Yunho fell ill for a long time. Or maybe he had been ill already; but now that he was finally allowed the luxury of rest and regular meals, his body announced the need to recuperate.
At first Yunho was placed on a thin mattress next to the northern wall of the house. When it became clear that he was simply too sick to stay inside, his body purifying itself from all the scum that had gathered inside him during his weeks of filthy labour, the women took him outside to the inner court. Day after day he lay on the thin carpet, body barely strong enough to swallow when the fat woman, Lata, forced water down his throat. Even though she stayed by him day and night, not even leaving his side while the band of women left for their daily performances, his previously emaciated body dried up even further. The woman did her best to feed him as much liquid as he vomited, but the pace was simply too fast.
Days melted into each other, each so alike that Yunho completely lost his sense of time. The only thought his feverish mind was able to produce was how for the first time he was glad that Jaejoong wasn’t there with him. His mind kept wandering to the day he and Jaejoong had had their big fight; how Jaejoong had been so devastated at the idea of Yunho being sick again, of Yunho not eating. Yunho would have never wanted Jaejoong to see the miserable state he was now in. He was supposed to help Jaejoong, to grow up, to rid him of the need to do what Yunho had seen him do that day. Instead, he was being reduced to the same state Jaejoong had first found him in, his body too weak for him to even lift a finger.
There was even a moment when he was sure he would die; a miserable, honourless death from dehydration caused by excessive vomiting and diarrhoea. But Yunho didn’t die. He lived over that moment, and from that day on, week by week, his body started slowly recovering. One day, he was moved inside again, into a corner reserved all for him, a tiny, low table for his water cup and a thin blanket to cover himself with. Two weeks after that came the day when he was finally strong enough to bathe by himself. The women had prepared him a basin full of warm water, and as he sat there resting his back against the edge, soaking his body, he felt a sense of calm. He scrubbed every inch of himself with a coarse washing cloth, determined to get rid of the last remains of sickness on his body.
After Yunho had cleaned himself, he spent an even longer while washing the family rug. That there might be a sadness caused by the last bits of Jaejoong’s warmth leaving it didn’t even cross Yunho’s mind; the rug only smelled of filth and illness now. The least he could do was to take good care of it until the day he could give it back to Jaejoong.
When he finally finished, Lata was there behind him, grabbing the washbasin to dump the filthy water in the gutter lining the courtyard.
“How are you feeling now that you are clean, lovely boy?” she asked Yunho joyfully, pleased with his apparent recovery.
“Much better,” Yunho confessed, draining the last drops of water out of the family rug. After he was finished with his task, he opened the rug, peering at it appraisingly, trying to spot any stains he might have missed.
“Come, let’s find you something to eat,” Lata said, beckoning for the boy as she marched towards the entrance of the house. Yunho hurried after her, trying to match the woman’s long stride. They walked past a small open fire, a young woman with her hair tied sitting next to it, stirring a large steaming pot. Yunho eyed her with keen interest. For the first time since he had entered the house he was well enough to actually pay attention to his surroundings.
“Lata…” he started.
“Is everyone here like you? Were you all…were you all born men?” he asked hesitantly. Lata glanced over her shoulder, giving him a small smile.
“Yes, every single one of us. Well, except for her,” she said, gesturing towards the cooking woman. “She was born half a man, half a woman, and with a mind of a child. But everyone else in this house came here to change… To devote themselves to God.”
The cooking woman was much younger and also prettier than Lata, rather slender. She was dressed in a similarly patterned gown as Lata, but her belly was exposed, a long stripe of cloth wrapped around her head and upper body, hanging loose in the front. Yunho watched her so closely he almost walked right into the doorpost. Lata chuckled, reaching her hand out to tug the boy weakened by illness inside the house. She walked him to another room, one that Yunho hadn’t been inside yet, and sat him on a bench while she went to fetch a piece of flat bread.
