Eun-Ha built up the courage to visit Duryu Park a few more times, but even from afar the strange atmosphere made it difficult to approach. So much for seeing Su-Yeon, he hadn’t even seen her brother who told him to come back. At some point, protective walls and iron shields used during construction surrounded the buildings, making it impossible to see beyond them. The entrance to the wall was marked with a large X shaped in red spray paint as well as rampant foul language. Several banners were also hung and fluttering. That view was quite intimidating and shocking to Eun-Ha. Eun-Ha eventually stopped going there.
Seung-Jae visited Eun-Ha's house for the first time in a while. Eun-Ha's grandmother brought them a basket of tangerines. After some time, she brought up the dinner table. This was dinner in Eun-Ha's room they hadn't had in a while. Grandmother asked Seung-Jae how his house was. Mindful of this grandmother’s unpleasant expression, Eun-Ha was concerned about Seung-Jae. But Seung-Jae didn’t seem to mind. Seung-Jae responds clearly that he was staying at his aunt’s house in the next neighborhood for the time being as he didn't have a place to stay. Eun-Ha was hearing this for the first time.
When it was just the two of them after dinner, Seung-Jae told Eun-Ha the date of the entrance ceremony. Unfortunately, Seung-Jae's entrance ceremony was scheduled at another school.
"But the date of the entrance ceremonies are all the same.”
Seung-Jae said, peeling tangerines.
March 4, at 10:30 a.m. at the courtyard he explained. Eun-Ha nodded his head in a bummer. It must be that because Seung-Jae has definitely been very busy lately. They didn’t meet as often as before, and even if they did they did not play as much as they had to return home. Seung-Jae said his aunt would scold him if he returned late. Hence, Eun-Ha would get bored alone in the late evenings.
"I hope we can play a lot next year."
Eun-Ha mumbled. Seung-Jae split the tangerine in half silently and put it in his mouth. As if the tangerine was very sour, Seung-Jae frowned. After eating all the tangerines, Seung-Jae quickly returned home. Eun-Ha said he would walk him home, but Seung-Jae dissuaded him and ran off. Eun-Ha couldn’t sleep until late that night. Finally, it was tomorrow. Under Eun-Ha's pillow hid a name tag with brooked handwriting and a red ribbon.
▫ Episode J. The entrance ceremony
The courtyard was filled with kids Eun-Ha's age. On the edge of the playground, parents stood filling the guest seats. A couple children remained in their mother’s arms and some crying. There were also children happily gathered to chat with their friends. Eun-Ha saw a group of boys running around the courtyard swinging their backpacks. A sudden sense of loneliness came over Eun-Ha. It would have been better if Seung-Jae was here at the least. Of course, there were kids who were by themselves, but none of them seemed lost like Eun-Ha. Eun-Ha continued to look around restlessly as the scene turned out to be more complicated than he had expected.
“The entrance ceremony will begin shortly at 10:30 a.m.”
An announcement came from the loud speakers. The people in the courtyard each began to move in a haste.
“Class 1, Class 1 please gather over here!”
“Class 5 children, please line in two single files!”
The teachers who stood by the signs repeatedly called out their classes to gather the disorderly children. The colorfully dressed children gradually began to line up. Even the children who seemed unlikely to leave their parent’s embrace bravely took their places.
Having left the house with footsteps full of anticipation, Eun-Ha felt quite small upon actually arriving at school. Despite his efforts to find Su-yeon, she was nowhere to be seen. How was he supposed to find Su-Yeon among all these people. Eun-Ha was fiddling with his crooked red ribbon. He felt like crying.
“Why are you here?”
Eun-Ha turned around, startled by the deep voice coming from behind him. He looked up blankly at the owner of the voice. It was Su-Yeon's older brother. It must’ve been because he was clean shaven and had dressed up nicely, he seemed completely different from their previous encounter. Eun-Ha could not respond as he welled up, and eventually burst into tears.
“Why, why are you crying?”
To this dismay, Su-Yeon's brother bent over to wipe the tears from Eun-Ha's face. And he stroked Eun-Ha's hair to comfort him.
“Don’t cry, which class are you in?”
It was an unexpected question. Eun-Ha hadn’t thought about which class he was in. Unable to say anything, he could only stare at the teacher’s signs and his face.
“Which class? I’ll take you.”
“I’m just...I need to find Su-Yeon...”
Eun-Ha muttered as he sniffled.
“Oh, you’re in the same class as Su-Yeon? Why didn’t you say so.”
Eun-Ha hesitated before nodding his head. He held Eun-Ha's hand before looking around for a moment, then strode towards where children were lined up. Eun-Ha wiped his tears as he followed along, not knowing where they were headed.
“Brother, what is it?”
It was Su-Yeon. Su-Yeon's brother placed Eun-Ha beside Su-Yeon.
“He’s in your class. Hold your friend’s hand will you.”
Having said that, he proceeded to walk away towards the parent/guardian seating area.
Su-Yeon called Eun-Ha. Embarrassed she might notice that he’d been crying, Eun-Ha was unable to hold his head up properly. Su-Yeon held Eun-Ha's hand. Eun-Ha also held Su-Yeon's hand tightly.
