He stares at the red lipstick stain on the paper that afternoon.
The rouge is still vivid with no sign of fading away, just like the memory of his short encounter with its owner: A pretty lady in a white suit jacket with the most infectious smile.
He was smitten at the first encounter.
The train passed by, the rush of air blowing his bangs against his forehead. He hears a rustle against his sleeve and sees a paper sticking against it. The wind blows harder and it slips before he can grab it. Oh well—
He takes a second turn when a lady brushes past him. The paper miraculously defies gravity, but the lady was more stubborn than ever. She (on brown heels and pristine white suit jacket—how could someone keep it spotless? He wonders) jumps and just like that, the flying paper is caught between her fingers. Aha, she makes a victorious sound, and sometime after that, they lock eyes. Brown clear eyes, sharp nose, and red lipstick.
He looks away as soon as she walks near him, her hand tucking away a hair behind her ear. He remembers to move. His right arm sways on his side, weight shifting to his other feet, and his eyes don't stay still as well. He steals another glance and catches her brief look in his direction.
Now, she quietly waits for the train with him, a folder held close to her chest. Maybe he should try to strike a conversation? He flexes his free hand. Never mind.
It wasn’t an unfamiliar sight to him as he is in the same predicament, albeit his a chunky envelope; office worker holding important papers for important clients and important bosses. Same old, same old.
(Just like any other person would do in most stations, he adds. He wasn’t anything special in the first place, what else was there to happen?)
He glances at his watch, impatient. He’s running late, and he’s stuck waiting for the train.
So, it was safe to say he was a little too uncaring that morning.
Perhaps it was the catalyst, or the wind that swept by, or the other passing train that caused it? Either way, a paper slips out of his hold and flies to her just as she was about to talk to him.
Yes, the lady with the most infectious smile, he duly noted. Damn his luck.
It lands on her, face flat, and he wakes up for the first time that day. His free hand shoots out from his side, the sound of the incoming train muffling his panicked inner monolog. He swiftly peels the paper out of her face, and the apology he prepared dies on his tongue.
She blinks for a moment before settling her gaze on him. He pauses, his jaw hinges shut when he meets her eyes. She’s—
His thought is unfinished as the loud screeching sound of the wheels against the rail became deafening, but he could still hear his heart pounding in his ears. She gives him a shy smile, then looks at the paper in his hand.
He immediately gathers his wits and bearings to apologize. He had no time to blame the wind, or the train, or the paper that slipped away. He should keep his apology genuine and concise, he nods to himself. She would appreciate that right? He clears his throat, hushing the whisper of his mind asking why he wanted to impress a lady he’s just met.
“Pfft,” she makes a sound with a face adorned with moon-curved eyes and a wrinkled nose. The color on her cheeks was rosily complimenting the red of her lips.
It was his turn to blink in a daze. She is stunning, he continues the unfinished thought from a second ago (and he sees so many faces every day).
But why was she laughing? Was it him? Did he say something out loud? Does he look stupefied right now? He must be. He looks around him, then himself. He realizes that he’s been stuck in the same position, with his arm up, holding a paper — then, he notices a red lip-mark on the white parchment.
She had kissed the paper red.
He makes out the muffled voice behind her sleeve before she is chuckling again. “Sorry, how can I make it up to you?” she says, apologetic.
He only shakes his head dumbly. “I, uh, you don’t have to.”
Was that why she was surprised? As silly as the happening is, and despite the absence of a humorous conversation, his lips tug upwards and his stomach does a somersault.
And that’s how he shared a smile with her before laughing at it too. Maybe Lady Luck is on his side for once.
He thinks he wouldn’t mind running late anymore.
He didn't smile when he was in the office, though. The lady was gone when he opened his eyes after laughing. Apparently, the train that caused the ruckus— yes, he’s pointing fingers now because he felt sour— was hers. He didn’t know how he missed that, but she gave him another glance and smile after she boarded the train. At least, there was that. His shoulders slump when he arrives at his desk.
There are multiple things he wished he could have done and said, but he wasn’t about to dwell on that — not when his boss is stacking up his papers, and giving him an earful.
“Will you please get to work?”
Great, he drawls out the voice in his head, more papers. He stares at the pile stacked on his desk.
He groans to himself, and then the paper starts to slip from the bottom of the pile. Her paper! He starts to fumble around and knock the pile over his desk. His arm stretches through the window to catch it from falling out of the building.
Honk! Honk! He gulps as he gets a look at the busy traffic below.
He grips the parchment with both hands in relief, his eyes trailing to the building next to his. Pristine clothes, the unmistakable stark white just through the window. It’s her, he whispers to himself.
He quickly opens the window and waves his arms above his head. He does it until he spots his boss peeking his head just in the corridor. Work, he can read the expression all over his forehead. Seung-chan frowns as soon as the man goes away.
He’s going to make a way. He sits back on his chair and rests his elbow on the paper-covered desk.
