Woo-jin and Myung-sook organised a group holiday for a few families of South Korean origin—Min-hyuk and Jeung-ryu, Min-jun and Chun-ja, Do-hyon and Min-ji, Woo-jin and Myung-sook and Hye-jin and myself. Expenses for this get-together were shared by the families involved. We rented a five-bedroom single-storey house named Nirala for two nights over a weekend. The bedrooms were organised in a row and there was a door between adjacent rooms. There was a big forecourt and a garden at the rear of the house. Min-hyuk and Jeung-ryu purchased the groceries and each family contributed their specialty dish.
On Saturday afternoon at one o’clock, five cars reached the holiday house. The ladies decided that they would all be accommodated in two rooms on the left-hand side and the door between these two rooms would be kept open so that they could spend their time together for the entire weekend. They also decided that their male counterparts would be accommodated in two rooms on the right-hand side and all children, including Joo-won, would be accommodated in the middle room.
Every meal was fun during this group holiday. The ladies ruled this cooking show, their male partners were asked to do some errands, but they were busy with their beer bottles between running errands. After dinner, the children were sent to bed and the adults gathered on the lawn behind the house, singing a few songs and listening to Myung-sook telling stories of ghosts. The night was dark; an owl barked from the top of a tree, the wind blew the hair in our faces. We got lost in the stories of this storyteller, vividly visualising the events …
‘When she was sixteen year old, Phuli was married to Maharaja, who employed five servants, one of whom was Phuli’s father.
‘There were four suites in the maharaja’s palace: the maharaja lived in one; two were for guests; the biggest suite was empty, where Phuli was welcomed.
‘Phuli’s father carried the errands from the guests inside these suites. Phuli was puzzled to see a change in her father—he wasn’t scolding her anymore, instead, he almost begged if he could do something for her, wash her clothes or even massage her feet. Phuli felt she was living in someone else’s house. However, the maharaja would visit her every evening, have dinner with her, spend time on the verandah or take her for a trip to the shopping centre.
‘But Phuli’s happiness didn’t last long. Before even their first anniversary was celebrated, the maharaja passed away. His death brought about a sudden change in Phuli’s life. Not only had she suddenly lost her husband, but she had also lost the empire of the maharaja as well. The mansion was seized by the bank and foreclosed for sale. Bankrupt and widowed, Phuli had to leave the mansion and join her father in his flat.
‘Dejected and depressed, Phuli was often scolded by her parents, sometimes for no reason whatsoever. She felt that the world was looking down on her, except the spirit of the maharaja who seemed to be always around her, trying to protect her from the misfortunes caused by his sudden death. Every morning when she woke, she felt the maharaja was there to pat her back.
‘About a year after the maharaja’s death, one of Phuli’s uncles, Ghatak, came with a proposal for Phuli’s marriage.
‘Ghatak said to Phuli’s parents: “Marriage isn’t always necessary for a happy fulfilling relationship. The groom I’ve seen for Phuli can’t marry her right now. He has separated from his wife a week ago and cannot marry anyone before another year. I could take you to the groom’s place. If you like him, the groom will come here and see Phuli. If all agree, then he will take Phuli with him and they will live together. When the right time arrives, we will marry Phuli”.
‘The sequence of events happened exactly as Ghatak said. The groom’s name was Dojbare. Dojbare belonged to an upper middle-class family, his parents were both alive and his father had a steady monthly income. Phuli’s jobless father thought it would be prudent to be related to the Dojbare family as he would be immediately relieved of Phuli who was just eighteen year old and needed a lot of care.
‘Once again Phuli left her parents’ flat and departed for Dojbare’s place. There was little celebration at the groom’s place and not any at the bride’s place. No oath was taken; no priests were there to pronounce them as married. No-one said, “The groom may now kiss the bride”. Yet the groom kissed the bride profusely when they shared their bed for the first time. Phuli once felt that the maharaja was just behind the window blinds and asked her to be careful.
