Chapter 11: The New Semester (5)
Tomorrow was the last day of school before break. For teachers, school breaks were basically extended work vacations. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? To enjoy full-length vacations at no cost to their occupation, unlike regular white collar workers or government officials. At least, that’s what Hee Yeon had thought. However, as long as after-school classes were still behind held during break, she still had to come to school every day to check attendance, which would inevitably lead to taking care of other work here and there, which in turn meant getting off work late anyway. Of course, it wouldn’t be as late as when school was in session, but it still made her feel bitter to think about how teachers back in the day used to be able to travel overseas during school breaks.
She channeled this bitterness to the pen she was holding, writing down plans for the “On-Break Class Management Program.” Thinking of it, today’s students had it rough. School breaks used to span a decent amount of time, but once the 5-day week policy was implemented, they had been shortened quite a bit. Just as Hee Yeon’s thoughts were about to trail off, her hand resting on the paper, the school bell rang out.
“Well!” She started, addressing her class. “Tomorrow is the start of summer break, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Ms. Kim!”They answered in unison. It was so typical of children to be so in sync when it came to answering questions like this.
“Remember those life plans we made a while back? We’ll be doing something similar today, but it’ll be about our plans for the break. It’s important for you to all stay healthy and safe, but you have to remember to develop good habits so you can lead an orderly life. We also had presentations about what we wanted to do over break with all our friends, right? For example, what would you need to do to become strong like Jihoon? That’s right, you have to wake up early and exercise, and make sure to eat breakfast! And um…yes, Sangwoo! You said you wanted to be good at studying! What should you do, then?”
“I have to study every day!”
“That’s right! And it would be easier to do that if you made up your mind about when to start and when to stop, right? And that’s why we’re making a planner with everything you want to do over break, and everything you need to do. Once we’re all done with our planners, we’ll each come up to the front and present it to our classmates. You’ll be promising to yourself, and to everyone here, that you will do the things you said you would. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Ms. Kim!”
Hee Yeon handed out the planner templates to her students and began supervising them. She offered suggestions to children who didn’t know where to start and gave out new planner sheets to those who had destroyed theirs by accident. That’s when it happened. Jihoon, the ‘menace,’ was playing with his planner, turning it this way and that, when he cut himself on the paper. Though the cut wasn’t deep, it was quite long across his finger, and once the blood started flowing through, he began to cry loudly, immediately sending the class into a panic. As such, Hee Yeon took him straight to the infirmary. Though her first graders were unpredictable, she reasoned that nothing would happen in the short time it took her to get there and back, especially since she had the most unpredictable of them all right in her arms.
Once the teacher had left, Kyung-eun glanced at “plaster face,” who was sitting at the front of the class. He seemed unfazed by the commotion around him and just sat there, chin in hand, staring at the piece of paper he had been handed. He hadn’t moved an inch since receiving his planner. Kyung-eun hadn’t spoken to him at all, having decided to abide by her mother’s admonishment. While her interest in him wasn’t fully gone, she also wasn’t rebellious enough to go against her mother. She had stopped lending books to “plaster face,” and he hadn’t asked anything about it. While Kyung-eun had been the one to approach him and talk to him in the first place, she felt a bit upset that he seemed to not care at all about the books, or their lack of communication at that. She had been watching him, pouting as she thought things through, when she decided to vent at him a bit. She got up from her seat and purposely made her way towards “plaster face.”
The class president of Year 1, Class 3, Hyung-Oh Bae, was sitting next to Jihoon when he saw his friend bleeding, and his throat closed up. Seeing the blood made him feel like he had been the one to get hurt, and Jihoon’s crying face looked like the embodiment of agony itself. He noticed a stray drop of blood that had fallen on Jihoon’s desk, and the more Hyung-Oh looked at it, the more it reminded him of his friend’s finger, stained in red from all the blood. He started to shake like a leaf, and he found it difficult to breathe. Even long after the teacher had left with Jihoon, unaware of the panic settling in his face, he had been unable to calm down, and he was now wheezing as he tried to breathe.
“Are you okay?” His deskmate asked, concerned. With that as catalyst, Hyung-Oh grasped at his neck and stood up, fully intent on bolting out of the classroom. Just as he turned around, he ran straight into someone.