Su-Yeon was in class 3. The Class 3 teacher was a young female teacher. Eun-Ha did not want to let go of Su-Yeon's hand. Entrance ceremony with Su-Yeon felt like a dream. Su-Yeon kept tilting her head trying to look at Eun-Ha's face. Eun-Ha tried to avoid it but eventually caught Su-Yeon's gaze. The two laughed bashfully. Their smiles could not be contained.
According to the teacher’s instructions Eun-Ha shouted ‘forward, shoulder to shoulder’ as he stood up straight with his arms stretched out in front of him.
‘I could just go to school like this, what was so difficult about this for grandma’
Eun-Ha thought to himself. He was even proud of himself. The anxiety of the moment earlier had disappeared, leaving nothing but excitement. The teacher seemed overwhelmed. Comforting crying children, relining children who try to sneak off, running here and there, counting the number of students, but disguising any trouble with a smile on her face when she made eye contact.
The teacher began to count the number of children. An announcement notified that the ceremony would begin in 10 minutes. The teacher’s footsteps grew busy. She couldn’t hide her wariness. The teacher counted the children two, three more times, but something was off so she called the next class teacher.
After a few whispers between the two teachers, the teacher returned and drew the class 3 children’s attention in a loud voice.
“Attention class! When I call your name, respond loud and clear as you raise your hands, okay?”
Class 3 students answered in unison. Eun-Ha also answered strenuously. The teacher glanced at the children and began calling them by name.
Answers began to come from the front row.
Su-Yeon also responded strenuously when called on. Eun-Ha focused on the teacher as he waited to hear his name. However, the teacher did not call on Eun-Ha. Eun-Ha kicked the blameless dirt on the ground.
“They must’ve forgotten to call you!”
Su-Yeon giggled as she tapped Eun-Ha. Eun-Ha laughed with her but wasn’t entirely comfortable at heart. Eun-Ha pondered whether he should say something or not.
“Why do I feel like there’s one extra student?”
The teacher said.
“Raise your hand if I haven’t called your name please.”
Eun-Ha hesitated for a moment before raising his hand. The teacher tilted her head as she checked the list once more and approached Eun-Ha.
“Okay, what is your name?”
The teacher asked. Her tender voice gave Eun-Ha bit of relief.
“Me, my name is Kim Eun-Ha”
Eun-Ha barely managed to respond as his voice trailed back in his throat. He could feel everyone’s surrounding gaze on him.
“Kim Eun-Ha... Kim Eun-Ha...”
The teacher recalled his name as she went through the list. Then looked at Eun-Ha with a slightly more adamant expression. Eun-Ha couldn’t stare directly at the teacher’s eyes.
“Eun-Ha, could you follow me for a moment.”
Eun-Ha held the teacher’s hand and walked to a corner in the front of the courtyard. She then sat down and shared eye contact with Eun-Ha.
“Eun-Ha, are you sure you’re in class 3? Your name isn’t on the list.”
“Where is your bag? Did you not bring one?”
“Okay, that’s alright. Could you tell me which class you’re in?”
Eun-Ha couldn’t answer. His eyes began to well up and tears clouded his view. The teacher looked over in the direction of the class 3 kids, then at the clock, and then let out a sigh.
“Are you sure you’ve not mistaken another class?”
The teacher asked sternly. Eun-Ha did not know what to do.
“I just, wanted to attend too...”
“I want to attend too. I want to go to school too.”
Eun-Ha eventually broke into tears. The number of times he was crying today alone, how embarrassing. It felt even more so in the possibility that Su-Yeon might be watching.
“Hold on, Eun-Ha. Don’t cry.”
“How old are you?”
The teacher asked calmly. Eun-Ha pondered for a moment. He was definitely seven last year. That was no doubt the truth. Because he was friends with Seung-Jae who was also seven. However, he was told he was seven this year too. Though he didn’t understand how, he couldn’t bring himself to lie and say he was eight years old.
Suddenly, grandmother’s words flashed in his head. Solar, or lunar, those terms that were difficult for Eun-Ha to understand.
“Eight years old.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, but by the lunar calendar...”
The teacher, who was about to get up, stopped and looked at Eun-Ha.
The teacher responded. But this time she did not wait for Eun-Ha's response. The teacher flipped through the lists several times. Then shook her head.
“You can’t be here. Now hurry home.”
Her voice was even more firm. Then, she returned to the class 3 students. The entrance ceremony seemed to be really starting. Eun-Ha looked around at the children gathered in the courtyard. He could not see Su-Yeon from here. However, he did not try to find her. She was probably somewhere among those kids. Would she even be looking for Eun-Ha? He rubbed his cheeks, wiping away the drying tears. No matter how much he thought about it, it seemed unlikely that Su-Yeon was looking for him.
Eun-Ha untied the red ribbon and tossed in on the ground. He unfastened his nametag and tucked it in his pocket. Then, without looking back, ran out the school gate. The cold wind stung his frozen cheeks.
저작권자 ⓒ 한국소비경제신문, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지