By Jesse Coy Nelson
“I’m Jon! I’m Jon!”
“No, I’m Jon!”
In between classes, the halls of Reggie’s hagwon echoed with this proclamation.
“No, I’m Jon!”
It started with the new arrivals to the hagwon, a pair of boys who looked identical, with bowl-shaped haircuts, and large, round glasses. Within two days, their renown far surpassed that of Peter and Bobby, the English nicknames of two other students at the hagwon who were also twins, but not identical twins, like these new arrivals. How could a pair of twins such as the two of them, biovular twins not from the same egg, compete with the allure of real, identical twins? The answer was that they simply couldn’t.
As might be expected, some resentment was harbored, like a junk barge circling the bay, on the part of Peter and Bobby. That is, at least until this Jon game became all the rage, a couple days after it had begun. Reggie wasn’t quite sure if it really was a bona fide game, although it seemed to possess some rules of a sort, filtered through child logic. For the past three days, Reggie had been studying the “I’m Jon” phenomena.
It all started a week and a half earlier. It was two days after the boys had first arrived. Their arrival by itself was quiet enough. But eventually, it came time for them to pick an English nickname.
“I’m Jon!” one of the twins barked.
It was rather startling. Reggie had been on hand to witness the scene, the odd thing being that by all outward appearances, the twins looked like shy, quiet boys. That mold, the expectation that you had for children, she knew, didn’t always fit. Yet some predispositions were stamped upon a child’s face, as indelible as an ink stain and as clear as day. And what this boy’s face, these two identical faces, told Reggie was… here was a pair of quiet little guys.
“I’m Jon!” the one had barked.
“No, I’m Jon!” the other barked, without looking at his twin brother.
“No, I’m Jon!”
Heads poked out of classrooms all along the stretch of hall. Perhaps it was the sound of new voices, or perhaps the words, or maybe something else. But already, the twins were making a new and powerful impression on other students. And those students who looked, and really looked, who had not noticed the twins previously, thought for a moment that it was an illusion that they beheld. A new student was beside himself… literally.
“No, I’m Jon!”
From behind the reception desk, the receptionist, Sung-Ae, called to them in Korean.
Reggie knew this to be the equivalent of “hey!”
Sung-Ae went on to shoot rapid fire Korean directives their way, likely telling them to lower their voices, as she, Sung-Ae, had calls to make to parents, and having the hagwon sound like an unruly zoo just would not do.
“Ya!” she concluded, and closed out in English. “You both be Jon, but don’t shout!”
Uttering this, Sung-Ae took no consideration of the impractical nature of having twin students with the same English nickname. Even though one of the twins would eventually be named Vincent, the truth was, they had other plans, and they fully grasped the sort of confusion they would cause if, by their mutual insistence, they both loudly asserted…
Either that, or this was some elaborate game whose rules patient Reggie, who adored the inventive cuteness of many of her students, was still yet to grasp. Or maybe it was a bit of both.
“No, I’m Jon!”
Even though their respective abilities were relatively similar, and the hagwon divided students for the most part based off their abilities, it was decided that it would be best to keep Jon and Vincent in different classes to avoid confusion. Reggie was awarded Vincent, while her friend, Mike, received Jon into his class. Not that these arrangements mattered in the least to the twins, for Reggie was almost certain that the boys routinely switched which class they went to when they wanted, and were there for everywhere, and sometimes nowhere, all at once.
Sometimes, they were absent. They might claim confusion. Neither of them answered to Vincent, no matter who it was that was in Reggie’s class.
“Vincent, where were you on Friday?” Reggie patiently asked.
“I’m Jon!” barked the twin.
“No, I’m Jon!” called out Celia, normally a quiet girl, who for some reason found great appeal in the “I’m Jon” game. The girls, it turned out, took peculiar delight in playing this game, staring down the boys as they did so, as though possessed of some secret knowledge.
The whole class of eleven erupted into laughter.
“No, I’m Jon,” piped in Roy, his being more the retort of a confused clown off by half a beat.
Yet it still elicited more giggles.
“I’m Jon!” barked the twin.
Reggie suspected that this really was Jon, and not her Vincent. There was something sharper to the identical nose, as well as duller in the identical eyes.
“Where were you?” she repeated.
She had this class three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
“I was on the farm,” Jon told her. “I bought a cow.”
