Episode 15

Soup Kitchen
3 weeks ago
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By the time I woke up, it was already 3 p.m..

I chuckled looking at the clock, which was telling me I had lost half a day, even as I continued to struggle to move my body.

“Tomorrow is a day off for me too.”

And then.

“The day after is a day off too.”

How nice is this?

I wondered if there had ever been such joy on my bed at the thought of having the next two days off, just wriggling my waist side to side.

Thinking I had done enough exercises for the day, I lay with my back on the ground and turned my phone on.

“Woah.”

Normally it would just be gaming notifications or ads, but today my phone was flooded with texts.

Is this what the life of a popular person feels like?

It would be troublesome to check your phone right after waking up.

“Let’s see.”

There were a few people who sent in 1:1 inquiries in the Bamboo Forest but most of it was pointless.

‘What’s with this person?’

-Anonymous46: Are you messing around? Is it right to delete posts like this on a bulletin board where anonymity and freedom are important? And you even set them as a ban word, unlock it now.

A quick check of the list of posts they had written revealed that this person was the very one who targeted me in the karaoke incident.

“Oh my.”

I couldn’t figure out who they were, but I wondered if they really wanted to go this far to make me look bad.

-Admin: I won’t.

I already explained the reason to them. There are often kids who think freedom means the ability to do whatever they can, but freedom has a meaning within the line of the law.

Just freely allowing everything would turn it into a place of lawlessness.

It could be viewed as the difference between a lion in a zoo enclosure and one roaming in the wild outside.

‘Anonymous46 must be from out department too.’

I thought that they might be one of the guys at the karaoke as I checked the messages. The department chat was exploding with messages, but I ignored it.

After all, nothing of nutritional value ever comes out of there.

The place to confirm it.

“Seo Yerin and Choi Yiseo… what now, who’s Yu Arin?”

I could understand Seo Yerin and Choi Yiseo since we’ve spoken a lot recently but I didn’t know who this other person was.

Checking out their profile, I saw a girl with cat whiskers and ears in her selfie, her hair dyed a golden-yellow and I recognized her.

“Ah, so it’s her.”

She was the girl who stood out because of her hair color. I know her as a friend of Seo Yerin…

I’m not sure why she sent me a message, but I decided to check Seo Yerin’s side first.

It seems like the habit of Anonymous chat number 69 has come out, given the number of messages sent.

-Seo Yerin: Woojin, it’s Seo Yerin, where are you?

-Seo Yerin: Did you see what’s happening in the group chat? About the Bamboo Forest?

-Seo Yerin: Don’t worry. I’ll explain everything to the others, you did nothing wrong yesterday.

-Seo Yerin: If it’s hard, contact me. I’ll help you.

-Seo Yerin: If it’s okay, can we meet and talk?

-Seo Yerin: Where are you?

-Seo Yerin: Woojin?

“Woah, what is this?”

I thought they were all making a fuss because I might have been hurt from the sniping posts on the Bamboo Forest or what the kids in the group chat were saying.

-Kim Woojin: Just woke up. Going to eat.

After saying that, I tried to reply to Choi Yiseo, but Seo Yerin’s response was surprisingly quick.

-Seo Yerin: Where? Can we meet for a moment? I want to talk?

-Kim Woojin: Going to the rice house restaurant in front of my house.

-Seo Yerin: Take a picture of the store for me. I will go there.

“Look at that initiative from…”

Why is she being this proactive?

I thought she seemed a bit down yesterday, so I deliberately contacted her as admin to comfort her, but maybe that wasn’t needed.

Seeing her overcoming things on her own and moving with such passion, I wondered if I had done something unneeded.

“Yawn.”

Yawning, I checked the texts again and this time it was from Choi Yiseo.

-Choi Yiseo: Did you see the post about you in the Bamboo Forest? Don’t worry too much. I’ll tell everyone that it’s just a rumor.

-Choi Yiseo: You’re okay, right? Just reply once.

-Choi Yiseo: Woojin?

-Choi Yiseo: …You aren’t asleep or something right?

‘A-ahem.’

I was caught.

I cleared my throat and then sneaked in a reply.

-Kim Woojin: Good morning.

Saying that I moved to the next message.

-Yu Arin: Hi~

-Yu Arin: I am Yu Arin, a fellow major from the class of ‘23. This is our first time talking isn’t it?

-Yu Arin: Emoticon.

The emoticon of a cat showing its front paws in greeting was quite cute.

With that I replied.

-Kim Woojin: What is it?

I tried to reply casually and move on, but Yu Arin’s response came faster than I expected.

-Yu Arin: What is it, you ask? You are currently the hottest topic in the English Department.

-Kim Woojin: So?

-Yu Arin: You really have a strong mind, lol.

-Yu Arin: Just curious about what kind of person you are, so I decided to contact you.

-Kim Woojin: Okay.

-Yu Arin: You are a lot less fun than I thought.

-Kim Woojin: You are ruder than I thought.

