It has been hours since our lips parted, but I can’t erase the feeling of Yoona’s lips as they met my own from my mind. Ever since I came here, no one ever visits me except my mother. Even though nothing but the air presently touched my lips, my body still radiated inexplicable warmth that no one but I could explain. And somehow, the warmness enveloped my body and gave me new found strength and inspiration. It’s alright now. That thorn in your heart has melted. You already told her and she told you back. So far, things are getting better and better.
I was making my way back to my room when a hand caught my shoulder. A female voice whispered with a tinge of sarcasm, “Next time, a little less intimate with our guests, okay?”
Hearing those words made me realize that our kiss wasn’t as private as I thought. The voice came from Nurse Pyo, the one person in this institute who is touchy about student-visitor relationships. She may sound as stern as a monarch, but she’s only in her early twenties; or at least, that’s what I’ve been told.
I cringed; I didn’t realize she saw our little conference with Yoona. I mean, how could I? I couldn’t see! Turning slowly towards the direction of the voice, I tried my best to flash the person a smile and said, “It won’t happen again, Nurse Pyo.” Even my voice sounded more on hopeful rather than sincere.
I heard her smirk at my promise. “I hope so. One more incident like that and I would not hesitate of telling the superintendent immediately.”
I didn’t have to see to picture out her sadistic looking face grinning at my uneasy expression. I gave her a relieved smile and uttered out, “Thanks.”
“You’re lucky I’m letting you off the hook,” she said. “I don’t usually do this to the other patients who make-out with their girlfriends.”
I was about to ask her why she let me off the hook in the first place, but I realized that question was better left unsaid; it might just get me into a bigger heap of trouble. No use in going up to that level. I gave her another gesture of thanks then rushed up to my room, grasping the handrails for support as I ascended the staircase in haste.
When I reached my room, an appetizing aroma circulated the place, signifying that my dinner was already laid in the table, as they would always be every meal time. This place didn’t have a huge cafeteria to cater to all the patient-students, that’s why food was always delivered to our respective rooms. The cafeteria at the ground floor would only be used by visitors and times wherein hunger couldn’t be helped.
I sat down the metal chair and rubbed my palms in anticipation as I took in the tantalizing scent of the dish that lay waiting for me. It was Dakjuk (chicken porridge). I sighed in contentment. Nothing like the savor of tangy mix of rice, stew, a few vegetables and some chicken after a pleasant encounter from my friends in Seoul, I thought. Slowly but surely, I gradually took in the entire dish, savoring every moment by letting the flavor spread delectably in my mouth. When I finished, I slightly pushed the bowl away from me and burped pleasurably. I didn’t know if it was the food or our encounter earlier which seemed to have uplifted my mood. I smiled, knowing that I was having this optimistic feeling mostly because of the latter.
Three light knocks came from the door before it was opened with a creak. A female voice called out, “Are you finished with your dinner, sir?”
I smiled. “Yes, I am. You may now take the dishes away, thank you.”
I heard the light footsteps heading towards me before they stopped abruptly when a louder knock came from the door. I heard the shuffle of footsteps, and then the door was opened brusquely, I didn’t know if it was due to excitement or urgency. Silent whispers were being exchanged before the girl spoke again:
“Uh, sir, Mr. Young would like to see you immediately.”
I gaped. What did I do this time? I thought, half-fearing that Nurse Pyo changed her mind and decided to tell the teachers about what happened earlier. “Why does he want to see me?” came out the obvious question.
“He didn’t particularly say why. All he said was that he needs to see you as soon as possible.”
I bit my lip. “Where is he staying?”
“In his office. Second floor left wing,” she replied.
I hesitated. The one thing I didn’t master in this building was the way towards the offices of the teachers and doctors. Frankly that was the one area I never visited during my stay here except during my admission in this institute.
The girl seemed to notice my growing unrest and began to speak up. “Don’t worry sir. We have an intern here outside who will be more than willing to lead you towards Mr. Young’s office.”
I stood up and walked towards the door using the remaining senses I have. Addressing the girl, I thanked her and told her I would be on my way to the office. I also reminded her to lock the door as soon as she was done cleaning up the dishes.
