“Used me…? What do you mean?”
Jiyoon’s big eyes blinked as she looked at the director. The director could understand the feelings of the men chasing after her. Jiyoon had a special quality. Her looks and behavior had the power to make other people’s heart beat faster.
“Most of the men here today aren’t here to volunteer. They are here for Ms. Jiyoon, right?”
Jiyoon shut her mouth. If she answered this question, she would be put in an awkward spot. She wanted to be truthful and say ‘yes’. However, this was about an embarrassing problem she had with men. It would also sound like a boast. The director might think she had the Princess syndrome. Still, she didn’t want to say ‘no’ and lie to the director.
The director let out a comforting smile as if she understood Jiyoon’s dilemma.
“That is why I assigned the hardest tasks to you today. It made the young men want to show off in front of you, so they were diligent in doing all the hard work.”
When she heard the director’s words, she understood why the director was apologizing to her. If taken the wrong way, Jiyoon might have been offended at what the director had done. However, Jiyoon just shook her head.
“It’s fine. We are all here to volunteer. The result of your actions just made us do more volunteer work. In fact, I should apologize to you. I wasn’t able to much work today.”
“Hoo hooh! Ms. Jiyoon is a good child.”
Good child. How long had it been since she heard such a compliment? Recently, she had been called pretty and cute. It had been a really long time since someone referred to her as being a good child.
“It must be tough, right? Your appearance is too outstanding.”
She was again put in an awkward spot when she was asked this question. Jiyoon hesitated. She looked so cute that the director burst out laughing, and her face turned slightly red.
“Oh my! I’m sorry. It was just pointless small talk from an old lady.”
“Ah! It’s ok. I don’t really mind.”
Jiyoon was quick to say those words. This was her first time meeting the director, but it had been a while since she was able to talk to anyone in a relaxed manner. Aside from her family, she hadn’t been able to put her guard down in front of people. This was why she was thankful. She didn’t hold any negative emotions towards the director.
“I’m glad that’s the case.”
The director looked forward after she said those words. Jiyoon followed her gaze, and she saw kids having fun on the playground. She hoped her actions would help these children even a little bit. She worried about them, yet she knew she had helped them in some way. It warmed her heart.
The director secretly glanced at Jiyoon. When she saw the expression on her face, the director could guess what emotions Jiyoon was feeling at that moment.
‘She is pretty, but her heart is also beautiful.’
If she still had an unmarried son, she might have done something unsightly like trying to make Jiyoon her daughter-in-law.
“When I was a young woman, I wasn’t as pretty as you. So I can't completely understand what you are going through right now.”
When Jiyoon heard her words, she turned to look at the director.
“However, I’ve lived for a long time, so I am a good listener. I am good at listening to young people talk. It doesn’t have to be for volunteer purposes. You can visit this place any time if you are having a hard time in life. It will be a boon for me if you’ll be my conversation partner. I also wouldn’t mind if you bring a labor force full of men. That’ll be a plus.”
As she spoke those words, she smiled, and her whole face wrinkled. She was old and her face was wrinkled, yet she looked beautiful to Jiyoon. Jiyoon thought that if possible she would like to age as the woman in front of her.
‘The fact that I was able to meet this person makes this trip all worth it.’
The trip was worth so much to her that it felt as if she should give the orphanage money to balance the cost.
The two of them continued to talk to each other, but their work wasn’t done, so the conversation wasn’t too long. However, it was enough to buoy Jiyoon’s slightly-downed feeling.
Jiyoon felt better as she was given time to recharge herself. She was about to return to her work when one child caught her eyes.
The child was sitting alone on a bench far away from Jiyoon. The little girl was blankly staring at the front gate of the orphanage. The sight was so heart-wrenching that Jiyoon’s eyes were automatically drawn towards the little girl.
The girl was very cute. It wouldn’t be surprising if she was the center of attention amongst the boys her age. However, there seemed to be a wall between her and the other children having fun on the playground. The girl looked lonely.
“Who is that child?”
Suddenly, Jiyoon asked the director a question.
The director’s gaze followed her eyes. When she confirmed that Jiyoon was looking at the little girl, she let out a light sigh.
“Her name is Shinhae.”
“Yes. Woo Shinhae. She’s a child that came to us not too long ago.”
Jiyoon could feel a clear concern in the director’s words.
“Is there some problem with that child?”
“She is being treated as an outcast.”
“… she is such a cute child. I would think she would get along with the boys.”
She wasn’t talking about the children of the same sex as her. She knew how a cute girl was treated amongst other girls. Jiyoon had experienced it, so she knew what she was talking about.
However, the director just shook her head.
“That isn’t what is tormenting her. The problem is her family.”
Wasn’t this an orphanage? In normal orphanages, they only took in children with no parents and close relatives. This was why Jiyoon was a bit surprised.
“Sometimes, our orphanage takes in children from families with significant financial difficulties. They are several thousand times better than the people that abandon their children. At the very least, these people haven’t given up on their children. It is the same for that child’s father. He has no means for rearing that child, so he put her in our care.”
“He’s a good person.”
A person had to be in dire straits if one had to give up one’s child to an orphanage. Still, the father hadn’t given up on his child, so Jiyoon had a favorable opinion on the father. But it still didn’t make sense as to why Shinhae would be bullied by other kids because of this.
