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This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog
Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
“How did the preliminary round go?” Bom asked as Juho sat down, yet to set his backpack aside. When he looked at her, Bom’s face was filled with anticipation.
“Like a walk in the park.”
Juho gave an answer that would satisfy her. At that, Bom smiled brightly and took out her phone to send a text to someone.
“Yep, and Bo Suk. She wanted to know. I’m going first between the three of us, so I have to make sure I start us off on the right foot.”
Like previously, Juho ended up being the first among the club members to compete in a contest. However, unlike the news he had heard of the preliminary round of the essay contest he was taking part in, Sung Pil had yet to contact him. Although Juho felt slightly concerned, he decided to set it aside for the time being.
Then, Bom said as she set her phone down, “Bo Suk was especially anxious.”
“It is her first time.”
Juho thought back to the day when Mr. Moon had asked Bo Suk whether or not she planned on taking part in an essay contest. She had answered after a brief time thought, “Yes, I’ll give it a shot.”
It was quick, and nobody had anything to add to her decision.
“Has she decided on which contest she will compete in?”
“I think she’s having trouble making up her mind. You know how confusing it was for us too.”
While Juho knew relatively better what he had been looking for, things hadn’t been as simple for the rest of the club members.
“She was certain about not wanting to compete in the same contest with you,” Bom said as if she identified with Bo Suk.
To which, Juho answered with a smile, “I’m starting to feel a little hurt here. You guys are treating me like a bomb.”
“Sorry, but I wouldn’t want to cross paths with you, even by coincidence,” she said light-heartedly, like a code between them. Then, she added with a bright smile, “So, you go and come back with an award, so Bo Suk feels motivated.”
“What’s my award have anything to do with her?”
“C’mon now. It has everything to do with her. Once she sees the person she looks up to the most come back with an award, she’ll be bound to feel motivated.”
“The person she looks up to the most, huh?”
“Her eyes sparkle every time she sees you.”
At that, Juho looked at Bom and said, “How about you take that role?”
“Yeah. You guys are close. Besides, don’t you think that it’s more effective when a close friend is rooting for you?”
A flustered look appeared on Bom’s face. Then, she answered in a quieter voice, “… don’t pressure me like that now.”
Juho hadn’t intended on pressuring Bom. However, if he were to pick the club member who had improved the most in writing, he would have picked her, and the rest of the club would agree. She was ready to write with all her heart, and Juho sincerely hoped that the essay contest would bring her confidence. Then, Juho asked her, “Your preliminary round is coming up soon, right?”
“Yep. By the time you’re done with your finals, it should be my turn. It is my second time at the contest.”
“Is it the same contest as last year?”
Bom nodded quietly. She had to have been preparing herself to the best of her ability.
“You feel less anxious than last year, right?”
“A little. Very, very little,” Bom answered as she showed Juho the tips of her nails in order to prove her point.
She seemed to be a bit more at ease than previously.
“OK, guys. I’m gonna start collecting your phones now.”
At the voice of the timid class president, only a handful of students stepped toward the podium to turn their phones in. Then, as Juho rose from his seat, his phone vibrated in his hand, and when he checked, the name Sung Pil appeared on the screen. At that, Juho realized that it was the news he had been waiting desperately for. As he checked the message quickly, a brief, one word text came into view: Pass.
“What is it? Huh?” Bom asked as she returned to her desk after turning her phone in. “What’s with the silly smile?”
Juho answered with his eyes fixed on the screen of his phone, “I have a friend who always meets my expectations.”
Then, Juho went on to make plans with Sung Pil for that same day.
“This is a big campus.”
“You can see the field from here. Is that fertilizer I’m smelling?”
Although the place wasn’t all that far from Seoul, it gave off a welcoming, country-like atmosphere, and it was especially so for the university campus Juho and Sung Pil were in. An earthy fertilizer smell was in the air, and the two walked further into the campus as they looked around it. There were other students besides Juho and Sung Pil who seemed like contestants in the same competition, and all contestants were to meet in a big lecture hall named Garam Hall.
“Love the fresh air,” Juho said as he took a deep breath, realizing how inferior the air he had been breathing up to that point had been. “I like this campus.”
At Juho’s remark, Sung Pil asked, “How are your grades?”
“That question’s too real.”
Then, they walked past the gingko trees lined up by the street.
“You’re planning on going to college, right?” Sung Pil asked, looking at the massive building they were approaching.
Contrary to Juho’s expectations, the conversation continued. As a high school student, attending a university was an obvious goal, and judging from the certainty in Sung Pil’s voice, Juho was able to understand where he was coming from.
“I’m not sure.”
“Are you not going to?”
That time, Sung Pil asked while emphasizing the vague possibility in Juho’s answer, and Juho, too, looked up at the massive building.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“What does that mean? Does that mean you might end up not going to one?”
“Maybe. I’m not obligated to.”
“It may not be an obligation, but I heard that it’s essential.”
Then, Juho looked at Sung Pil, and asked, “If it is, then why do you ask?”
“Aren’t you asking because there’s a choice in the matter?”
He looked around the peaceful campus. People were bound to have differing opinions about that university in Gyeonggi-do, and because of that, conflict would be inevitable. Those who want to attend, and those who didn’t. Those who couldn’t attend, and those who were obligated to. Everyone fought their own battles.
While Juho himself was leaning toward the second of the four choices, there were still times when he would find himself confused about his decision. Nobody knew the result of the choice they made, therefore, and they had no reason to fear others criticizing or mocking their decision.
“What do you think I should do then?”
“Just like everything else, you keep pondering and you stumble across an answer, and then the responsibilities.”
