Remember The Name - Chapter 3
The welfare worker took the boy to the hospital to undergo a series of health exams, as making sure he was healthy was of utmost importance. She then submitted a detailed report on the boy’s appearance to the Center for Lost Children, just in case he had been declared missing by his family, but there were no matching results. Thus, she began her work in making sure that he could be sent to a new welfare center.
“Don’t worry.” She smiled her gentlest smile, surely a result of her many years in the profession. “I’ll make sure you go to a really nice place. You can trust me, okay?”
However, not even that was enough to convince the boy to speak. Undeterred by this, she simply patted him on the head.
The boy had received a clean bill of health from the hospital, and after the worker’s many efforts, was promptly admitted into a foster care institute at the outskirts of the city. This institute, known as the Anes Institute, was considered to be a good, honest institution with a history of media coverage, and had rather stable funds as well as plenty of volunteers.
During the car ride to the institute, the boy’s eyes never stopped moving. Everything he laid his eyes on was new to him: the tall buildings, the smooth roads, the colorful signs. Though he couldn’t deny his poor upbringing, the boy could not help but think that this was a different world entirely. Moreover, this contraption he was currently in, the thing people here referred to as a “car,” was among the strangest of things. If something that moved so fast did indeed exist, he would have at least heard of it from someone. Even in his small peasant town, a few adults did go out to the big cities for trade, and yet they had all failed to mention the existence of “cars.” He then remembered a conversation he had had with his friend, Brüelle.
“I was out in the market with my dad to buy some flour, and lo and behold, a huge cloud of dust formed out of nowhere!” She had declared excitedly. “Everyone started hiding behind their booths, so I followed along, bam! A huge black horse ran right by us! I caught a good look at it, and it was bigger than our house. Get it? It was gigantic! And so fast! And there was a knight riding on it, all in shiny armor, and he wasn’t even moving! Just sitting there with his back all straight and holding the reins, yeah? Just looking straight ahead, he was. And then he saw me hiding behind one of the merchant booths. He was going so fast and he still saw me! Then he nodded to me, right? So I nodded back, and he just smiled and kept on going! Did you catch all that?”
She had talked on and on without even pausing once for breath, bragging about this encounter with a knight in shining armor, and the boy had questioned her right back.
“He was riding a horse going that fast, and he still managed to see you and nod at you and smile and all that?”
“That’s what I’m telling you!”
“He really saw everything?”
“On a horse that was going so fast?”
“…You don’t believe me, do you?”
The boy had simply laughed at his friend’s wild exaggerations, but now, he could not bring himself to even smile. Even if what his friend had said was true, the speed of this “car” was outside all common sense.
His ears and eyes took in all the unfamiliar surroundings and the boy felt his head turn to mush. He couldn’t bring himself to think straight, let alone speak. All he could do was hold on to the pendant hanging from his neck.
The car slowed down considerably once it reached a quiet neighborhood in the outskirts of the city, a sign that they were getting close to the institute. Maneuvering around a road barely wide enough for one car to pass through, they entered a building surrounded by various trees, some bamboo, some maple. The spacious yard was almost completely covered in grass, and beyond it, there was a nice wide clearing, adequate for children to run and play around. The building itself was three stories tall and its beige and white coloring gave it a clean appearance.
“Well then, this is where you will be staying from now on. How do you like it?”
The welfare worker gave the boy a well-mannered smile and pulled him along. “This is where you will be staying from now on. Do you like it?” The boy gave no answer, simply following her and taking in the look of the place. Though he looked composed, his eyes skittered around uncontrollably.
“Oh, Supervisor Kang! You’re already here!”
“Yes, indeed. How have you been, Chairman Kim?”
The chairman of the institute, a man in his mid-50s, welcomed the two guests, his plump stomach sticking out towards them. The boy didn’t react at all and simply ‘observed’ the chairman, who had already called over one of the teachers to look over the child while he spoke to the welfare worker.
“So he’s a runaway?” He asked once he knew the boy couldn’t hear them.
