I was seven years old when my mother died. I was told that before I was born, she had had developed a small brain tumour in the left side of her head, and by the time I was five, she was at stage IV and she was told that she had only had 6 more months to live. Luckily for me, she lived another 2 years – another 2 years of happiness, another 2 years of having a perfect family. But, the euphoria was short lived when she finally passed away. That was when I witnessed my father’s downfall, his turning point. I experienced what I referred to as ‘living hell’, where my life had finally spiralled out of controlled. I was living with someone who was no longer my father, but rather a monster – a cancer himself upon this earth. That is how he was viewed as from then, as nothing but an inhumane creature unworthy of his son’s love and compassion.
I stood in front of the 24” plasma screen at the back of the packed arcade, ignoring my chauffer who was standing behind me trying to compromise with me. Unfortunately, I was not going to give in anytime soon.
“Young Master, we should get going now, your father would get angry if you’re late.”
I scoffed and carried on shooting the zombies that were standing in front of me in House of the Dead II.
“Sorry Mr Hong,” I said, with a small smile tugging at my lips.
“I haven’t finished playing, so I’m not leaving until I’m done.”
I could hear Mr Hong sigh behind me.
“I’ll be waiting in my usual spot in the car.” He murmured to me before heading out of the arcade and going back to the silver and black Audi A4 which he usually drove me around in.
I simply ignored the middle aged man and continued playing. But my game was soon over when I felt a tight, firm grasp on my wrist. I looked over to what was holding me to find that is was my father, looking angrier and more furious than I had ever seen him before. My face stiffened; I knew that I was going to be in serious trouble when we got home. He didn’t need to speak to let me know that something bad was going to happen. His eyes said it all.
I wanted to raise the gun that was held in my left hand, point it directly on my father’s left temple on the side of his head and pretend to blow his brains out. But I knew that he wouldn’t take the joke and that he’d probably start shouting at me in front of everybody around us.
The drive back to our mansion was the longest it had ever been. My father was sitting in the front passenger seat next to Mr Hong and I was sitting behind our chauffer, diagonally across from my father. Neither of us dared to speak, and it seemed as though for each mile we had travelled forward, our house was getting further and further away.
I watched my father, who was blankly staring out of the window. For some reason, he was looking much younger, as though he was in his late 20’s or early 30’s. He was dressed in a black suit, accompanied by a white shirt and a black tie. Needless to say, Mr Lee looked classy. He always did. It was what he was known for: being rich, classy and very strict. I for one always knew what was meant by the term ‘strict’. I continued to observe the man who called himself my dad. He pushed the button near the door handle and let the window fully go down. He dug around in the breast pocket of his blazer and pulled out a lighter and a Black Devil cigarette. He stuck it into his mouth and lit it with his green translucent lighter. He pulled it out of his mouth, holing it between his thumb and index finger and exhaled the smoke. I wanted to laugh out loud at the irony but I decided to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t want to get into any more trouble than I was already in.
My father was worse than a ‘Devil’; he just didn’t know it yet.
It was he who was the main influence to my smoking. He always told me that the reason he thought about even picking up a cigarette was to smoke away the stress. I wondered what distressed him so much – whether it was his investment banking business or if it was the fact that I, his only son, his only heir existed. I didn’t believe that it would actually work until I tried one for the first time. I was 12 years old when I had gotten my hands on my first cigarette. It wasn’t a Black Devil; rather it was a single Marlboro Gold. I had bought it off one of my childhood friends Yong Junhyung from school. He didn’t ask why I wanted one; he just simply sold it to me. I guess he knew that what I was going through was somewhat stressful.
Since then, I had bought my own Black Devil cigarettes and hid them away from my father. God knows what he would do if he found out. He’d probably punish me like always and confiscate them from me. I knew after he’d taken them away, that he’d probably smoke them himself. I tried not to think about it too much.
By the time the three of us had gotten home, my father ushered Mr Hong to his bedroom and had ordered me to follow him into his office. I didn’t dare to speak or to hesitate for I already knew what was going to happen. It was the same process, just on a new day, a new day that I didn’t want to live through. I walked behind my father. He was always a ‘leader’, a ‘dictator’ not only to me, but to his employees and business partners. He dominated our lives as if we were owned by him. We had to follow his rules, and if we ever messed up, we knew that it was going to end in a painful disciplinary act taken out by him.
Once we were both inside his study, I closed the door behind me, which I was always instructed to do and stood opposite him in front of his desk. I watched him stand at his desk, his dark, hooded eyes which were infested with anger and he began to bit his inner cheeks. I knew that I was in for a ‘treat’. It didn’t hurt anymore. I was too used to it now.
