I looked back, and found Mina running towards me. It was the first day of third grade after a long winter break, and we were almost at the school entrance. As she caught up with me, I said hi to her. Breathing fast from the short sprint, she asked, “which class?”
“Class One. You?” When I came back from Japan, mom showed me a mail from the school. It said I had “A”s in all subjects and that I was assigned to class one.
“Me too!! I am so happy we are in the same class again!” Mina gave me an intense hug, and I hugged her back. I felt relieved and excited to learn that my best friend would be in the same class once again.
“How is Jane, Hajin? She is not coming to school yet?”
“Not yet. She will be entering next year! I can’t wait. It will be nice to come to school with her every morning.”
“Yeah. I wish I had a sister too. Or a brother.”
I felt Mina’s pain. I loved playing with Jane and couldn’t imagine a life without her. I liked taking her everywhere, whether I was meeting with friends or just going to a playground to play with her. Luckily Mina also liked having Jane around, so we often played together.
“Hajin, you have a new backpack!”
“Yep, we went shopping just a few days ago! My parents said I was getting a special gift because my teacher told them I did well in Japan.”
My old backpack was red and had a few 101 Dalmatians dogs printed in front. I liked that bag, but it was rather small. The new one I chose at the shopping mall had a dark blue body with red zippers for one main and one front pocket. It was bigger and there were no animated characters – definitely more appropriate for a third grader.
“What about Japan? Did you go to Japan?”
As we were taking seats in the middle of the new classroom, I told her all about my trip, the people I met, the friendship matches (I finished with 2 wins and 4 losses), sightseeing, and the night out. Mina was totally fascinated. Then she told me that her family went on a ski trip for three days. I asked her about it, and she said, “it was really hard in the beginning, but I enjoyed more on the last day. I saw a man who got really injured though. That was scary.”
While we were talking, our classroom was fully occupied with students. I recognized some from either first or second grade, but some of them were new to me. Soon our new teacher, Ms. Song, walked in. She was smiling, but more in a formal way than friendly. She was in her forties and wearing a light brown skirt suit. A few hours later, we were dismissed early with a lot of new textbooks and notification sheets for parents.
“Are you going to your grandparents’ place again?” Mina asked, as we walked down the stairs. All third grade classrooms were located on the third floor of the school building. Next year, we will be on the first floor again, in the second building.
“Yes. Jane should be there already. Do you want to come over?”
In the mornings, my family would leave home together. I would walk to school, and my parents would drop Jane at her kindergarten and go to work. My dad’s company produced ERP software for textile factories, and my mom was an in-house accountant and office manager at my dad’s company. When I finished school, I would go to my grandparents’ place, where Jane also got dropped by her kindergarten bus. Then I played with Jane until I needed to leave for the baduk school.
“I don’t have much time today because my mom wants to take me to this math academy.”
“The one downtown?”
Mina didn’t mention the name of the academy, but we both knew which one she meant. There was a huge math academy in town with several big shuttle buses. It was easy to spot their buses because they were covered with advertisements, and drove throughout the city all afternoon. The academy was also famous for its entrance exam, because not all students were accepted.
“Math is so easy, though,” I said, thinking how I never thought about doing more math.
“My mom says it’s going to get more difficult in a few years and I should start preparing now. But honestly I don’t want to. I am already studying English and piano too. You are only doing baduk, right?”
“Right, I haven’t done anything else so far.”
Mina seemed envious, but I wasn’t sure if that was actually a good thing.
“Do you want to get ice cream? I can take that much time at least.”
Mina took out a 500 won coin from her pocket. In a stationery store nearby our school, we could buy a small popsicle for 100 won. I nodded, and we walked into the store together.