One thing she loved
There was one thing she loved. At least one. She loved the sun, and how it would shine through the enormous sliding glass doors and onto her bed. The best part was that it was morning sun, the blessing of the east and the new day. If she laid back and closed her eyes the warm light would caress her face and gently erase the lines of worry from her long hours of trying to be a teacher.
She even loved the pure color of the light. Its light yellow rays at one moment could be called golden, the next, purest crystal white. The light looked different on the ridges of her knuckles than it did in the creases of her palm. She liked that. It seemed like even light has moods, which comforted her from the bottom of the roller coaster she had been riding. Have patience, this too shall pass, you do not need to be and do everything right this second. She breathed to herself when the fear would come for her throat. I wanted to come here. I wanted to learn about myself. Seoul searching. The corners of her lips perked at the familiar play on words.
She was the chubbiest of the third grade students and the English Teacher learned her name first. She had a plump, round face, and thinking back the English Teacher could not recall immediately what her face looked like without a smile. There had definitely been a day the teacher could remember when the smiling face was drawn, in what the teacher hoped was only the expression of a child who had simply played too long and too hard; a face that, any parent knew with a cursory glance, would fall immediately into a dreamless sleep, head cradled by the car seat on the way home. Even so, the teacher’s heart clenched as she surveyed the squirmy third graders, wriggling in their seats, and noticed Seowon’s wan face. It seemed for a moment as if the sun had gone behind an insensitive cloud, and the resulting chill settled quietly in the English Teacher’s chest as she shouted above so many shrill voices to continue her half-baked phonics lesson on the letter “g, g, gee.”
It’s been a good day so far, she thought to herself. She was finishing her fried zucchini with 김 she saved from yesterday. All the kindergarten babies who were clustered around when she arrived had finished their food and toddled to the tray drop, taking just a little of the daylight with them. You know it’s a good day when the only thing on my tray I don’t want to eat is the soup. The arch of each day’s events followed a bewildering pattern of either a sugar sweet crystal of perfection or utter defeat, and the English Teacher had as little control over it as she did over the lunch menu, it seemed. At least the lunch ladies know I don’t like pork now. It felt just a little like an act of love when the second server in line would smile in response to the English Teacher’s insa and only give her the main dish if it was chicken or beef. The first time the soup server ran after her to the table with a pack of 김 to supplement her pork-less meal, the English Teacher fairly glowed with appreciation. She no longer had to decide whether or not it was worth it to ask after the content of another unfamiliar lunch dish.
The English Teacher scooped her leftover rice into the soup bowl, which emitted a faintly fishy smell. She was careful not to slosh her food waste as she approached the dish line. Swinging her arms, the English Teacher pushed open the cafeteria door and inhaled the delicious chill in the air. Lately she had been making a habit of sitting in the square patch of sun outside the lunchroom, warming her face next to the potted chrysanthemums while her students chased each other and cut the air with their shrieks of play, but every day the shadows grew longer as winter approached, eating up her patch of sun.
The sunlight slanted across the sand activity field on a late afternoon. Its light was bright and clear, unrelenting, even as the evening hour approached confidently, threatening to warm the stubborn shrill light of day into a softer and more golden mood. The shadows of dark green fir trees cut jagged lines across the activity field and the neon-lighted church steeple stood sentinel over the scene from the corner of the street across from the school. From the window of her empty room, the English Teacher saw that the school yard playground was deserted except for three children. One, a girl with her hair flying, was standing in the swing seat pumping back and forth hard. A boy flung his legs out in a windmill as he twisted the swing wires up and then set them loose. The third sat in the swing only gently swaying, feet barely moving from the ground. Their forms were washed in silhouette.
Two crossing guards in yellow plastic vests sat on a bench under a bare, twisty tree whose branches spread wide, gnarled elbows reaching up to form a mushroom shape. The two guards were never far apart in the school yard, mostly silent, now and then exchanging a word, the easy companionship of old men. It appeared as if they had been there for a long time, their bodies no more animated than the tree that observed them from above. The English Teacher tried to imagine their conversation, as they occasionally inclined their heads to communicate.
The two guards, flags in hand, got up from the bench. The English Teacher turned back to the playground. Only one boy remained there, swaying slowly back and forth, distracted, thumbs working hard, playing a mobile game. The yellow vests and their crossing guard flags ambled across the activity field side by side. Another day, another evening. The school building seemed to exhale, or was she the only one who felt its presence in these moments?