The voice of one of my half brothers was saying, “Do as I say! Do you want to be thrown in jail?”He was addressing the nanny, Sujin, not me. Sujin was tormented constantly. I was told I had three half-brothers. The second and third-born were very badly behaved. They pestered Sujin to entertain them at all hours, while I stayed famished for hours. The second oldest brother, called Hwanseok Kim, was five. The third, named Hwanseong Kim, was four.
I was crawling on all fours. Hwanseong, said with some affection, “Hey, Hwanseok! She’s wriggling like a worm!”
“What an ugly worm!”
The two brats giggled while I pretended not to understand and beamed happily. Although a princess by birth, I knew my place in this extreme patriarchal society. I couldn’t sass my brothers, soI gave them what I hoped was an adorable giggle.
“Hwanseok look, she’s so cute!”
The second-born, Hwanseok, scolded him, “You shouldn’t say females are cute. It’ll spoil them.”
I seethed with anger. If I had a vein on my forehead, it would have popped out blue with rage. Aren’t all babies, boys and girls, cute?
At his brother’s stern voice, Hwanseong said meekly, “Oh right. Sorry.”
Don’t back down like that! I thought, but outwardly I beamed and vomited happy laughter. I only knew so much right. I was only a twenty-six year-old infant. As long as I didn’t cross the line, I could get away with almost anything. My first target would be Hwanseong.
I crawled diligently toward one of Hwanseong’s toys. I lifted a small red sports car he liked. I was surprised by how big and heavy it was, but I didn’t let myself show it. I resolutely crawled toward him and handed it to Hwanseong, remembering to smile servilely.
“Hwanseok! Well, she’s not cute exactly, but… she’s like a little puppy.”
Hwanseok replied, “Then say she’s a dog.”
Don’t teach him such things! Clearly, there’s a difference between a puppy and a dog!
Hwanseok resolutely declared, “Girls are filthy. They’re crawling with germs.”
My temper rose. I am not filthy! I’ll show you. I may be powerless now, but I’ll make you eat your words.
To my horror, Hwanseong agreed, “You’re a genius, Hwanseok.”
I was dumbfounded. I sighed in frustration at the arduous road ahead of me.
A little more time passed. I still found it difficult to toddle, but I could stand now. I now had my first encounter with my father.
“She’s walking early,” my father said.
I was pleased that he’d paid me at least some attention. I attempted my most adorable smile. I gurgled and unintentionally let out a sound that charmed even myself.
Seoyeong Kang, who evidently was my mother, said proudly, “She’s quite mature.”
“Even so, she’s still a girl,” he replied.
Fine! I was willing to give you a chance because you’re so good-looking, but you’ve taken it too far! I will now dub you King Scumbag!
I rose up with my arms wide open to hurl that insult at him. I spread my arms and tried to stand. Failing, I tried again. Then I staggered toward him.
“I think she has taken a liking to Your Majesty. She can already recognize her father.”
With a thump, I fell down. My knees started to ache. I tried again and fell. With each successive attempt, I got one step closer to him. After seven tries and seven falls, I was standing before my father.
Hey, Scumbag! With my thoughts, I cursed at him, but with my actions, I bestowed childish adoration. Call it my survival instinct, but I knew he had within his hand my life or death. With just a word, a man can order the death of a woman. And this man was the king. If I got on his bad side, it would be nothing for him to kill me. What was unthinkable in twenty-first century Korea was the norm here.
Scumbag then said carelessly, “Prepare yourself to bear a boy.”
Seoyeong beamed as though she had received a benediction, “Yes, I’ll try!”
Try? As if it was her responsibility! Such ignorance — in a technologically advanced society, too. My anger rose again, but I reminded myself of my position here.
I was acting as lovable as I could. I was limited to sitting, crawling, falling, or sleeping all day, but I practiced being adorable in my head. I had not yet seen my reflection, and I hoped I was cute.
I tried with all my might to speak, with my most adorable expression. You bastard! I tried to say while gurgling sweetly.
What is the little wench saying?” my father asked Seoyeong.
“I think she’s trying to say that she has missed you. Look, she’s smiling,” said my mother.
He replied, “What a nuisance. Take her.”
My manipulations to earn affection thus ended in dismal failure. But I still had countless opportunities. I hadn’t even started walking yet.
That night I was subjected to some mortifying moans. I was surprised at Seoyeong—I had not expected her to be so wild. In truth, I wasn’t really mortified; in fact, it was rather entertaining. I wanted to continue my voyeurism, but I dozed off.
I was soon to meet the person who gave me the first glimmer of hope, my eldest brother. Through him, I first began to have a slight comprehension of this world.