In so many ways we live to follow the sun
In so many ways we exalt and fail as one
In so many ways we want so bad to be done
“Now be a good boy, Max, hold on to this white bag. Wait at that junction for a man in a black trenchcoat. You must see a scar on his chin before you pass this to him, are you clear?”
Only one end-goal persisted in 6-year-old Max’s mind: Father promised to take him to the amusement park if he obeyed and played by the rules. As if his life depended on it, he hugged the heavy package as tightly as he could.
“This is an important task. Daddy is counting on you. Don’t let me down, you hear?”
“Yes, Daddy.” Max grinned.
“Atta boy. “ Father ruffled his hair.
Evening descended, and after they had made their seventh round on the outskirts of the public garden, an image of the junction had been etched in his mind.
“Now. Get out there, Max.”
Father’s assistant unlocked the door, and Max was nudged from his seat. He forced his jittery body to obey, even as his little palms started to sweat.
“Go. Do what you’ve been told. Man in black trenchcoat. Chin scar. Remember.”
Still holding on to the bag, Max walked to an inconspicuous spot at the junction, hidden by towering trees and unkempt bushes, and waited.
An hour passed. The heavy bag kept slipping through his tired arms but Max held on.
Another hour passed. His arms shivered from the strain, and he was both hot and cold all over from nerves and the summer heat. Father’s car was no longer in sight as the sky was dark by now, but occasionally, he knew that Father’s assistant would flash the headlights to signal that they were there. Street lamps were of little help. He narrowed his eyes in scrutiny of every single passing person. Finally, when he could no longer feel his arms, he bent down and let the package slip out of his hands.
Just then, the supposed man in the long black trenchcoat appeared. He was crossing the junction when he saw Max, then proceeded to walk in Max’s direction. Max squatted over the package, watched as the man hesitated, then opened up his strides towards Max.
When he was close enough, Max caught a flash of his face. Indeed, a prominent white scar covered a large part of his chin.
Convinced that this was the man Father had instructed him to pass the package to, Max stood up and pointed to the white package. He looked at Max, then to the package, and nodded. Picking up the package, he turned to leave.
Satisfied, Max ran back to the black sedan and climbed back onto the comfortable leather seats.
Immediately after he closed the doors of the car, Max was knocked over by a force so large and brutal that he was slammed headfirst against the car door and out of his seat, finally settling into a heap onto the carpeted floors of the vehicle.
“Why did you put the damn thing down?” Father’s voice boomed.
Max let out a strangled cry as pain shot through his whole body. His mouth was beginning to fill with blood from the impact of the slap. His cheeks were stinging with acute pain. He thought his arm might be twisted.
“I…I…I am sorry father. It was so heavy…”
“I did not ask you to put that damn thing down. What if someone else had taken it away from you? How are you going to answer to me?”
“I am sorry, it was really heavy…”
“I don’t give a damn whether it is heavy or not!” Father grabbed Max by his collar and pulled him back up onto the seat. “We’re going home now. And you, young man, are going to spend the night in the closet room.”
“I’m sorry! Please, not there!” Fear overwhelmed the young boy. He almost choked on his own tears which now ran freely down his swollen cheeks.
“Yes the dark and damp closet room. And no dinner. For heaven’s sake stop crying! Start the car, Jung.”
“Master, should we get some medicine for Young Master? He is bleeding badly.”
“JUST START THE DAMN CAR, JUNG!”
The engine roared to life, and navigated its way through the alley, and onto the winding roads of Seoul.
Wet from blood and tears, Max continued sobbing uncontrollably, his dreams of a happy outing with Father and Mother dashed, replaced by the nightmarish thoughts of sleeping in the dark closet that night.
Back home, Father grabbed Max, pulled him out of the car and dragged him down to the servant’s quarters. The servants’ quarters were rooms that housed the maids, chaffeurs and housekeepers. Dark, filthy, small rooms with a musky smell mixed with the stench of human blood and sweat.
A closet sat on the far end of the corridor. With a heave, he was thrown into the closet. By then, Max was too tired to struggle anymore. He listened as the door closed and the lock fastened, meaning that he would have to spend the night alone in this dark closet room with only a thin stream of light entering through a gap in the latch of the door. Curling up his small battered body, Max hugged his knees to himself, sobbing. His only companion was the dark that surrounded him. His stomach growled with hunger, and he shook with fatigue, but was unable to fall asleep. He could hear the bustle of activity outside the closet, where the servant’s families were getting ready for bed.
