother passed away three years ago.
“Recently, a woman in her 30s was arrested for fraud against a nursery school. Detailed news will…”
After briefly reading the newspaper, the hour hand on the clock pointed towards 9. It was a day like any other. Moonjoong attached a leash to Dalgu’s neck and went outside.
A chilly breeze hit his face. Moonjoong adjusted his collars and slowly left on a walk to a street where only churchgoers could occasionally be seen. Moonjoong liked this street because it was filled with a tranquil atmosphere.
“Good morning.” Mr. Park from the convenience store greeted him. It’d been 10 years since he had set foot in this neighborhood. There were people who he could start calling neighbors and Mr. Park was one of them.
“Hope you sell a lot today, too!”
“Yes. I should sell a lot.”
Mr. Park had good manners. At some point, Moonjoong became able to tell the difference between heartfelt laughter and feigned laughter. His own eyes had been trained with false laughter, which perhaps made it natural that he could distinguish between the two.
He started to swing his arms while walking with the panting Dalgu. Moonjoong let out a pleased laugh as he looked at the unchanged streets. Changes become increasingly frightening as one ages and the same applied to the environment. Moonjoong knew how to appreciate the things that were supposed to be there, being there.
Moonjoong walked past a busy elementary school and began climbing a hill. He didn’t skip out on exercising since youth, so he was physically fit. He had a slightly herniated disc, but the chilling sensation disappeared after he worked out. His primary physician had told him that daily exercise was more important than physical therapy as well.
“Let’s go, Dalgu.“
Dalgu was excited as it ran up the incline. Moonjoong mustered up a bit of energy and ran after it towards a poor hillside village some distance off the pretty residential district and apartment complex. Moonjoong walked past a shack that was undergoing demolition. This place will also be turned into a box of matches soon.
After a gradual descent with Dalgu, Moonjoong arrived at today’s destination - the Dalgureum Nursery Center. Dalgu started to run around wagging its tail upon seeing the nursery building.
“Are you happy, little fellow?”
He took Dalgu and went inside. The director came out to greet him in a slightly high pitched voice. “Teacher!”
Moonjoong nodded with a smile on his face. The director went inside to call the other teachers right away. Moonjoong took Dalgu to the living room where the children were. The children were moving about carrying their own bowls after having finished breakfast.
“Ah! It’s Dalgu!”
The children who found Dalgu ran over in packs. Moonjoong unfastened the leash and released Dalgu in between the children. It’d been 3 years since they started playing together like this. It was Dalgu’s mother who visited before, and after her death, it was now Dalgu who became the friend of these children.
The children bowed, led by their eldest brother who was now in 2nd year of high school. Moonjoong made a satisfied smile and nodded.
“Teacher, you like ginger tea right?”
“I’ll drink it if it’s given to me.”
Moonjoong went inside the director’s office after leaving Dalgu to play with the children.
“The children like it whenever you visit.”
“They like Dalgu more than me.”
He drank a sip of the tea that was giving off a sweet fragrance. 16 years had passed unknowingly since his relationship with this place began.
“I’m really grateful for the money you sent to us for the children’s tuition.”
“Let me know if there’s anything you need.”
“How could there be anything when you’re taking such good care of us?”
A substantial amount of money was flowing into this nursery. However, Moonjoong never once thought of it as being wasteful. It was the money he earned with the attention given by the public. Moonjoong thought it was logical to give the money back to the public.
Right as he was talking about this and that with the director, “Ah right.” The director excused himself and stood up from his seat. Moonjoong asked what was going on.
“A person that I’m grateful towards will be coming today. She started volunteering for us since last time, but, ah. Now that I think about it, she’s never met with you before.”
“Yes. She does puppet plays and the children like it. On top of that she’s good with her hands so she personally makes pretty dolls and gives it to the children as gifts.”
“So there’s a person like that.”
“She’s a young lady. She has a nice heart and a pretty face. If I had a son who didn’t marry yet I would immediately introduce him to her.”
If the meticulous director was saying such good things about her, the person who scheduled to come today definitely had to be a great person.
It felt lonely being in the room by himself, so he snuck out. A red sedan could be seen coming towards this direction from far away. She must be riding in that.
The car parked in front of the building. The driver and the passenger both opened the door at the same time and a tall lady along with a boy of similar height appeared. The lady looked as if she was in her late twenties, and the boy looked like he was a high school student but gave off the feeling of being older than he appeared.
Moonjoong observed the two while the director smiled and invited them inside.
“This person here is our nursery’s largest shareholder, Yoon Moonjoong.”
