Copyright 2000 SeChsKieS GurL. All rights reserved.-->
“Ahnyonghaseyo.” Chomee curtsied, peering through her lashes at the stone faced woman.
“Are you Chomee Yoon?” the woman spoke flatly, observing Chomee.
“Neh,” Chomee replied politely.
The eyes narrowed to silts as they continued to roam freely over her body. “Do you know who you are working for?”
“For the Ko family?” Chomee answered with a question.
“For my son. You are to take care of him. He is blind and needs special care. His nurse couldn’t attend to him anymore, so you’ll be in place of her, understand?”
“Very good.” Mrs. Ko smiled coldly.
“Are you Yoon Shikbae’s daughter?” Mr. Ko interrupted.
Chomee’s eyes widened at her father’s name.
Mrs. Ko threw a piercing glance at her husband. “I think it’s best that we get going. We don’t want Jiyong to be waiting.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Mr. Ko said hurriedly, his eyes glued on Chomee.
“Did you bring any luggage?” Mrs. Ko inquired, getting up from her throne.
“I didn’t know I was to live - ”
“It’s okay. We’ll drive you home and pick that up on our way,” Mrs. Ko cut off.
“Am I to live there?” Chomee questioned.
“I thought we made it clear,” Mrs. Ko replied briskly.
“Noooo,” Chomee drawled. “You only asked to see me and said we’ll go over the options and the requirements.”
“You have to live with Jiyong and attend his needs. It’ll be more convenient if you lived in the house and don’t worry about your salary. Is four hundred a month enough?”
Chomee’s eyes bulged at the offered amount. “Four hundred? As in Migook tonl? Or won?”
“Do you think I am that meager? I’ll give another two hundred if you can stay more than two years.”
Chomee nodded her head vigorously. She didn’t care about what her mother thought anymore. Four hundred dollars a month was more than enough to cover both her mother’s future medical bills and her school tuition!
“Very good. Now, we will go see Jiyong,” Mrs. Ko beckoned.
Chomee tailed behind the tall woman as she made her royal exit to the garage. Her quiet husband fell into step beside Chomee and he tugged at her arm. “Is your father Yoon Shikbae?” he whispered.
Chomee gazed up at the giant and nodded briefly.
“Hurry! Puyin will be here any minute!”
A parade of feet stomped up the stairs and the servants busied themselves by making last minute preparations. Jiyong, who sat in his messy room, was thoroughly annoyed. So what if his mother came? It’s not like she was the President or anything. Since yesterday, the whole house was upside down. Windows and floors were scrubbed and washed over and over again. Dishes, laundry, the rooms were all cleaned. They practically sanitized the whole place and his room...nobody had dared to step in.
“Jiyong,” his personal servant’s voice rang out in harmony.
“Wut?” he replied with an edge in his voice.
“Would you like to see your mother?”
“Do I need to remind you? I’m blind.”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t. Tell her I don’t wanna see her. I’m sleeping.”
“You’re gonna have to face her, you know. Might as well get it over with.”
“I’m not up to it. I’m tired.”
“Fine. I’ll be cooking your favorite and you can eat it after your mother leaves.”
The servant disappeared to the kitchen. Moments later the doorbell chimed. Mrs. Ko made her grand entrance with her husband accompanying her and Chomee still trailing behind with her head bent low.
Chomee surveyed the grand hall of the enormous house and gawk openly at the vastness of the place.
This is a maze.
Just two days ago she thought she was prepared to handle all the surprises and shocks awaiting her, but to think this was beyond imagination. This isn’t an ordinary house. It was a castle. It instantly reminded her of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Miyoung tattled on deep in the night and even in her sleep, she could still hear her friend’s chipper chatter.
“Don’t forget to call me when Jiyong picks on you. Or for anything else,” her close companion reminded her, as she was leaving.
“I will,” she promised, pinching Miyoung slightly on the cheeks.
“Jiyong tends to have a temper. So watch it. Out yell him if you have to. He likes to think of himself as ‘King’ of the Jungle.” Miyoung smiled through shimmering tears.
With that in mind, Chomee left. Now she was standing in the living room that sparkled around her, overlooking the driveway.
“This is Chomee. She’ll be looking after Jiyong,” Mrs. Ko introduced.
Chomee gazed at the row of servants that lined up before her and nodded tentatively.
Turning to Chomee, “If there is anything you need, just ask Jiyong’s personal servant, everybody calls her Ajuma. She’ll tell you everything.”
Chomee nodded again, her eyes fixed on the woman.
“Alright then. I’ll leave you here.” Turning to the servant, she added, “Send Jiyong my regards.”
All heads bowed simultaneously as Mrs. Ko glided out of the room.
“Are you really Master Jiyong’s new maid?” a girl piped as soon as Mrs. Ko was out of earshot.
Chomee whirled around at the voice. “No. I’m his nurse.”
“Wuteva you say,” Chomee muttered beneath her breath.
“Here. Bring this up to Jiyong. I have to go get sumthin real quick,” Ajuma announced, sauntering over to the crowd of maids with a tray in her hands. As quick as lightening, the group backed away, leaving Chomee to stand in the open by herself.