I walked over to the mahogany wooden chair and placed my hand on the back rest.
“Shirt off and bend over.” He commanded monotonously.
I obeyed my father by pulling off my cream coloured woolly jumper and unbuttoning my black shirt. After I had half undressed and dumped my clothes on the floor beside me, I leant over the chair so that my bare back was facing the ceiling. I waited for my father to take one of the Gucci belts that were hanging from the coat rack in the corner of his office and fold it in half. I knew what was going to happen next. I took in a deep breath and clutched onto the legs of the chair with my eyes squeezed tightly together. Before I could even exhale, I felt the sharp whip of my father’s belt pierce and cut deep into my flesh. I winced and tightened my grip on the wood in my fingers. Again and again he swung the belt, not seeing the image of his 13 year old son Lee Kikwang, but the façade of what he, Lee Tae Jin used to be – nothing but a worthless child who was destined to be alone forever.
After a few moments of beating me some more, to almost a pulp you could say, he placed his belt back in its original places and walked out of the room without a single word. I knew that what I had done was ‘wrong’ and I had been punished for it. Nothing really needed to be said.
I had finally passed my 14th birthday, which at the beginning I was really glad to have gone. But when my father had enforced new, harsher rules for me, I had gone back to my apathetic self. There was no ‘going out with friends’ or ‘bringing friends over’. I was not allowed to attend school trips or after class activities, instead I had a tutor who was to make me get my work up to A* standard.
It was tiring trying to be perfect in order to please somebody who clearly didn’t care about me. It was also quite depressing losing friends because I was unable to hang around with them outside of school. Nevertheless, my best friend Junhyung was always there for me when I needed someone most. My father knew nothing of his existence and I was glad. I knew that he’d want me to end my relationship with the older boy. I was never allowed what I wanted. I was only allowed what my father said I could have.
I stood at the top of the white staircase and watched the two maids talking to each other in the hallway. They were giggling and casually chatting to each other as if they were friends of some sort. I wondered, for a second, what it would be like if I too could stand around and have a decent, friendly conversation with an acquaintance at the comfort of my own home. I guess I would just have to wait until my father died in order for me to do such a simple thing.
I waited for the two young women to leave before I descended down the marble staircase. It was rare for me to take my time walking down each step, but since my father was away on business, I wanted to indulge and savour the moments without him. I knew that he’d be coming home soon, so I wanted to secretly break the rules while he was away. When I was finally on the ground floor, I took a few, small steps back and sat on the bottom step. I looked at my surroundings and stared into the double-glazed windows until a young man’s head appeared behind it. I was taken aback by the sight. None of my father’s clients, business partners or employees ever dared to enter our home. So what was he doing here?
With dark hair and dark eyes, accompanied by a tanned, olive complexion, and Western facial features, the young male managed to ring on the doorbell. I smirked and got up off my seat. I was eager to know who he was and what he was doing at my front door. Before any of the maids or butlers could open the door, I had gotten there first. I was greeted by a man, presumably in his early 20’s, dressed in a black suit and a black and white pin-striped shirt who was holding a black, leather briefcase in his left hand.
He smiled, a genuinely kind smile, and bowed.
“Is Mr Lee around by any chance?” He asked. His voice was deep and husky, yet surprisingly seductive.
“I’m here.” I replied, with a grin plastered to my face.
He laughed and leaned forward to ruffle my already messy hair.
“I meant Lee Tae Jin, not his son.”
“Oh.” I gave in after that and kept my head down, not wanting to meet his gaze.
“He’s away on business. He’ll be back in a few days.”
He nodded and gave me a sympathetic smile.
“All right, I guess I’ll have to talk to him another time. Thank you though. It was nice meeting you, Lee...?”
“Kikwang. Lee Kikwang.” I managed to breathe out.
He held out his hand as if he wanted me to shake it.
I accepted his hand shake and bowed.
“Do you want some tea or coffee Mr Son?” I asked him politely. I’m sure it would’ve been wrong if I just let him go all of a sudden.
He brought his wrist closer to his face and checked the time on his silver DKNY watch.
“I’m sorry, but not today. I have an important meeting soon, and I don’t want to be late.”
I nodded in acknowledgement, a little disappointed inside. It would’ve been nice to sit and chat with someone who seemed interesting for once, rather than people who constantly talked to me about things I didn’t want to hear.
“That’s okay. Good luck.”
He nodded and smiled at me again before heading the other direction.