‘Phuli found Dojbare to be very different from the maharaja, who used to take very good care of her. Dojbare’s main concern was to make Phuli pregnant. He was always looking for any opportunity without caring how Phuli felt about it. He researched which foods would make her pregnant with a boy child. She looked for the maharaja’s spirit and on many evenings, when Dojbare was away or in deep sleep, Phuli found the maharaja’s ghost just beside her. Phuli never felt scared of him; rather she felt safe when his ghost was around.
‘Dojbare’s efforts were soon rewarded. A week after they started living together, Phuli conceived. This was confirmed in the pregnancy test, taken a month later. The maharaja’s ghost also kept appearing every day, and he seemed happy as Phuli was feeling very happy. Now she was pregnant, she wouldn’t be tortured anymore by Dojbare.
‘A son was born to Phuli, as expected, in a nursing home. Phuli was overwhelmed with joy and tried to keep her baby close to her so that she could take good care. After three days Phuli, with her newborn son, returned to Dojbare’s house. Soon after, Dojbare’s parents cautioned her about disclosing the news of the newborn to anyone, even to Phuli’s parents.
‘Dojbare’s mother said: “Don’t tell anyone about the newborn. We will christen him after a month and then disclose this news to our relatives. We will invite your parents during the christening ceremony”.
‘After one week, Dojbare came home with a gadget and explained to Phuli: “I don’t want you to breastfeed your child anymore. This isn’t good for baby and not good for your looks. You will pump milk off your breasts and preserve the milk in bottles, to be kept in the freezer. I may help you if required”.
All the ladies who were listening to Myung-sook raised their eyebrows, as did the male listeners watching the breasts of their wives and those of the other ladies as well, as if they were all getting pumped of milk. The ladies promptly covered their breasts with whatever they could put their hands on.
Myung-sook continued …
‘Soon Phuli realised that she wasn’t allowed to feed her baby at all, not from her breasts nor from bottles. Dojbare, his mother, even his father, took turns feeding the baby with the feeding bottle. Sometimes they tried formula in the bottle without letting Phuli know. They wanted to ensure that the baby would survive without Phuli’s milk.
‘Phuli’s parents were invited for the christening of the boy. A few close relatives of Dojbare were present as well. Phuli was told to keep a low profile and not to talk to any of Dojbare’s relatives, so Phuli and her parents didn’t talk to anybody else during the christening ceremony. Phuli’s mother didn’t approve of the baby being fed by Dojbare’s parents, who didn’t allow even her to feed the baby.
‘A couple of days after the christening ceremony, when Phuli woke in the morning, she found that her baby wasn’t in his cot. Worried, Phuli rushed out of the room searching for her baby. She found the baby in the lounge with another woman. She rushed to that woman and tried to snatch the baby from her asking: “Who are you? Why have you taken my baby away from his cot?”
‘“Go away”, said the woman. “Keep off my child.”
‘Then Dojbare and his mother appeared on the scene. Phuli pleaded with them, “Who has allowed this woman to grab my baby?”
‘“Don’t say my baby, Phuli, this is my son”, Dojbare said. “The lady holding my son is my wife. She has every right to hold my baby.”
‘“What do you mean, Dojbare?” Phuli replied. “You said you’ve separated from your wife and after one year of separation you’d marry me. Based on your promise, I started living with you and you were keen on having a child with me.”
‘“I never promised that I’d marry you”, Dojbare replied. “I said I cannot marry you before one year of separation is completed. Now I feel I won’t remain separated for one year, that’s why she is back.”
‘“What will happen to me? Why didn’t you tell me this when you worked on me for a baby? I won’t let my son go with this girl, he lives on my milk; he will die if he doesn’t live with me”, cried Phuli.
‘“No, he won’t die if you aren't here. For the last ten days he hasn’t taken a drop of your milk. He has been fed on formula only, and he seems better off with formula than your milk”, replied Dojbare.
‘“What do you do with the milk you pump off me then? Even last night you pumped out and filled the bottle”, asked Phuli. She was totally dismayed.
