There are moments in life when you stop and ask yourself what you’re doing in life and you’re your priorities are. Sometimes you wonder if it was worth going through the trouble or putting up with other people’s criticisms when you push ahead with your own opinion.
It was a cold winter night. I slipped on my jacket, wrapped a scarf around my neck, put on my boots and headed out to the waterfront. The cold wind was blowing against my face and it felt like I was pressing my face against an ice wall. I adjusted the scarf to cover half my face as I walked down the quiet street.
“This is the last time you’re going to hear from me. Thank you for being so helpful and for being so nice to me for the past year. Goodbye.”
Those words rang in my head. I could still recall the sadness in her voice and in that note she left me.
She was a transfer student who joined my school last year. She had jet black hair which was tied up in a long ponytail and a pair of horn rimmed glasses perched on her nose. There was always a novel in her hand. Usually it would be a book from David Sedaris or Jostein Garrder.
In fact, most of them stayed away from her as she found her weird. They called her an oddball just because her Korean wasn’t fluent and that she would read books that were about dark humour or philosophy, instead of the high school romance fluff which teenage girls enjoyed reading. They said she rarely spoke in class and even if the teacher called her name, she could answer in a voice so soft that only the person sitting right beside her could hear. She kept to herself most of the time and didn’t seemed to have any friends.
We met in the most cliché manner you could think of. The school bell rang, signaling the end of the last lesson for the day. My Maths teacher wanted to see me regarding my poor results in the recent test and that resulted in a huge delay for my baseball practice. Since it was an all-girls high school, I drew the curtains and hide between two cupboards in the classroom to change into my baseball attire so that I didn’t had to squeeze with the rest of the girls at the gym.
My classroom was located at one end of the corridor and to get to the other end in order to reach the stairs which would take me to the gym in ‘peak hour traffic’ would mean I need to hurry. I was busy waving goodbyes to my classmates while trying to weave through the throngs of people crowding outside the narrow corridor.
“Ya, watch where you’re going, shorty!” Sooyoung, the slender giant from next door yelled. She was balancing a high stack of books on her skinny arms and I had skillfully prevented myself from crashing into her while heading towards the stairs at the end of the corridor.
“Sorry, Syoo!” I turned my head around and shouted to her.
When I woke up, I found myself lying on the hard bed at the school’s sick bay. There was a sharp pain that ripped through my head as I tried to shift my body. The left side of my face felt a little numb too.
“You’re awake.” There was a light thump as a hardcover book was closed.
The voice is a little husky and unfamiliar. It didn’t sound like Nurse Lee.
I slowly turned my head to my right and saw a girl with jet black hair and the famous horn rimmed glasses staring back at me.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded, aware of the pain in my head. It felt like I hit a brick wall.
“I was putting my books into the locker when you suddenly crashed into the door of my locker,” she said apologetically, her eyes seemed a little watery.
Oh, so I really did hit something. Touching my forehead with my left hand, I realized it had been bandaged. There was also a slight swell on my left cheek. I couldn’t imagine how I looked at that point in time.
“You fainted when you hit the locker door and collapsed onto the ground. A few of your friends helped to carry you here,” she explained. “Your friends informed your coach regarding your injury and he said you can skip practice today.”
So that was what happened. I must have crashed into her locker door when I turned around to apologise to Syoo for almost knocking into her. What an irony, I managed to avoid one accident but ended up getting into another one.
“Do you want some water?” she offered.
I realized that this was probably the first time I ever hear her speak, even more than me. I heard a lot about the transfer student from my classmates. Her class was three doors down from mine. She hardly spoke and was often teased by her classmates for being a mute. Her father was a business man who had to travel very often and his family would follow him wherever he went.
Licking my dry lips, I nodded. A few moments later, she helped me get up into an upright position on the bed before handing me a glass of water.
I gulped down the water and finished it within seconds. Her big round eyes were full of amazement as she watched me down the clear liquid in lightning speed. Just for fun, I held the glass upside down to show that I finished every drop of water in it. Unfortunately she wasn’t the least bit amused by me.
Instead, she took the glass from me and our fingers touched. It was a soothing feeling and I could feel the warmth spreading from my fingers to other parts of my body. It sounded like an exaggeration but that was how I felt at that moment.
“Since you’re awake, I shall take my leave. I’m sorry for injuring you.” She rose from the seat and was about to turn around and leave when I reached out to hold her hand. She was surprised at my sudden gesture. I motioned for her to sit down.
“It’s my own fault. You’re not to be blamed for this accident. I didn’t watch where I was going. I hope there isn’t a dent in your locker door. My team mates have told me that I have a head made of steel,” I chuckled, trying to make a joke of my unfortunate situation.
I detected a hint of smile but it disappeared as quickly as it came. She gave me a slight nod before saying, “My locker door is fine. Have a good rest. I’ll inform Nurse Lee that you’re awake. I’ll make a move now. Goodbye.”
This time, I didn’t stop her. I noticed two of her fingers on her left hand were bandaged but I didn’t bother to ask. She left the room and moments later, Nurse Lee appeared by my side. She checked my bruises and told me to apply an ice pack to keep the swelling on my forehead and cheek down before letting me leave.
For the rest of the day, I had only one thing on my mind.
The name on the white tag that was pinned onto her uniform.
Tiffany MY Hwang
Two days later, it was baseball practice after class again. This time, I made a mental note to take note of open locker doors for fear of crashing into them again. The bump on my forehead was still visible.
