Fragmented Us

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김 채 민: She

“There’s no reason, there’s no rhyme
I found myself blindsided by
A feeling that I’ve never known
I’m dealing with it on my own”

-LANY, Malibu Nights


다섯 (Five)

Kim Chae Min [ ]


October 11

It was her unlucky day.

Okay, so maybe part of it was Kim Chae Min’s fault and not entirely the universe’s, but, hey, she couldn’t exactly blame herself, could she?

Anyway, what happened was that the brilliant little chipmunk named Kim Chae Min partied late at night on a Wednesday. This whole thing was the reason she overslept and passed out on her best friend’s couch, only to wake up with a not only a head, but a body-splitting migraine that even a double shot of Advil couldn’t kill. Then after a continuous string of profanities that escaped her lipstick-smudged mouth as she poured out a cup of milk on her Post Corn Flight (which was mistakenly the cereal Song Jaein, her best friend, told her absolutely never to touch), our star, Chae Min happened to peer at her phone and realize that, OH MY GOD, SHE IS TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES LATE FOR HER FIRST CLASS, WHAT THE FUCK?! Thus, began her fast-paced journey to her high school, consisting of a showerless starlet with unpaired socks, sprinkled with shoved pathways towards the subway, sore arm-waving for a taxi, and finally, a fifteen-minute walk towards her science class.

But of course, Chae Min’s bad luck doesn’t only include oversleeping and missed classes (plus quizzes). She just happened to be feeling a little bit uncomfortable as she sat down in her English class, squirming here and there, struggling to find a comfortable position. And yes, when lunch break came and Chae Min slipped into the restroom to do a short wee, she realized why she had been feeling uneasy. After all, the answer was laid out in front of her after she pulled down her skirt, all red and, well, bloody.

A couple of tampons later, we meet an aggressively moody Chae Min once more, but this time, she’s mad for another reason.

She. FREAKING. Lost. Her. Wallet.

Yup. Amazing. Just her lucky day.

It was really inconvenient; her wallet contained her IDs and credit cards, including all of her money. But don’t worry, she was left with at least ₩100 to buy a cup of ramyun for lunch, a collection from all the changes she had in her bag. The convenience store clerk was also very kind about the situation; she gave Chae Min a pack of mints for free.

And here’s Chae Min cue to finally say, “What a fucking day.”

Yes, those are the first words she had said aloud the whole morning. And to be honest, we should give her credit. The day wasn’t over yet.

The store’s door jingled to a close behind her as she escaped with a steaming ramyun cup in her hands, her poor backpack dangling from one elbow. Her stomach rumbled in impatience when the ravishing aroma of chicken noodles adorned with kimchi* hit her through the steam that flushed her face with warmness (kudos to the considerate store clerk for tipping a bowlful of kimchi into Chae Min’s ramyun to shut her up from repeatedly narrating her bad day). For once, Chae Min thought that at least something went well today.

Spotting an empty bench by the side of the busy street, she scrambled to reach the seat before anyone could claim it. Her steps were light yet fast; she had reached the bench just before a man turned to check if the bench was empty. Delighted that she could eat her noodles in peace to calm the raging war currently rumbling her inside, Chae Min dropped her bag onto the space beside her and took another deep breath to let the chicken-y smell waft her. Then, finally, she picked up her wooden chopsticks to stir the ramyun, pinching the chopsticks together to get the noodles, and bringing them to her salivating mouth.

That was when chaos erupted.

A force of something hard and, well, thick, slammed into her, forcing her whole being sideways. She felt it unfolding in slow motion—the bounce of her head to the left, followed by the heavy weight of her body—something hitting her hand—the cup of ramyun slipping from her fingers—

Suddenly, everything was going too fast; gravity grabbed her from behind and chucked her to the sidewalk, her palms were scraping the rough texture of the floor below her as an attempt to break her own fall. Her precious highlighted cheek pursued her palms’ fates, hitting the gravel with enough impact to send shock through her body, then her whole figure just . . . dived down deep into the unknown.