‘“Whatever we might have done with that doesn’t matter. My son didn’t have your milk”, Dojbare replied.
‘“Shouldn’t you have told me what you feed my son and go on pumping my breast?”
‘“He is my son. I didn’t want you to know that he is on formula. There is no need to pump off you anymore. You won’t live in this house anymore, so there is no question of pumping milk off you”, Dojbare replied, while patting the back of his wife.
‘Dojbare’s mother interfered at this point. “Don’t let her go, Dojbare. Phuli is a good girl. Let her stay in the small room on the ground floor. It is wise to keep a good cow in the house.”
‘Phuli felt that no-one in this house would help her; she was no more than a cow in this house and cows should not cry. They kick the milkman if misbehaving. Phuli jumped on the lady holding the baby. With sheer force she boxed her neck and snatched the baby. She raised her blouse, pulled out her breasts and held one tit near the baby’s mouth. The baby latched onto it and sucked tenaciously. Phuli started running towards the door with the baby clinging to her breast, about to flee with her son. Dojbare and his mother ran after her. Dojbare swooped on her shoulder and held her firmly as his mother went to the front of Phuli and snatched the baby off her breast. The baby cried out as milk oozed from Phuli’s nipples. Dojbare’s mother rushed to put a dummy in the baby’s mouth.
‘Dojbare knocked Phuli out of the house and closed the door behind her. Phuli, wearing only a petticoat and a loosely hanging blouse, was shivering outside Dojbare’s house.
‘What would Phuli do now? She stood there for a while, knocked at the door a few times, but no-one opened the door. What will I do next? she was wondering when the spirit of the maharaja beckoned her, covered her with some clothes and escorted her to her parents’ place.
‘With Phuli gone, Agerbou smiled, kissed Dojbare and said, “Let’s celebrate that the witch is no more in the house”.
‘“Sure”, Dojbare said and turned towards his mother. “Mother, could you take care of my son for a couple of days? We will celebrate at Nirala guesthouse. You need to change his nappy a few times, feed him as well; you may use Phuli’s milk or formula, whatever you prefer.”
‘Dojbare and Agerbou started for Nirala, intending to stay for two nights. Just as we did today, Dojbare and Agerbou had a good time here. They ordered a delicious Italian dinner to be delivered and they had lots of beer and wine, both before and after dinner.
‘After dinner, Dojbare and Agerbou sat in the garden near the fountain. While they were busy consuming spirits, the spirit of the maharaja appeared from behind the tree and cast a shadow on their table.
‘“What’s that behind you?” Agerbou cried.
‘Dojbare got up and turned around to see what was behind them, but before he could see anything, there was a bolt of lightning. The ghost of the maharaja jumped on Dojbare and he was electrocuted.’
When Myung-sook was narrating how a ghost was landing behind the tree, a nasal sound was heard—whispering and gasping; someone was very close to the group and approaching with outstretched hands. Everyone in the group shivered. Myung-sook stopped her story in bewilderment—she couldn’t believe that a ghost from her story had really landed there. Su-bin jumped over someone in the group and put her arms around Woo-jin’s neck and pressed herself to his chest.
When the entire group, including storyteller Myung-sook, was frightened and was intensely watching the ghost, the ghost started talking. ‘What happened to you all? I was looking for ice-cream, if you have any.’ It was Do-hyon who came from the main building, unnoticed by anyone.
Now that everyone recognised Do-hyon and was relieved there was no real ghost, Su-bin released her arms from around Woo-jin’s neck. Highly embarrassed, Su-bin said, ‘Sorry Woo-jin, I’ll get some water’.
Woo-jin’s shirt was crumpled, wet with saliva and tears, stained with lipstick marks.
‘We have some ice-cream in the freezer’, Jeung-ryu added. ‘Hye-jin, please come with me, let’s serve ice-cream now.’
‘I’ll come with you’, I said and followed Jeung-ryu and Hye-jin.
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