The Flower on the Riverbank (Book 1 - The Sprout)

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Chapter 3: Friends Never Say Goodbye

Ho-Orabeoni’s visits would become regular for the next couple of years. Every year he would visit the countryside estate once or twice, staying no more than a couple of weeks, and informing the old master of his arrival well ahead of time. The young man also became the favourite subject of discussion for Soo-Ah, and she would be over-excited whenever she learned he was planning to visit. She always asked her grandfather if he received any letters and what they said.

Jung-In hoped he will be allowed to forget about Ho-Orabeoni, but that would never be the case. Whenever Ho-Orabeoni visited though, he would forget all about his resentments, especially when the young master brought presents along for them.

As time passed, and the children grew older, the Old Master decided maybe it was time to start giving classes for both Soo-Ah and Jung-In. Planning out their lessons implied the children ended up having a more organized day with not so much free time on their hands. This made them argue less and less.

There were however two topics left for disagreement. Jung-In’s pranks on Soo-Ah and the fact the boy started to show a talent for studying. Such talent made even the Old Master give praises to the young lad. Obviously, he took those praises seriously since he would brag about how smart he was to Soo-Ah, and how his wit made him always right in their disagreements. Jung-In was two years older, and despite his unruly nature, he was gifted with a focused mind and found himself interested in anything the old master was willing to teach them. This drove the girl crazy, so much so that whenever her grandfather praised Jung-In over any little achievement, she would leave the table to go sulk in a corner by herself.

Old master tried to soothe Soo-Ah’s envy by telling her it was only natural for Jung-In to be better since he was older than her, and a boy. Because he was poor and of low birth, learning was his only opportunity to make something of himself, and that Soo-Ah should be happy for him since he was her “older brother”.

“Why are boys better than girls?” - asked Soo-Ah in an annoyed tone.

“Well, girls grow up and become women and take care of the children and the home. Boys grow up to be men and men are the ones responsible for the wellbeing of their family, and of their home, for the wellbeing of everyone close to them. Like our king is taking care of us. So, men tend to have more responsibilities. It is a good thing when they excel at what they need to do to fulfil their duties, like learning, fighting, making the best decisions for those for whom they are responsible.” - answered her grandfather, thinking of the best way to differentiate between men and women’s duties.

“What about the bad deeds like wars or what those peasant robbers do - are those not done by men also?” - Soo-Ah was intrigued thinking of some of the faults men could possess.

“Hmm, wars, yes, I guess not everything men do is always a good deed. What I am trying to say is that each of us is different and we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but we must always abide by the law and by common sense. Jung-In happens to be talented at learning and is a little older. I know you are also very smart and maybe, by the time you will be his age, you will end up becoming even smarter than he is, so never give up learning new things because you think someone does it better than you. Besides who knows what other talents you have hidden inside you.” - replied her grandfather.

“Jung-In once told me I have a hidden power and that I can put out fires with my eyes.” - Soo-Ah’s gaze sparkled thinking of some reason why she was special.

Finding the conversation was straying from its original subject her grandfather replied.

“Now, this is something I have never heard before. Don’t you understand? Jung-In also thinks you have something that he does not. Do you see him get all upset about it? There is no need to resent him for his talents. Isn’t that right?”

“I guess you are right, grandfather. That means he is not better than me just because he is a boy! It means we are only a little different.“- was what the girl took away from her grandfather’s explanations.

“But from what you said before does it mean men are the only ones responsible for all that goes wrong in our land?“- asked Soo-Ah puzzled and unwilling to let go of the one thing she thought that made her better than a man.

“I would not go that far. Sometimes mistakes are made. You do remember only those who do no work make no mistakes, right?” - concluded grandfather Min-Jun.

Mistakes or no mistakes, Soo-Ah had never heard of a woman doing a bad deed. Though there were not so many women she knew of.

The children’s strained relationship, since their lessons started, was something that saddened Jung-In, so he was willing to bend over backwards the get Soo-Ah’s attention. Since he lacked better ideas and never asked for council, he ended up exaggerating with his teasing and his jokes.

Jung-In once put a grasshopper in her bed before Soo-Ah went to sleep, and waited patiently outside her room to see her running, so he would play the hero by saving the girl from the grasshopper.

After she put out the lights in her room, Soo-Ah was trying to fall asleep while thinking about what her grandfather said to her, related to the differences between men and women’s duties. Then, suddenly, she felt something moving under the covers, and barely grazing her leg. At first, she froze not knowing if that was her imagination, but when she saw the huge bug coming out from under the cover, her eyes grew wide with horror, and could not contain the girlish scream she let out, at a high pitched volume.

“There is something in my bed! Help, grandpa!” - the girl jumped quickly and opened the door to her room, having her hair all messed up, and a look of horror on her face.

Seeing her like this, Jung-In forgot all about his chivalrous intention and started laughing his heart out. Finding he was there she screeched:

“It was you! You did that didn’t you?!” - accused Soo-Ah pointing her finger at Jung-In then at her bed.

“I do not know what you are talking about, but you should see your face! Pu-ha ha!”

“I am talking about that huge bug in my bed!”

