A warm breakfast had been prepared on the dining table. Shinhae saw steaming rice, warm soup, and several types of side dishes laid out. Jimin had merely taken out and reheated the food made beforehand by the hired help. Still, Shinhae loved the fact that someone had prepared food for her. She was still a child. She was starving for attention.
“Enjoy your meal.”
Jimin spoke as she placed a spoon and chopsticks in front of her. Shinhae vigorously shook her head as she took a big spoonful of rice into her mouth. She started stuffing her face. It might have looked like bad manners to others, but it didn’t look like that at all in Jimin’s eyes. In fact, she found Shinhae to be commendable for not complaining about the food.
“Is it tasty?”
“Yes! It is delicious, ajumma!”
‘…I have to get her to call me by a different title.’
She was trying to comfort Shinhae yesterday, so she had done the horrifying act of allowing Shinhae to call her ajumma. However, a small wound appeared on her heart each time she was called an ajumma.
“Hey Shinhae. Unni isn’t old enough to be called ajumma. Do you mind calling me unni?”
Shinhae tilted her head in puzzlement. There was a grain of rice stuck near her lips.
“When dad talked about Jimin ajumma, he called you by ajumma?”
‘It’s his fault!’
For the first time since meeting him, she felt anger towards him. He had ingrained the word ajumma into Shinhae’s head when he had spoken about her. She would make sure to berate him next time they met.
“Mmm. Then I’ll call you unni. Unni.”
After she spoke those words, she continued to put the spoon of rice into her mouth. However, Jimin’s spoon didn't move. She was still like a statue. It was as if she had caught sight of a rare salamander species with gills on its neck.
She had heard it a lot before. Any woman in Korea had frequently heard the term unni and noona throughout their lifetime. However, this child had been calling her ajumma until a moment ago. For some reason, she was deeply moved when this child called her by unni.
“You should eat a lot.”
When she broke out of her reverie, she pushed the meat side dish towards Shinhae. Shinhae didn’t hesitate and picked up the meat. She was using a child’s chopstick. It was meant to train children on how to use chopsticks, so she was able to grab a big piece of meat.
“Did unni make all of this?”
Finally, the title of unni had taken hold. Jimin was once again moved a little bit by it. Jimin shook her head from side to side.
“No, the ajumma made all of it yesterday.”
Jimin put up an image of being a very well-rounded person. In fact, she was very skilled in many areas, but she sucked at cooking. She had been living by herself for a while, but she didn’t really cook for herself. She bought side dishes from stores occasionally ordered from a food delivery service. She usually only made rice. In many cases, she made due with microwaveable rice.
“It’s really good, right? It’s not the same as the rice made by your mother...”
Jimin quickly shut her mouth. It slipped her mind. She shouldn’t mention Shinhae’s mother in front of her. She discreetly assessed the situation. As expected, Shinhae’s expression had quickly darkened. She looked sad. Unlike before, Shinhae ate in a slow and deliberate manner.
Jimin was flustered, so she missed what Shinhae had said. Jimin leaned forward a little bit, so she could lend an ear towards Shinhae.
“Mom either bought side dishes or we ate out. She didn’t really cook.”
“…is that so?”
Shinhae’s mother was someone capable of throwing her daughter away. Of course, she wouldn’t have taken care of Shinhae.
‘Even that part reminds me of her.’
It was eerie how similar Shinhae’s mother was to her ‘biological mother.’ It made her frown a little bit.
‘Maybe I should learn how to cook.’
Jimin didn’t want to be lumped in the same category as those women. Even if it was a little bit, she decided to improve her cooking skills.
After Shinhae finished her meal, she said she had to go to her kindergarten class. She went into the restroom to wash. Shinhae was a child that didn’t need much upkeep. It seemed this was a form of survival mechanism for Shinhae. Survival mechanisms might sound fancy or too complicated to describe Shinhae’s behavior to others. However, Jimin was well aware of Shinhae’s story, and she knew what difficulties Shinhae had gone through. Such a weighty word was an apt description of her behavior.
As she stayed longer with Shinhae, Jimin’s pity for Shinhae deepened. She already knew about Shinhae’s situation, but it had merely been information in her report. Seeing it for herself gave her an entirely different perspective.
After washing herself, Shinhae put on her own clothes and picked up her backpack. The helper had probably prepared everything for Shinhae. Shinhae just had to put on her backpack over her prepared clothes. If Jimin wasn’t here, she would have done all this in a silent house, and she would have gone out by herself.
“When do you have to leave?”
Jimin asked. After finishing her preparation, Shinhae turned on the tv. Jimin recognized the show. It was a very long-running children’s tv show that she had watched growing up. Shinhae turned her gaze towards the clock.
“Mmm. When the short and long needle points towards 8, the alarm rings. Then, I leave the house, and the bus comes.”
It seemed Shinhae didn’t know how to read the clock yet. If both the short and long hands were on eight, it meant Shinhae would leave home at 8:40 AM. They still had 10 minutes.
“Should unni go out with you?”
Jimin was already ready to leave. She had put the leftovers in the refrigerator and the dishes in the sink. The helper would wash the dishes later on.
Shinhae abruptly stood up.
“Will you wait with me until the bus comes?”
“Yes. Everyone waits for the bus with their mom. I’m the only one that has to wait by myself.”
Shinhae looked dejected. It seemed all the moms held the hands of their children as they waited for the bus. Shinhae stood there by herself, and it was enough to cause a wound to form in Shinhae’s heart.
“Yes, I’ll wait with you.”
