Along the journey, Namjoo spotted a retail store. On its tall window a gigantic poster of a blond-haired Asian model. Lips so red an uncomfortable itching grew in Namjoo’s belly. Keyword: discomfort.
The idea brashly piqued Namjoo and she went in, then came out carrying a plastic bag of bleach and hair dye.
Three blocks down the Missus was waiting for her outside. A fair woman whose complexion was deep and silky as if she spent her days bathing in the sun. Ten feet from the tailor shop a brown door opened to a carpeted staircase. Up was where she was to go. Home-to-be.
“I hear you have a studio,” Namjoo did not forget to mention.
The woman’s eyes inched wide. “Oh? Would you be interested?”
The Missus led her around back where another solid brown door stood. A side window was curtained. Some dreary yellow Namjoo planned to switch in her time.
“The building is old fashioned.” Inserting a key, the woman twisted the round gold knob. Walking inside to show off what was available.
Creamy pale blue walls. Dull gray cement flooring with some cracks and stains. Open space. Enough lighting that not a corner went dark into the shadows. Simple. Namjoo liked it.
“I can promise you the previous owner cleaned up pretty well.” She modified as if to explain the various stains on the ground. “Poor painting work, though. Sorry about that.”
The walls seemed sturdy and soundproof though Namjoo would have to verify that when the tailor shop received customers. The privacy was welcoming; the studio a different sanctuary from upstairs, the other side.
“We can talk business tomorrow. I must be off now.” Handing her the key to the studio the woman briskly bid farewell and disappeared. Locking up Namjoo finally went to explore her new place.
An opening in the partial wall cut to the tiny kitchen. A gas stove, microwave above, the counters a stale green. Four feet from that a square table, two typical wooden restaurant chairs. Crammed into the wall in the far side of the kitchen out of sight was a fridge. The door handle seemed to be peeling.
A walk in and open, empty space. No television set. Just a plain old ripped two-seat couch placed against the wall between two windows. Matte wooden floorboards creaked as she stepped in. Opened a door. A good ole’ room with ten to twelve feet of space to fill up. No bed in sight. Looked like the rest of the furnishing was up to her to decide.
Next door a small bathroom held a stand-in shower. Also, no curtain but the sink and toilet were ready to go. At least she had been smart enough to pack her travel toothbrush and toothpaste. For now, she also had a towel. She would just have to be very careful showering in order not to splatter water everywhere.
On the other hand, since she’d completed check-in an urgent task awaited. Setting down the plastic bag on the corner of the sink counter, Namjoo peered at herself in the mirror.
Time to cause a riot.
Four years to get his Bachelor of Arts degree. Three years of law school with clerkship work in between. Then a year to pass the bar. A total of eight years brought him into six months of prosecutor work.
Every effort he put in paid off. Save for the few that broke his heart along the journey. Like the disappointment in Professor Lee when he didn’t score well enough on a mock exam and fell off the favorites list. When his childhood friend moved out of the country, the biggest regret being Jongin could not see him off at the airport as the pressure of classes kept him glued on campus. Commitment before friendship.
Or when Song Aeri dropped out of law school. She had gotten in riding on a scholarship like he. One of the many menial things they had in common. The rest differentiated them. She was funny and witty. He quiet and more serious. Always seeing the light of any situation while he remained frustrated and fitful. She a woman and he a man. Fitting together like yin and yang. It had felt like that.
Song Aeri had midnight black hair that ran down to her waist in a waterfall. How tacky his mom had whispered after he introduced them for the first time. Aeri spent most days pinning them to the back of her head and he thought she was so pretty as it made her oval face more prominent. He loved the almond of her eyes, the distinct way the upper corner of her right cheek twitched when she laughed too hard. His mom on the other hand, did not like her nose or the shape of her rough squarish chin. Only favoring the fact she was a law student. Thus, was he only allowed to officially date her with approval from both mom and dad.
Until Song Aeri dropped out as then did the approval of mom and dad. As also his close friendship with Ji Hangyeol, another law student on the campus of SNU, whom had an affair with the girl of his life.
So now, he spent most of his days listening to mom rant about his outlook on romance, marriage, women. Look at Aeri. You weren’t enough so she ran off with another boy. So many better girls, I can’t believe you were fooled! She wasn’t even pretty. A woman’s heart is only as good looking as her face, you have to know this et cetera et cetera. While his dad sat there sighing tiredly. One word in defense of his son and his spouse would snap his neck.
A string of his relatives and mom’s close friends all knew. From the grapevine it traveled all the way up north, swinging down south, and to the countryside. His mom having spread everything about his love life as if it were her own. Gossip among women his dad would tell him. Don’t listen.
Because in his family, men are the head of the household. Women could chatter, spread rumors, but what is said by the man rules above all. His embarrassment would not last, but Kim Jongin, youngest son of two, was not over it. And because he was the youngest and most successful, all attention was placed on him.
Kim Jeonghun, eldest son, was a computer engineer. He was married to Sa Nagyeom. No child yet. Their families all thrived and lived together. The couple shared a room adjacent to his parents. As his mom prided in the fact there was a daughter-in-law to ease housework and clerical house duties, his father was looked up to by relatives for being the oldest in his family tree. Old man Kim Hajun, being the one to lead the others.
Strong, outgoing, knowledgeable, intelligent Kim Hajun was the foundation for everything traditional. He attended rites, funerals, family gatherings. Helped be the voice for troubled families. Kim Hajun was the mediator in family dramas. When so-and-so cheated on so-and-so and the marriage was falling apart his father was called on to help negotiate and amend.
That was his family. No one was left behind. Here for each other.
Jongin found it burdening, but his father’s choices were to be respected as he’d learned growing up.