Descent of the Demon Master - Chapter 129
“Did it look like we are pretending to be calm?”
Kang Jin-Ho sheepishly looked away. “…Kind of.”
Park Yu-Min sighed and muttered, “It’s both, actually…”
Kang Jin-Ho momentarily failed to understand Park Yu-Min’s reply. What did he mean by ‘both?’ At least one of the two seemed easy enough to figure out, but what about the other one?
Kang Jin-Ho’s puzzled gaze soon got its answer.
“Some are pretending to be calm and okay about it. Some are really calm, though.”
But how could that be? Kang Jin-Ho wanted to ask for clarification, but the waiter brought alcohol to their table and interrupted him. Once the waiter left, Park Yu-Min took the cap off a soju bottle and poured its content into Kang Jin-Ho’s cup. “Well, we’re all used to losing things, you see.”
“You are… used to it?”
“Sounds like you have forgotten something…” Park Yu-Min smiled wryly. “We’re all disabled in some way. The kids, me… And people with disabilities have to give up on lots of things compared to able-bodied people. Even if I try to believe that I’m not any different from everyone, sooner or later, I’ll run into a wall. A wall that’s not even a wall to everybody else.”
Kang Jin-Ho had no choice but to understand what those words meant. He had experienced it himself before, after all. Things other people had always taken for granted could be unimaginably difficult to overcome for people with disabilities. Sometimes, such things would leave lasting and painful scars in their hearts.
“They all know that… once someone starts to mourn, everyone else will get sad, too. So, they all keep their mouths shut and pretend everything is alright. Also… It’s also true that they are surprisingly calm about it. We’re all used to losing things, after all. We know that the world doesn’t operate according to our whims, anyway.”
“Even so…” Kang Jin-Ho was about to say this and that was not the same, only to clamp his mouth shut. What right did he have to butt in and tell another person what to feel when the said person had already expressed his opinion on the matter?
“Yes, we’re in mourning. We are sad, hurting, and…” Park Yu-Min turned his head and looked outside the pub’s window. “…frustrated.” He sighed, then emptied the cup of soju into his mouth. He looked at Kang Jin-Ho next and continued in a bitter-sounding voice, “However, there’s nothing we can do to change it. So, we have no choice but to endure.”
“That’s… true.” Kang Jin-Ho slowly nodded. That was reasonable.
Park Yu-Min poured himself another cup of soju. “More than anything else, though… Director… No, Sister Yi wouldn’t want us lost and floundering in sadness, anyway. So, we gotta stay strong.”
“I see…” Kang Jin-Ho muttered, thinking that everything his friend had said was right. That didn’t mean he agreed or empathized with them, though. What would be more hollow than the notion of simply ‘doing it,’ as that was what was expected of you?
Hoping to soothe his aching, bitter heart, Kang Jin-Ho gulped down more soju.
‘I wish I could get drunk…’
It had been a while since he wanted to get drunk this badly. However, his physical body didn’t allow that.
Park Yu-Min glanced at his friend. “Hey, Jin-Ho?”
“…?” Kang Jin-Ho couldn’t understand why he was being thanked here.
“Sister Yi was so grateful to you. But she was also worried a lot about you, you know?”
“Worried about me?”
“Yeah. She was worried about you paying too much attention to her situation and forgetting to concentrate on what you need to do.”
Kang Jin-Ho suddenly felt dazed and confused.
‘What… I need to do? What?’
He hadn’t thought of that before. However, what was the thing he needed to do in the first place?
Park Yu-Min took a sip of the soju. “…And she wanted me to give you this message no matter what.”
Kang Jin-Ho silently waited for his friend to finish the message.
“She said… It’s not your fault, Jin-Ho. So, you shouldn’t try to shoulder all the burdens.”
Kang Jin-Ho raised his head and stared at the pub’s ceiling.
Park Yu-Min didn’t notice that and continued, “I agree with her, you know. It’s true that I rely on you for many things, but… But, you shouldn’t have gotten involved in this one.”
“That’s not true—”
“No, let me finish first.” Park Yu-Min resolutely cut Kang Jin-Ho off. “This is something I have to do. Myself and the kids from my orphanage. It’s our duty. I’m not trying to imply that you’re an outsider and that you need to stay out of it. At the very least, you should focus on your military service instead of working so hard on this matter. But… But when I called you earlier, a part of me wished you’d come and help us out. That’s why I want to apologize.” Park Yu-Min gripped the soju glass tightly. “But, I didn’t think you’d be burdened like this. I’m really, really sorry.”
“…I wasn’t hoping to hear that from you, though.”
“And, finally!” Park Yu-Min suddenly raised his head. “Now that I’m done with my apology, it’s time to say what needs to be said. Listen, Jin-Ho.”