Shinhae raised both her hands. The dark shadow, which had been cast over her face since yesterday, was gone. She was full of energy. Shinhae looked excited as she paced around the living room. There were still 5 minutes left, yet she already had her bag on. Normally, she would be focused on the children’s show, but it held no interest to her. She gripped her cellphone in her hand as she waited for the alarm to ring with excitement.
Shinhae and Jimin had met each other yesterday, yet she was looking forward to going to the bus stop with Jimin. It was a bit odd, but Shinhae was starving for love and attention. Jimin had acted like a mother when she consoled Shinhae during the thunderstorm. It was enough to bring down Shinhae’s guard towards Jimin. Of course, it also helped that Sungyoon had told Shinhae about Jimin helping her out while he was gone.
Dee! Dee! Dee! Dee! Dee!
As soon as the alarm rang, she bounced to her feet and turned off the alarm.
Shinhae ran out the front door. Jimin couldn’t help but let out a small smile as she followed after Shinhae.
The school bus would arrive in front of the store that was located next to the apartment complex. Shinhae and Jimin walked down the road side by side.
There were a mother and daughter walking in front of them. It seemed they were going to the same destination to get on the school bus. The mother and daughter held hands. Jimin was quick to notice that Shinhae was looking at this sight with envious eyes.
“Should we hold hands?”
Shinhae’s expression brightened when Jimin pushed her hand out. Shinhae’s small, soft, and warm hand gripped Jimin’s hand tightly.
It didn’t take them long to arrive at their destination. There were already several children with their mothers gathered there. All of them turned to look at Jimin and Shinhae, who had just arrived. There was surprise in their eyes. The sullen child, who had always come alone, was here with an eye-catching beauty.
Shinhae stood tall as she joined the group. She still held tightly onto Jimin’s hand.
The ajummas kept looking towards Jimin as they discussed among themselves. However, she didn’t pay any mind.
A girl, who seemed to be Shinhae’s friend, ran towards her. She was a cute chubby girl with her hair braided. The girl looked up towards Jimin, who was holding Shinhae’s hand. Then she looked back towards Shinhae.
“Who is this?”
“Yeah. She’s my unni.”
Shinhae spoke in a boastful manner. Jimin was satisfied too. She had proof now. The term ‘unni’ had stuck in Shinhae’s vocabulary.
At that moment, the bus arrived. The yellow school bus stopped in front of the grocery store, and it slowly opened its door.
A woman, who looked to be the teacher, got off the bus. The ajummas all greeted her, and they handed their children over to her. The teacher took the time to grab each child’s hand as she led them into the bus.
Shinhae spoke loudly as she grabbed the teacher’s hand.
The teacher was guiding Shinhae up the bus when she caught sight of Jimin.
“Oh my! Hello.”
When the teacher gave her greeting, Jimin also lowered her head.
“Shinhae didn’t come alone today?”
“Yes! I came with unni.”
“Yes. That’s awesome!”
The teacher didn’t go out of her way to ask who Jimin was. Shinhae gave a big arm wave as if she wanted everyone to see them before she headed into the bus.
Soon, all the children were aboard the bus and the door closed. Shinhae sat next to the window and she continued to wave her hand. Jimin kept waving her hand too.
The bus let out a stinging exhaust as it left. Jimin continued to wave her hand until she couldn’t see Shinhae anymore.
* * *
Jimin arrived at her company a little bit later than usual. In the past couple of years, the time she came to her office was 8:40 AM. She started her work at 9:00 AM sharp. She didn’t take any breaks aside from her lunch break and would work tirelessly until 5:00 PM. Even if she didn’t have any work to do, she would stay in her office. There were more days when she had no work to do than the days where she had work to do. However, she never took a day off. She was like a silent robot working towards her goal. The fact that she was late for work was an anomaly.
Still, Jimin had no regret. In fact, she felt good inside as she arrived at work. It was a feeling that had been missing for the past couple of years. Anyways, she didn’t have any urgent business right now, and she was the president of her own company. She had no employees. No one would say anything, because she was late to work.
Still, she was coming up with a contingency plan in case she was late again. She arrived in front of her company.
A big frown appeared on her face.
Someone stood outside of her company’s front door. This person looked annoyed as she tried to open the door. Of course, the door was locked, so it wouldn’t open. She complained before she tried to open the door again.
“What are you doing!”
Jimin sounded sharp. There was clear anger in her voice. She was always cool and collected, and it was very rare to see her this angry.
When the woman heard Jimin’s voice, she turned her head around.
She was a middle-aged woman, but her annoyed expression caused her wrinkles to deepen. She had good features. It was evident that she had been beautiful when she was young. However, her eyes were slanted upwards. It indicated that she had a bad temper.
Her entire body was plastered with luxury brands. She wore expensive necklaces, rings, earrings, handbag, clothes, and sunglasses. However, she gave off a cheap feeling instead of looking like nobility.
Her face relaxed when she saw Jimin.
“What? I came here before you got to work? I thought you were inside, and you were refusing to open the door for me.”
She awkwardly let go of the doorknob. However, Jimin’s hostility never abated. All her good feelings dissipated like bubbles.
“I’ll ask again. Why are you here?”
“Jeez. Your mother came to see you at work. Why are you making it a big deal?”
She waved her hand as if Jimin was talking nonsense.
However, her words were absolutely unacceptable to Jimin.
“I’ve told you this already dozens of times. I’ll tell you again since it seems you’ve forgotten it.”
Jimin’s breathing became rough as she growled out her words.
“A woman like you isn’t my mother!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter