The evening after Munho dropped her off at the subway, a long message from his mother awaited her in her voicemail.
“I know you skipped the wedding out of anger, but your trivial feelings have hurt our families, Namjoo. You’re not a child anymore. You need to think about the people around you, about your mom and dad and how they’re getting older. You’re their only child now, so you should give them more respect than you are right now. It’s embarrassing and impolite of you at this age to be acting out. I can understand that things haven’t been going well between you and Munho. You’ve been separated for years, but my son is a good man and he promises to take care of you. I am hosting a dinner party this weekend and you are required to make attendance. Think of your parents and my son, and perhaps I will wholeheartedly forgive you for throwing your fits. Whereas you will be my daughter-in-law, I do not want any negative feelings between us. I expect to see you there and on time.”
The rage that heated in her was indescribable. Namjoo had fought really hard not to throw the phone into the wall. Everyone was intent on shortening her freedom. Once she was married, she’d be singled out, forced into a life as a wife, a bidding daughter-in-law, and become a mother. She’d have to listen to her husband. Follow his steps. Be careful not to stain his reputation or cause drama. Every action would be under his watch, be perceived as permissible or not allowed.
Her relationship with Munho would change from being her brother’s best friend to her husband. Things like that twisted extreme dynamics between people.
Namjoo would not have it.
So, she’d dressed into her best uniform and gone to the courthouse the following day. No jeans. No coat. But she left more pissed off than before she went in.
Chilled beer in hand she’d paced her flat back and forth for several days. Passing Jongin’s picture pasted to her wall repeatedly. He was supposed to be her hope. The light to her answers.
Procedure was flat out procedure. She would lawyer up then.
The first lawyer listened sympathetically. Nodding, made full eye contact throughout the entire thirty minutes of introduction and greeting, then when Namjoo revealed who her uncle was, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t think I’m capable of handling on your case. May I refer you to someone else?”
She met a second one that late afternoon. “No, I’m sorry.”
Another, “No.” the following.
The fourth one hurriedly packed up claiming he had a court case to follow up on and left her sitting in his clean white office, confidential manila files on his desk.
Day before the dinner, Namjoo sat in her studio and drank. More out of anger than sadness she told herself. But truly, she was disappointed.
Uncle Namhee was not someone anyone could take on. Very clearly, Namjoo already knew this. Anyone would think she was setting him up for failure if asked to represent her in court. But she still wanted him behind bars.
So she drank a little more because it was difficult but not impossible. And she needed to stifle this feeling of hopelessness.
When she woke up, she discovered her first painted canvas, done drunkenly, in a bloody mix of brown, black, and red. Shades of home and nightmares. Splashes of her life.
Memories. Things that she clung onto like a grudge.
Things that kept her going full speed.
Rubbing her face tiredly, Namjoo remained sitting on the ground for a good fifteen minutes before trudging upstairs to shower. Next, she made the trip to a store for whatever dress she could find and left with one a little too tight. The cheapest kind she could find. Well, whatever, right?
A quick trip to her mother’s favorite salon where she got a discount on makeup, put a credit in her mother’s name, then she was off with a hungover headache rampaging through her skull.
On arrival, Namjoo held her head high. This being her first public appearance in five years. Aware she was not dressed her best and things would be said behind her back, but that, too, she mentally steeled herself for. Honestly, what did it matter? In the past, more painful words had been said to her face than at her back. Much damage had already been done.
The room was half packed, which meant Namjoo could hide amid the mass. But only for so long. Her face was familiar. It would be easy to pick her out. Instead of letting them find her, Namjoo decided it best she find her parents.
As expected, Madam Kim gasped at her dress, the slit that ran from thigh down and the deep of her cleavage. “Namjoo! What are you wearing?!”
On the good side, she was not with her father. How he would have revolted! The dutiful Madam Kim had been drinking wine and chatting it up with whom Namjoo was to refer as Aunt Go out of respect. Not because they were actually related. Or rather, she had been informed to start calling her mother before she dipped five years ago.
That, though, Namjoo would pretend to have amnesia about.
“Aunt,” Namjoo smiled what was more a smirk, “I came as promised.”
“Why, Namjoo.” The woman’s eyes scoured every inch of her. False lashes swinging up, down, up, down revealing heavy eye makeup and powdery foundation. Came the unappreciative tone, “How lovely.”
Madam Kim breathed an awkward laugh, not sure how to amend the tension between to-be-in-laws. “You should have called me. I would have helped you prepare.”
“No need, mom. I’m not a child.” Namjoo coolly brushed her off. At Aunt Go, “So, should I look for Munho? Or do you want to catch up? Believe me, there’s not much to say, because I’m sure you’ve heard all about how I went into the arts and not the medical field. And I’m still jobless, but I paint.”
Munho’s mother uncomfortably shifted, faked a generous smile, and sought her mother for help. Namjoo was no longer lovely. No longer the subservient girl they knew her as. That girl died the day her brother did. Maybe before that.
No one could handle her.
Not mom and dad.
Or his relatives.
Aunt and uncles.
Namjoo did not come back to be handled anymore.
“I’ll leave you two to chat. Nice seeing you, Aunt,” Namjoo giddily exclaimed before circling a group of old men. Away now Namjoo’s expression flattened. Purposefully strutting toward the dining table Namjoo picked up a toothpick readily stabbed into a tiny sized brownie. Ironic how expensively hired five-star chefs were so greedy about food.
Damn everyone doing things just for show. No sincerity at all.
“Why, isn’t this our Namjoo?” A male voice haughtily greeted.
Her eyes flicked up. The familiarity of the voice waking the sleeping lioness in her.
“I heard from your father you’re back,” Uncle Namhee approached on her left.
“Better late than never.” Namjoo turned coy eyes on him. “There’s so much I’m looking forward to doing now I’m home.”
“Is there?” Laughter rumbled from his belly. Slender man he was. Charming to all the ladies around him. Dressed in his most expensive. Bow tie and all. Good choice of cologne. Full head of dyed black hair. Her father’s eldest brother.
In Namjoo eyes, he was nothing but a big, fat pig.
Making light t