After a few steps, he stopped and turned back to me.
“By the way, how old are you Kikwang?”
I raised my eyebrows. Why did he want to know?
“I’m 14 years old.”
“You’re pretty short for a 14 year old.” He grinned and took off again.
When he was out of my view, I sighed and closed the door. Son Dongwoon was really strange.
It was only 2 years later, after my 16th birthday, when I was given just a little bit more freedom. I did not have to ask, or to beg, or to plead for it. I was just simply told, by my father himself that I was allowed to take up one activity, outside of school, for the next two years. I was still cautious about his reaction, but I decided to ask him whether or not he would allow me to take up either singing or dancing lessons. To my surprise, he agreed to both. He said to me that one of his business partners worked in a record company called Cube Entertainment, and that the Cube worker offered me an audition as a thank you gift to my father. Although I was quite pleased about my father’s decisions, there were still a few times where I’d do something wrong, and thus be beaten, this time harder and a lot longer. But I thought it would be best to let it slide.
After my successful audition at Cube Entertainment as a singer and dancer named AJ, I was asked, by the business partner who offered me the place, to come and meet him in his small office on the 11th floor of the multi story building. As I stood alone in the elevator, I braced myself for our first meeting. I didn’t have any proper experience of talking to someone so considerate, so it was quite hard for me to plan out a way in which to thank him.
When the elevator stopped and doors in front slid open, I stepped out onto the busy, humid 11th floor. Directly opposite me was an uninhabited sofa, and on both my left and right sides were rows of doors, leading to different members of staff’s offices. I walked over to the receptionist and waited for her to acknowledge me.
“Hello sir,” The middle-aged woman’s voice was warm and mellow.
Before I had the chance to answer her, I was interrupted by a light tap on my shoulder. I spun around and was confronted by the dark eyes of a man I had once met in my childhood: Son Dongwoon.
“Hello Kikwang,” He beamed. His voice was still as deep as it was 2 years ago.
“It’s been a very long time. And you,” He pointed directly at me.
“Are still very short.” He chuckled, not caring whether or not that actually offended me, and it did just a bit.
“Hi Dongwoon, it’s good to see you again.” I muttered bitterly.
Dongwoon carefully snaked his arm around my shoulder, unintentionally caressing my upper arm with his fingertips and led me to his office, oblivious to how he had kind of insulted me. Once we had gotten into his office, he sat me down on the chair in front of his black, wooden desk and looked at me for a bit. I felt a little strange and intimidated being in his presence. He looked, acted and sounded so perfect, and I was nothing but a foolish child. After a few moments, he took a seat on the corner of his desk and smiled at me.
“So,” He started, looking straight into my eyes.
“How are you getting on so far? Enjoying yourself here?” Dongwoon asked.
I looked down at the floor, I didn’t like the way his eyes were digging holes into my brain.
“I suppose so.” I shrugged. I didn’t really know what else to say to him.
He nodded and looked down at his hands that were holding onto each other tightly. I thought that maybe it would feel nice being held in his grip like that.
Before we knew it, we had fallen into an uncomfortable silence, and I didn’t know how to get back out of it. Luckily for me, Dongwoon had a way with words.
“Do you want to hang out later? Maybe get something to eat or drink?”
I really thought that Son Dongwoon was crazy. He knew my father, he worked with my father, and he knew his orders, but yet he still asked me to join him. Didn’t he know already that I was not allowed to do such things?
I shook my head in pure disappointment.
“Sorry Dongwoon, but I can’t.”
I really hoped he’d understand, but it was clear that he didn’t. Dongwoon was a very persistent person.
“Why not? Is it because I called you short? I was only playing around.” He got up off the desk and took a step closer to me. I really wished that I could just fall back and evaporate into the floor, but there was no chance of that happening.
“Please understand Dongwoon, it’s not because of you, it’s...a personal reason. I really don’t care anymore about whether or not you think I’m short.” It was true. I was over it now. It was a joke; I might as well let it go.
The hurt in his eyes made my stomach churn and my heart burn. I didn’t like seeing him look so distressed, but I couldn’t really do anything to make him feel better.
“It’s okay.” He said with a reluctant smile on his handsome, flawless face.
I wanted to punch myself hard in the face, I wanted to punch my father hard in the face, but I just couldn’t. So I sighed, and it was obvious I had outstayed my welcome. I stood up, bowed and left the room.
Once I was back in the hallway of the 11th floor, I made my way to the sofa and let my body carelessly fall down onto the thick cushions. Before I knew it, I was in a comfortable position, drifting off to sleep.