At the end of the ship’s journey, Na Cheon and Park Pok-sun were taken out of the city to a house by a stream where each had a bedroom and a closet full of clothes and a dresser full of underwear and bathrooms with make-up and perfume. They didn’t like sleeping in their own rooms, so they slept together. Park Pok-sun was older and had breasts. Na Cheon pressed her face between Park Pok-sun’s breasts and felt the soft warmth. In the morning, a woman came with food. She said things to them they didn’t understand. One day a boy their age came. He spoke English and talked to each of them. Was he deciding? He said he didn’t dare. They were for his father when he came back from business in London.
Park Pok-sun said she wouldn’t tell his father. She pulled off her blouse and showed him her breasts.
He was a handsome boy with dark skin, black hair, and shining eyes. The sight of Park Pok-sun’s breasts made him leave. “Cover yourself! I don’t want you! You are sin!”
The big house was up a steep hill and there were pens for animals halfway and workers in the gardens and a fountain and beautiful trees and the enormous white house.
Na Cheon still could not easily bring herself to say where she came from, especially how, especially why. Park Pok-sun could, however. She escaped from Pyongyang hidden in a fishing boat that sailed down the Taedong River. She was five then.
“My life has been long.”
“I am fifteen.”
“Did anyone come with you?”
“The old woman who cooked for the fishing boat was my grandmother.”
“No one saw you?”
“No one. There was a man who told my grandmother he had to leave and would take me into the sea and down the coast if she hid us both. She said she would. When we got on the little lifeboat, they shot him in the shoulder. He could only row one oar, so I rowed the other. Many times we heard calling, but they did not find us. He took me into Seoul to the house where I met you and I never saw him again.”
The father came back from London. Things began happening in the big house. Comings and goings. Music. Processions. Welcome, welcome! Time passed until one afternoon he came down to their little house and sat with them smoking a cigar and sipping tea.
“You are so excellent and beautiful,” he said. “Both of you. I am Arjan. My son Gurshan confessed to me he had met you but not touched you. Did he touch you?”
“No, he didn’t,” Park Pok-sun said.
“Good. Don’t let that happen. What are your names?”
They told him their names.
“Where did you come from?”
Park Pok-sun told her story.
“Now you, Na Cheon.
Na Cheon couldn’t speak.
“Oh, please,” Arjan coaxed her, “you are far, far away now. There is no danger. You can tell me anything.” He was a balding man with a jowly face and large brown eyes. He seemed tired. “My heart isn’t good,” he said. “That’s why I was in London. Now give me some talk medicine, Na Cheon. Lift up my heart because I have saved you. What is your story?”
Na Cheon couldn’t stop herself once she began. All of it!
Arjan said, “Well, well, well. It will be a wonder if they don’t have someone come after you. Our blasted government is in cahoots with your government, and now here I am harboring a North Korean general’s daughter, a general who has been killed! I don’t know if this is good for my heart or bad, but I can tell you one thing: Punjab is the best place in the world. Enjoy yourselves, both of you. Here the food is best, the poetry is best, the people are best. Our only weakness is tender young girls like you, exotic and splendid and sweet. So I will cherish you, but you must promise me never to try to run away. Do you promise me this?”
“We promise,” Park Pok-sun said.
“We promise,” Na Cheon said.
He liked them both naked with him but not very often, only a few times a month. His heart couldn’t take more. How there could be a defective Punjabi heart, he didn’t know. He suspected his sister in London had one, but of a different kind: a mean heart, not a weak heart. He would get treated there more often if he could stand her.
“But sadly the woman’s unbearable. She has an English husband, and I dress as well as he and speak the Queen’s English as well as he, but it embarrasses her when I am with them together, which he perversely insists on…never lets us alone so we can talk things through. She thinks I am homosexual, you see, because I only have Gurshan, my son, and my wife tells everyone I am an indifferent lover. But to the contrary I think my sister’s husband is the homosexual and he hangs around hoping to put my sister’s false notion about me to the test. What a stupid man, and my sister? Even more stupid. Yes, I endure a sexless marriage, but I like sex very much, as you know. Here, come to me, both of you. Do your little things. This way…yes, yes… more… yes…”
Gurshan returned late one afternoon followed by a peacock, the most beautiful bird Na Cheon had ever seen. The peacock circled the house and pecked for things to eat in the bank along the stream. Gurshan wanted to tell them about Islam.
“I have thought deeply about doing this. My father doesn’t want me to. ‘Let’s leave that for the mosque, not my girls.’ But what isn’t the mosque, I ask?” Gurshan pointed at the sky. “Allah isn’t there?” He pointed at the peacock and the stream. “Allah isn’t there?” He pointed at his forehead, where there was an incipient prayer scar. “Five times a day, Allah isn’t here?”
“What is Allah?” Na Cheon asked.
“He is the all-powerful being we must obey.”