Yunho’s eyes wandered around the room that seemed to be a kitchen, or perhaps a food storage room. He stared absent-mindedly at the different objects decorating the room until his gaze skimmed over another door opening further into the house. There were blankets on the floor, and if Yunho was not mistaken there seemed to be a person sleeping, a tall lump wrapped in the comfortable covers.
Lata soon came to Yunho, sitting down next to him and handing him a flat round bread. The boy started nibbling on it, the wet family rug spread on his lap.
“Shouldn’t you have left that outside to dry?” the woman beside him asked, but Yunho paid her no heed, as his eyes were focused on the lump in the next room. It had started to move.
Slowly, a slender arm peeled the covers off, and Yunho watched as the person underneath sat up, yawning widely. It was evening, almost time to for the other women to come back from their begging round, and Yunho had thought he and Lata were the only ones in the house besides the woman who stayed in every day, taking care of household chores.
Apparently there was someone else as well. She had long hair, black like Jaejoong’s had been, and even her skin seemed similar, a few shades paler than Yunho’s own. She stretched her arms back gracefully, her cropped top riding higher still, revealing more of her flat stomach. She ran her hands through her hair, and when she was gathering it in one hand, her eyes met Yunho. They stared at each other for a short moment until her lips quirked into smile, and she winked at Yunho abashedly. The boy almost choked on his bread.
“Yunho? Yunho!” Lata prodded his side, trying to catch his attention.
“Huh?” he snapped out of his stupor, quickly turning his eyes away from the girl in the next room.
“Ah, lovely boy,” she smiled, “your mind is still as hazy even if your body has started to recover.”
“Umh,” Yunho grunted unintelligently, eyes on his lap. He tried to control himself, but soon they were steering towards the door again. The girl had crawled to small mirror that was leaning towards the wall, turning her face back and forth as she inspected her face while combing her hair.
“Even her?” Yunho blurted out.
“What do you mean, lovely boy?”
“Even her? She’s a…a man?”
Lata followed Yunho’s gaze through the open door, and as soon as her eyes fell on the girl inside the room she frowned in disapproval.
“Heechul?” she said, condemnation audible in her voice. “Indeed she was a man too. Stay away from her though. You shouldn’t get close to her.”
Yunho watched as the girl put large golden earrings on her ears before starting to primp her outfit, smoothing her long skirt and fiddling with the small golden tassels lining the hem of her cropped top.
“Why?” he couldn’t help but to ask, curious.
Lata eyed the girl for a moment, distaste still apparent on her face, before answering Yunho.
“We came here to relieve ourselves of all carnal desire… To rip it out of our bodies and live a pure life.”
Yunho watched the girl smack her lips together as she applied a red tint to them. Lata clicked her tongue.
“She came here to act on it.”
Despite being well on his steady way to recovery, Yunho was still too weak to leave the house. After Lata had made sure the boy would be all right by himself, the next day she followed the noisy band of women out with her kettle lids in hand.
Yunho sat in his corner, staring at his water cup. He was supposed to help with the kitchen work, but as long as there was any chance of others catching his sickness, he had been restricted to merely concentrating on getting better. It meant he didn’t have much to do, and lazing around was not something Yunho was particularly into. Sitting around idly only meant too much time to think.
Unable to help himself, he had just sunk into a comfortable stream of childhood memories when a voice startled him.
“Oh, there you are, kid. What a lovely abode you have here.”
Yunho looked up, only to meet a pair of kohl-rimmed eyes that somewhat reminded him of Jaejoong; even though the fire in them was very different. Where Jaejoong’s eyes only ever showed gentleness, worry, or intense anger towards him, this pair was studying him with open curiosity, a hint of a smirk decorating the person’s face.
Not knowing what to say, Yunho stared at the girl. She was very different from everyone else in the house; even while many of the younger ones wore midriff-baring outfits, she didn’t have the usual long scarf wrapped around his middle and shoulders, covering most of the exposed skin. Her dress made her appear more sensual, making Yunho remember what Lata had told him about her.