And when she opened her eyes, the first thing Chae Min saw was her ramyun spilling out its dear contents to the dirt in front of her, along with its kimchi, of course.

It took a good amount of self-suppression for Chae Min not to scream out a prolonged, “Noooooo!” while reaching out for the instant noodle.

Oh, no, not this now—are you okay?”

Someone was pulling at her hands and checking up on her, spitting out the usual are-you-okay -are-you-hurt-I’m-sorry-I-didn’t-see-you mantra, but Chae Min couldn’t take her eyes off the spilt noodle soup. All she could think of was that it was gone—that the Spicy Chicken ramyun with kimchi on the side was gone. Her hundred won disappearing down the drain without even touching her lips, spattered on the sidewalk into one sad, ugly, lump of trash.

Her chance at having a lunch, poof! Just like Dobby from Harry Potter. Disappearing into nowhere. Gone with the wind. Gone. Gone.

Oh, how she wanted the person who shoved her gone too.

Her hand clenched into fist as Chae Min slowly turned to face the poor man who bumped her. He was bowing down low in apology, all the while brushing her gashed palms with his own. His leg was jumping in anticipation as if he were in a real hurry, muttering something either curses or false confessions of regrets; Chae Min wasn’t sure. All she wanted to do was smack the living lights out of him, whoever and whatever his name was.

“—so sorry, I’m in a rush, you see, there has been an emergency—”

“Do you,” interrupted Chae Min in a low, gravelly voice, her eyes still clamped upon the noodles, “have any idea how much that instant spicy chicken cup noodle meant to me right now?”

The guy—a teenager who was probably the same age as her, wearing beige school pants that stood out against his dark blue hoodie—clutched his bag straps in surprise, seeming taken aback by Chae Min’s sudden outburst. “I—”

Her hands clenched into tight fists. “It meant my whole goddamn life. Do you know how hungry I am right now?”

He took a step back. It was kind of unnerving, being stared up by a woman shorter by a few inches with literally flaming irises. “Er—”

Chae Min took a step forward, looking like an anime that was alarmingly about to go insane with the way her side bangs shaded her eyes. “I am amazingly starving right now. Do you have any idea how much money I have left?”

“Few?” he guessed, backing up with his hands held out as though he was expecting her to suddenly attack him. But he answered the wrong response, and in return he received a devilish grin that made his spine tremble with sudden chillness.

“No, not few,” mumbled Chae Min. “None.

He took a deep breath, begging his mind to give at least a little more courage to defend himself. “Look, I know I spilled your… your hope, and, er… everything, but I’m willing to compensate it. The only thing is that I’m in a real hurry; there’s been an emergency—”

He cut off his own words as he looked down at his hoodie pocket, plunging in his hand and taking out a phone that seemed to be ringing in loud, jingling tones. The guy’s eyes widened in into two large saucers, his mouth gaping open at something glowing on the screen, something that seemed to be more horrifying than Chae Min. He took a step back, eyes still locked on his phone screen, then within a second, he had run down the street in quick, athletic strides that made Chae Min shout words of foul-mouthed insults after him, demanding that he should COME BACK THERE AND COMPENSATE FOR THE MOTHERFUCKING PROBLEMS HE CAUSED, thus resulting to a policeman escorting her down to the precinct for “disturbing peace and quiet”, and “causing ruckus on a street”.

So, not only Chae Min almost had a criminal case, but she also had to walk home 47 minutes longer and twice the usual time her daily home arrival. This, of course, was the reason she was grounded for the two Saturday and Sundays, excluding the two Fridays where she would have to rid the dusty basement of hand-sized spiders and the popular brown, flying insects called cockroaches. Oh yeah, we forgot to include that she had no pocket money for the next days, since she lost her money, cards, and literally everything else she placed on that stupid wallet of hers.