Papers. His eyes twinkle as the lightbulb on his head flickers to life. He takes one from the pile and starts folding it to a plane.
He pinches the crease again for an extra measure before looking from side to side.
Clear, he mutters to himself and throws the paper plane across the window. He watches it defy gravity and glide away until it suddenly drops mid-air. He pops his head out of the window, a little hope in him that the wind would pick it up just like it did last time.
The paper sags.
So, he sits back and makes another one.
He takes extra care on the next fold. He throws it with a little more force, and it works. But just as it was about to go inside the window, it makes a detour and hits the wall nose-first. He cringes at that attempt. Well at least, it’s closer, he shrugs.
He takes another paper, folds it with the same care, and raises his arm at a slightly different angle until it meets resistance. The man glowers down at him, pushes him back to his seat, and slams the window down. He quietly watches the boss stomp his way towards the closed room.
He doesn’t miss the warning written on the channels of his forehead. Focus.
His eyes only light up in determination.
Hands smooth down on the pleat the same way he did last time, although he added a slight tweak on the wing. He props his elbow up and flings the paper plane once more.
This one eventually soars through the sky, and he feels butterflies surging to his stomach as it is clearly on the way through the open window. That is the window from the floor below hers.
He watches the paper plane slide on the desk of another man younger than him. It makes a perfect landing and stops in front of its new owner. He scoffs, was that paper mocking him? He sees the man take the paper in his hand with great interest, and follows the path to where it came from. The man beams when they meet eye-to-eye.
Seung-chan immediately crosses his hands in front of him, mouthing, no, not yours.
The man frowns, crumples the paper in his hand, and throws it out the window.
Well, that was a waste of paper, he thought, rolling his eyes and getting another parchment from his desk.
The paper flies, barely missing the flock of birds in its path, but one (for some good reason was falling behind the flock) sparrow clashes with it. Seriously? He huffs.
It drops like the feathers the other bird has shed.
The paper nose dives on the window's apron.
Again. The paper completely misses its mark. Again. The paper hits the floor above, and he hopes it at least catches her attention as it drops, but the lady doesn’t notice it at all. Again. It plummets down. Again. It goes through and inside the room.
He holds his breath—doesn’t celebrate too soon. It flies and glides, and ends up in the trash bin. The bin behind the lady who now stood up from her seat and is showing her papers.
He slumps against the wall and accidentally hits his head a little too hard for his already frustrated mind. He curses.
He does it again.
He reaches out his hand to the pile again. Then the paper tray crashes with a sound. It lay there, already empty. It wakes him up for the second time that day.
He hears the ringing from the phone. He feels the eyes of the men inside the office. His deskmate looks at his empty desk and back to the pile of papers on his. He slowly pulls his pile away from him, wary of him. Oh, how he’s gone completely mad.
He shakes himself out of his reverie and looks out of the window to see her standing. She’s leaving. His heart pounds in his ears, yet he hears rustling. He peers down at the last paper on his desk. Her paper. The one she had kissed red.
His hand trembles slightly as he folds it with a familiar pattern. He pleats valleys and mountains on the paper. Fold each side as symmetrically as he could. The striking red sits on top of its wing while he readies it before letting it go. He exhales slowly.
The wind blows it off his hold. He scrambles and stretches across the window, but the plane slips away. With his chest resting on the concrete sill, he gets up once he notices the lady across the window opening the door shut. She’s really leaving this time. His brain racks for ideas, but at the sound of the door creaking open, he turns his attention back to the office.
The man pointedly shoots him a glare; he sees another door opening below. He needs to get out there, stat. He turns in the ball of his feet and collides against his boss.
The older man is sporting an upside-down smile, a lollipop between his teeth. “You,” he punctuates. His eyes dart on the new stack of papers on his hands.
The heavyweight of the papers dropping on his desk is resonating with the sound of his resolution. He’s back to square one. He sinks on his seat, shooting daggers with his eyes. How he wishes he could blame this the same way he did to the wind, the train, and the paper that slipped away.
Oh, how easy it is to blame—on Lady Luck, on his boss, on how uncaring he was this morning. Morning reminds him of pristine white, stubbornness, and smiles. Would he regret not taking a chance when it was graciously handed to him?
His answer makes noise through the chair screeching on the shiny waxed floor. His shoe skid when he dashes past the door, papers from the stack trailing behind him. He runs because he knows he will regret it.
Honk, beep, beep, the traffic is light. He notices unmistakable white so he moves. A car almost runs him over. His shoe barely got caught by the tire. The bus doesn’t hit the brakes. He smells smoke, rubber, and gas in the thick air. His life could flash before his eyes in a moment he thinks.
So he crosses the line. He sees faces, the unfamiliar ones, in the crowd. Fill his lungs with air, and the city noise in his ears. The paper plane stained in red lipstick flaps on the mailbox in front of him. He lost her. He had made a fool out of himself, all for nothing.