“Cat got your tongue?” she teased, eyeing Yunho appraisingly. “Ah, I guess you shall have to do. Come with me.”
She turned around to walk away, but when Yunho made no effort to get up and follow her, she spun around again, tapping her bare foot against the floor, making the jewellery around her ankle jingle.
“Come on! I am bored. I have slept over 15 hours every day this week and I am tired of sleeping. There is no one else in the house, so you will just have to do. Come entertain me.”
“What about Aatmaja?” Yunho asked, referring to the simple-minded girl who took care of their meals.
“Ah, she is boring! Always so earnest!” Heechul declared. “I want someone who knows to laugh in the right moment at my brilliant jests.”
When Yunho still remained seated, Heechul walked over, grabbed his arm and heaved him upright. Even with her delicate build, she was taller and wider than Yunho, who was still gravely influenced by his sickness and the starvation he had experienced before it. Without a word, she dragged him through the rooms until they reached the one where Yunho had seen her sleeping the day before. She quickly let go of his arm, making Yunho drop down on the messy blankets on the floor. She eyed the boy pointedly but said nothing, walking over to a large chest and opening it.
Yunho watched her rummage through the contents of the chest for a while but when it became apparent she wouldn’t say anything first, he cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Why are you, I mean, why are you here during the daytime?” he enquired, fiddling with the covers he was sitting on top of.
“Sleeping while the others are working their asses off, you mean to ask?” Heechul spared him a glance but despite her mocking tone, her eyes only spoke of amusement. Yunho grunted a response, still nervous.
“I do my work in the twilight,” Heechul said as if it explained everything, pulling up a bundle of fabric and adjusting it in front of herself, peering into a mirror. Yunho didn’t answer, only cocked his head. Heechul saw it through the mirror and quirked one of her eyebrows.
“Didn’t Lata tattle everything to you already?”
“Hmm,” Yunho shook his head. After a moment’s hesitation, he added, “She did tell me to stay away from you though.”
Heechul snorted. “Such a hypocritical prude. Got her claws on you and now she won’t let her precious, lovely boy even talk to such scum as me.”
“If she dislikes you so much… Why doesn’t she just kick you out?”
“Straightforward, now aren’t we,” Heechul chortled. “She couldn’t possibly. I bring in at least third of the money in this household. If she kicked me out, who would feed her precious devotees of God?”
“Don’t you… Aren’t you… Don’t you believe in God?”
“Oh yes, I am a most dedicated devotee, mmh, indeed I am,” she exclaimed with a twinkle in her eye. “I am so dedicated that rarely do I spend a night without meeting my God, giving myself wholly to Him.”
Yunho eyed her, unsure of where the conversation was heading. Heechul stared back unflinchingly, seeming to be considering something.
“I cannot believe this,” she huffed suddenly. “Are you telling me no one ever gave you the talk about the bees and the flowers?”
Yunho said nothing, making Heechul shake her head again.
“No wonder Lata’s got such a good grip on you,” she chuckled. “Such a clueless boy. You lived on the streets, and yet you do not know what I am talking about?”
“I only lived there for a short time,” Yunho explained defiantly, not understanding Heechul’s words. “Before that, I lived in a ship.”
“A ship?” Heechul exclaimed incredulously. “And where might you have found a ship in this godforsaken desert?”
“Well, it’s there right in the middle, about half a day’s walk from here. It’s very sandy though.”
Heechul let out an amused laugh. “I like you, boy. What was your name again? I don’t know how you come up with this all, but you have one hell of an imagination, I shall give you that.”
Yunho pressed his lips together, opting not to say anything. The girl looked through a few more fabrics, spreading them over her flat chest to inspect them through the mirror. When she seemed to grow bored, she threw them messily back into the chest, grabbing a comb and walking over to Yunho.