Crash! There was a scream, the distinct sound of bodies colliding, and the clatter of a desk falling, shortly followed by more screaming as the other students realized what had happened. This was too much noise to ignore, even for the boy, and he turned around to see what was going on. As soon as he turned, he realized that someone had been injured, and once he had gotten up to get closer, he saw two of his classmates on the floor.
One of them was the girl, Kyung-eun, the kind one who had lent him books. She seemed unconscious already. “Is she…dead?” asked someone, trembling through the tears. The boy knew she wasn’t, though. She may have been lying completely still, but he could still see that her chest rose at regular intervals. She was breathing evenly.
The other one, the class president, Hyung-Oh, was still clutching at his throat and trembling all over. His face had turned red, and his eyes were wide open and full of tears. His legs were flailing wildly, his feet kicking all the desks and chairs away, which made it difficult for the other students to get closer.
‘He’s in danger!’
The boy made his way to Hyung-Oh, running through the murmurs of “is she dead?” and “oh my God,” and lifted him unto his back. Though Hyung-Oh was bigger than the boy, he bolted right out of the classroom as if he weighed nothing. The infirmary was at the other end of the L-shaped building, meaning he had to run at least a hundred meters* to get there, but the boy simply kept running, unfazed. With so much noise out in the hallway, a few teachers peered out of the doors to take a look, but the boy dashed past them before they could even stop him. Noticing that he was carrying a child his own size on his back, one of them even came out of the classroom to shout “What’s going on?” at him, but the boy was already past the corner by then, leaving an empty hallway behind. When he slammed the doors open, he found himself face to face with Hee Yeon, who had been making her way out to see why it was so loud in the hallway.
“Hyung-Oh’s in danger!”
The school nurse took over, taking Hyung-Oh from the boy as Hee Yeon stood in place, trying to process everything. Jihoon just sat there on the bed, band-aid on his finger, looking completely lost as to what was happening. As the nurse laid Hyung-Oh down on the bed next to Jihoon’s, the boy kept shouting behind her: “He can’t breathe!”
Hee Yeon was still out of it, standing perfectly still as the boy continued to scream, not even pausing for breath. “Kyung-eun got hurt!” And with that, he was gone again, running out of the infirmary. It was then that Hee Yeon realized (perhaps a tad too late) that she had no time to idly wonder about what was going on. By the time she made it out of the infirmary, white as a sheet, all that remained in the hallway was the sound of the boy’s footsteps. He had already returned to the classroom, not minding at all that his teacher had yet to follow him. Though he had notified her about the situation, he couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. Based on the situation, he had judged that this was a serious situation, so he couldn’t afford to just wait for help to come. When he ran back into the classroom, he saw that Kyung-eun was still lying there, motionless, with all the other students standing around her, unsure of what to do. He ran towards her, fully intending on carrying her on his back as well.
“What is going on?!” A teacher from the classroom next door came rushing in, kneeling down next to Kyung-eun to assess her condition, but she looked just as lost as the children around her. “We have to take her to the infirmary!” The boy explained, making his way towards the two of them. Just then, Hee Yeon ran in through the backdoor, causing the students to rush towards her with a collective “Ms. Kim!”
Frustrated that the teachers had yet to take control of the situation, the boy took Kyung-eun and, in one practiced, fluid move, lifted her unto his back. Ignoring the unknown teacher’s dumbfounded stare, he ran towards Hee Yeon, or rather, towards the door behind her. “Infirmary!” he shouted as he ran out, realizing that he had to at least let them know where he was headed. With that out of the way, he sprinted through the hallway again. This time, Hee Yeon ran after him, and that’s when she realized the strangest of things. The boy, who was barely tall enough to reach her waist, was much farther ahead than her. Not only that, but she actually wasn’t catching up to him at all. Even despite the circumstances, Hee Yeon wondered about how this could be, but quickly snapped out of it and continued to run after the boy. The word “emergency” kept flashing in her head, and she broke out in cold sweat. This was no time for distractions. Already, she was drafting the report that she would need to submit about this. “It all started with an unfortunate accident, the day before summer break.” Yes, that was a start.
*100 meters = approximately 328 feet