But there’s one thing that never disappeared from Chae Min’s mind as she battled with the zip-lining butterflies—I mean, cockroaches, across the basement ceiling.

And that, was the face of the so-called guy who spilled her precious instant Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup with kimchi on the side.


*(김치) Kimchi

-a traditional Korean side dish, made with salted and fermented vegetables


(.3)


Twelve-year-old and fifth-grader Kim Chae Min had seen different kinds of haircuts. From layered, down to undercuts, sliding over to mohawks, pixie cuts, buzz cuts, and even the messy bob—you name it. A normal school day for her consisted of stumbling down or tripping cross the hallways to her classes, swimming through oceans of different cuts, shades, and colors of hair, all with familiar faces for she may or may not have crossed paths with everybody at school in one way or another. Just like that one girl over there, who was just closing her locker, with that really cool and awesome haircut where you had to have enough courage to shave half your head and let the other side down in cascading waves. That girl just happened to be someone Chae Min bumped into in the library just a few weeks ago. She remembered her especially, since her hair was a cut in something Chae Min desperately wanted but unfortunately never had enough courage to do it.

Chae Min has photographic memory. Normally, photographic memory occurred on texts and images, but to Chae Min, it passed off only on faces. It was weird; there were times that she just happened to spot someone totally random and unknown, then she’d get this I’ve-seen-her-before feeling that would bother her the whole day until she remembered that it was someone she’d seen hanging out by the restrooms. Sometimes, they would just have to pass her, then suddenly she’d remember them, associating their faces with their hairs, and she’d be like,” Hey, isn’t that the awfully big nosed and green haired dude who smiled at me from the cafeteria line?“. That way, Chae Min was never bored, especially on the way to classes.

People would say, “Oh, wow.” whenever she mentioned this weirdness to her friends, them saying they wished they had that ability (then forget about it as they moved on to the topics of whose butt was cute and whose was a total pancake), but in real life all it does was annoy the hell out of you.

So, yeah, in one way or another, Chae Min knew every face at school. Literally speaking, if she had managed to spot every single face in the campus in her almost four years barely managing to keep up with her studying.

Or so she thought.

Because Chae Min had never seen this girl in the campus before. Like, ever.

Chae Min was passing the Head’s office that time when she saw her. Smiling at the Head’s assistant, sitting on a wheelchair.

One look at her and, boy, oh boy, was our Chae Min taken aback.

The girl was thin, really thin, like if Chae Min held her wrist, she’d be able to touch her own thumb with her index finger. That thin. She was deadly pale too, and her pupils were so black you’d get scared if she stared at you. She also had those green oxygen nose thingies, plus an IV pole with a matching drip at her side. Her lips were so dry Chae Min could see it peeling from where she stood and most importantly, most importantly, she was bald.

Bald. Like, no hair, no eyebrows.

Bald.

Right at that, Chae Min knew that the girl she spotted was probably sick. Something like cancer, maybe. But then the bell rang, twice, and Chae Min noticed that no one was left in the hallways except for her, so she had to run to catch her class, cursing as she went; her next class just happened to be Social Studies (and, unfortunately, her teacher just happened to be the b_tchiest b_tch of all b_tches, Mrs. Yoo), forgetting as soon as she reached her class the bald-y girl she’d seen.

But now, as Chae Min sat on those horrible blue plastic hospital chairs, waiting outside the ER for the doctors inside to crack her father’s ankle bones back, she couldn’t help but stare and recognize the girl beside sitting down her.

It was bald-y girl.

Chae Min glanced at her. Baldy (as her almost-racist mind called the girls sitting just beside her) wasn’t that bald anymore (she’ll still call her Baldy, but not out loud and to her face, anyway), she had at least a very thin layer of black and brown hair now that was not too covered by a green bonnet that she wore. She wasn’t that thin anymore too, although Chin was probably still 20 pounds heavier than her. In other words, she kind of got healthier.