“Comb my hair for me,” she ordered, flopping down on the blanket in front of Yunho. The boy frowned, picking up the black comb as Heechul arranged herself in front of him. They settled into a silence, comfortable on Heechul’s part and slightly nervous on Yunho's part. It was only disrupted by the girl’s occasional yelps and scolding when Yunho accidentally pulled her hair.
After a while, Heechul spoke up again.
“Do you truly not know about my line of work?”
“No,” Yunho answered honestly. In fact, he was quite curious; what was it that could bring in so much money Lata wouldn’t even consider kicking Heechul out despite her apparent distaste?
“Not too often do I get the chance to corrupt Lata’s little protégées,” Heechul chuckled. “In short: I go out, I fuck them, I get money and enjoyment while they only get the enjoyment.”
Yunho was keenly watching his hands as the comb slid through Heechul’s black hair but it still took him a moment to realise they were shaking.
“Fu— Fu…fuck?” he tasted the word in his mouth while trying to steady his hands. But no matter how tightly he gripped the comb, it still moved through Heechul’s locks with jerky movements, until the girl huffed irritably and sat up.
“What is your problem?” she snapped, snatching the comb from his hand, but when she saw the look in the boy’s eyes she stopped to look, intrigued and softened. “Kid?”
“You fu— You do that? Why would you do that?” Yunho’s voice was hesitant, but agitated all the same.
Heechul stared at him, a little baffled by his sudden behaviour but feeling a rapid surge of sympathy within her heart. Maybe the boy hadn’t had it as easy as she had originally thought.
“Oh boy, you should see my man! I bet you would want to do it too if you only saw him,” she exclaimed, trying to keep up her usual theatrics as she observed Yunho closely. “I wasn’t kidding when I called him God earlier—”
“But it’s wrong! Lata told me it’s wrong!” Yunho yelled, his voice rising as he tried to struggle against the unwelcomed memories filling his mind.
“Look, kid— Yunho, was it Yunho?” Heechul grabbed Yunho’s arm, trying to steady the boy who was now shivering with tension all over. “I don’t care what Lata told you. I don’t care what Lata thinks, I don’t care what the world thinks because I love it! I love fucking, I love him, and most of all, I love fucking him! I am not going to live like some single-minded puritan just because Lata thinks it’s the right way to live.”
“But it’s— I-I don’t think— He didn’t love them! He didn’t, I know, I swear—”
Heechul stared at the distressed boy, his cheeks deeply flushed in stark contrast to his otherwise still sickly pale complexion.
“Look kid, I think you lost me here,” she said slowly and clearly, hoping that her words were getting through to the boy. “But whatever it is, Lata is wrong.”
“He didn’t love them,” Yunho cried out, “he didn’t love them and he wouldn’t love me, he wouldn’t, I know it, I know it’s wrong and he wouldn’t love me if he knew… I don’t want to, it’s not my fault, it’s just, when I am asleep! When I am asleep, or— or when I let my thoughts wander—”
“Hey.” Heechul couldn’t think of anything else to do so she quickly pulled the boy into an awkward embrace. Tears had long spilled over to his cheeks, wetting the fine fabric of Heechul’s top as he sobbed against her shoulder. “It’s alright.”
Even though she had deemed Yunho not too many years younger than her, maybe just four or five, for a while she felt like she was holding a baby in her arms. Heechul had never been the motherly type, but something in the helpless boy, who seemed to be struggling with demons too big for just one child handle, made her insides fire up.
Despite the mess that their first meeting had been, Yunho soon found himself spending most of his time in Heechul’s company. As he had observed earlier she was the only one who stayed in during daytime, and so they naturally gravitated towards each other. Most days, Yunho found his way to the girl’s room as soon as morning prayers were over and the women had left, and Heechul always accepted his company with a delighted smile.