“Do you think it’s the end of the world?”
Kang Jin-Ho flinched a little at that sudden question.
“Sister Yi’s passing isn’t the end of the world, Jin-Ho. We still have things to do, right? I need to look after the orphanage’s kids, then think about our future, too.”
Kang Jin-Ho was lost for words and silently listened.
“I gotta get back to training and make enough money to look after everyone. This might sound cold and all, but… The living must continue to live, Jin-Ho.”
“…Yeah, you’re right.”
“If you agree with me, why are you making the face of a man at the end of his world? The ‘Kang Jin-Ho’ I know would never make such a face, you know?”
Park Yu-Min’s voice sharply dug into Kang Jin-Ho’s hearing, and he began to feel ashamed for some reason.
“I’m not saying you’re not acting yourself, Jin-Ho. And I’m also not saying I want to see you act your usual self, either. What I’m trying to say is… You looking so depressed like this is no help to anyone. Not to me, not to Sister Yi, and certainly not to the kids waiting for us back in the orphanage.”
Park Yu-Min’s words were correct. Moreover, it was blindingly obvious. In that case, why hadn’t Kang Jin-Ho realized it until now?
Park Yu-Min concluded his words with. “I’m sorry I made you worry, Jin-Ho. Please accept my apology, okay? So, please. Please stop worrying like that and get yourself together.”
Kang Jin-Ho silently nodded away. He looked up and found Park Yu-Min and his flushed face staring right back at him.
‘So, this… is a friend.’
A real friend, not just someone he was on friendly terms with. Their relationship had reached the point where they could freely exchange advice and trust each other. Kang Jin-Ho realized it just then. He nodded, then pushed his cup forward. “Here, let’s toast one for ourselves.”
The two men clinked their glasses, and Kang Jin-Ho dumped the booze into his mouth.
“A relationship of trust and advice, huh? My foot.” Kang Jin-Ho muttered while gripping the scruff of Park Yu-Min’s neck. The latter had gotten drunk out of his mind and kept slumping to the ground, his ability to reason was totally gone now. Kang Jin-Ho glanced at his friend and groaned. “Had he always been this bad with booze?”
He thought about it, and he couldn’t really recall seeing Park Yu-Min drink a lot before. Then again, Kang Jin-Ho didn’t enjoy drinking, to begin with, so his friend also didn’t have many opportunities to tag along and get drunk.
“…Hey, don’t lie down on the street!” Kang Jin-Ho quickly dragged Park Yu-Min up as he was trying to lie on the ground. After placing his drunk friend on his back, Kang Jin-Ho groaned over and over again. Why did someone with such a low tolerance to alcohol drink himself to a stupor?!
If this were any other time, Kang Jin-Ho would have lost his cool, saying this idiot had overestimated himself and became intoxicated beyond salvation. However, he couldn’t do that today.
“It’s so hard, you know?”
“…Yeah, dummy.” Kang Jin-Ho sighed; his hands holding Park Yu-Min up stiffened a little more.
‘It’s the same for everyone.’
Every kid in that orphanage had to be feeling anxious, and they had to be having a hard time trying to cope. However, they were doing their best not to show any traces of that, and they continued to walk forward while gritting their teeth.
‘Then, what about me?’
Kang Jin-Ho stopped walking and looked up.
‘What… what have I been doing?’
The desire to live an ordinary life… Did he understand the true meaning of that desire? To be plain and to be unexceptional… Wasn’t it pretty much the same thing as simply going along with the flow and living out his time? At least, that was what it meant to Kang Jin-Ho, although it could be a different story for other people.
‘Because it’s scary…’
Kang Jin-Ho intimately knew that a nail sticking out would get hammered. During his first life, he couldn’t withstand the gazes of contempt and scorn from other people after they had judged him as less than them. Meanwhile, he couldn’t withstand the jealousy of others after he climbed the peak of Zhongyuan.
“All along, I have been trying to run away.”
Kang Jin-Ho gritted his teeth. Living two lives had turned him into a prickly hedgehog, his sharp needles pointing at everyone to stop their advances while his attitude said, “Mind your business, and I’ll mind my own.” And by doing so, he had been limiting his own life.
As it turned out, Kang Jin-Ho’s ‘world’ was trapped within a fence consisting of a few specific acquaintances.
“Sister Yi… Director…” Park Yu-Min mumbled in between his snores.
Kang Jin-Ho woke up from his thoughts and quickened his pace toward the orphanage. When he arrived, the kids still awake were surprised by Park Yu-Min’s state.
