“Oh, by the way, Ji Tae will be spending his evenings with us from now on,” my mother said offhandedly. She’d just picked my sister and me up from school and was driving us home.
My mouth flung open. If she was going to drop a bomb, why not at least give me some prior warning? Is it fair for me to be walking all merrily along only to have something drop down from the sky and explode on my head? What happened to compassion?
“W-W-Wh--” I couldn’t even get the word out.
My mother sneered at me. “What’s wrong with you?”
“But why?” I cried. Without even looking at the backseat, I could tell that my sister was beaming with happiness and that only served to further depress me.
My mother cleared her throat. “His parents have decided to separate so his mother is working nights and can’t be home with him.”
She went on to explain that it had been a bad break up so his mother had refused to take any money from her husband, who was more than happy to oblige. Since she hadn’t worked in so many years, she was finding it hard to find a job worthy of her qualifications but in the meantime, was working as a tutor at an examination preparation center. My mother said she thought that it had a lot to do with the fact that their friends had now become his friends.
Okay, so the violins had begun to play and the PMSing girls had begun to sniffle but what did that have to do with me? Didn’t he have relatives, friends, teachers, priests, social workers or anybody else to go to? Besides, why did a grown ass boy need a babysitter? I rubbed my temples to ease the tension that had begun to build in my head. I took at deep breath in and sat up straight. “Mom, I’m sure he'll be fine,” I told her in a reassuring voice. “He’ll probably prefer to be on his own.”
Without taking her eyes from the road, my mother said, “His parents might be getting a divorce and now his mother is working. Things have changed a lot so I just want to give him a feeling of normalcy, you know? I would want a kind soul to do the same thing for my child if, God forbid, I ended up in the same situation. Since he doesn't have any siblings, he'll be all alone at home. And I don’t think she has many relatives in the area. I know you hate him but could you set your feelings aside this one time?” She reached across and rubbed my shoulder like only a mother could. A mother of the manipulative variety.
I groaned but was grateful that she hadn't batted her eyelashes at me. “I don’t hate him,” I said in a small voice.
“Yes, you do!” the dummy in the back seat countered.
I turned around and hit her on the head. “Just shut up.” I really wasn’t in the mood for her bulls.hit.
“How many times have I told you not to hit your sister?” my mother scolded as she slapped me on the side of my head.
Because Ji Tae had already become somewhat familiar with my family, the conversation that first evening was quite normal, except that while my parents were having their conversations about actuarial science/accounting/taxes or whatever the hell excited them, my sister was both annoying me and hanging on to his every word.
“So, Ji Tae,” my father started, clearing his throat. We were just about done with dinner. “We were wondering if you would mind being a tutor.”
Tutor? “You know someone looking for a tutor?” I interrupted excitedly. “Which subject? I could do it!” I’d been begging my parents to let me get a job because I was getting sick of having to ask them for money. My father had always said he felt I was too young to get a job but what the hell, the minute they found something I could do, instead of giving it to their own flesh and blood they wanted to pass it on to the neighbor? I understood the concept of hurting the ones you love but weren’t they take it too far?
“Hee Soo doesn’t want to do it?” Ji Tae asked. “I heard she’s a good student so she might want it,” he said, glancing at me.
Aww... maybe he wasn't so bad after all. I almost smiled at him till I replayed what he’d said in my head. He’d heard? He was hearing things about me? What the...? And which sick fool was telling him stuff about me? About me of all people? What was going on? I balled my hand into a fist and decided that I'd eventually sniff the mole out but right then, I had more pressing issues.
“Appa, please, I want to do it.”
My sister groaned. “Appa say no! Unnie can’t do it.”
I looked over to the little traitor and snarled at her. Everyone said she was going to grow up to look just like me so I figured that it was high time I rearranged her face. “Why can’t you just shut up?”
She folded her arms. “Because I’m getting the tutor,” she finished with a flourish before sticking her tongue out at me.
After my mother hit her on the head and reprimanded her for being ill-mannered, my father continued. “Mi Soo is having problems with math; I was told that this is one of your strengths."
Ji Tae looked at us in confusion then pointed at me. “But why not her?”
I backed away. “No, it’s okay – you teach her.” I’d have picked bricklaying to tutoring my sister. She was actually pretty good in subjects that required words but put some numbers in front of her and she turned into a bumbling idiot. By my last count, I’d lost about seventy-three and a half strands of hair trying to teach her.