Heechul was unlike any other woman in the house. She was always relaxed but never afraid to speak her mind; and her opinions were strictly her own. Lata’s dislike for her proved to be mutual, although Heechul seemed to care much too little to concern herself with the fat woman who sneered every time she came home to see Heechul prancing about the house, entertaining Yunho with her ridiculous stories.
Above all, Heechul was free. She never listened to anyone else but herself, coming and going as she pleased when the household otherwise operated under strict order. She also dressed as she pleased, her demeanour always sensual and perfected.
Her easy company indeed was a welcome change to Yunho after every night. If he was lucky, he could sometimes get a full night of sleep, but as his recovery progressed, more often than not he would wake up to his heart pounding inside his chest with the speed of a rat’s heart, his skin hot and clammy to touch.
His dreams still revolved around Jaejoong without fail. As time went by, they became more and more detailed, to the point Yunho had to spend a good twenty minutes lying on his back after he woke up, staring at the ceiling, going through a series of prayers Lata had thought him. He would grip the family rug that no longer smelled like Jaejoong or home, knuckles white as he tried to gain control over his own body.
Sometimes, when the anxiety was too much for him to bear, he would crawl out of his corner and lay down next to Lata, letting the fat woman’s presence comfort him. Usually Lata stirred, giving Yunho a drowsy smile before pulling him close to her side and falling back to sleep. Yunho would lie there awake, trying to convince himself this was how he was supposed to feel with Jaejoong too.
Hanging out with Heechul was a double-edged sword. On the other hand, she could make Yunho feel at ease; but on the other hand, her obvious comfortableness with her own sexuality drew Yunho to her like a flame would draw a moth. The thoughts and feelings were something he couldn’t rid his mind and body of no matter how much he tried; so instead, he ended up gobbling up every word Heechul let slip of his relations with his patron. And Heechul let those kinds of words slip very often.
It was yet another lazy day of lying down in Heechul’s room, listening to the girl ramble endlessly. Heechul had been fixing a skirt until Yunho had somehow managed to get her to recount her first meeting with her dear patron. Despite her initial reluctance to share the story, she had gotten very much into it after a while.
“Not that those other fools aren’t satisfying, but there are other things a girl needs, you know?” she explained with a twinkle in her eyes. “And the best thing is… he didn’t come looking for me, for someone like me, like all the others do. We just met, as if we were meant to.”
Yunho shifted, lying down more comfortably.
“You know, this is who I am and I am not ashamed of it, but it’s not always easy,” Heechul continued, “being who I am. We are not exactly approved by anyone… Women who were born as girls too think they’re better than us, and men…they are either disgusted, or intrigued, but nevertheless, they still think they’re better than us.”
There was a rare moment of wistfulness until Heechul snorted, flicking her hair over her shoulder.
“Jealous, all of them,” she declared in a loud voice, making Yunho giggle as she started strutting around the room, flaunting her assets shamelessly.
“No other girl could compete with you, after all,” Yunho chimed in, happy to indulge the girl who always glowed with every compliment thrown in her direction.
“Damn right, and you had better remember that, kid,” she said pointing her index finger at Yunho who couldn’t stifle his laughter. “Jealous of me, and jealous of whom I snatched away in front of all their faces!”
“Uh-huh,” Yunho agreed. “Tell me more about him, Heechul.”
The girl was happy to comply with the request, it was her favourite topic after all.
“Oh boy, oh boy, where should I begin,” she rubbed her hands in joy. “I can still remember that first time… Didn’t feel like walking back here the next morning you know. Didn’t want to part with him, but neither did I want to stand up at all… Ah, that sweet pain.”
Yunho listened, his cheeks turning slightly red and a tingle starting in his stomach as Heechul went on describing her experiences to him.
“You are corrupting my lovely boy again,” came an accusing voice behind him suddenly. Yunho turned around to see Lata’s disappointed face gazing down at him, even though she had directed her words to Heechul.
“So I might be,” Heechul only answered with carefully placed indifference in her voice.
