I gently ruffled Taemin’s soft, brown hair. He breathed softly and relaxed, and seemed to be far away in his dream land. I figured he dreamt something nice and happy, because he smiled in his sleep. It was soothing to see, calming me down as well. But not so much that I could sleep, no, not that much by far. I was still shaken up.
“Hey, Minho-ah! You’re back!”
I waved to the rest of the guys of the gang as I came closer. They waved back, big smiles on their faces. They seemed a bit tired, all of them, and actually a bit more dirty than usual. Strange, but I decided not to worry about it. They were always dirty after all – always tired – maybe it was just because I was so unusually clean myself that I thought they looked more unclean than I was used to… Well, never mind that.
“Hi guys! Missed me that much, eh?”
Jonghyun walked up to me, brohugging me before letting go and looking into my eyes with a smile.
“Sure we did, hell, why did you just disappear like that, bro?” I laughed.
“Well, you know the storm? I was like caught in it, and I had to find a shelter. I actually got to have a roof over my head that night – a nice kiddo took me into his house”
The gang whistles and I smirked. Jonghyun smiled widely.
“Great! Got any money from him?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t took it – he gave it to me” Another whistle, this time from Jiyong.
“Awesome!” Jonghyun said, patting my shoulder. “How much?”
I silently took up the won Taemin hade gave me, and noticed the others hungry glares at them. I wasn’t really in need for them, so I gave it to them – everyone got alike of course. Their smiles widened.
“No problem, guys, damn… It’s nothing” I laughed at their eager. “Now, let’s go and buy something good, eh?”
A while after that – around lunchtime, I figured, because I didn’t have a clock – we all sat down near the basketball court, stuffed with all kinds of food. Or, rather, the food we had the money enough to buy. Because when we had money, we didn’t steal. But when we didn’t we stole what we needed to have for surviving. I always felt guilty afterwards, but that feeling became more dulled over the years. It was the same for the other guys – Jonghyun, Jiyong and Seunghyun – they were always a bit quieter than usual after stealing. We would just sit there, eating stolen food, not talking at all. Then, someone – often Jiyong – came up with something to brighten up the mood in our small group. Sometimes, we played basketball. We had found an old ball at the court, and hidden it fell. It was our treasure. When people passed by while we were playing, they often started for a while – the old people smiling at our laughs and eagerness – before they started to walk again. When we played, we didn’t show anything of our misery.
Or, we danced and singed, as I’d told Taemin. And that was what we did now.
“Hey, can’t we do anything? I’m dying from boredom over here” Jiyong groaned. I turned toward him.
“I dunno… Sing? Dance?”
“Come on, we always dance without music, pabo!”
I laughed at the silly boy.
“Sure, Jiyong-ah… Seunghyun-ah, can you do the beat?” The eldest one of our group – though he didn’t always act like that – smirked at me.
And then, like at a commando, we all stood up. Seunghyun moved to the leftmost side, I stood at the back, Jiyong at the rightmost side and Jonghyun in the front. Some other kids playing at the court stopped their game and looked at us with curious faces. I smiled at them, and they got a little closer. Jiyong took off his hat and placed it on the ground – just in case someone wanted to give.
Seunghyun started his beatbox, and Jonghyun took the first steps. We decided to do a dance battle, so Jiyong was next, then me, and then Jonghyun again. Seunghyun – not so confident about his dancing moves, and making the beat – didn’t participate in the competition.
Jonghyun made a quick turnaround, slamming his hands against his thighs, danced backwards and hen smirked at Jiyong to tell him it was his turn. Jiyong smirked back and made a breakdance move. When it was my turn, I did the same thing as I had showed Taemin.
More and more people came to watch us, some giving us money. We continued until we felt how we started to get tired, and then Jiyong won the competition with his breakdance. The people gathering around us clapped and we smiled at them, bowing and thanked them for their attention. The kids we had seen earlier watched us with admiring eyes. We waved to them before they left. They were probably heading home, to a caring family who loved them… Oh stop it, no such thoughts Minho!
We sat down to rest a while after the dancing. We had all enjoyed it, and felt refreshed and happy afterwards – we usually did. For a while we just sat there, kind of exhausted, and ate the rest of the snack. We agreed about saving the money for later, and we put it on another safe place.
After about half an hour, three quarters, I looked at the sun checking the time. Because of many years going after the sun, I knew that the time was about four, and I figured that Taemin had quitted school by that time. I rose from the ground, and the three others looked at me. I smiled at them.
“I’m just going to take a walk! I’ll be back in a minute!”
They smiled back, waved and then continued to talk. I turned away from them and started walking in the direction of Taemin’s school. I took a shortcut through one of the many small alleys that lead from the court. I knew the way very well – we had used it as a runaway from cops many times when we had stolen food or other stuff, mostly clothes. I was about to turn right – I knew the left path went to a dead end – when I heard a slight yelp. It seemed to come from the left path, and I turned my head towards there. For some reason, I felt uneasy… And worried. I thought about shaking it off, but then I heard a loud thud and couldn’t ignore the feeling longer. To my very own surprise, I found myself dashing toward the sound. And then, I stopped dead in my tracks.
What I saw totally terrified me.
Taemin was lying on the ground, whimpering and gasping for air, while a huge man stood leaned over him, ready to hit Taemin’s pretty face with a heavy punch. The man had a really scary – almost perverted – grin on his face, and seemed to enjoy the sound of Taemin’s pain.
Without further thinking, I rushed forward again, and dragged the man away from my friend. I took a grip of his shoulders and practically threw him on the ground. His eyes widened in surprise, but I couldn’t even see which color they were – I only saw red. I bent over him, hitting first his stomach with my knee and then punched his face as hard as I could. And that was pretty hard. Years of surviving at the street, playing basketball and dancing, had made me strong. The man just blacked out, bleeding from his mouth. I didn’t pay more attention to him after that. I hurried over to Taemin again, placing my hand gently on his shoulder. He was shaking.
“Taemin-ah! Are you okay?” I asked him, the worry I felt heard in my voice. Then, I noticed now my hand was getting red.
“Oh god… Are you bleeding?” I said shakily. Then, he realized he seemed to relax in some weird way – he fell. “Taemin? Taemin!”
He had passed out. And I stood there, with his body in my arms, scared to death.
I breathed in deeply to calm myself. I looked at the boy sleeping in my lap. Oh Taemin. If you knew how much I care about you.