The director laughed out loud giving the introduction. Moonjoong was unaffected by it as it was an introduction that the director frequently made towards customers.
“Hello, I’m Kang Soojin.”
“I’m Han Maru.”
They might’ve been flustered at first, but the lady smiled right away and introduced herself with the calm boy. Maru. It may have been due to the unusual name, but the boy was quickly ingrained in Moonjoong’s mind.
“Nice to meet you. The director said that you do entertaining puppet plays, would it be okay if this old man spectates from the side?”
Moonjoong nodded and turned his body. The sound of the director chatting could be heard from behind.
“Ms. Soojin, you don’t recognize that person?”
“Ah, what should we do with our Teacher. I suppose the current generation doesn’t know too much about him.”
Moonjoong chuckled at the director, who was speaking as if it was too bad. When he was young and naive, he felt inferior when people didn’t recognize him, but nowadays he was rather grateful when it happened. It just meant that there were that many more outstanding actors who came out to take the spotlight from the retired old man.
“Director. Stop with the ridiculing and come in.”
“Yes yes, Teacher.”
The director who said that he’d come in kept going on for a short while after. He heard with his ears that stayed sharp despite his age, “He was an amazing actor.” Like everybody, he couldn’t help but be pleased when he heard his praises. He went to the director’s office to grab the ginger tea that the director had brewed for him and went back to the living room. The children who were playing with Dalgu shifted their attention to Soojin and Maru upon seeing them. Thanks to that, Dalgu became lonely.
“Tsk tsk, this kid.”
Moonjoong did a hand gesture to call Dalgu over. Popularity has always been something that’s short-lived, my child. He waited a bit, touching Dalgu’s cheeks. They felt like steamed bun cakes.
Soojin came back holding gifts and costumes after making a few roundtrips to the car. An exquisite costume and dolls that were worthy of deserving the director’s praises were soon settled in the living room. Toys for little boys could be seen as well. It must have been quite expensive. Moonjoong looked at Soojin and Maru with a warm gaze.
“There aren’t many people like that lady these days.”
“It appears to be so.”
The director left to answer a phone call and the puppet play started once all preparations were complete. It didn’t have much structure, but Moonjoong thought it was an amazing play that brought joy to the children.
“Can you give me a hand?”
The children wore puppets on their hands when Soojin requested for help and began to play together. Moonjoong had a comfortable feeling as he looked at the children. He was grateful that a young lady was willing to come to a place like this to play with the children.
I should properly greet her. When he was waiting for the play to end with a satisfied expression, Moonjoong’s eyes twitched. He wondered if he mistook it and looked at Soojin once more.
Her laughter was dull. It was clear that the laughter was coming from her heart, but it looked like she herself wasn’t enjoying it. Moonjoong let out a weak grunt as he carefully observed her. Soojin’s laughter was something that could only be made by people making excuses.
‘Have I gotten old?’
There was no way a person doing praiseworthy work like this would have different intentions. However, even after checking multiple times, it was a smile that bothered him. There were no problems when she was doing the puppet show, but her smile seemed very uncomfortable when she made eye contact with the children. Although it seemed like a normal smile filled with benevolence, the subtle differences were caught by Moonjoong.
She probably didn’t approach us with impure intentions, right?.
He was reminded of the news that he watched in the morning about a nursery fraud. The scary thing about black-hearted animals is that they take apart and eat from the people who have nothing. He felt bad for judging people who came to look after the children, but he decided to keep watch just in case.
Soojin and Maru spent around 30 minutes playing together with the children. Other than the ambiguous smile that she showed every once a while, it was perfect. Come to think of it, they probably would be dealing with the director rather than the children if their aim was to commit fraud. It seemed like they were more than close enough already.
“Here, a present.”
Soojin shared the presents amongst the children and stood up. Moonjoong approached the two who were cleaning up their areas.
“You’re already leaving?”
“Ah, yes. We have more places to go to.”
“It looks like you’ve been doing this type of work for a while.”
“Yes. It’s been around 10 years.”
“Huh, 10 years.”
It really appeared that there was a misunderstanding. Then, what could be the reason for that uncomfortable smile? The director finished his phone call just in time and came inside.
“You’re leaving now?”
“You should have a meal before leaving.”
“We have other appointments.”
“You’re so busy that you can’t eat?”
Soojin considered for a short moment before replying. “I’ll eat before leaving.”
“You’ll be eating with us, right Teacher?”
“Let’s do that, will it be fine for me to join?”
He asked looking at Soojin and she nodded without hesitation.
“Of course.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
These chapters were translated by Eunc, while ensj was out on personal business.