“I think so. The police said that he has no parents, and that he stopped talking as soon as they asked him for his name. There was also no report for missing children, so it’s very likely that he did run away.”
“Hmph. To think such places still existed today…”
“Exactly. Seeing as how they’re not really looking for him, it’s also possible that it’s a private institution up to some shady business.”
“The nerve of some people. They’re probably just taking random people in and filling in their names in their list to get more government funds. Seeing that I’m also in the profession, I can’t help but feel ashamed of it all.”
“Please don’t, Chairman Kim. If only there were more people like you, our jobs would be infinitely easier. To be honest, if everyone were like you, we’d be among the leading countries in welfare.”
“My, my!” Exclaimed the chairman, laughing and waving his hand dismissively. “Such exaggerations! I’m not so great. I’m just giving these children a small push forward, hoping that they’ll grow strong without too many things getting in their way.”
The welfare worker laughed in turn and continued with her praise. “That small push is what gives them hope and drives them to dream about the future. Your alumni still come to visit quite often, don’t they? It’s all because of you and your generosity.”
“Hahaha. Now you’re just trying to embarrass me, supervisor.”
The two continued on this way for a while, and their conversation ended with the welfare worker’s request that they care good care of the boy. Before getting in the car to leave, she made sure to say her goodbyes to the boy, who had been standing out in the yard to stare at the institute building. “The teachers here are all very nice people. Make sure you listen to what they say and study well, so that you can grow into a fine adult.”
Once satisfied that everything had ended well, she gave him one final, warm smile, and left the institute. The boy stood still, watching as the car drove farther and farther away. The teacher who had been standing next to him took him in hand, and they made their way to the chairman’s office.
At the office, the chairman offered the boy a mug of orange juice and spoke to him. “Well, you’re a handsome one. What’s your name?”
The boy took the mug in his hands and stared at it intensely. He had no way of identifying the yellow liquid inside. It smelled like a fruit, though he didn’t know which fruit it could possibly be. As the boy continued his analysis, the chairman gently pushed the boy drink it, his voice filled with humor. “Aren’t you thirsty? The other kids really like this juice, so I ended up buying a lot of it. Try some.”
At these words, the boy glanced warily at the chairman and hesitantly lifted the mug to his lips. Shortly after, his eyes turned to the chairman again, this time filled with wonder and surprise. Such a reaction elicited a rather peculiar feeling for the chairman, a sort of uncertainty, and once he saw the boy empty his mug, he cleared his throat awkwardly.
‘Looks like he’s never had juice before.’ He thought, thoroughly perturbed. ‘Did his previous institution mess with his food?’
After hearing Supervisor Kang’s report that no signs of physical abuse were found during the health exams, the chairman couldn’t help but suspect that they had abused the poor boy in other disgraceful ways. How else could one explain his reaction to something as common as juice?
When the chairman offered to refill his mug, the boy looked at him and nodded slowly. With a short laugh, the man took the juice out of the fridge and poured it into the boy’s mug, smiling despite himself as he watched the boy drink earnestly. They were the only ones in the office, and the room was filled with the boy’s gulping noise. The chairman took this time to observe the boy more closely. His black hair, with hints of light brown, was long enough to cover his neck, and his shoulders were wide, wider than expected for a boy his age. His eyebrows were neither thick nor thin, but his overall facial structure was sharp and well defined, giving off the impression of being mixed rather than full Korean. Though he was only a child, his face already seemed quite ‘statuesque.’
Once the boy had downed his third cup of juice and set the mug down, the chairman asked nonchalantly. “How old are you?” The question was less about getting an answer and more about breaking the prolonged silence in the room. Age was, after all, one of the most common things to ask about when inquiring one’s identity. Breaking all expectations, however, the boy spoke. “…I’m seven.” He answered hesitantly.
The boy had finally broken his silence, and it had only taken three cups of juice. Once again, the theory that the boy had been abused became more and more plausible in the chairman’s mind, and he pressed on.
“I see. What about your name?”
Still, it was not enough to make the boy give his name.