“Well, then. Good night.” Kang Jin-Ho said goodbye to those kids and left, entrusting Park Yu-Min’s care to them. He got outside the building and took out a cigarette.
‘I hadn’t been acclimatizing at all.’
Indeed, he had simply built a wall. A wall to keep out everyone trying to approach him.
He believed he would continue to live this quiet life and eventually latch onto the coattails of the elusive thing called happiness. Elusive, since he had never experienced much happiness before in his previous life, and even during his first life after the accident had taken away everything from him.
However, it seemed that happiness wasn’t just hidden within the ‘ordinary.’ Those searching for ‘happiness’ within their ordinary lives didn’t just get there automatically. They fought and won the privilege to live their ordinary lives. However, Kang Jin-Ho was just staying in a huddle, and he had been nothing while wanting to live an ordinary life. Obviously, he would never find his happiness that way.
He could not stop Sister Yi’s death. He was powerless. And something similar could happen to his family in the future. Would he still despair at his powerlessness, then?
Kang Jin-Ho raised his head and stared at the night sky above. The pitch-black sky with not a single star stared back at him.
‘I used to miss that sky.’
How he longed to see this sky again. But then… What did he want to do after returning to the world with that dark sky?
“It’s still fine.”
Indeed, it was fine not to remember it. After all, he would simply search for it from now on.
Kang Jin-Ho tossed the still-lit cigarette to the ground before climbing on his Golden Elephant.
“Excuse me?!” Jo Gyu-Min jumped up from his chair when the security office called him early in the morning. “Who did you say it was?!”
– It’s a young man named Kang Jin-Ho, sir. He says he wants to talk to someone from the Office of Secretaries, but he doesn’t have an appointment. He’s rather insistent, though.
“M-Mister Kang Jin-Ho, you say? Let him through! You mustn’t delay him any longer!”
– Understood. We’ll let him through, then.
Jo Gyu-Min put the phone down as his expression grew stupefied. “What is going on here?”
The ‘Kang Jin-Ho’ he knew had never been a proactive person. If he wanted something done, he would usually phone Jo Gyu-Min first or say something during their meeting. Then, he would quietly wait and watch others do their thing.
But now, such a person had come to Jo Gyu-Min’s office the first thing in the morning?
‘Must be the first time since high school, I guess?’
Back in Kang Jin-Ho’s high school days, he had the excuse of getting extra lessons from Jo Gyu-Min to frequently visit the latter’s office. However, that was no longer the case. Unable to figure out the reason, Jo Gyu-Min quickly got up from his chair and headed to the office’s kitchenette to get the coffee pot going.
He still didn’t know what to expect, but Kang Jin-Ho had shown up, so he couldn’t just sit there and wait. At the very least, he should have a cup of coffee ready to show his guest that he was still on top of things.
The coffee beans Jo Gyu-Min had taken out weren’t the same stuff the other employees enjoyed. They were meant for the chairman’s consumption.
‘Mister Jin-Ho has become too discerning with his coffee these days…’
Kang Jin-Ho wasn’t the type to care much about his coffee’s taste, but that all changed after his father, Kang Yu-Hwan, opened a cafe. Nowadays, he critiqued the taste of coffee in subtle ways. He had never directly said that the coffee was trash, but a little frown from him was enough to express his disapproval.
And it was also the duty of a secretary to notice such things at the drop of a hat.
Someone knocked on the office door, and Jo Gyu-Min quickly walked over to open it. “Welcome. Good to see you.”
Unsurprisingly, Kang Jin-Ho was standing outside the doorway. He stepped inside while saying, “My apologies for intruding so early in the morning.”
“No need to apologize, Mister Jin-Ho. Please, make yourself at home.” Jo Gyu-Min pointed to one of the couches, and Kang Jin-Ho settled in. “Can you hold on just for a minute?”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded. “Sure.”
Jo Gyu-Min returned to the kitchenette and finished brewing the coffee. He carried the steaming cups carefully with both hands before settling down on the opposite side to his guest. “Here. Please have some coffee.”
“What brings you here so early in the morning, Mister Jin-Ho? I don’t remember you doing this before.”
“You’re right.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded while taking a sip.
Jo Gyu-Min confirmed that his guest’s expression wasn’t ‘bad,’ so he decided to crack a small joke. “I guess this is your first time in Jaegyeong’s head office?”
“…Well, it is my first time coming here during the day.”
“Huh? You’ve been here before during the night?”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled and brushed aside Jo Gyu-Min’s confused-sounding question. Although, he did grow slightly curious about the kind of reaction he might get if he said, “Yes, I did, to monitor Hwang Jeong-Hu.”
After taking another sip, Kang Jin-Ho put the cup down and got down to business. “Actually, I…”