As I walked past the accident spot, I couldn’t help but stopped to look at the row of lockers. I wondered which one was hers. There were three rows of lockers and since I crashed onto one of them head-on, the locker had to be at the eye level. Once that logic was put in, it was easy to spot the locker in question.
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a slight dent on the locker door. It must have been caused by the reckless me. I ran my fingers over the tiny dent, feeling the unevenness of it. I felt bad for damaging someone’s locker with my head of steel.
“Ya Sica, why are you touching someone else’s locker?” a tall shadow loomed over me.
I spun around to greet Sooyoung in the face, well, almost since she was so tall. Her gift of height would be useful for the basketball team but she insisted on joining the debate team. Well, I wouldn’t dispute on that either since she had a golden tongue too.
“Isn’t this that weirdo’s locker?” Sooyoung raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips. “Hmmm wasn’t this the locker you crashed into a few days ago?”
“I suppose? I mean, who would have the strength to cause a dent on the locker door like this?” I pointed to the slight dent.
“Moreover it’s at this angle, which is roughly my height.” I reenacted the scene when I was avoiding Sooyoung and ended up heading straight for the open locker.
“I heard she was injured too. The impact of the crash sent the door closing and she wasn’t able to avoid it in time since she was standing behind it, not knowing someone as dumb as you would hit it with such brute force,” Sooyoung said in a solemn voice, just like a police inspector at a crime scene.
Is that why her fingers were bandaged at the sick bay that day? The door probably closed and her fingers got clipped by it. I didn’t bother to ask her if she got injured because of me. Now, I feel really guilty.
“By the way, aren’t you late for baseball practice?”
I looked at my watch and let out a gasp. “Coach is gonna punish me for being late again!”
I grabbed my gym bag and disappeared down the stairs as fast as my legs could take me. Fortunately I made it in the nick of time and quietly slipped in at the back of the team briefing. After warming up, we started our first exercise with a 2.4km jog around the track. As we approach the third bend, I noticed a figure sitting under the oak tree. As the oak tree was right at the top of the steps of the gallery where people could sit and watch the activities at the field, it was too far for me to see that person clearly. The only distinctive feature was the long black hair.
It was 4pm then and ghosts didn’t come out till dark. I was sure it was one of the students but I couldn’t tell who she was. When I asked my teammates, they brushed it off as one of the numerous fan girls who would sit around to watch us practice. That was quite true as it was common to see a few girls sitting around watching us throughout our practice session. Our team captain, Yuri, was the object of their affection. Those fan girls would cheer whenever Yuri scored a home run or let out loud gasps if Yuri failed to make it to third base in time. I did wonder if that person was Tiffany.
That day at the sick bay, I was dressed in my baseball attire. Perhaps Tiffany knew I was on the school’s baseball team and came along to watch me in action. The next instant, someone smacked me at the back of my head. It was Yuri. She told me to stop daydreaming and focus on the exercises we were doing. I apologized and carried on with the rest of my baseball practice. All the time at the back of my mind, I had a feeling that person was Tiffany.
When practice ended, I headed towards the gallery, hoping to catch a glimpse of the person but to no avail. Even the fan girls had left for the day.
The following day, I wanted to look for Tiffany and asked her if she was alright. However, she was as difficult to locate as the rare gem painite. During lunch time, I asked her classmates where she could have gone to but no one seemed to know.
Though our interaction with each other was brief, Tiffany appeared to a caring person. Well, she bothered to stay till I woke up at the sick bay while the rest of my so-called friends who carried me there had disappeared into thin air. Talk about friendship and loyalty, hmp!
At the next baseball practice, I spotted the same person with long black hair sitting at the same spot again. I adjusted my cap and squinted in the glaring sun, trying to get a better look at the person.
“Jessica Jung! Are you waiting for the sun to set before you do your first pitch?!” my Coach yelled.
Oops, I had been distracted again. “No Coach. I was just adjusting my cap so that I can see better!”
Once again, the person disappeared before my practice ended. On and off, the person would appear at the same place to watch my baseball practice. I merely assumed it was Tiffany and put in my best effort to show off my wonderful pitching and batting skills. That served as a motivation for me and even Yuri commented that I had improved!
I had baseball practices thrice a week. It was tiring but fun. Our team spirit was high and we were all hyped up for the upcoming game next month. Baseball was my love and my life. Unfortunately, my Geography teacher didn’t agree with me. To make up for my awful grades in that subject, I had to complete an additional project and get good grades for that, else my teacher threatened to ask my Coach to take me off the team. That would be unimaginable!
Reluctantly, I dragged myself to the school library to do research for my Geography project. Physical geography was as dry as the sand in the dessert. My sleepy eyes were half open as I scanned through the numerous shelves of books.
Picking up a stack of books and returning to my desk, I randomly flipped through some of the thick geography books, trying not to sneeze when the dust flew into the air. The library was definitely not my favourite place in school. The library was cold, quiet and filled with nerdy students who were busy mugging so that they could get a place in the prestigious colleges.
As I was busy typing away on my laptop, I was distracted by a girl with long black hair walking past me. Something made me stop what I was doing and decide to follow her. I believed it was Tiffany, whose locker I crashed into and I wanted to apologise for hurting her fingers. Grabbing my mobile phone, I tried to follow her but I lost her just as a group of students past me, obstructing my view of the girl.
Disappointed, I headed back to my desk. Suddenly, an idea struck me. I dug into my bag for a slip of paper but had none. Checking that the coast around me was clear, I flipped to the last page of “The Fundamentals of Physical Geography”, one of the numerous books on the table, and tore out a corner of the page. I hurriedly scribbled something on it, packed my bag and hurried back to my classroom.