He sweeps the paper with his hand and hurls it away.
Walking is such labor. His feet are heavy, and so is his heart. He depleted resources, time, and effort for something he couldn’t attain. A sign that it wasn’t meant to be, is what echoes in his head.
Something sticks on his pants, and it was the blasted paper plane he created last. He flings it back to the ground. Then the wind blows, or the papers flutter without it. He couldn’t decide which one with more paper planes stuck to his coat. He brushes those with his arm again.
The wind blows, the planes jab on his tie in one straight line. “Wha—” he stops as it carries him away.
To the mailbox.
Across the street.
Past the office building.
How can something so little sweep him off his feet?
How can it make so much noise?
The papers flutter like butterflies in the meadow. He’s surrounded by a flurry of white.
Kyung-hee counts her steps. She stops by the flower shop to admire its displays. Daisies, daffodils, hydrangeas, and hanging vines. Today was a good day, she muses.
Her memory of the morning with papers and a charming guy makes her smile. It’s silly hanging on to that clumsy incident no matter how much it brings a curl to the corner of her lips. Or the fluttering in her chest, or tingling on her fingertips. It is silly, she reaffirms. Yet the tiny voice in her head she named Hope tells her that if it happens, it happens. She decides she’ll take it as it is, bask in how she is feeling, and permit herself to be hopeful.
Fwip, she hears it pass by and land on the bouquets. The flowers frame the paper plane in softs pastel hues, the greens nestle it between their tiny branches and leaves.
That is the pop of color that draws her to the piece of paper. A very familiar-shaped rouge had stamped itself on the wing of the plane. She jogs her memory for something similar, and it hits her like a train.
Laughter. With the man— trimmed bangs and a cute lopsided grin—who’s been stuck in the same position, with his arm up, holding a paper. A red lip-mark on the white parchment.
Kyung-hee recognizes it, and the paper jumps in the air and flies. She turns on her heel as it dances around her. Hope whispers in her ear, and she follows. Everything plays out like a tale, then.
Past the newspaper stand.
Along the pavements in front of towering buildings.
Through the flight of stairs.
Inside the train, where the ride was mostly running after the plane until the paper plops itself into her hand after leading her to a seat.
On the other hand, Seung-chan is dragged unwillingly into the train (by papers, he exasperates), and he huffs. The papers sit him down, and he waits for a second. He stands abruptly, aha.
The paper planes weigh him down once more. He crosses his arms and exhales sharply through his nose.
The kid next to him looks at him and his predicament in surprise. Magic, he hears the kid whisper, but his mother pulls him a good distance far from him. He tries not to take offense in that and shoots the papers a glare.
The train slows down to a halt as they arrive at the last station. The doors open in a click, and she slowly walks out to the platform, paper in her hand. It was light and cool in her fingers, she compares it to the heavy stack she was carrying to her interview this morning, in this same station.
She glances around, puzzled by the coincidence that led her here. Well, it isn’t exactly a coincidence, she studies the resting paper in her hand. The little one brought her here, so now what?
She brings the paper to her face to examine it closer. She bounces it on her hand. Why isn’t it moving anymore? She purses her mouth in dismay.
The wind picks up again, grazing her hair and over her eyes. She hears rustling. Below her feet are paper planes folded neatly. She sees high mountains, low valleys, and maybe a couple of crumpled noses from their journey.
With the breeze, it all dances on the ground until it stops, and her eyes trail to the others that are stuck in the air—rather, stuck on the suit of a familiar man. She meets his gaze. The remaining papers drop to the ground.
He faces her again. Although this time, with disheveled hair, jaw slightly ajar, and eyes twinkling in surprise and astonishment.
He’s all bare, is all that he could think about as he stumbles forward after the papers finally completed their magic. And it’s oddly opposite to what he expected magic would do. No transformations, no all-powerful side-kicks, and no granted wishes. He’s stripped away from all of those. All he could lay down on the table was what was left of him.
The thought of it is daunting, yet, it also doesn’t phase him at all.
“Hi,” he takes a step forward. This time he doesn’t miss the way she tucks her hair behind her ear and the little smile gracing her lips.
She takes one as well. “Are you free?” she asks. The question jolts him awake for the third time that day. He knows what she is implying, knows that she meant it in the context of work. But he ponders and reflects on all the things he has done that lead him to this moment with her. So without a second thought, he keeps it genuine and concise.
“Yes. Very much so.”
“So where’s the kid?”
“He left early, sir. Should we clear his desk? The papers are still there.”
“He gave up?” The man curls a brow.
He sighs heavily, “he didn’t use the other papers I left him with?”
“... those weren't work papers?” He blinks.
“I took it before it was shredded. Perhaps, he doesn’t need it anymore,” the man takes the pile again and brings it to his office. The office erupts into loud murmurs as his office door clicks shut.
“Boss must be sick. Is his wife visiting?”
“It looked like he's in an awfully good mood.”