Just then, through a gap in the latch, something fell into his lap. It was a torch light, and a note attached.
‘Don’t be afraid. I am here for you. Let my light shine in the darkest corners.’
Something else fell in. It was a tiny cupcake which Max immediately devoured hungrily. To express his gratitude, Max knocked on the door twice. In return, he got two knocks back.
Another littl cupcake was passed through the gap.
Suddenly, there was total darkness as the servants turned off the lights for bedtime. Max screamed and began to cry once again.
“Hush! Do not cry. Turn on the torchlight I passed to you!” A little boy’s voice instructed him from outside of the closet.
Light instantly filled up the closet.
“Do not be afraid, I will stay with you tonight.” Max heard a soft click, and he knew that the other boy on the other side of the door had his own torchlight too.
“Are you afraid of the dark too?” Max asked.
“Not really. The dark is my best friend. Do you have any friends?”
“From elementary school. Yes. I like my friends. Do you have friends other than the dark?”
“No. I don’t go to school.”
“What do you do then?”
“I help out here. I stay in the basement. I do things like peeling potatoes and weeding the garden. Hauling the woodstock to keep the fireplace lit You live upstairs don’t you? The family that is taken care of by the families that live in the basement.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw you getting thrown in by your father, our employer. It wasn’t a pretty sight.”
“I know. I am Max, what is your name?”
“You can call me ‘hyung’ since I am older than you.”
“What is your real name? Can you tell me? Because you are a very marvellous friend.”
“I don’t have a name.”
“My name was given to me by my parents. Where are your parents, hyung?”
“I live with my mother. I don’t have a father. Do you want more cupcakes?”
“Yes please! Where is your father? Everyone should have a father by default.”
“I guess he is dead. My mother does not like me to speak of him.” The little boy handed another piece of his cupcakes to Max through the gap.
“Thank you. What time is it, hyung?”
“It is 11 in the night. I can hear your father brewing his decaf in the kitchen above us. He usually does this before he sleeps, while reading the papers.”
“You sure do know my father better than I do!”
“My mother always tells me about Master. Sometimes, she would bring me to the window where we can see Master’s bedroom.” The boy fell silent for a long time. Panic rose up like bile in Max’s throat.
“Please keep talking! It’s too quiet in here.”
“It’s always too quiet here,” the boy replied, but complied, “because the parties, dinners and summer galas are always held upstairs isn’t it? Mother tells me everything about the world upstairs – the silk shirt that Master wore for Charity Ball and Portugese egg tarts that he ate for brunch yesterday. She knows the room so well, I guess it’s because it’s her responsibility to tidy up. Our Master would be undressing while pulling the curtains shut, and Mother would gaze until the curtains are fully drawn. And sometimes, when Master’s main servant girl is sick, Mother always volunteers to clear up Master’s room and she would take me along. She touches everything on Master’s drawers and sheets. I wonder why.”
Max nodded, though he couldn’t understand why this was being told to him. He took it lightly, like a bedtime story, so he curled up even tighter into a ball.
“Is your mother beautiful?” He asked.
“She’s gorgeous. Like a blossoming flower on a winter night.”
“Wow, that’s a beautiful way of describing her.”
“Is your mother beautiful as well?”
“Her beauty is indescribable. Except it is masked behind a constant fear of my father.” A fear that Max knew like the back of his hand.
The sky was dotted with pretty stars and cottoncandy clouds carely covered them like a thin veil. Soon, both young boys fell asleep in the dark, each with a smile on his face.
When Max awoke the nest morning to the sound of the lock unfastening, he scrambled to his feet. The torchlight was still clenched in his hands, as he burst through the door, looking left and right for his lovely friend.
But he could not be found. The caretaker picked Max up.
“Where is the boy sleeping outside last night?”
“The boy? Cupcakes? Something about his mom…” a nagging thought at the back of Max’s head told him that it was best not to mention the conversation that had gone on late into the night.
Servants do not and must not make friends with their masters.
✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.