Chapter 33: Crescendo (2)
On Monday, the on-break afterschool classes officially began, which delighted Lucid (despite all the other kids hating it) not only because it was a chance to learn new things, but also because it was a welcome distraction from all the thoughts and memories that weighed at his chest time and time again. Though he himself didn’t realize it, others knew that the boy had changed. Ever since the “incident” over the weekend, he had become quiet, more so than usual, and there was a certain darkness about him that they found disconcerting. Myeong-su, however, seemed to not notice at all, chattering as usual as he and Lucid made their way to school.
“Welcome to class!” said the math teacher. “It’s a bit sad that you have to be here on break, isn’t it?” All the children smiled as they answered, though he doubted their good moods would last through the whole class. For now, they were happy to see and talk to their friends again.
“Well then, let’s begin. Today, I’m going to tell you a little story.” At this, the children all turned to face him, their curiosity evident in their eyes. Story time during math class was, after all, a rare occurrence. The math teacher had spent all night pondering over how to keep the students focused, and he was glad that his idea seemed to work.
“A long, long time ago, there lived a scary king in a really hot land. This king would make all his subjects work for the kingdom, regardless of their age. It was terribly difficult work, and many people died. But one day, the king brought other people, foreign people, to his kingdom to do other work. They had to heat up bricks and then move them elsewhere. Remember, it was a very hot kingdom to begin with. It must have been very hard, right?”
“Yes!” the children answered. “It hurt their hands!”
Satisfied to see that all the children were paying close attention, the teacher continued on. “That’s right. It was really hard, but the king didn’t care. He told them to keep working and that everyone had to carry nine satchels of bricks each. A bundle of bricks consisted of sixty bricks. That day, only two-thirds of the people were present. If you add up the number of people to the number of days they worked and then again to the number of brick containers, you’d get 140. A container here is 60 satchels. Well then, here is the question. How many people would have to work for how many days to carry how many bricks?”
The sudden question threw the children off, who simply stared at the teacher without answer.
“Difficult, isn’t it? This concept is actually too advanced for you, but it was thought up by people who lived four thousand years ago. You see, people have used math to solve everyday problems ever since a long, long time ago. One mathematician even said that math can be used to research natural or social phenomena, and even thoughts. That’s how closely related math is to our lives, which is why it’s so important that you come to school even during break so you can learn it. Is that clear?”
It was evident that none of what the teacher had said was even remotely close to clear for the children. He realized that he had rambled on for too long. Seeing the children so immersed in his story had filled him with excitement, and he reprimanded himself for getting so carried away. “Well then,” he started again, “I’ll give you a problem, and we can solve it together.”
Lucid, on the other hand, was excited for a completely different reason. As soon as the teacher had mentioned that math could be used to explain natural and social phenomena, as well as thoughts themselves, one single thought popped into his head. ‘Math = magic! If I study math, that could help me with my magic!’
In all honesty, the teacher had merely quoted famous mathematician Keith Devlin and his definition of pattern mathematics. Devlin had said that “math is the science of natural and social patterns, as well as the patterns of thought,” but this was but one of many definitions for mathematics as a science. However, Lucid was much too young and naïve to know this and took everything that the teacher said as hard truth. Who could tell what this may lead to?
As the teacher took his time solving various problems derived from the Epic of Gilgamesh, Lucid focused on the class more than ever.
After class, Lucid headed straight to the library. He understood, albeit faintly, that there was much he had to learn still, and he reached for the encyclopedia right away. Up until now, he had mainly read literary works, as they were more to his tastes. But now, he knew that his difficulty in forming an image for his magic stemmed from his lack of knowledge about material things. As such, he immersed himself in learning.
Not long after Lucid opened the encyclopedia to read, Myeong-su came to find him. They were all waiting for him so they could get back to the institute. It was a shame that students weren’t allowed on school grounds as late during breaks. Lucid sighed and followed Myeong-su.
The upperclassmen were already gathered at the gate and chatting to themselves. More precisely, Hyung-geun was talking to Somi and Dayoung about whatever he thought of as fun. Dayoung was much too nice to tell him otherwise, so she pretended to listen while Somi turned her head away, showing her disinterest. Cheol-yong loitered around, unable to join the older kids’ conversation, and glanced back at the school from time to time. When he saw Myeong-su and Lucid, he waved at them excitedly. Somi also noticed the younger children and smiled at Lucid as he approached them.