Kind of. But not really.

Baldy girl caught her stare. If she had eyebrows, Chae Min was sure it would have been raised. Chae Min’s face flushed, and she opened her mouth to apologize, but she received a smile instead of a glare.

“Hey.” Baldy nodded at her.

Chin gave an awkward wave. “H—hi.”

“Waiting for someone, huh?” The girl pointed to the ER, and her IV lines moved when she raised her hand.

Chae Min nodded. “Yeah.” She was trying hard not to stare, so she focused instead at Baldy girl’s bonnet. “Dad slipped on the stupid driveway and somehow broke both his arm and leg.”

The girl winced sympathetically. “Ouch.”

“Yeah.”

Silence grew, and Chae Min started feeling uncomfortable enough to actually start debating in her mind whether she should or should not start small talk. And just so you know, Chae Min never encouraged small talk. But bald-y girl interrupted the silence anyway, so never mind.

“I’m Song Jaein, by the way.” A hand was extended to Chae Min.

She took it. “Kim Chae Min.”

“Cool name.”

“Thanks.”


여섯 (Six)


February 20

To say that Chae Min was SUPER FREAKING BORED would be an understatement. Because not only there was absolutely NOTHING to snack on at Jaein’s house (mainly because Chae Min had already eaten them as a cure for her mid-afternoon boredom), there were also no films interesting enough to watch except Game of Thrones Season Five—which they had already tried watching until they felt as if there was really no point binging on the whole season they’ve now memorized from watching again and again. It was just not worth it to see Margaery disappearing in a puff of green smoke—oh wait, did I say smoke? I meant fire—as Daenerys the Dragon Queen slowly disintegrated every inch of her kindness, making her the most disappointing character arc ever.

Anyway, back to Chae Min and her never-ending saga of troublemaking; she and her best friend, Jaein, decided to just go out and watch a trendy romance-comedy film in the nearby movie theater a few rides away from Jaein’s home. They had to leave for Chae Min’s house though, as the little fashionista of ours thought that there was undeniably not enough make-up and clothes at Jaein’s. Which was stupid, of course. Jaein had more than just the right amount of make-up to use.

“Nope.” Jaein shook her head more vigorously than she had ever done. “I am certainly not going to wear that, Miss Oh-you-should-wear-this.”

Chae Min waved the red glittery pencil skirt at Jaein’s nose. “But it’s perfect! Come on, Jaein, don’t be such a killjoy. You’ve already regretted about fifteen of what I tried fitting on that skinny curves of yours.”

Jaein narrowed her eyes at Chae Min’s choice of words. “These skinny curves of mine are perfectly fine,” she muttered, “and those skimpy skirts that you are forcing on me are way too revealing. Sitting around while wearing those clothes will show the whole wide world my undies, if I wasn’t arrested before that. Can’t I just wear skinny jeans?”

“Skinny jeans don’t match the crop top you chose.” Chae Min sighed, as if the prospect of having Jaein go over and over the same thing was tiring. “I told you that.”

“And I told you I don’t want to get arrested.” Another irritated snap.

“Okay, fine!” Chae Min ran a hand through her blond-dyed hair, turning back to the overflowing dressing room and digging into the drawer filled with designer shorts. She rummaged for a few minutes, finally deciding to pull out black shorts that hit mid-thigh. “Here.” Throwing the cloth to Jaein, she twirled away to take a pair of fishnets before tossing it again to her best friend.

At the face her friend was making, Chae Min figured that they would probably argue for another hour just because the shorts she chose was far ‘too revealing’ again, so she declared a proposal she knew Jaein wouldn’t say no to. “Wear that and you get to put on that hoodie you wanted along with the designer boots of mine that you’ve been asking for, PLUS I get to pay for both the film and the snacks. Utter a word, those deals of mine get thrown out the window.” Chae Min said this with a pointed look, a finger directed towards Jaein.

Let’s just say that that was the end of the argument.


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