“Oh no, are you scared by a huge bug in your bed? I thought you usually looked like this when you go to sleep... Pu-ha ha-ha!” - Jung-In was not able to go past the girl’s hilarious appearance.

The old master exited his room, expecting the worst when it came to those two,

“What is this all about?”

“Grandpa, Jung-In put something in my bed to make fun of me.”

“Why am I to blame if some grasshopper jumps into your bed?” -asked Jung-In, feigning innocence

“Aha - I never told you it was a grasshopper, so it really was you. Grandpa, please take that thing out. I am afraid to go back to sleep.” - pleaded the girl in a winning tone.

“Only the gods know what pranks Jung-In is trying to pull but I do not want my granddaughter to fear an insect. Let us see what this is all about. I will deal with you later, Jung-In.” - said the old master in a serious tone, which made Jung-In swallow hard.

The old master managed to catch the grasshopper in his palms and then he signalled for Soo-Ah to come closer.

“I understand how we can be afraid of things we do not know. Or of things we do know and are dangerous. But you should not fear a grasshopper. Come, let us inspect it together. These are his legs, the bigger ones at the back are used for his jumps. And these are his antennas, they help him look around. Understanding the unknown is the first step to conquer your fears. When you show someone what you are afraid of, you give them power over, and you never know how they may use.” - was what her grandfather told her, and he continued:

“Right now, Jung-In found out you are afraid of grasshoppers and he might use this to tease you again. Do you want to let him do that, or do you want to overcome your fear?”

“I do not want to let Jung-In scare me again.” - replied Soo-Ah.

“Then come here and touch this grasshopper. Why don’t you make him your friend? I have something that could help with this.”

Taking the insect he went out of the room and returned with a beautiful ornate wooden box. Old master placed the grasshopper inside and handed the box to the girl asking:

“You choose if you let go of your fears and keep him as your friend, or you let go of this possible friend and you keep your fears.”

With shaking hands, the girl reached for the box and spoke:

“I do not want to let go of my friends. I will call him Pow-Pow. Pow-Pow the grasshopper.”

“Wise choice, my child. Now you can go to sleep.“- and he kissed the girl goodnight.

Soo-Ah placed the box on a table near the window, the farthest place from her bed. Most of the night she spent waking up and watching over Pow-Pow, in fear it will escape and come to torment her again. This night she also learned letting go of her fears is not as easy done as deciding to let go of her fears. And, like everything else in life, it was yet another aspect that will require her to work on it.

As Jung-In excelled more and more in his studies, the old master had a thought. What if he would send the boy to study in the capital. Luckily, he had someone he could trust with this idea. Knowing that Ho-Orabeoni’s visit was approaching, he sat at his table writing a letter, detailing his plan, and asking for some options. By the time Ho-Orabeoni came to visit most of the details were decided upon. It was only the matter of Jung-In’s father.

The administrator was overjoyed and touched by the old master’s care for his boy, and he quickly agreed. It was settled, when the young master was to return to the capital, after his visit, he would take Jung-In with him and help the boy in furthering his education. All that was left now was to inform Jung-In and Soo-Ah.

Jung-In was torn between leaving his home and the excitement of going to live in the big city. After a one-on-one talk with the old master, he grew more and more impatient for the moment he would leave and start what he would call a new life.

Soo-Ah had nothing to say and remained silent, fixating her stare on the floor beneath her feet. In the following days, she tried to avoid Jung-In as much as she could.

On the day when Ho-Orabeoni was set to leave with Jung-In, she found herself fighting the tears. A mix of feelings was coming up all at once, and she was not able to make sense of them. She lost her fight when it was time for the final goodbyes. Her eyes poured tear after tear after tear and she sobbed uncontrollably, while Jung-In was taken aback by her reaction.

When they received the news, he thought Soo-Ah to be jealous of him and how this was the reason for her distancing, but seeing her cry now, in front of him, he could hardly believe his eyes.

He was truly touched by her reaction. Despite all their arguments and all their fighting, and all that had come to pass between them in the time they grew up together, she would miss him. From the time they shared baths until they shared fights or laughs, she cared for him as he cared for her.

Picking up her face in his hands he lifted her head so that he could look her straight, “Do not cry Soo-Ah, you should be happy since no one will make you upset anymore.” - he said trying to get one last tease.

But Soo-Ah closed her eyes and continued sobbing. At this moment, a sudden urge came over him and he embraced the young girl tightly in his arms feeling his own tears overtaking him. As he got up on the horse and was led out of the courtyard, he saw the inevitability of this decision, and looking back, he could no longer hold back his tears.

So, he started crying and shouting, “Stupid Soo-Ah, do not cry! Friends never say goodbye! I will come back to you. I promise I will be back for you! I will be back, Soo-Ah, and I will bring you the most beautiful jewel in the city.” Having found his resolve he shared it with everyone listening, “If the jewel makes you even a little beautiful, I will marry you, Soo-Ah. I will come back, and I will marry you!“.

His shouts became fainter and fainter as the party was distancing themselves from the house.

Soo-Ah was now crying uncontrollably, barely managing to speak a sentence just for her to hear, as if she was trying to console herself:

“Stupid Jung-In! I am not crying for you. I am crying because you get to leave with my Ho-Orabeoni.”

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