“I’ll bring it,” she offered, feeling awkward.
“No, It’s Sangah’s job to do so.”
“But I don’t wanna go!” a shrill voice cried out.
“I’ll go. Which room is it?” Chomee insisted, taking the tray from the old woman.
“If you don’t wanna go, at least show her where the room is,” Ajuma said as she pointed at a girl who Chomee assumed was Sangah.
Sangah nodded eagerly and motioned for Chomee to follow her. Chomee flopped after the girl in her summer sandals and looked back at her suitcase.
“It’ll be in your room,” Ajuma answered, reading her mind.
Chomee ascended the dark, gloomy stairs, which supposedly led to Jiyong’s room.
“He-He-He’s in there,” Sangah stammered, her face white as a sheet of paper. She quickly darted down the stairs and disappeared.
Chomee watched the little body bounce away before pushing the door open. The room was filthy and the strong stale stench nearly knocked her out. She slowly made her way into his room, taking small cautious steps. Balancing the tray with both hands, she managed to have found her way into his room without tripping over things that have been careless thrown all over the floor.
Making out in the dark, Jiyong’s still figure, she gradually settled the tray down on a table in front him and gently tapped on his shoulder. “Time to eat,” she murmured softly.
Jiyong turned to the new voice, somewhat curious and startled, and stared blanky in Chomee’s direction. “Get out,” he whispered just as softly.
When Chomee didn’t move, he overturned the tray and yelled for her to leave. Chomee shrieked as the scalding liquid nearly came in contact with her skin and backed into one corner of his room.
To her surprise, he rose from his chair. She found him amazingly tall like his parents and from the angle she was looking at him, he was remarkably handsome. Without warning, Jiyong stalked forward, nearly stepping on the tray. Chomee made a hasty grab for the wet bowl that was about to come in his way and scurried back to her place in the corner. He continued his way towards the door, his arms still by his side. She saw an alarm clock lay lifelessly in his path and again, made a grab for it, not realizing her mistake. Like a hawk, Jiyong’s head snapped around and his arm sliced through the air, seizing Chomee’s arm. He pulled her up from her hiding place and close to him.
“Who the hell are you?!” Jiyong demanded dangerously, his hand squeezing Chomee’s wrist.
“I-I-I’m Cho-Chomee,” Chomee stammered, fear climbing up her throat.
“Chomee? I dunno no Chomee! What are you doing here?! Who are you!? Did my mother send you out here? GET OUT! I don’t want to hear of you again! OUT!” Jiyong thundered, pushing Chomee to the door.
Chomee ran downstairs, sobbing. She ran as far as her legs could carry her. Her tears blurred her vision, but she didn’t care. Running into the beautiful garden, which was another part of the castle Jiyong lived in, she plotted herself on the ground and brawled her eyes out.
Now I know how Cinderella feels.
And she truly did. The soft curls of her black, ebony hair clung to her gentle jaw and provided a shade to her eyes. Her hair was always short and shaggy which made her felt worse than the fairy tale princess. Her mousy personality made things even worse. Back in grade school, kids always teased and taunted her. When she ascended to middle school, girls made fun of her and boys stayed away from her. All because she was too shy and petrified of people.
Now with her mother’s illness and her needy of money to go to school, she had no other choice but to serve other people. She knew that if her mother found out, she would die of a heart attack. But Chomee refused to be like her father, who acted like a fool and gambled his life away. Instead of winning fortunes from other people, he lost his money, jewelry, house. And even Chomee and his wife. He betted his wife and only child for a measle dollar and in the end, he lost. Realizing what he had done, he went around looking for jobs and asking people for loans.
Borrowing is easy, but what about returning?
He lost bet after bet and still asked for money. His so-called ‘friends’ were, of course, glad to help him. They gave him large amounts of money and knowing that he could never repay them back, they bargained with him for his priceless treasures, such as Chomee for one.
When her father refused to give Chomee’s future hand in marriage to anyone, chaos broke out. Demanding hands reached for his empty pockets and angry shouts of ‘money’ echoed. He couldn’t even produce a single won and there he knew he was going to be well rested.
Chomee, who was only eight at the time, remembered the frightening sight of her brutually beaten father. Blood coarsed down his chin and one eye was swollen shut. He staggered forward to her and she remembered screaming her lungs out. He fell face forward and landed at her feet. Evil laughter filled the room as he whispered something to her.
“Appa...” she sobbed, holding his dying body in her thin arms.
“Tell...Tell...o..omoni...Tell her...I’m...I’m...soh...sorreeeee....” he wheezed.
“Appa...” Chomee cried.
“Chomeeee....Sa..Sa...Sara...Sarang..hae...haeyo....” he breathed.
The body went limp beneath her arms. He stopped breathing and time stood still. Roars of laughter still circulated the room and Chomee glared hatefully at each and every individual in there with her. Among the hated ones was her father. She hated him for leaving her. She hated him for leaving her mother. She hated him for gambling. She hated him for everything.
