Park Joo-Won closed the book he was reading and smiled wanly at his sister Park Ji-Woo. His eyes were half-closed as he sat under a King Cherry tree enjoying the mild breeze sifting through its branches. Joo-Won had suggested coming to the dilapidated park in Kanggye, the capital of Chagang province of North Korea.
Joo-Won was 25, still a bachelor and worked as a teacher. He was a gifted painter and singer, but taught subjects like ‘Great Kim II Sung’ and ‘Communist Morality’ to students in the senior middle school. Though he desperately desired to fill his canvases with images of his country, the only art he was ever allowed to create was the images of the Supreme Leader and the Eternal Leader.
Ji-Woo, his 16 year old sister, had some form of unidentified developmental disorder. His meagre salary was just about sufficient to buy food and pay bills, let alone pay for Ji-Woo’s treatment. A petite girl with breath-taking features, Ji-Woo usually wore men’s clothing to dissuade sexual assaults on her. Joo-Won had devised the plan after few previous attempts.
‘Nice day isn’t it, Sister?’ Joo-Won picked up a fallen cherry and started peeling it with his fingernails. His face was creased with worry. They belonged to the lowest category of Songbun – the system by which the North Korean citizens were classified based on their direct ancestors, the behaviour of their relatives and their socio-economic and political background. The better the rating in Songbun, the better was one’s lifestyle. They got better jobs, they were provided opportunities to live in the capital and they were ensured that they had food on their plates adequately.
‘Yes. I like coming to the park.’
Joo-Won passed her the pulp of the fruit and she ate it, making a face. ‘Sister, do you want to sing?’
North Korean teachers were forced to learn the accordion and the musically inclined Joo-Won was very proficient in playing the instrument.
‘Ok! Shall I sing the rice and potato song?’ Joo-Won nodded and started playing as his sister sang a famous folk song about the common people sharing a bountiful harvest of rice and potato. Her lilting voice had a soothing effect on his soul.
Joo-Won had received the horrible news the previous day. His innocent little sister had been selected to be a part of the Supreme Leader’s notorious Gippeumjo or Pleasure Squad – a team of nearly 2000 beautiful women whose sole existence was to entertain and provide sexual services to the elite class. There was no denying them. Joo-Won had argued, albeit feebly, about Ji-Woo’s medical condition but his protests were rejected summarily. Ji-Woo would become a part of the Gippeumjo in a couple of days.
Ji-Woo stopped singing, ‘Brother, Will we see the Supreme Leader today?’
‘I think so.’ He wiped the tears in his eyes. There was a conservatively dressed teenage girl approaching them. Her eyes were devoid of life and her face was devoid of any emotions. Joo-Won pointed out to her, ‘Look, sister, a girl approaches us. Do you want to ask her a question?”
The girl approached them. With a curt nod, she addressed Joo-Won.
‘Praise to the Supreme Leader. You are wearing jeans and banned shoes. It is against our morals.’
Joo-Won looked at her calmly, ‘My sister here would like to ask you a question.’
‘What is it?’
‘Is it true that the Supreme Leader never urinates or defecates?’ Ji-Woo asked, her eyes crinkling with mirth.
The girl’s mouth formed a ‘O’ even as she mumbled something about reporting them. Joo-Won started laughing and his sister joined him. The siblings laughed uproariously even as they were surrounded by more members of the discipline enforcement squad.
Later that evening, the state owned television channel aired the public execution of Park Joo-Won and Park Ji-Woo. The young girl who reported them was awarded a bowl of rice for her act of patriotism and loyalty.