“You might be a lost cause, Heechul, but I won’t let you drag him into your world filled with sin and false emotions,” Lata sighed, walking over to Yunho and dragging him up by his shoulder. “And you, little boy… You need a teacher, not a playmate.”
“I know you will never understand, Lata,” Heechul yelled after them, “but don’t you dare call it false!”
Lata ignored her, dragging Yunho out of the room behind her. She turned around, facing Yunho with a serious expression.
“You are better now, lovely boy,” she started, “and I will never force you into anything, but you have to make a choice. If you want to live here with us, you will have to contribute. Money doesn’t grow on trees; we are all part of this household, and we all have to provide for each other. You cannot spend your time giggling in a corner with Heechul and expect there will be enough food on the table the next day.”
Yunho knew all too well what Lata was talking about. He hung his head, ashamed of his childish behaviour.
“I am sorry,” he muttered, “I will help Aatmaja in the kitchen from now on.”
Lata smiled at him, squeezing his shoulder.
“Good,” she said. “And in the evenings, you will come with me, and I shall teach you about our God. Lovely boy; you are welcome to live with us as long as you want to. You can also leave whenever you want to. But as long as you live under this roof, you will live by the right rules.”
She glanced over her shoulder to the room where Heechul had begun primping herself again.
“I feel pity for her,” she sighed. “She doesn’t know better. I was late with her; she was already a hopeless case when I picked her up, trying to give her a new home, a new start…protection. She won’t listen to me, she refuses to understand how wrong it is, what she does…sleeping with people like that.”
Yunho caught a glimpse of something that almost seemed like guilt in Lata’s eyes.
“But you, my lovely boy,” she composed her expression quickly and smiled. “I will make sure you will understand, that you will have your chance to live a pure life.”
Learning about the women’s God turned out to be quite a practical matter. Everyday when Lata returned, she would take Yunho outside with her to teach him the dances and songs of their group. The prayers and songs were all sung in a foreign language Yunho couldn’t understand; Lata explained to him that it was an old sacred language that no one spoke anymore. She would explain the meaning of each word to him, telling him the stories the long, narrative lyrics formed. Sometimes when he was waiting for Lata in the yard, he wrote the lyrics in the sand, drawing each line of each character with utmost care. When Lata caught him, she would come to sit by him and ask him to read the words to her aloud. Like all the other women in the house, she was illiterate; and seeing Yunho draw those beautiful marks in the sand confirmed how right she had been to save the poor boy from the street. He was no common street rat.
Yunho hardly ever saw Heechul anymore, other than fleeting glances when she breezed past the other residents of the house on her way out. She seemed to be spending more and more time outside the house, and frankly, Yunho could understand her well. It was clear she felt uncomfortable with the others, her ways so completely in contrast to everything the others believed in. But whenever Yunho saw her, she looked well and happy, so he spared his worrying for someone else; someone else, who Yunho couldn’t forget, whose fate was entirely unknown to him.
Instead, Yunho spent most of his time in the kitchen, helping the child-minded Aatmaja with her tasks. Sometimes he did well, but other days cooking seemed like insurmountably hard work for him. Every simple task reminded him of Jaejoong. One day, when he was stirring a large pot of spicy vegetable stew, he suddenly burst into tears, letting the salty water season their food. Aatmaja just stood there very still, staring at him until she started furiously rubbing her own eyes, as if it would stop the flow of tears on Yunho’s face.
The last straw that made the fragile grasp on his composure slip was a dream. It was a new dream; one he had never seen before.
Where before he often saw a dream of the blond man on top of Jaejoong, the man in his dream was now himself right from the beginning. Where Jaejoong had always been pliant and willing, now he was fighting him, crying out in his distress. Yunho himself kept growing, until his size was enough to completely take over Jaejoong, to twist and turn him as he liked. Jaejoong continued crying, struggling against Yunho’s forceful hold, until their gazes met.
