Our school has an 아줌마 (ajumma, an old woman; both the Hangul and romanization are probably horrendous — too bad!) who cleans the place for us each night and throughout the day. I have some thoughts on her.
First: obviously, she’s no Steve Miller!
Seriously, though, this is a complex beast. My friend Claire and I have discussed, with no insincerity, the idea that this woman might actually just be a creepy ghost who flits about our hallways, haunting us with her very presence and scowly demeanor. What sharp features on this woman! What a cross disposition! Holy hell.
At first, it was just kind of a joke about how scary the woman is. Lately, I have gotten some serious cases of the heeby-jeebies. The unfriendly glances she casts my way have become more frequent and more unsettling. When I’m in the school’s small kitchen, which she oddly considers her domain, getting a fresh cup of coffee, I dread the sound of footsteps behind me, fearing she might slither up at any moment. I literally will not go into the kitchen if she’s there.
It was all just harmless hocus-pocus until last week, when the woman threw out a cup of erasers I had stored on my desk. These kids need those erasers! You should see the scribbles tossed across the pages now, zig-zags and blotches with no hope for cleansing. I was angry, and I knew it was the old woman, but my fear stifled my rage.
Yesterday, I noticed a single pair of scissors was missing from my classroom. If one child can’t cut his paper while his classmates carry on happily, we’re all fucked. Still, I did not want to confront the old woman about it. Instead, I talked to 채령, a girl I work with, lamenting the loss of my erasers and scissors, and outright blaming the janitorial “staff.” While 채령 did not agree that the woman had stolen my things, she had a clue as to why the lady was so creepy and dismissive toward me.
“She doesn’t like that you don’t say hi to her.”
“I say hi to her sometimes.”
“You don’t say hi every morning.”
“One, I at least nod my head when I see her. Two, you know I’m not that chipper in the morning anyway.”
(I am being very honest here. At best, I am aloof and unbalanced in the morning. At worst, I appear to be homicidally angry and unhinged. The glaze across my eyes is pretty fucking dynamic!)
채령 continued, “Well, you need to say hi every morning. She thinks you’re…” 채령 searched for the word. “She thinks you’re arrogant.”
“Yeah. So I talked to her about it. I just lied and said that you were stupid and didn’t know how to say hello in Korean.”
“So she thinks that I’m arrogant and stupid?”
“When did you talk to her about all this?”
“Two months ago.”
“Were you going to tell me about it?”
Here is where I should’ve said, BECAUSE SHE IS HAUNTING MY GODDAMN NIGHTMARES! I didn’t. I poured another cup of coffee (to soothe the lack of sleep caused by said nightmares) in the old woman’s kitchen and went about my day.
I did not say hi to the old woman this morning. Time to show these Koreans what American spite is all about.
Epilogue, part two
I guess it could be worse. The old woman acts strangely (and still creepily) friendly with Aaron, imploring him as to his churchgoing habits and religious affiliation. Now that’s scary!