The intern was a silent man; he hardly said a word other than one to two syllable words such as, “left” or “turn right”. He didn’t need to speak most the time because he held one of my arms so as to guide me on which way to go. I gave up on the idea of conversation; I wasn’t in the mood to talk with a person I didn’t know anyway. I was only curious on why Mr. Young summoned me into his office in the first place. Reaching the second floor, I was led towards a leftward direction. We walked several paces more before the intern told me to stop at some point. Telling me to wait for a little while, he knocked on the wooden door. Inside, a gruff voice told us to come in.
Mr. Young greeted me as soon as I entered his office. He then thanked the intern and dismissed him. I just stood there, not knowing what to expect from him. He ushered me to sit down and I practically had to paw at empty air to look for the chair he wanted me to sit on. Clearing his throat, he began to speak:
“Good Evening, Donghae. I’m sure you’re curious on why I called you here.”
I nodded, and returned the greeting to him.
“Care for some tea?” he offered. “I can have one made, if you want.”
I smiled at his hospitality and graciously declined. “I just ate, Mr. Young,” I said.
“Very well,” he said. I heard him shift the weight of his chair and rub his hands in anticipation. “Let’s get started then. I’m sure you know about your past examinations in testing your ability to handle your state being blind?”
I nodded, although I didn’t know where this was going. “The results were not out yet, Mr. Young.”
“Yes, precisely while I asked you to come here.” I heard him stand up and walk towards me. “The results of the various tests you’ve taken are now available.” I couldn’t help but notice a bit of brightness in his voice.
I was still confused. Usually if the test results come out, he wouldn’t tell me about it until tomorrow’s session. “Shouldn’t you be telling this to me in class tomorrow, Mr. Young?”
He chuckled at my unawareness and said, “No boy, I’m here to congratulate you!”
“Congratulate me?” I was getting even more confused. “But why?”
“I’m here congratulating you because you have shown outstanding results in the previous tests! It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before, and especially not that of a three-month old student!”
I was overwhelmed with his congratulations it took me a while to blurt another word out. “O-outstanding?” I stammered. “How well did I do?”
Mr. Young sighed. “This is going to have a lot of explaining to do,” he muttered. I didn’t know if he meant for it to be heard, but nevertheless, I heard his last statement.
He returned to his chair and I heard him shuffle a bunch of papers in his desk. I waited patiently for him to speak again. “Did you remember the last test you’ve taken, Donghae?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, scratching my head. “It was when I first came here in the academy er- institution, rather.”
“And how well did you do?”
“Rather badly, I’m afraid.” I grinned. “The proctor said that I needed guidance badly.”
Mr. Young’s next statement came out with surprising warmth, “Well let me be the one to inform you that you have improved drastically! From a primary grade of seventy-one percent, over a period of three months, you were able to reach ninety-seven percent!”
My eyes widened at the twenty-six-point rift. How could I improve so greatly in a small period of time? “There must be some mistake, I mean-“
“Modest, as usual,” Mr. Young said, chuckling. “I guarantee our system had no errors. We even double-checked this, not because we don’t think you were capable of improving, but because we haven’t seen such a skyrocketing improvement before.
I pondered on this for a moment? “Not even Hong Young Wan*?” I asked.
“Dear boy, Hong Young Wan achieved his ninety-nine percent marker during his second year in this institution. During his first months, he was still on the process of recovering from physical and emotional trauma.”
A smile carefully crept its way up my lips. I’m getting better, that’s good news. So far, I’ve got the best improvement rate.
“So what does this mean, Mr. Young? If I get this kind of mark, what’s in it for me?” I half-teased; but deep inside, I was genuinely curious.
“It means, according to our rules here, once a student gets those kinds of marks consecutively, he would be eligible to go to any school in this country provided that his parents or guardian approves.”
“Consecutively? So that means I would have to be consistent before I would receive such eligibility?”
“Pretty much. You still have two more tests to go,” he said with a hint of a tease.
I smiled at the ray of hope that seemed to shine my way. This is it, I’m going back to Seoul. I thought.
“I’ll stick around, Mr. Young.” I smiled. “Who knows? Over the next two tests, I might actually beat Hong Young Wan’s ninety-nine percent record.”
*refer to Chapter 27
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