When Sae arrived back at the classroom after his consultation session, Emi was already there. The little girl chatted with the remaining girls from Sae’s class. She came over so much that at some point, the older kids stopped caring for the age gap, and were really friendly with her.
Spotting him, Emi waved at Sae entering through the back door. He went to his chair and selected some books to put in his bag, tidying up his desk.
Emi bid goodbye to those girls. She raised her voice to ask with half the room between them, "Where were you?"
Sae glanced at her. "Teachers' office."
The little girl skipped to his side. A big bag slung over her skinny shoulder. "Why? Why? Why?"
Sae smirked. "Haven't the girls already told you?"
"Tsk, you're no fun." Emi pulled out a lollipop from her pocket and put it in her mouth. She threw the overstuffed sports bag at Sae.
He caught it with ease, asking, "Where are you going?"
"To play with friends."
Sae looked her
over. The girl was wearing high socks with rubber boots. They completely
covered her knees and reached the edges of her uniform's skirt.
Emi dragged the toe of her boot on the hardwood floor.
The sports bag in Sae's hands was not light. It was the afternoon, and normally, Emi should go to training that started at four. If she did not take her bag it meant that she was skipping.
Sae put the bag down and packed the rest of his books. A few moments later, he zipped up his own bag and slung it over his chest. He said, "It will rain."
The girl smacked her lips then pointed to her feet, "I know, hehe. I'll pick up my bag in the evening."
"Don't come too late or my mum will have questions." Sae lifted the sports bag and pulled its strap over his head.
"I know,” Emi sighed. “Ah, stop nagging." She said that but reached out to help. Sae shrugged and adjusted the bags for some time so the coarse material would not chafe the skin of his neck. After it was done, the two straps crossed over his chest.
Emi stepped back and her lips quirked up. Since Sae took her bag, they didn't need to talk any more. Theirs was a relationship based on mutual understanding and shared history.
The little girl turned around and moved to the door, "I'm going now. Thanks!" She waved over her shoulder.
Sae watched her leave then turned to go as well. He usually took the bus or train home, but today he walked all the way. There were a few things he had to think over. With mild weather that carried the chance of rain, walking suited his mood better.
It took Sae forty minutes to get home.
He put the bags in his room so his mother would not see them. Of course, she was not yet home so early. Most of the time when Sae went home and Emi did not accompany him, he was alone at least until dinnertime.
Manager Hoh, Sae's mother, worked in a middle profile restaurant near the city centre. It was not an overly fancy place; but an independent, respectable establishment. Sae’s mother tried to alter her shifts so she could spend as much time at home as possible. Even then, a manager had a lot of responsibilities.
Leading a team as well as being part of it, taking care of customers, overseeing supplies and stock, planning… Sometimes she only had time for her administration duties at home.
After getting home, Sae did his homework for a few hours. His good academics were not just some fluke. He worked hard for those results doing his assignments meticulously every day, followed by further readings. Sae was no genius who only had to look once at something to memorise it. Besides, being in humanities class kind of implied one's interest and enthusiasm in the written word.
At six, Sae went to the kitchen to find something to snack on. He got a text from Manager Hoh informing him that they'd eat together at dinner. He answered, Okay.
Sae changed clothes and lazed around. Girls danced on the television screen, but he did not pay much attention to them. The soft drone of the music program filled the entire room.
Sae's mother did not like it if the house was too quiet when her son was not studying. She did not want to tie down Sae's study time, nor take up much from his free time. She trusted Sae and let him have freedom of his own. There was no reason not to.
When the neighbouring ladies asked why she let him do as he wanted she replied, “Why not let him have some fun? It must be stifling already, studying all the time in silence.”
Sae played on his phone with his legs stretched on the sofa. The school forum and most of his group chats were filled with the same topic: the arrival of one particular transfer student.
It was all the same, guessing and silly observations. Sae looked at the comments for three minutes then shut it all down. It made his head hurt.
The only problem was that after seeing those messages the game no longer absorbed his attention. After a while, an image appeared in his mind. It was of Shum Deil and the way he looked at him earlier.
The kid had the
audacity to ask Sae where the fuck he
knew him from.
The nerve of him was kinda cute.
Earlier, at school, Sae walked away without a word. Now a memory from two weeks’ time involuntarily surfaced in his mind.
That time, his mum asked Sae to go and get Emi after her extra classes on Wednesday night. Usually, those classes would end by eight. That week, however, Emi had a supplementary class to make up for the one the academy previously cancelled because of the holidays. The little girl wrote that they would finish at 10 pm, so Sae set off at 9.20.
