“I’m so sorry. But please just this once? I wanna go with Tablo oppa. Please.” YooBin had her hands together, begging.
She stood at my table and I looked up at her blankly. She is unbelievable. I exhaled deeply and nodded – I give up.
“Yes! Thanks, Sookyung! This once, you help me with the classroom duties. I will definitely return this favour!” She was already at the classroom door. I signalled for her to go, and she bounced off. There was going to be a hand-over ceremony for the drama club, it was what YooBin called “Tablo’s big day”, whatever that meant.
The class cleared out in no time. Some of the boys who were down for the classroom duties, stayed behind and quickly swept the floor, and arranged the tables, and they left as quickly also. Standing at the window, I took the blackboard duster and carefully started beating it with the cane. The chalkdust danced, with rhythm, in the streaks of the afternoon sun. Some of them landed on my own hand, while some fell down and down to the ground level amongst the bushes.
That day, when Joon Young and I were caught late for class, Miss Baek gave us a sounding down at her office. We just stood with our heads down while she went on and on about how important the mock test was.
After that, we stood outside the class the rest of the day. We didn’t talk much, just stood there looking ahead. But time didn’t pass slowly, as had always, because the schoolbell sounded sooner that I thought it would. Everyone rushed out of the classrooms. On the way out, some of our classmates were giggling at us. Joon Young just briefly took up his packback, brushed some of the dirt off from it and walked away. He was wearing a smile.
“See you around.”
I nodded obediently. YooBin came out the classroom just then, she looked at Joon Young first, who just walked away swiftly, then back at me.
“Why were you late again? And why are you with him?” She pointed at his distancing backview.
“I ran into him on the way in.” YooBin was wearing a strange look on her face then.
I was beating at the duster too hard that the chalkdust went into my nose. I sneezed. I returned the duster to its original place and went to empty the bin. It was full to the brim, I could hardly lift it up.
I walked along the hallway towards the garbage dump situated at the side of the school. My footsteps were greatly weighed down by burden. The hallways looked sepia in the afternoon heat, lit by the sunlight that flowed in through the windows. It was rather empty too. There were some sounds of talking coming from teachers’ offices as I passed by them; sounds of chairs and tables shuffling coming from empty classrooms where some students were mugging in. There were also sounds of distant footsteps. Trying to just look ahead, and not to look down to face the stink of the bin, I didn’t notice that I had kicked at a dent in the hallway floor. I fell forward abruptly, losing momentum.
As if in slow motion, the burden that I had in my hands flew out of my hands ahead of me, its contents flying out of it at the same time. My hands were free and open in front of me, I was dropping and the intensity of gravity grabbed at me. I stopped breathing. Shucks. That was all that came out from my slate state of mind.
Then a hand grabbed my arm from the side. I was flung to the front but the hand holding me kept my legs on the ground. I stood there, stunned. I regained my breath. Looking down, it took me just a while to realise that I almost fell down into front of the garbage mess on the floor.
“You alright?” I looked up. Those eyes, again. Joon Young had held on to me when I was falling. I looked around, I didn’t know that I was just right in front of the principal’s office and he had just stepped out from it.
I never thought that I could hit that twice. I gave an awkward smile and nodded. My palms started to sweat.
“Thanks.” I let go of my arm from his hand and nodded again. I turned to picked up the scattered rubbish back into the bin again. I had expected Joon Young to walk away like he always loved to. But instead, he bent down to help me with it. The rubbish were cleared away quickly. I stood up, Joon Young quickly took the bin from me.
“Let me help.” He said looking ahead, and started towards the end of the hallway. I looked at him, without knowing what to do, I followed up. Walking next to him like this in the quiet school compound feels awkward, he continued to look ahead.
“Hmmm. Thanks for the help. Especially when I almost fell down.” I decided to break the silence. He finally turned to look at me.
“It’s alright.” He smiled again. “I didn’t know it’s your turn on the duty list today.”
“Ah. I stood in for YooBin. She has something on.” Finally we got a topic rolling. “What are you doing still in school, at this time?” I continued.
“I was talking to the principal about my brother’s transfer into the school.”
A brother? We took a turn around the school building, the garbage dump came to view.
“Ah. I see. Everyone is saying how weird it is to transfer in during the graduating year.” I said carefully, peering at his face for response. He broke into a smile again, eyes turning into a wrinkled line.
“I know. But our parents want us to graduate here in Korea. We were born in America, and had home-school lessons from our mother. That’s why my brother and I speak korean well. We were intending to migrate back to Korea soon and my parents want us to graduate high school here.” I noted. I’ve never heard him speak so much before. We reached the garbage dump, he went up to the trolley and emptied the bin effortlessly. I mused at his backview. He turned, still holding on to the empty bin, walked towards the bench nearby and sat down. I went over and sat down next to him.
For moment we didn’t talk. Letting them swing and brushing against the grass on the ground, I looked down at my legs. The plaster on my knee was still there.
“Are you into theatrics?” He suddenly popped a question. I turned to look at him. He was leaning back comfortably, looking up at the sky. He looked just like what I saw in the crowds on the streets back then, staring up at the sky. Those eyes.
He turned to look at me, waiting for an answer. I blinked a few times and looked away. Right, he was asking me something.
“Sorry, you were saying?” I must have looked like an idiot then. He chuckled.
“You must love to space out a lot, missing what others are talking all the time.” Humour danced in his eyes. Oh my god, how embarrassing. He must be referring to the time when I got chided by Miss Baek in class.
“I was asking if you were into theatrics.”
“Hm. I love stories. Why do you ask?”
Why did he ask?
He looked right back at me.
“You were there at Night Blossoms last winter, weren’t you?” He asked casually.
I stopped breathing.
“Yes, I was. How do you know?” I put the words across slowly.
“I was there too.” He broke into a smile again.
My eyes widened.