“What if you make the wrong decision?”
“It’s fine. You’ll have a way out.”
Then, Juho said as they arrived at the building, “I don’t think this is it.”
“… Are we at the wrong building?”
“Let’s go back.”
“Is there time?”
At that, Juho checked the time and answered, “Yeah, plenty.”
In the end, it wasn’t until they gave themselves a thorough tour of the campus that they arrived at Garam Hall.
“I will now present the topic of the 7th Literature Essay Contest,” said a middle-aged woman, who had introduced herself as a professor of creative literature, and a student sitting next to her typed busily on the keyboard.
Then, three topics appeared on the screen at the center of the hall: challenge, umbrella, and taxi driver.
As the professor recited the topics, Juho stared at those words for a brief moment. While he contemplated what to write, he felt a burning gaze from behind him. Looking back, he saw Sung Pil, who was sitting diagonally from him. They were in opposite places from last year’s contest.
“Now, please, feel free to write anywhere within campus.”
An unexpected announcement sounded. The contestants weren’t limited to writing in the lecture hall, and Juho quietly celebrated the fact that he could be free from the burning gaze that came from behind him.
“Two hours from now, you may return to this lecture hall with your essays. There’s a campus directory, the competition schedule and where you can submit your work on the handout we just gave you, so please, keep that in mind.”
As a handful of students responded by reflex, the professor began to converse with her T.A while the contestants made their way out of the lecture hall. Juho looked down at the manuscript paper and the handout in his hands. Just as the professor had said, there was a directory, a schedule and an indication of where to submit the essay, including the time and location of the award ceremony. Underneath that, were things that contestants needed to be mindful of, and while Juho was reading them, Sung Pil struck up a conversation with him.
“Are you gonna write here?”
Juho looked up.
“I’m gonna follow you.”
He was rather straightforward. Then, Juho rose from his seat, saying, “Well, the entire campus is at our disposal, so we might as well take advantage of it.”
“What about that trail with gingko trees?”
There were rare occasions in life when misdirections turned out favorably, and because they had already been to the trail before arriving at the lecture hall, they didn’t have to worry about getting lost or not returning in time.
Then, Sung Pil nodded enthusiastically as if he was fond of Juho’s suggestion. Just like that, the two exited the lecture hall with the little burdens they had, such as paper and writing tools.
“As expected. It’s quiet here.”
The two had arrived at the end of the trail. The air was still fresh, and the fertilizer smell was nearly gone. Unlike most students who wouldn’t have hesitated to turn back at the smell and find a different place to write, Juho and Sung Pil were at the trail alone, as if they had reserved the place for themselves. There was nobody coming out of the building which the two had mistaken as Garam Hall, either.
“There’s a gazebo there. Should we check it out?”
Juho made his way toward the garden, which was decorated with flower pots. It seemed like a resting area, and along with a gazebo, there were a number of benches throughout it as well. Each finding a seat, Juho settled at the gazebo while Sung Pil chose a bench placed in the middle of the trail. They were neither near nor distant from each other. With Sung Pil’s face visible through what looked like a wall of reeds, Juho felt comforted enough to write in peace.
“Well, shall we?”
With that, their conversation came to an end. Although Sung Pil moved around busily to observe Juho, he returned to his post eventually to write. He was a terrible multitasker. Sensing that he was free from Sung Pil’s burning gaze, Juho thought about the three topics: challenge, umbrella, and taxi driver. ‘What should I pick? What should I write?’
Sung Pil had told him once that he was planning on creating a character based on Juho from the interview during the school festival, and he was sensitive enough to recognize the minute difference between the Juho from the interview and the person he was facing. Juho agreed with Sung Pil that he had sounded more like an author in the interview, and the person who had been interviewed by the monkey-like classmate had been an author named Juho Woo.
Sung Pil had read ‘Grains of Sand.’ Although different from Yun Woo, it was just as Yun Woo-like in terms of quality, and because of that, the rest of the club members had been avoiding competing in the same contest as Juho. However, Sung Pil was just about the opposite. He was excited to compete with Juho and he had come up with the goal of being Yun Woo’s rival after reading his books. At that, Juho felt an unfounded certainty that Sung Pil would accept him as he was even after discovering that he was Yun Woo all along. Looking forward to the day when they would meet as authors, Juho put pressure into his hand. Until then, the best thing to do was to write with all his heart.
“Should I try writing about him, too?”
Challenge, umbrella, taxi driver. Juho decided to write about challenge, which had a lot in common with Sung Pil, who kept pushing forward without fearing what other people had to say about him.
Juho imagined a tall gingko tree, reaching up high with a thick trunk. It didn’t try to avoid thunder or lumberjacks. It simply stood its ground and survived, providing a resting spot for people. Sustained by the nutrients in the soil, the tree stood stubbornly in its place, and there were people who ran past it consistently, every morning.
While they tended to vent at the tree, they also ignored or leaned against, or were impressed or envious of it. Seeing the course of human life, from their birth to becoming a part of a society, reproducing, and dying, the tree came to realize something about humans. The very act of them running past it was a challenge in and of itself. Living through their daily lives was a noble challenge, and the tree also came to realize that it had also been making the same challenge.
Juho moved his hands and wrote calmly. The gazebo was peaceful as there were no cars or pedestrians around it. There were flower pots around him, and next to them were the gingko trees that were lining up the trail. Then, a thought crossed his mind, ‘Maybe this gingko tree is reading my essay over my shoulders.’
With that, he concentrated all the more, and he was left uninterrupted until he finished writing. It had to be the trees around him.
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