“Yes, he is a good person. He comes every month to see his child. He also bows to us and shows good manners. However, it means that her father visits her and treasures her. What would the parentless children think when they see such a sight?”
Jiyoon finally understood it.
“Is it jealousy?”
“Yes. We do our best to make sure there is no direct bullying, but that doesn’t mean we can make them become friends. We are talking about the emotions of children. It isn’t something that can be manipulated by adults. Still, that doesn’t mean I can ask the father not to come meet his own child. It is a bit of a problem.”
“So that child keeps watching the front gate, because...”
“She is waiting for her father.”
Jiyoon’s eyes were filled with pity. The little girl couldn’t befriend the other children, and she only waited for a father she didn’t know when to expect.
“Is there a solution?”
“I’m not sure. The other teachers have a lot of work on their plate, so they can’t take full charge of her. In many ways, it is a problem.”
The director stared at Jiyoon as if she just had a good idea.
“Would Ms. Jiyoon like to look after her for a while?”
“Yes. You don’t have to come often. Would you like to get along with that child when you are here to volunteer? What do you think?”
Jiyoon looked at Shinhae again. The spring winds were still cold, yet the child was wearing an old worn-out coat. She was hugging herself as she continued to watch the front gate.
“I’ll try it out.”
Jiyoon stood up from the bench. She looked a bit awkward as she walked up to Shinhae.
It was as if the little girl could sense her presence, and she turned to look at Jiyoon. Jiyoon felt her heart ache when she saw the child’s sad expression. Children should laugh and play around. They should be energetic. A child shouldn’t have such a sad expression on her face.
“Hello, are you Shinhae?”
She bent her back forward a little bit as she lowered herself. When she got on the same level as the child, she let out a smile.
Shinhae withdrew a little bit when she saw a stranger appear in front of her.
“Who are you?”
“I’m an unni that came here to work today. May I sit next to you?”
Shinhae was taken aback, so she looked around her surroundings. She met eyes with the director, who was a bit away from her. The director had a benevolent smile on her face as she nodded towards Jiyoon. It was as if the director was giving her permission that she could get along with this lady.
Shinhae’s guard came down a little bit at the director’s action. She moved towards the center of the bench so that Jiyoon could sit next to her. Jiyoon carefully sat next to the little girl.
“Why are you sitting here alone?”
“… I’m waiting for my dad.”
Fortunately, she answered Jiyoon’s question. Shinhae was hesitant at first, but she had spoken pretty well.
“I see. However, it is a bit cold here. Why don’t you wait inside? When your father comes, the teachers will immediately notify you.”
Shinhae shook her head from side to side. Jiyoon could feel her will. She wasn’t going to move an inch from this spot. This was how much she wanted to see her father.
“Are you sure?”
Shinhae nodded. Jiyoon didn’t plan on forcing her to go inside. She also didn’t try to get close to her by continuously talking to her.
“Then I’ll wait with you.”
She spoke those words and stared at the front gate with Shinhae.
For a brief moment, silence ensued. The sound of children playing nearby could be heard, but there was a stillness around Jiyoon and Shinhae. However, this stillness didn’t feel cold or dreary. If one could describe the atmosphere with a color, it was a warm orange color.
“… what is your name, unni?”
Shinhae broke the silence. Jiyoon put on a bright smile as she spoke her name.
“My name is Jung Jiyoon. Your name is Woo Shinhae?”
Those words were only the beginning, and a conversation slowly started to bloom between the two. The director looked pleased by the sight.
* * *
Jiyoon was diligent in going to the orphanage as part of her volunteer club. The male members continued to do all the troublesome tasks for her. However, it was worthwhile for her to put up with them. She got over her annoyance.
Also, she was able to get closer to Shinhae. Even when she wasn’t volunteering with her club, she visited Shinhae sometimes. Shinhae was still unable to make friends, so Jiyoon’s interest in her was probably a big source of comfort to her.
It happened one afternoon.
She had come out to volunteer today, and she caught sight of something unique. When Jiyoon wasn’t here, Shinhae spent most of her time sitting on the bench at the playground. But now, Shinhae was acting differently. She was very excited.
“What’s going on?”
They had become quite close, so it wasn’t difficult for her to ask Shinhae a question. Shinhae didn't hesitate to give Jiyoon the answer.
“Dad is coming today!”
“Oh my! Really?”
She had only heard about Shinhae’s dad, and it seemed he was coming to the orphanage today. It wasn’t too long ago that Shinhae had acted reserved and guarded. That child was nowhere to be seen. She acted her age as she moved around in an animated manner.
Jiyoon looked pleased as she watched Shinhae. This was probably Shinhae’s normal personality.
‘Yes. A kid should act like that.’
She was a bit sad that she was being ignored. However, Jiyoon didn’t expect or want Shinhae to put Jiyoon over her dad. She wasn’t that conceited. She decided to work hard today as a volunteer, but she would keep an eye on Shinhae.
The director called Jiyoon over when she was about to start working.
“Ms. Jiyoon, may I bother you for a moment?”
“Yes. What do you need?”
Jiyoon had been scrubbing the floor with a cloth, and she got up.
“May I ask you for a favor?”
“What’s the favor?”
“Could you take Shinhae to her father by any chance?”
It was a totally unexpected request.Previous Chapter Next Chapter