pg; 2457 words
pg; 2457 words
Jonghyun stifled a yawn as he tried to keep up with his dog. It was too early–his work always had been too early for him–and he regretted staying up late to finish that game he just downloaded. But no matter how much he complained he still had to be at work by 8 am and before that, take Roo to the dog sitter.
Roo seemed to enjoy the morning more than her master did, so Jonghyun extended her leash and let her roam around while he checked his phone. The sitter couldn’t come to his house this early, so they had to meet somewhere else. As he send a confirmation mail, he heard a rustle to his side but ignored it. It was already too late when he realized what mischief Roo had been up to.
“Roo, no!” Jonghyun moaned as he tried to stop his dog from ransacking a plastic bag and going off with the large rice ball. For some reason, a plastic bag of food was lying on the ground. Roo wouldn’t let the rice ball go and she had torn the rest of the plastic bag, including the package of noodles.
Jonghyun gingerly picked up the plastic bag and looked around, confirming the owner to be the young man sitting–no, sleeping–on the bench nearby. He must have lost his grip on his bag when he fell asleep and let it fall to the ground. Slightly nervous, Jonghyun wondered if the young man had seen the incident.
But as Jonghyun approached the bench, he realized that the man was still sleeping, softly snoring as he slumped with his head resting on the backrest. Jonghyun studied the man for a bit (while keeping a tight leash on Roo) and realized that he was a medical student, the small nameplate bearing a “J. Lee” giving away the person’s last name and hospital school.
Poor guy, Jonghyun thought. He would wake up without food and he was probably famished from hospital duty. Jonghyun couldn’t just leave the student after Roo ransacked his food. But somehow, he also didn’t have the heart to wake up the guy. He seemed so tired.
Acting on instinct, Jonghyun pulled out his own homemade lunch from his bag. The cheap plastic lunchbox just contained rice and some meat and a little vegetable salad, but maybe it’d do. Carefully, he set it beside the sleeping young man. Then, he produced some paper from his pocket and wrote a small apology on it, sliding it underneath the lunchbox so it won’t get blown away by the wind.
The man never woke up through the whole thing, and Jonghyun wondered just how tired he was. Smiling in spite of himself, he nodded to the sleeping man and dragged Roo away, making a mental note to buy a new lunchbox on the way home.
A few days later, Jonghyun stepped off the bus in a hurry to get home. He walked briskly as he wrapped his coat around himself, muttering about how the hell it was so cold when spring was supposed to start. As he walked by the bench, he found himself staring at a familiar face–it was the young man from before. And he was asleep again.
The medical student, who was now wearing a rather thin uniform from a nearby convenience store, leaned against the side of the bench and snored. His hair covered half of his face, yet Jonghyun could still recognize his face. For some reason he couldn’t forget the guy (maybe it was because of the lunch box). This time, the man wasn’t carrying any food, just a backpack resting on his lap. Jonghyun decided he should let the man sleep in peace.
But as he walked away, he thought of how thin the guy’s clothes looked and how cold he must be. It was supposedly going to snow tonight, and if that guy stayed out late he’ll end up shivering in the cold. Of course, it was easier to wake him up and tell him to go home, but for some reason, Jonghyun couldn’t find the courage to ruin that man’s sleep. His face looked so tired.
Jonghyun walked backwards until he reached the sleeping man again. After staring at him for a while, Jonghyun sighed and took off his outer coat–a coat he wasn’t very fond of and something he wore only because his aunt wanted to see him wearing her gift–and gently laid it over the man, careful so that he wouldn’t wake him up. As he straightened up, he studied the sleeping form. Somehow, the cashmere fit the man’s color more. Smiling, Jonghyun quietly walked away, glad to have helped someone and gotten rid of the coat.
A week passed and Jonghyun met the man again, and surprisingly, he was sleeping once more on the said bench. Jonghyun didn’t want to admit it, but every time he passed by that stop, his eyes would immediately go to that bench to see if the medical student was there. He wouldn’t admit to feeling sad when he didn’t see the other man, he should be glad that the guy wasn’t sleeping outside after all! But for some reason, without even knowing it and without even speaking with the guy, Jonghyun had become attached to the student named J. Lee.
