As the days counted down to the end-of-term exams, the ambience in school plummeted. A lot of the students got affected by the stress and pressure, especially the soon-to-be graduating senior grade. These exams were very important, a kind of rehearsal for what the high school entrance examination would be like next term. Of course, even for students who would not take the entrance examination, the results partially counted in their admission process.
It was nearing the holiday season, and the weather had also turned for the worse. Freezing wind slapped at rosy faces, and warm coats were pulled from the closets. It rained at least two days a week. Anticipation for the approaching winter break made people's hearts warmer, but the hurdle these students had to pass made their hands and feet cold, regardless of how many layers they wore.
The restaurant where Manager Hoh worked got a pipeline malfunction right before the festivities and year-end rush. As she put it, they were screwed for a few days but blessed in the long run.
The issue got fixed and did not require that much clean up or special post-job maintenance. However, now that they were forced to close for a few days, the owner decided to renovate a bit. Thus, Manager Hoh got two days off for the whole weekend. She planned to spend it with her son and picked a few stores to visit. As it happened, the last months of autumn were almost here, so she wanted to buy a new winter coat for Sae.
Friday afternoon, after Sae’s mum officially got notified of her free days, she went to retrieve Sae from school following the afternoon classes. Mother and son went to the close-by mart to buy groceries. Sae was pleasantly surprised when his mum told him about the situation with the restaurant and her newly earned free time. He suspected they would eat her cooking for at least three to four days straight.
"Do you want spinach?"
Sae looked at the package in her mum's hands in silence. After a while, he answered, "Okay."
His mum put the package of fresh spinach in the cart and told him, "You need to have a balanced diet so you can study more comfortably in the exams period. Tell me what you want to eat, and I will make it for you. Anything."
Sae nodded with a small smile. "I'll think about it."
"How's the revision coming along?" Sae’s mum asked as they pushed the cart around the aisles.
"Fine. There'll be a writing competition before the end of the month. My head teacher wants me to go. I guess he's still in denial about me applying for one of those high profile schools. That’s why he wants me to attend so bad."
His mother asked, "Do you want to go?"
Sae shrugged. "I haven't thought about it."
Sae’s mum presented two boxes of different branded rice. After a few seconds, Sae pointed to the one on the right. His mum nodded with a thought so.
They made their way around a corner and entered the aisle of canned goods.
"Sweetheart, if you don't want to go, straight out refuse it. You should concentrate on the exams now. Sometimes I really can't figure out where these teachers' heads are at." She added, "If you have time tomorrow, you could accompany me shopping. I want to buy you a new coat, one of those padded ones."
"How come? I have a similar coat like that." Sae had a light grey down jacket somewhere in the closet. It was in perfect condition, purchased last winter and double padded at the waistline.
"No, you don't," refuted his mum. "These are gorgeous and warm, I could tell just by looking." Taking her reason as success, the woman put chickpeas in the cart before checking again, "So, are you okay with it?"
There came a time in teenage boys' lives when they started to say less and less to their mothers. They stopped talking so much, distancing themselves by steps at a time. It was nothing personal, more like the course of nature.
Maybe because the two of them scarce spent time together as it was, or it could have been the fact that they only had each other to rely on, but Sae's mum didn't yet feel this rift between them. Her son was intelligent and reserved in the first place. She gave him enough freedom and taught him good morals. In her opinion, the end result was not that surprising.
Sae gave a light smile and nodded. He could tell how caring his mother was, so he tried to make her happy in return.
While carrying their purchases to the car, Sae said they bought half of the market, making his mum laugh. Her laughter rang out truly happily.
At home, Sae got shooed away to read until his mum cooked part of the food they bought. Since Emi's mum returned for the weekend, the little girl didn't join them for dinner. Manager Hoh had already invited mother and daughter for lunch on Sunday.
Tonight, the two ate on their own. It had been the two of them for years now, but the warmth of a family did not get determined by how many people were sitting around a table. In the eyes of Sae’s mum, the point was, just who sat with you.