The English academy sat between two large building complexes at the edge of High Street. As a narrow but tall building, it stretched up to five storeys. On the first floor were the lobby and administration. Higher up were the different class- and conference rooms.
Sae felt lazy so he rode the train, but miscalculated a bit. Since he set off at a time needed to take the route on foot, he still had twenty minutes to spare. Thus, he got off at an earlier station across the main square. Otherwise, he could have ridden all the way to the academy but did not want to stand there waiting.
Sae strolled the remaining way on foot.
On the northern side of High Street stretched a web of densely populated alleys with cheaper businesses, pc rooms, and various bars. Bright lights, music, and the sound of machines flowed from the open doorways. They lit up the cold night air.
Next to the junction of the alleys, Sae had to take a pedestrian overpass on his way to High Street.
It was rather chilly; Sae burrowed deeper into his cotton-padded jacket. His mother worked the late night shift, and would not be back until two in the morning, maybe later. If she saw him going out wearing so little, he would have definitely gotten scolded.
Usually, if Sae had to go anywhere alone he listened to something, let it be music, audiobooks, or listening comprehension tests. It didn’t matter what, as long as there was something to occupy his mind. Unfortunately, his phone showed less than 8% of battery, so he passed on that.
He checked to see if there were any new messages from Emi. The two decided to have a snack before going home.
At almost ten at night, there were not a lot of people around on the overpass. The youth strolled with leisure but certain steps.
He drifted more to the edge of the bridge to make space for a big oncoming group across from him. The office workers were surely on their way from, or to a gathering. As they passed each other, Sae heard a dull tinkling sound. At first, he thought something hit the railing so he turned back. There was nothing on the ground. The group had already passed; it could not come from them either.
Then, another sound came, lower and heavier this time, more like a thud. Sae looked over the railing.
Under the curve of the stairs, several dark figures moved in and out of the gleam of street lamps, pushing each other. The light was not the best and the stairs cast long slabs of shadows below.
"Fucking imbecile! Your momma never taught you any manners?" The question was followed by more thuds and grunting. Some cursing mixed in, intermitted by the sound of fists colliding with flesh.
Sae did not care about a petty street fight. They were all the same anyway, nothing interesting. Losing interest, he leaned back, ready to pass.
Right at that moment, one of the parties engaging in the fight got pushed out into the radiance of the surrounding shop's light. It only took a moment, but Sae stopped. Something in his mind made him stay and watch.
The one who got pushed was young, as young as Sae himself, basically just a kid. He wore casual clothes without a jacket and a bruise had already formed near his cheekbone. The others surrounded him in a circle, most of them fairly young as well, but a few years older. None of them looked more than seventeen.
The lone kid radiated arrogance. He kicked out a few times, his feet colliding with various body parts from ribs to upper thighs. For some inexplicable reason, Sae stood rooted to the spot, watching the fight unfold before his eyes.
The kid below spat out a mouthful of blood and wiped his lips on his sleeve. "Fuck! And you said you were good?!" He laughed and his teeth were bloody. Honestly, he looked a little unhinged. "What–– what was that earlier? Making me apologise? Making me kneel?! Dude, don't you think you overestimate yourself?" He made an obnoxious snigger, egging on the remaining duo that were still standing. One of them could not contain himself anymore and charged at the kid.
The kid sidestepped him and grabbed his hoodie, slamming the attacker into the side of a thick pole. What he did not expect was that at that moment, the last youth standing would plough him down with arms locked around his torso.
As they fell over, the kid's gaze collided with Sae's as he looked down from the bridge. It was only for one second, but their eyes met and held.
Due to the heavy push, the kid fell back. He tried to kick out again. Before he could do so, a punch landed on his face. His head snapped to the side, then rolled back. His eyes found Sae's eyes again.
Sae moved to step back. Right then, the phone in his pocket rang.
Lying on the rough, cold street the kid got his chin locked in place by a strong hand. Three more punches landed on his face in quick succession. Not long after, he successfully kicked the other off of him, then lay on his back looking up.
In a daze, Sae turned to his phone screen. Before he could take it, the incoming call got disconnected. It was from Emi.
Sae could feel the other boy's eyes on him still. He raised his head, glancing down again. His hand still held the phone, raised halfway to his ear. The face that stared at him was expressionless, bleeding freely.
That kid was Shum Deil.
Of course, Sae did not know it at the time. He raised an eyebrow. Behind his glasses, his eyes were cold.
Sae turned away, calling Emi back. Taking a step, then another – he went on his way, without looking back.