Jaejoong’s eyes were filled with a sense of disbelief and betrayal, wide as if he was trying to see better, to confirm that the person on top of him was not Yunho, but someone else. But Yunho only felt heat; all-consuming heat that gripped his being and wouldn’t let go.
The boy startled awake to a loud yell right by his ear, jerking upright as he fought the weight constricting his movements. He blinked hastily, trying to free his eyes of the water effectively blurring his eyesight.
“It’s alright, shh, it’s alright,” a familiar voice hushed him, a hand stroking his back with slow, long movements. Only then he noticed how fast his chest was heaving as he gasped for breath, almost choking. Lata’s voice continued murmuring to him, instructing him to slow down, but even when he gained control over his shaky breaths, the tears uncontrollably streaming down his face wouldn’t stop.
Even with the distressed state of his body, he could feel the familiar hardness between his legs, resting heavily against the thigh of his bent leg. Yunho swallowed, releasing a frustrated yowl.
“Oh Yunho,” Lata crooned, pulling him into a soft embrace. “It was just a dream, don’t cry, lovely boy.”
“Lata,” he gasped, “I cannot, I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“I know, lovely boy, I know,” she murmured.
Yunho quietened for a while before he pulled slightly back, searching the fat woman’s eyes.
“Wh-when you…” he started hesitantly, stopping to blow his nose. “If I… If I become one of you… Will it be easier? Will this stop?”
Lata froze, her hand stilling on Yunho’s back.
“You mean you want to give up your life as a man and join us?” she asked disbelievingly.
“Y-yes,” Yunho answered her after slight hesitation.
“Oh lovely boy,” Lata sighed. “You do not know what you are talking about. It’s something you cannot take back no matter how much you regret. You shouldn’t say things like that—”
“No,” Yunho interrupted her with a little more determination. “I want to. I hate this, all these…feelings, this want…This, this lust—”
“Shh,” Lata cut his words short. “For now, just sleep; and if you haven’t changed you mind in the morning, we can discuss this.”
She lay down on the bare floor next to Yunho. The boy snuggled closer to the woman, reaching for the family rug that had slipped away from him in his distress. Clutching it against his chest, he thought about Jaejoong, and how he wanted to find him and live with him forever. As it was, Yunho could never live with Jaejoong. He had to change.
“Alright,” he agreed, but stayed awake for a long while before merciful slumber took him under.
Even after Yunho assured her that he was serious, Lata remained doubtful of his resolution. She gave him two weeks, after which she extended the time for consideration even further. Despite her suspicion, Yunho remained determined to show her that he had made his decision, and slowly, he started adapting to a new role. He changed his dress, copying the women’s demeanour and conduct the best he could, even when it sometimes felt awfully awkward and unnatural to him.
After half a year, Lata finally gave up. When Yunho once again came to her, asking to be allowed to join the household as a real member of the group, she just sighed, looking down at the ground, and told Yunho he was free to do whatever he wanted.
The day of his cutting was set to be due in two weeks, and Yunho waited for the day eagerly in an almost feverish state, convinced that as soon as it was done all his problems would be gone.
The women who always performed such operations were called over, and they sat in the kitchen for hours, chatting and gossiping with Lata until Yunho was reduced to a sweaty, wrecked shell of a human being.
Finally, they had a table set up, and Yunho was summoned in. He undressed himself, climbed on the table, and then suddenly there were people surrounding him from every side. He looked around, all those faces staring down at him, waiting for the ceremony to begin. He could see each one of them, just waiting for the moment to grab his limbs to seize him and keep him still, hold onto every part of him and prevent him from escaping while a piece of him was carved out.
Just then, a sudden, piercing uncertainty penetrated Yunho’s distressed mind. He reached for Lata, twisting his fingers into the hem of her robe, meeting her questioning eyes with a silent plea. Lata stared at him for a moment, contemplation glazing over her eyes. She nodded and took hold of Yunho’s hand, giving him an understanding smile and his hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Shall we start?”