“Who wants to team up with Hajin?” Mr. Kim asked, looking at Jackson, Taylor and Aiden in turn. For today’s evening class, the teacher suggested that we play as pairs.
“You will play together as a team, alternately, but you can’t discuss the game with each other. I will offer free doughnuts to the winning pair.”
There were six students present – Jackson, Taylor, and Aiden, a few years older and stronger, and Colin, Tom, and myself. Everyone knew I was the weakest in the class, and there was a long silence in the room.
“I don’t mind playing with her,” Colin volunteered, even though the teacher’s intention seemed clear that he wanted to have balanced pairs. Somehow his remark made me blush.
“Thanks, Colin, but maybe not today. How about you, Taylor?”
Taylor was probably the strongest of us all. Although he had about 50/50 results with Jackson, I often felt Taylor had more brilliant ideas in our post-game reviews. His weakness was that he didn’t play as hard as Jackson, and he gave up more easily. I wasn’t very happy with the teacher’s pick for my partner, though, because I knew Taylor liked to complain about things.
“Me? Why me?”
Taylor didn’t seem happy either.
“Why? She may be a bit weaker than the other boys, but you can still win if you play well enough. Are you afraid of the challenge?”
The teacher’s voice went up a little bit, sensing Taylor’s negative attitude.
“I am not afraid of anything. I just don’t want to team up with a girl,” said Taylor, with a certain sense of defiance.
Maybe Taylor was just making up an excuse because he wanted to have a better partner and win. But his response really shocked me. What’s wrong with being a girl? There were a few other girls in our baduk school, but none in our evening class or the advanced class in the afternoon. For some reason, most other girls would stop studying baduk before they pass the intermediate class. I was always aware of this, but never in a way that made me feel left out, like now. I felt different and wondered if I didn’t belong here.
“Don’t be shy. You should feel lucky to play with such a pretty girl.”
The teacher said to Taylor, obviously joking to turn the atmosphere around. There was a growing tension in the air.
“Pretty? I don’t see any pretty girl here.”
Taylor was pushing too far. I could tell that teacher was really getting upset. Of course his words made me upset, too, but I just wished this awkward situation would be over soon.
“Okay, that’s enough. Either you apologize to Hajin now and play with her, or go home.”
Taylor seemed frozen.
“Wanna go home?”
Our teacher raised his voice again.
“Sorry, Hajin,” Taylor said, barely loud enough to be heard.
Soon, Taylor and I started a game against Aiden and Tom. The atmosphere was still heavy from the earlier incident. I felt shaken by being rejected and causing this whole situation, but fortunately the game kept my mind occupied. I had to think not only about the game, but also what Taylor was planning to do. I wanted to prove to him that I could be a good partner. Our opponents played the Kobayashi opening, and I initiated a common corner joseki from this opening. We had talked about this opening recently in this evening class. It was a relief to know, at least for the first 30 moves, that I wouldn’t be making a mistake. At the end of the joseki, however, when black played one-space jump to strengthen the lower side, Taylor made a deep invasion into black’s lower side. This choice really surprised me because white often went to the wide empty upper side before doing more on the lower side. Black immediately launched an attack. I briefly thought about ignoring this invasion and taking an open side, but I decided it wasn’t good teamwork. So I continued the invasion, hoping we would survive black’s attack. Eventually our group managed to run to the center, but without any base. Black got sente and took the upper side. I felt bad about the situation.
As the end game approached, Taylor turned to me and asked. I quietly nodded. It seemed like we were easily 15 points behind. Taylor sent a subtle signal to our opponents that we resigned and took some stones off the board.
“Why did you play this? You should have connected this one.” Taylor was pointing to a move I made in the mid-game.
“I thought we were behind. I knew it was risky but I thought we had to try.”
“Well, the result was worse.”
Taylor complained. I wondered if that was why we lost.
“She is right. You were already behind. Why did you invade over here so early? This weak group over here was your burden the whole time.” The teacher pointed to Taylor’s aggressive opening invasion. I was glad I wasn’t wrong thinking that move was bad.
“Well, I thought I should try something since she is weak.”
This time it really hurt. I couldn’t say anything but I could feel a blow to my heart and heat on my face. It wasn’t news that I was weaker than the other students here. But, for the first time, I realized that I hated being called out as weak. I won’t be weak forever. I thought to myself.
“Taylor, you were the weak part in this game. Now, Tom and Aiden will play Jackson and Colin, and you and Hajin should go study on your own books.”
The teacher gave Taylor a harsh look, and cut the review much shorter than usual. I will beat you someday I thought to myself, looking at Taylor shrugging his shoulders.