Monday morning’s meeting begins in typical fashion- a solid twenty minutes late and commencing with the customary prolonged silence once we were all gathered in the Fox 1 classroom. We sit at the pencil graffitied desks, listening to the air con gurgle into the silence while our eyes rest expectantly on Boss. He sits in a desk at the end of the U shaped configuration, slightly distanced from the rest of us. Across the room sits his wife Jenny, then A, me, the third American teacher at our school named Jai, Coco, and Kay. We sit like this every week.
On this particular Monday, Boss begins not with an announcement of bad news as he usually does, but rather with an inquiry as to how we spent our long weekend. No one particularly enjoys answering his questions, especially first, so after a few seconds delay, A briefly mentions our recent hiking adventure.
Boss asks if we made it to the top.
“Mmm,” he says.
As of yet, we’ve been unable to really decipher what this noise means besides that our words have entered his awareness. Boss crosses his arms over his polo and looks next to Jai. Every time he wears a short sleeved shirt I am surprised by the lack of hair on his round arms. His arms somehow feel mismatched from his personality.
Jai begins to tell about her weekend seeking sun. Boss watches her, his narrow glasses making him appear to squint, even when his eyes are wide open. The expression on his face is a mask, not of interest or disinterest, but rather of tolerance. It is a look that makes me squirm, for the meaning behind that mask is invisible to me.
We continue down the row until we get to Kay. When she says she stayed home this weekend because her husband had to work and she had to make him dinner, Boss seems to perk up.
“I don’t remember the last time my wife made me dinner,” he says. “For kids, yes. For me, no.”
Our strained titters of laughter try to cut through the instantaneous increase to the normal tension between Boss and Jenny, but to no avail. Jenny, angular in every way that her husband is paunchy, crosses her arms and I can see her gearing up to parry. Despite having given birth to five children, she is still narrow, pointy of both limbs and manner. Digging at people, unearthing them from the stories they tell themselves is one of her specialties.
Boss attempts to brush away our discomfort by turning to business, but Jenny is having none of it.
“I did not tell about my weekend,” she says.
We all smile. In all her snarkiness Jenny is quite funny at times.
“It was horrible,” she continues. “My husband wanted to go camping but he has no reservation.”
It was a holiday weekend and a busy time for travel. Reservations anywhere were pretty much necessary as we found out during our own planning adventure.
“We drove for four hours,” Jenny goes on. “Four. We stop here. No opening. We stop again, no opening. And my children, they begin complaining. ‘Mom, I’m hungry. Mom, I’m tired.’”
Jenny does an amazing impersonation of her whining children. I can’t imagine all seven of them crammed together in their little four-door, five-seat car, let alone the unhappiness from children ages five to thirteen.
“We camp with no water,” Jenny says. “Only a river, but the water, it is not good for drinking. For food we have only beef. And the next day, I go to Seoul, so I walk, walk, walk for an hour and a half back to Yeosu. Cars keep stopping, asking to take me to town. But I walk. One man, he ask two times to take me.”
At this point, Boss unbuttons the top of his polo. He turns to the computer screen facing the room, but I can tell he is still listening, aware of all of us listening to his role as a husband.
“The man, he says to me, ‘I cannot leave you,’ but I just walk, walk, walk,” Jenny says and I can’t help but laugh a little, picturing her speed walking down the highway in the purple blouse she is wearing this morning.
Boss however, isn’t amused. He reaches for the computer mouse and starts into business.