Ji Tae looked at us uncertainly. “I really don--”
“Please, Oppa,” my sister begged. “Unnie turns into a witch--”
I slapped her head.
“Did you see that? You see what I mean?” she yelped. She immediately rubbed her head and started to cry.
I rolled my eyes. From the way she was going on, you’d have thought I’d stabbed her in the gut.
I was about to hit her again just so that the pain would at least match the tears when my Mom barked at me to load the dishwasher.
I was dancing to the rhythm of the running dishwasher when my mother walked into the kitchen. I took that as my cue to leave.
“Where are you going?” my mother asked as I walked past her.
To watch Youtube. “To study,” I replied.
“You can do that in the Study.”
What? In the study? With the chairs that were not my bed, the cabinets that didn’t have my hidden stash of chocolates and the computer with a screensaver that wasn’t Kwon Sang Woo? “Why?”
“When Ji Tae’s finishes helping your sister, I’m going to suggest that he join you in there.”
Before I could say anything, she added, “Don’t you think that it’s better for him to be with someone his own age? His mother won’t be returning for a few more hours so why don’t you study together? He could probably help you with your homework.”
“What are you doing?” Ji Tae asked, walking into the study and shutting the door behind him.
“Knitting a sweater,” I said before I could stop myself. Then I remembered that there was no reason for me to even bother to stop myself. “Yes, as you can see, I’m knitting a sweater.”
He walked over and peered at the computer screen from behind me. “You can spare me the sarcasm. It’s not like I could see… oh, Lost.”
“Yeah,” I said, not taking my eyes off the computer screen. I sucked on the candy I'd gotten from my room.
I looked up to see him squinting at the screen.
“I don’t recognize this episode,” he said, glancing at me.
“You watch Lost too?”
“This one just aired in America three days ago,” I said, pointing at the screen. “It finally got uploaded today."
He pulled a chair and got ready to sit. Next to me. “Dude, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” he asked, sitting down. “I want to watch it too.”
What the hell? I moved my chair a few inches away from his. “Don’t you have a computer at home?”
“So watch it on that.” I moved a few more inches away and moved the monitor screen along. I glanced at him then caressed the arm hairs that had already begun to stand. Okay, so the hairs didn’t really stand, but they should have. When the Devil moves close to you, all your senses should be alert and your hairs should stand up in fright. That was the unwritten rule! In fact, it was so important that it deserved to be a written rule. So I stretched across and pulled a piece of paper from the printer and wrote it down with the hopes that my arm hair would remember it the next time around. Then I looked over at him and shuddered. I made a mental note to ask Umma to make me some garlic necklaces for our next study session. A few moments later, I opened another browser window and logged on to my hotmail account. “What’s your email address? I can send you the link.”
He gave it to me. “Do they also have the earlier episodes from this season?” he asked.
I nodded. “As you can see, this is the 6th episode.” Well, he couldn’t actually see since I’d turned the monitor away from him but I was sure he understood it was all figurative. “… So there are 6 episodes from this season but you can find older ones too.”
“Cool. Could you also send me the links to those ones?”
I rolled my eyes. “All you have to do is look through this person’s account or do a search. It’s not brain surgery you know,” I said as I copied and pasted the link into the message window.
Shortly after, he logged on to the other computer but instead of studying like any self-respecting student would, went straight to his hotmail account. “This is in English," he said a few minutes later.
Could someone please sound a gong for Captain Obvious? “It’s an American show.”
“But are there subtitles?”
“Do you see any?”
He shook his head in mild annoyance. “What I mean is: do you understand English?”
I shrugged. “Sure I do. But only in English class.”
“Then how do you watch this?”
By opening my eyes and staring at the computer screen. Surely that wasn’t too difficult to understand. I decided he had the brain capacity of a three year old so I explained to him the importance of body language and how one could just fill the blanks in with common sense.
Soon after, it was his turn to talk to me like a one and half year old and explain that not only did he understand English, he was fluent in it. Apparently, his mother was Korean-American, they’d lived there till he was 7 and still went back every summer.
I let it all digest till it hit me that I could finally find out what Henry had said to Jack in episode three. Beaming at him, I grabbed a chair, patted the seat and granted him the honor of becoming my translator.