“I heard you got hurt. Are you alright?”
“… Yes.” Lucid answered after a moment of hesitation. She still had that unpleasant smell to her, but he didn’t let it show on his face. It was less about manners than it was about the fact no one else had ever mentioned it before, and he didn’t wish to be the first to do so. Though Somi had planned to talk to Lucid to escape Hyung-geun’s boring talk, she found herself unable to continue a conversation once she realized that the boy’s demeanor had changed. On the other hand, Hyung-geun continued with his story.
“I’m telling you, I ran all the way to the institute with plaster face on my back! If I had been just a little late, you’d be in loads of trouble by now. All the teachers are saying that I practically saved your life!” However, when none of the other children showed any sign of interest, Hyung-geun awkwardly turned to Cheol-yong. “You saw me, right? I ran down that mountain without slipping even once!”
Cheol-yong was at that age where he was neither old enough to hang out with the upperclassmen nor young enough to play with the first graders, meaning he was truly bored out of his wits. “Yeah, I saw you!” He answered as soon as Hyung-geun spoke to him. “I was so scared just running behind you. The ground was all slippery, but you didn’t trip at all!”
Dayoung, for her part, clicked her tongue, sensing that they were about to go through the same conversation again, this time from Cheol-yong’s perspective. She honestly couldn’t understand why they were so excited, as if they had gone through some big adventure. Thankfully, the institute van came just at the right time, interrupting the tale of their little mountain hike accident. Somi and Dayoung frantically ran towards the van, scrambling to get to the back seats before the tale picked up again. However, they soon realized that nothing could stop Cheol-yong from yapping on and on about this and sat through his retelling of the whole story all the way back to the institute. To make things worse, the boys wanted to involve the girls in a second adventure.
“We’re going back to get rabbits, for real this time! Do you want to come? I promise we’ll catch some.”
“No, thank you. We’ll be fine.”
Satisfied that they had given a most polite response to such an undesirable question, the two girls scrambled off to their rooms, practically running away from the boys.
“A field trip?”
“Yes. The volunteering committee of the Inpyeong court of appeals invited our children to visit the court, teach them about how things are run and have a sort of banquet. They sent us documents detailing their proposal.”
The chairman took a sip of his coffee and pondered over its aftertaste for a moment. It was a new blend, though he didn’t know what it was exactly. All he remembered was that it was quite expensive.
“They will provide us with a bus for the children, and the banquet will be the last thing on the schedule.”
“Did we request this first?” the chairman asked.
“Well, no… But it’s a part of the regional community service–”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.” The chairman grumbled, waving his hand in dismissal. “What I’m saying is that if they’re the ones that brought this up first, there’s something bigger going on. We need to figure out what that is, before we let them influence us or vice versa. I mean, we can’t just go along with whatever they want us to do. We have our own schedules and… Wait, are we free to choose the time and date?”
“N-no… They suggested that we do this three weeks from now, between Monday to Wednesday.”
“See? They’re not even letting us choose! They already picked out the dates and all. There’s definitely something going on. Director, could you look into this? I’m guessing they’re going to make a big deal out of this, probably call journalists, too. If it’s something fishy, we’ll pretend it never happened, but if it’s something good, then we should make the most out of it, yeah?”
The director of administration could hardly believe his ears. The executive secretary was sitting right there in front of them, and the chairman was tasking him with this! It wasn’t even his job! But of course, all the tedious tasks went to him.
“Yes, chairman. Of course.” He had to at least appear enthusiastic about it, to keep the greedy little man happy.
“Oho! Good, good! It’s all thanks to you that our institute is running so smoothly. Don’t you think so, Mr. Secretary?”
The executive secretary took one look at the director and let out a small scoff. “But of course. It’s all thanks to him that I have one less thing to worry about.”
The nerve of them both! The director had gone red in anger, and here they were, mocking and laughing at him. Indeed, regardless of intentions, the chairman’s office was filled with peals of laughter on that hot summer afternoon.
<Crescendo (2)> End.