Saying that I just left her chat, reading random posts in the Bamboo Forest felt more beneficial to me than talking to her.

I put on some clothes and a hat, and headed out to get some food.

Living in a studio apartment, I was quickly able to find a seat in the restaurant thanks to the abundance of eateries nearby.

After ordering a beef soup special, I checked my phone again and found a reply from Choi Yiseo.

Choi Yiseo: I feel embarrassed for worrying, but still, this is better.

Choi Yiseo: Do you have time today? Let us workout in the evening.

“Workout?”

-Kim Woojin: I don’t want to.

The reply came back immediately.

-Choi Yiseo: A body needs a workout. We never know.

What did she mean by this?

-Choi Yiseo: You said you would punch senior Han-kang, now we cannot have you look pathetic and beaten up.

“……”

Now that I think about it, I did say something about punching him… or rather, it was just the heat of the moment.

Though I felt a rush of embarrassment at those words.

‘I should at least be able to run away when I need to.’

Recently, the words of Ahn Hyeon-ho in the Bamboo Forest and senior Han-kang seem to be targeting me. And I realized I had to build up my stamina so I can at least run away if there are too many people aiming for me.

-Kim Woojin: What time?

Choi Yiseo: 6. Don’t eat dinner before coming. I found out from the PT about a restaurant which does amazing chicken breasts.

“What is a restaurant which does chicken breasts well?”

Last time it was salads and now it was chicken breasts.

-Kim Woojin: But I’m having pork cutlet for dinner.

-Choi Yiseo: …A heated debate.

Choi Yiseo and I were opposed on what to have for dinner.

‘Well, we can just eat whatever we want.’

Honestly, I wasn’t too interested in eating together since the last time I did it, I got dragged to the karaoke.

Moreover, I am eating at the stew place now, and to exercise and eat dinner again in just three hours?

‘Not possible.’

The moment I was about to go and get some hot lunch, a girl entered.

Her hair, tinged brown by the sunlight, seemed glossy today. She glanced around with a slight sheen of sweat on her face and upon spotting me, came closer with a bright smile.

“Woojin!”

“Uh? Ah… you came.”

Seo Yerin’s too happy greeting felt a bit awkward but it seemed like she hardly had time to think of it.

She sat down and threw all the questions at me.

“Are you alright? Things must have been tough, right?”

“……”

“Don’t worry. I’ll handle everything. I’ve already talked with the others and I will speak with senior separately too.”

“……”

“So don’t stress too much about it.”

“Let’s just eat.”

Why does she keep talking when I want to enjoy the hot soup?

I soothe her anxious thoughts and shove some rice into the hot pot.

“Don’t worry, like I said, I have been asleep until now, so I don’t know if anything happened and it doesn’t really matter anyway.”

“Ah.”

“I wasn’t close to anyone within the department to begin with, so rumors don’t really affect me.”

Upon hearing that, her lips slowly moved up and she looked at me. But on her face there were emotions of slight bitterness and…

“I’m jealous.”

Envy.

“You really don’t care about what people around you say, right?”

“Well, yes.”

What’s the point of worrying about every little thing? I think it is needed to be aware of things but not to let it control you.

“Forget it, did you eat? If not, have something, my treat.”

“No, I’ll be buying. In return….”

“Hm?”

Hesitantly, Seo Yerin raised her phone.

“Give me your number. I realized I didn’t have it.”

“……”

To think that a day that someone like Seo Yerin would be asking for my number would come. Of course, I knew it wasn’t in a romantic sense, but it still made my heart flutter.

After I entered my number, Seo Yerin looked at it for a moment and then smiled as she asked,

“What should I save it as?”

“English Dept. Kim Woojin.”

What else can that be saved as?

That’s how I would save it.

“That sounds too stuck-up.”

While she was thinking her soup arrived.

I frowned as I watched her neatly stack every piece of blood sauage on the rice lid and eat modestly.

“Don’t you know? The proper way to enjoy the soup is to mix it all in with the rice and eat it all together.”

This time, she didn’t back down either.

“You need to have it like this to get a full taste of the flavor. When the soup and rice mix, the seasoning turns odd.”

“Isn’t that the charm of soup with rice?”

“The charm is dipping the sausage in wasabi soy sauce.”

“Woah, you go all out.”

“I’ve been thinking since the last time but your tastes are similar to old men right?”

“You mean I have a traditional palate passed on from generations? Thank you for the compliment.”

Just when I thought the conversation was flowing well silence took over.

Don’t we all have such times?

When you talk about something but then you run out, leading to a moment of silence.

Eating the rice thoughtlessly, without any particular thoughts.

“Woojin.”

Discreetly within the silence.

Also, a tender and soft voice came.

Like the spring breeze. Small but clear.

And a gentle smile.

“Thank you.”

She expressed her gratitude.

There was no need to ask what she said this for. So, I nodded in response.

At some point, we were eating in silence.

Yet, the thought that came was, this wasn’t so bad.

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