As Jonghyun walked closer, he could see that Mr. Lee slouched on the bench, chin on his chest as he slept. He was wearing the cashmere coat, much to Jonghyun’s surprise, and he still had that backpack on his lap. It felt weird, seeing his own clothes–albeit clothes he didn’t like a lot–on someone else, but it really suited the man.
Jonghyun hid a smile and started walking away quietly when he felt drops of water fall from the sky. It was starting to drizzle. The young man didn’t even stir and Jonghyun wondered if he was actually taking care of a dead person after all.
But no, he was wearing different clothes. He might be just really tired and out of it. Jonghyun bit his lower lip, wondering what he should do. As the drizzle fell more strongly into a full-blown rain, Jonghyun hurriedly pulled out his umbrella from his bag. He opened it and set it over the young man’s head. Frantically, he looked for a way to hold the umbrella in place, opting to pull out his handkerchief, too, so he can tie the umbrella’s curved handle on the bench’s backrest. It took a while, and Jonghyun was almost afraid he’ll wake up the poor guy. Eventually, the umbrella was tied into place and Jonghyun quietly ran away from the scene, afraid that the man will wake up but also glad that he was able to help again.
Somehow, a nagging feeling in him told him he wasn’t really happy about the helping part, but Jonghyun couldn’t be bothered.
The next day, Jonghyun was hurrying home again. He was starting to hate these last-minute meetings. As he jogged to his street, his eyes unconsciously moved towards the bench to check of the guy was there. And he was. And he was awake.
Jonghyun stopped in his tracks and stared. This was the first time he actually saw the man with eyes open. Mr. Lee sat upright on the bench, wearing the cashmere coat and holding the umbrella over his head as he looked around. Jonghyun stared at the sky. It wasn’t even raining. It wasn’t cold, too. So why was Mr. Lee using those things and earning weird stares from people?
He felt his heart skip a beat and his face grow warm.
Slowly, Jonghyun turned around and walked away, trying to act as inconspicuous as possible to avoid the other man’s eyes.
For the next few days, Jonghyun would find the other man sitting on the bench, wide awake, and still using the coat and umbrella. He would look up whenever the bus arrived and Jonghyun had to force himself not to look at the bench and meet Mr. Lee’s eyes. He had an idea about what Mr. Lee was waiting for, but Jonghyun didn’t have the courage to admit that he was the one who left those things. It would be so awkward, just going up to the young man and saying he looked prett–pitiful sleeping in public so Jonghyun couldn’t help but give him stuff. It would probably weird the man out. Who would go out of their way and give free stuff to sleeping people anyway?
Then one day, the bench was empty. Jonghyun blinked and looked again. It was really unoccupied. Did Mr. Lee get tired of waiting?
Almost unconsciously, Jonghyun approached the bench and sat on it, deep in thought. Mr. Lee must’ve been really adamant to meet whoever gave him the lunch box and the jacket and the umbrella. But since he never met him he must have lost all hope and decided to stop waiting. Somehow, Jonghyun was glad. He didn’t have to hide anymore. Yet somewhere, at the back of his mind, was disappointment that they won’t be able to meet again.
“Excuse me, can I sit with you?”
Jonghyun nearly jumped in surprise. Mr. Lee stood before him, awake. He was still wearing the cashmere coat and his umbrella was folded by his side. He was carrying a plastic bag and Jonghyun was almost sure it was the lunch box. “Sorry,” Mr. Lee continued. “I’m waiting for someone and I had to sit by this bench. I’m really sorry.”
“No, no, it’s okay!” Jonghyun said, sliding to the side to make space. The other man smiled thankfully and cheerfully sat down, eyes trained towards the bus stop.