She closed her eyes and whispered a ‘sarang hae, appa’ and freed herself from his heavy corpse. A pair of strong arms lifted her and she let out a surprised yelp.
“Now the old fart’s dead. His daughter’s rightfully mine!”
“What are you saying! She should be mine!”
“No! She is mine!”
Chomee struggled against the arms that held her high in the air. Her legs swung back and forth and finally she kicked the man hard in the back of his head, causing him to drop her.
A stampede toward the girl resulted in a wild combat. Men and women tore at each other’s clothes in attempt to grab Chomee but she darted out the warehouse before anyone could even catch the sight of her. She ran back home as she always did after a day’s play to eat her mother’s beautiful and delicious cooking. She ran into the house panting like a frightened fawn.
“Ma!” she shouted, entering the house.
“Chomee? What are you - ” her mother started, coming out to greet her.
“Ma! We have to leave! The people that Appa owe money to are coming after us!”
She watched her mother blanch at the news. She covered her mouth and looked tearfully at the child.
“Oma! We have to go! NOW! I saw them kill Appa and now they’re coming for us!” Chomee shouted, shaking her mother’s hand.
Without further thought, Chomee spun around and bolted the doors and windows. She closed the blinds and the curtains, preventing her pursuers from looking in. Her mother ran into the bedrooms and quickly reappeared with two suitcases.
“I knew this day would come! I just knew! Chomee! Quick! Out the cellar,” her mother instructed, heading to the kitchen.
Chomee obeyed her mother silently and held onto the small suitcase her mother carried in one hand.
Her mother dumped the food she prepared for dinner into three containers, leaving some to throw intruders off track. She stuffed the containers and two forks into a plastic bag and handed it to Chomee.
Slipping her thin arm through the handle of the bag, Chomee threw back the rug that covered the secret staircase to the cellar. Throwing the contained food down, she pulled the stairs out beneath her and slid down. Her mother followed and managed to cover the trapdoor as best as she could with the rug.
“Break the stairs, Chomee,” her mother whispered, tugging on the luggages.
“I can’t. I’m too small.”
Her mother stepped forward and yanked on the wooden steps. It gave way easily and crashed against the cement flooring. “Let’s go!”
Chomee nodded in agreement. She picked up the plastic bag and grasp onto her mother’s freezing hand. They tunneled through the cellar like moles and above them, they could hear angry outbursts and curses of Chomee’s stalkers and glasses breaking.
They’re in the house, Chomee thought, feeling a sudden chill.
Sensing her daughter’s fear, Jinjoo held the child closer. “Don’t worry. They won’t find us.”
Feeling safe and assured in her mother’s embrace, Chomee knew her mother wasn’t lying. They hopped into the silver Lexus her father had bought her mother a few years back for her birthday.
“This is probably the best gift your Appa has ever gotten me,” Jinjoo said with a laugh, starting the engine.
“Oma..I thought you sold the car,” Chomee implied in a strange voice.
“What are you, nuts?! Of course not! I hid it here ever since your Appa started gambling.”
“You knew this was going to happen?” Chomee asked increduously.
“You are too naïve,” her mother commented, smiling.
“Guess I don’t watch enough t.v.” Chomee shrugged.
“You’re right. You don’t,” her mother agreed, laughing.
“Where are we going now, Oma?” Chomee asked, changing the subject.
The brows scrunched at the question. “Only one place now. Where nobody knows us,” her mother replied quietly.
“Pusan,” her mother murmured, driving into the sunset.
Chomee dried her eyes and looked up at the soothing voice.
“Miss Chomee, don’t take it too hard. That’s the way how our Master is. He wasn’t like this before the accident. His mother...” the servant trailed off.
Chomee dried her tears and stood up. “Please, Ajuma. Tell me more. What of his mother?”
“His mother didn’t want him around and so she sent him away. It was terrible of her to do so. We all thought it was. She sent us out here to care for him and day by day he grew bitter. His sister’s away and...oh dear,” the servant’s voice shook.
“But why would he need someone to look after with all of you here serving him?” Chomee asked, disturbed with the thought.
“Many of us are leaving. Some can’t take it anymore. Many of them were too scared. I find it fortunate that nobody’s killed living here,” the servant stated matter-of-factly.
“Why?” Chomee frowned, strolling down the the aisle of the big garden.
“He’s always throwing things. And you know how he can’t see! He could have just easily hit anyone!”
Chomee giggled at the servant’s explanation. “Are you staying?”
“I have to. I have children back at home starving and cold. They need the money to go to school and I can’t leave! I’ve been with Master Jiyong ever since he was born! I practically raised him and his mother probably doesn’t even know him as well as I do!”
“You’re doing this because of money, too?” Chomee mumbled.
“What was that, Miss Chomee?”
“Oh! Nuthin!” Chomee smiled sheepishly.
“Plus, even if I planned on leaving, I would have to teach you how to do a lot of things.” Ajuma sighed.
“Like how to cook his favorite food?” Chomee winked.
“I think Jiyong may come to like you.” The old servant winked just as mischievously.
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