“One star for remembering and applying the last lesson,” she told him, for she had taught them words related to the farm, the circus, and the market last Wednesday. And while she gave him one of those valued silver stars that the students so loved to see affixed beside their names, she wondered where Vincent, or Jon, or whichever one this one was, really had been.
Reggie knew a pair of twins during her high school years. Chris and Clark had been identical looking in ninth grade, but by graduation time, an intentional effort had been made on the part of these brothers to achieve their own entirely separate identity. Or maybe it had just been one of them. Clark had put on weight and let his hair grow long. Chris’ hair remained short.
Reggie knew Chris far better than she knew Clark.
“What’s it like having a twin?” she asked him one day, regretting it nearly as soon as she asked it, for she was sure that everyone asked him the same sort of thing.
“I don’t don’t even know how to answer that,” Chris told her. “There’s someone always with me, always in my mind. I’m never alone.”
“Do you like that feeling?”
“I couldn’t imagine living without it,” he told her.
So Reggie, normally fascinated by the thinking processes of her students, was doubly interested in Jon and Vincent. She doubted that they were at any stage where they might articulate such thoughts on being twins as she had heard from Chris. But still, she wondered.
True, Jon and Vincent were much younger than Chris and Clark had been, when she knew them, in addition to the overall language barrier being in place. But even if these factors were to be removed, Reggie felt that there would be something separating Jon and Vincent, making them wholly different than other twins. As best she could express it, there was just something peculiar about these two boys.
One night, she had a dream about Vincent. He was missing from class. Reggie asked her students, “where is Vincent?”
One student stood up.
“You told us about ocean animals, so I buy fish head. How you like my head?”
This was Anthony. Instead of his normal face, a giant trout head sat atop his shoulders.
“That’s very inventive,” Reggie told him. “You get a green star. But where’s Vincent?”
“I’m Jon!” called out Lucy.
But Lucy was no longer in Reggie’s classes. Her mother had been unable to pay the monthly tuition so she had been withdrawn from the hagwon. Yet even if she were there, she had belonged to Tuesday, Thursday classes, not Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes. And she was wearing a tiny zoot suit.
“Where is Vincent?” repeated Reggie.
“He go out the window to the map room,” said Lucy, who twirled in her zoot suit. “Out window.”
Reggie’s hagwon was on the third floor of a five-story building. Yet in this dream, it was okay to walk out the window. Stepping to and then out the window, she walked on air, to the building parallel to their own building. This building resembled to Reggie a very tiny replica of the Empire State Building.
When she went through the window into a classroom in this parallel building, there she saw Vincent, with his back turned toward her, studying intently a map that she could not make out. For a while, she approached, but felt as though she grew no nearer. Yet finally, her hand did fall upon his shoulder.
“Vincent,” she spoke up, “what are you doing here?” She still could not make out the features of the map. “You should be in class.”
He turned to face her, and she was frightened by what she saw. His pupils were explosions, constantly detonating. His glasses reflected and refracted the image of a mushroom cloud. It expanded, like three-dimensional cinema. It consumed Reggie.
“I am study geography,” the boy told her, though he was less a boy and more of something else. As for the map, it was the Korean peninsula. “I’m a farmer,” he said.
He lit the map on fire.
Reggie woke with a gasp, covered in sweat.
That particular morning was a Friday. Reggie had been putting something off, but she knew she should not do so any longer. Her boyfriend, Scott, had been sounding so odd of late. It had been three weeks since they had last met. Part of her dream, she reasoned with herself, was a reflection of neglected responsibilities. It was not as though she had not wanted to visit him in Jinhae. It was more the opposite, as far as he wanting to see her.
The first thing she did when she arrived at the hagwon was to speak with Mike.
“Have you been talking with Scott lately?”
“Actually, he’s been avoiding my calls,” replied Mike.
“Well, it’s been three weeks, and he keeps putting off meeting with me,” said Reggie. “I think I have to go to Jinhae whether he wants me to go or not. Something’s wrong. But I’m a little… scared. Would you come with me?”
“He’s my friend, too,” Mike pointed out. “Just like you’re my friend. Of course I’ll come with you.”
“Thanks, Mike. What time’s your last class today?”
“I’ve got a 3:20, so I’ll be done at 4:15.”
“You think we can make the 5:40 bus to Jinhae?”