As I sit in the crowded halls of the school auditorium, I have one thought on my mind. Here we go again. The rest of us are still flowing in from our electives, and I hear someone call me.
“ARA!” I groan before turning around, seeing the imbecile I had decided to befriend in third grade. I take that back. Kim Taehyung is not an imbecile, he’s just a lot more brawn than brain. A lot, lot more. He runs his way over through the crowd before sitting next to me, his backpack practically crushing me. “Hi, Ara!”
“For the last time, Tae. It’s Areum. Please address me by my actual name at least once during our high school career,” I say, glaring at him slightly.
“Fine. Areum. There, I said it. NOW. Did you hear what happened with the Russian exchange student?” He asks as he grabs his backpack and opens it, pulling out a sub sandwich.
“Wait, Nikolai or Misha? Also, what is that?”
“Both and it’s a sandwich. They expect to keep us in here for an hour, I’m eating.” Taehyung takes his first bite, which cleans out about a third of the sub. I roll my eyes. I don’t think he’s stopped eating since third grade, and football is the only thing keeping him in check.
“Got it. So what happened with the Russians?” His eyes practically light back up, and he almost chokes when he tries to swallow the entire bite whole.
“During APUSH, we were talking about the Cold War, right? And Jimin thought it would be a wonderful idea to play the USSR national anthem. They legit had this like,” He stops to take another bite. “PTSD moment. Then, during lunch, Nikolai pulled a switch on Misha. It was crazy,” Tae takes his third bite, finishing his sandwich.
“Switch like Nintendo or Swiss Army?” I question, grabbing a chip from the bag of Fritos hidden in his “other water bottle”.
“Damn.” We continue to talk for a bit longer before the lights dim, signaling to sit down and be quiet. Taehyung shoves a few more chips in his mouth before we all direct our attention to the front of the room. The principal of Chung-Ho High, a stout man with tiny little legs and a horribly placed toupee, waddles onto the stage. The student body silently groans when he falls into his usual spiel about the importance of this assembly, and other nonsense that no one really pays attention to anymore. After he finally finishes, Mr. Kang points to the left of the stage, telling us to give our “special” guest a round of applause. The one who’s been coming here for centuries. How she’s still alive? Magic, most likely. She introduces herself as she always has, waving her flabby right arm and saying her name for the eight millionth time this millennium. Kim Woojin.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! It is an honor to be here once again, now in front of this year’s graduating class! As you all know, when the universe began, certain atoms were near others. And though they have drifted apart throughout the eons, they still have the initial attraction they once had. Even now, these atoms, the ones that makeup you and me, are still trying to find the ones they once were near. In this way-” Yep. The spiel we hear every year has been to give the same speech. A somewhat scientific explanation for a completely idiotic and altogether stupid concept. Soulmates.
We drift off until she begins saying something new.
“Since this is your senior year, you finally get to have your chip taken out. This is a painless procedure, but I’ll explain to ease some nerves. When you were born, a chip was implanted to fight off the certain cells that activate your ‘soulmate seeking skills’, as some say. Once your chip is taken out with this machine,” She pauses to reach in her pocket and hold up a small tube-like structure that kind of looks like a syringe without the needle. “The photoreceptors in your retinas will turn off, leaving you colorblind. Do not worry however, this is all part of your body’s way of finding your soulmate. Once completely shut off, your photoreceptors will give you nothing. You will only see in grayscale until you find your soulmate,” Someone’s hand shoots up, and I soon recognize it as Park Jieun, who I think plays the oboe. Mrs. Kim calls on her, and we all listen as Jieun shouts to recite her question.
“How do we know when we’ve found our soulmate?”
“Great question!” The lady on the stage responds, adjusting her sleeves as she stands on the brightly lit stage, her hands aging her by nearly 40 years. While she pauses, I figure out how she’s been coming here forever. Ah. Botox. She clears her throat before resuming her answer. “While we still aren’t 100% sure how this works, we know that it does. Your photoreceptors pick up no color until you meet your soulmate. The first color you will see after the chip is extracted is your soulmate’s eye color. Once your photoreceptors receive this abnormal color - I say abnormal because we are originally born colorblind - the retina genetically changes itself to absorb all color. In shorter terms, by making eye contact with your soulmate, you will be able to see color again,” She finishes, her words echoing in the completely silent auditorium. We’ve always been told about the soulmate part, but not the chip. Mrs. Kim concludes her speech and walks off-stage, leaving the entire auditorium to sit in shocked silence.
Soon enough, the staff moves forward, herding us into two lines. Boys and girls. We walk backstage where what seems like an entire team of scientists is waiting. One by one, the girls ahead of me sit on the plastic chairs, staying unnervingly still as the scientists extract the chips from their necks. When it’s my turn, it seems to go by in a flash. Sit. Extract. Pat. Done. They tell me to open my eyes, and when I do, I nearly throw up. Everything is just… gray. The sweater I had just put on this morning, one I knew was a faded green, was simply another gray slab against the rest of the world. I walked down the stairs and out into the main hallway, immediately looking for Taehyung. I could no longer identify him by his unruly dark hair, or by the dumb jersey he ended up wearing today. Once finding the huge jug he called a water bottle, I started walking a little faster.
“Tae, wait up!” I call out, running up and standing next to him. I can see the smile on the edge of his face as he turns around, closing his eyes for just a moment.
“So Ara, how do I look without color? Am I still as handsome as-” We both stop walking as he opens his eyes, the two of us staring at each other speechless. There, in front of me, is Kim Taehyung, with everything gray about him. Except for the glistening black eyes I had disregarded until now.
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