Jonghyun watched him, fascinated at the way the young man’s eyes crinkled into a smile before concentrating on his task. “Aren’t you warm? You’re wearing a thick coat in such a sunny day.” Jonghyun instantly regretted pointing it out.
But the other man didn’t seem to mind, merely giving a smile when he asked. “Oh, this? This isn’t mine. Someone lent it to me. This umbrella and this container, too. Someone very nice lent them to me.”
Jonghyun swallowed. “Really?”
The man nodded. “I go to med school, you see. And I have part time jobs in a convenience store and a tutorial center to get by. So most of the time, I’m exhausted by the time I have to go home. I always fall asleep while waiting for the bus, so I almost always miss it.” The man laughed.
Jonghyun regretted not waking the man up before. He should’ve realized he was waiting for the bus.
“But then,” Mr. Lee continued as he rocked back and forth on his seat. “But then when I woke up, I sometimes found myself with these stuff. My food got stolen while I was asleep and someone replaced it with his own food. I fell asleep while wearing just my uniform when it was cold and he gave me his coat. I fell asleep in the middle of rain and he gave me an umbrella and his hanky. I thought, he must be so nice to give strangers his things. I wish to see him just once and maybe treat them somewhere, just so…just so you know…I can thank him properly.”
“I see…” Jonghyun could feel heat rushing to his face and tried to keep his cool. “But how did you know it’s the same person? Anyone could have seen you and given you one of those things at one point.”
Mr. Lee laughed and took off the coat. “I got lucky there I guess. Because there are name tags in his things.”
Jonghyun mentally slapped himself. He had forgotten about his mother’s obsession with making sure people know what they own. He looked at his own name in a tag sewn into the coat’s inner lining, his name scrawled at the handle of his umbrella, and his name written in pen under the lunch box.
“Mr. Kim Jonghyun,” the other man said as he put on his coat again. “He must be a very nice person. I mean, we don’t even know each other but he had saved me thrice. I wish I could get to know him more and…” Mr. Lee looked down as he smiled. “And return the kindness he had shown me.”
Jonghyun clenched and unclenched his hands on his lap. He wanted to say how he found Mr. Lee so docile and alone and helpless as he lay asleep on the bench. He wanted to say that he wasn’t really the helpful type, but somehow he couldn’t leave Mr. Lee alone. He wanted to see more of Mr. Lee’s smiles, and maybe meet his eyes more, and tell him how the coat fits so well and how the umbrella matched the color of his boots. He wanted to say that he himself cooked the food in the lunchbox and ask what Mr. Lee thought of it.
It was really mysterious, but Jonghyun felt that he would sincerely like to know Mr. Lee more, too. He wanted to show that it wasn’t just some random act of kindness–that it was something he did because Mr. Lee had something in him that made Jonghyun’s heart and hands move.
“What…” Jonghyun started, his voice ending into a croak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What…is your name?”
The other man stared at him, lips curled up to an unconscious pout. “Hm? Jinki.”
“Lee Jinki,” Jonghyun muttered, Jinki’s name sounding too nice on his lips.
Jinki froze, as if taking in possibilities and realizing something. Softly, as if almost fearful, he whispered. “What about you, sir? What is your name?”
Jonghyun took a deep breath that ended in a chuckle. “My name…you already know it, I think.”
The way Jinki’s face lit up was something Jonghyun would remember every night, before he went to sleep, and would give him a smile on his face. “Jonghyun…” Jinki murmured, and Jonghyun found that his name rolled nicely on Jinki’s lips.
They looked at each other for a while, as if still in marvel of their meeting. Jinki opened his mouth a few times as if to say something, but laughed instead when he realized he lost his words.
“The cashmere jacket looks really good on you,” Jonghyun suddenly said.
“Do you want to get some coffee?” Jinki said at the same time.
They stared at each other again before laughing, and the awkward atmosphere faded.
Jinki held out his hand. “Lee Jinki.”
As Jonghyun gripped Jinki’s hand, warm and soft and fitting well in his own, he found himself wishing he didn’t have to let go.