Remember The Name - Chapter 6
“You don’t have to give me an answer now. We still have some time left, so you can take your time to decide.” Even as he spoke, the chairman gave the boy a gentle smile and observed as the boy’s face darkened.
Just as the chairman had thought, he was a clever child, and he struggled to give an immediate answer. Though it had only been a relatively short period of time, he had heard from the other teachers that the boy was different from the other children, a fact that the chairman had seen for himself, which is why the chairman had expected something like this to happen. “Yes, I understand. Just come see me when you feel up to getting a new name. Or you can tell any of the teachers. Okay?” With this, the boy’s second conversation with the chairman ended, though the latter clearly felt that a third conversation was fast approaching, if the dark expression on the boy’s face was anything to go by. The older man had attributed this change to the boy feeling much too overwhelmed by the institute. The chairman took a seat at his desk and flipped through the list of children who had already left the institution, looking for an appropriate name for the boy. Regardless of the situation, giving him a new name was a matter of great pride and satisfaction for the chairman, after all.
All this had taken place three months ago, when the trees were turning scarlet at the change of seasons. Now, while the boy sat there, quietly reminiscing about past events, the volunteer girl who had asked him for his name took this chance to study his face more closely. His sharp features and dark blue eyes gave him a foreign look, but he didn’t quite feel like a mixed-race child. His jawline, prominent despite his age, reminded her of the handsome actors of the olden days and their sculpted faces. His tall nose and defined lip shape, she thought, were uncommon in young children, and his slightly unkempt hair suited his face much better than neatly combed hair would have. When she finished her perusal of his face and saw that the boy was still staring off into space, she couldn’t stop herself from laughing. The sound must have snapped him back into reality, as he finally focused on her face. Her voice was playful when she spoke. “I asked you for your name, and you still haven’t answered me. Do you not want to tell me?”
“No.” His face reddened hearing the laughter in her voice, though he wasn’t entire sure why. He dropped his head to break eye contact, unwilling to play along with her.
“Do I have a scary face?” She asked again. His obvious embarrassment and shyness were so typical of boys his age that it amused the girl further, and she simply continued playing around regardless.
“N-No…” The boy had resorted to turning back around and almost burying his face in his notebook. The girl took a step forward and approached him again, causing the boy to completely lose all sense of what to do. Though it may have been instinctual for him to turn away and curl himself up at the presence of a stranger, such a reaction did nothing more than pique her interest in him even more.
Salvation came just in time when another volunteer peeked in the room, sweeping the corridor with a large mop. “Jiwon,” the older volunteer reprimanded, “what are you doing there? You can play once you’re finished with your work.”
“Yes, unnie*. I’ll be right there.” With a playful smile still plastered on her face, the girl made her way out of the room. “Hey, tell me your name next time, okay?” Without waiting for an answer, she left towards the corridors, leaving the boy alone to grip his pencil and start writing characters in his notebook.
“Hey, unnie.” Called Jiwon once she joined the other volunteer. “Have you seen that boy in Room 305?”
“No. Why?” It was a curt answer, as she was dissatisfied that the younger girl had been playing around instead of helping, but Jiwon simply began to excitedly explain about the boy she had just met, her bright laughter filling the halls.
It was a pleasant weekend afternoon, and despite the winter chill settling in, the Anes Institute was warmed by the presence of the many volunteer workers.
Winter had passed, and spring came along. The trees around the institute and the mountain behind it were all slowly but surely covering themselves with green. The boy had woken up early to see the spring scenery, noticing that spring was the same in this world as well. Though spring was settling in, the morning air was still much too cold for him to open the window, so he opted to look out of the window, mentally overlapping the view in front of him with the springs he had experienced in the peasant town. He thought of the men, working diligently to harvest newly sprouted medicinal herbs, and the women, chatting loudly amongst themselves. He thought of how white smoke rose from all the chimneys in preparation for the morning meal, and the migratory birds, flying in formation to follow the warmth of spring, and of…
“You’re up already?” Myeong-su’s rang clear in the room.
The boy turned around, his thoughts interrupted by his roommate. “Yeah.” He answered in a low voice, the morning chill settling in his throat. “I have some stuff to take care of.”
“Ugh, I guess I’ll get ready too. Have to go to school now.” Myeong-su forced himself into an upright position and stretched, letting out a groan unfitting for a child. “Well, there go our good old days, am I right?”
The boy thought that Myeong-su must have heard that phrase from the Chief of Administration. Otherwise, there was no way that the eight-year-old would learn, much less use, a phrase like “our good old days” by himself. “Go get washed if you’re up. I just got done washing.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. Uff.”
The way Myeong-su used uncharacteristically ‘old’ words and terms actually made him seem like even more of a child. The boy smiled to himself and went back to looking out the window. On the main road, just outside the small path towards the institute, he could see that a few cars were passing by.
A gymnasium filled with the ruckus of people chattering. This was where the entrance ceremony for Hyewoon Elementary School was being held. Countless children and parents were filling up the gym. The boy had never seen so many people gathered at once and couldn’t help but feel intimidated by their presence, to the point of holding his teacher’s hand even tighter than he had been before. This seemed to delight her in turn, who patted his head gently with her free hand.
Following the school teachers’ instructions, the children were led to the assembly hall located on the side of the gym, where they were able to sit in their designated seats. A few of the children, now realizing that they had to let go of their parents’ hands, began to cry, though no one seemed to care much. It was, after all, a common occurrence at an entrance ceremony. Once the children had taken their seats, the parents took their place behind the assembly hall to watch. Despite having been seated, the children were still rather rowdy, but the ceremony continued regardless. The greeting of the students, the headmaster’s motivational speech, and the homeroom teachers’ introductions all meant very little, if nothing at all, to the mindless first graders. Even the boy, who had now left the institute’s teacher to sit with the other children, didn’t care much for the ceremony. The only difference between him and the other children was that he was filled with wonder and anticipation at the idea of learning new things in this place called ‘school.’
The boy had been assigned to Class 3, Year 1. Following closely behind his homeroom teacher, the boy went through a very interesting ordeal: self-introduction.
“Quiet down, please. My name is Hee Yeon Kim, and I will oversee this class for the following year. If I say “greetings,” then you must say “it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Is that clear?”
The teacher, Hee Yeon, looked younger than the teacher at the institute, perhaps in her late twenties, and was wearing a two-piece suit with a white blouse. It was clear that she had made an effort to appeal to the parents, and had thus chosen a standard, neat look. Following her introduction, the children took turns going to the front of the class and introducing themselves. At the end of each introduction, the children yelled out “it’s a pleasure to meet you,” and the parents either clapped or took pictures.
Finally, the boy’s turn came. He walked up to the front of the classroom and looked at the other students with a calm face. Despite his facial expression, however, his heart was beating wildly, knowing that thirty students and all their parents were focused on him. His hands, balled up in tight fists, were already sweating uncontrollably.
With no way of knowing this, the parents began to whisper amongst themselves, commenting excitedly about the boy’s exotic appearance. When the boy began to speak, they all went silent, concentrating on the words that were coming out of his mouth.
“I am…My name is…”
The boy swallowed loudly, hoping to get rid of the dryness that had taken over his throat.
“My name is…”
*Unnie – lit. older sister. It is how women address older women with whom they are close, regardless of actual blood relations.