Once upon a time, there lived a man called Baker King.
Remember that name well because failure to give it due mention (in a year-end review, for example) might incite a stream of Bard-inspired curses such as “A plague on both your houses!” But don’t let the chorus of “What about Baker King?” drive you batty and definitely do not brandish your rolling pin in irate response. Stiff upper lip, there you go.
Baker King was also called Kim Tak-gu and he began life in a mansion so sprawling the resident mice needed maps just to get around. By “began life,” it didn’t mean he was born there, just conceived there. Wait, let’s not get into a “when does life begin” debate because if we must be so exacting, then surely Tak-gu was conceived even before he was conceived because his father was obsessed with the idea of a son and even had a name all readied for the momentous event long before the momentous event. As the Bard wrote, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” so Gu Il-jong lived every day hoping for a male heir. The waiting took its toll on his mouth and he spoke little and smiled even less. His hair, however, suffered no ill effects and gleamed proudly atop his pate, every strand in place thanks to liberal dollops of hair cream.
Now, you must be wondering why Baker King’s name was Kim Tak-gu and not Gu Tak-gu. The reason was simple enough: He took his mother’s name instead of his father’s.
To understand the
shenanigans circumstances that led to Tak-gu being a Gu and not a Kim, one must begin at the beginning: the birth of his sister, Gu Ja-kyung. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to jump to all sorts of conjectures about Ja-kyung’s arrival even if one did not actually witness the event. Did her father greet his first-born with glee? Maybe, if you consider pursed lips to be a sign of gleeful exuberance. No wonder there was much ado when Seo In-sook was pregnant a second time. Oh dear gods, let it be a boy this time!
Wait a minute. Seo In-sook? Not Kim In-sook? Then how did Tak-gu get to be a Kim? Well, if finger-pointing is de rigueur, blame it on an old lady’s loosely strung prayer beads. Blame it on a blood pressure monitor.
Because fervent prayers for a grandson hit a cloud en route to heaven and fell back to earth. Because a nanny’s gentle touch kindled a certain longing in Gu Il-jong, causing his nether regions to stir afresh after the crushing disappointment of Daughter No. 2.
And because his wife, she still recuperating from delivering Disappointment No. 2, found their house too large for her weakened state and decided she would not return until she was
all shapely again rested.
Unknown to her husband, Seo In-sook did more than just rest.
Determined to move heaven and earth in order to give birth to a son, she rose from her hospital bed and marched to a soothsayer, she a mother of two daughters and he a potter with uncanny powers.
Gazing (reluctantly) into an invisible crystal ball, he offered her both hope and despair. She and Gu Il-jong would never have a son together, but she could have a son with another man. That would make her and her husband even since he was going to have a son with another woman anyway. In fact, while she was taking her own sweet (postpartum) time to go home, her husband had already scattered his seed on fertile soil.
Gu and the nanny’s coupling was witnessed by one very young and one rather old. The former stared wide-eyed while the latter stared approvingly, at the same time telling her granddaughter to hush. High time her son realized he would have better luck procreating an heir (not heiress, heaven forbid) with someone other than his wife!
Unable (and perhaps unwilling) to resist her employer’s advances, Kim Mi-sun yielded to the man’s hot kisses (who knew he had it in him, his usual demeanor as animated as a wet towel). So it was when Seo In-sook walked through the doors of the Gu mansion that she heard the sounds of retching and found the nanny doubled over, gripped by waves of nausea. Ah, little Tak-gu making his presence felt in the house. Little in-utero Tak-gu driving one woman berserk.
Like salt on a festering wound, the matriarch of the house told Seo In-sook to shut her gob and stop going all combative on the parturient Mi-sun. How dare she chastise the woman who would finally deliver their family from a grandson-less future!
But Seo In-sook wasn’t one to be chastised; she wasn’t someone you could walk all over, nope. So, even though little Tak-gu’s mama was now Most Precious Receptacle of Cherished Hopes, she was still a lowly nobody in She Who Mustn’t Be Scorned’s eyes. The latter thus ordered Han Seung-jae, her husband’s right-hand man, to carry out Deed Most Dastardly.
Brought meekly to the hospital, Tak-gu’s mama got cold feet when she saw pregnant woman after pregnant woman wobble past her, their faces flushed with joy at Impending Births. So she begged the nurse to show her a back door exit, which the nurse duly showed, she being made of compassionate stuff.
When Seo In-sook learned that Mission Extinguish Rival’s Baby had bombed, she summoned Han Seung-jae and fired him.
Nah, just pulling your leg. Why would she dismiss him, of all people? She knew he had the hots for her, she knew he had stayed at her husband’s side all these years so he could yearn for her surreptitiously, she knew he was the one who could give her a son, just as the soothsayer had predicted! So she gave him the come-hither eyes and when that didn’t work (he being made of principled stuff), she wrapped her arms around him in a back hug. Success!
So now Seo In-sook was expectant again, shapely waist be damned. To ensure she could pass off this third offspring as her husband’s, she must have waylaid him shortly after doing IT with Han Seung-jae, although how she managed to lure her husband into bed so soon after the disappearance of the nanny was a puzzle that the resident mice spent many a night debating, over cheese and crumbs. After all, if you care to study his face, do you see even a flicker of passion? In that regard he certainly did not take after his mom who could rant and rave with the best of them.
The unmarried Han Seung-jae now found himself an expectant father, which means there were two in the house. Whether it was a solo act never to be replicated, or whether he continued to enjoy his boss’s wife in ways that would make prudes blush, none of it mattered as much as the fact that Seo In-sook was going to bear Gu Il-jong a son who would one day conquer the world, one loaf at a time. How jolly.
Everything was unfolding by the book so far. If that predictability made you yawn, try to stay awake a little longer because the time had now come for little Tak-gu to enter the world. As she awaited his birth, his mama was earning a quiet living as nurse to a rural doctor whose
woebegone thoughtful face bore a semblance to a certain someone.
But look who should stride into the clinic one day. It was none other than Han Seung-jae, triumphant that he had finally found his prey after months of searching. Oh no.
Hurry, Mi-sun, hurry! The three men chasing you can’t possibly catch up with a heavily expectant woman so don’t be afraid and quickly find a place to hide! See that house with the wide-open gate? They would never think of looking inside a place so
Her heart pounding from all that running, Mi-sun felt the onset of pain so fierce and unfamiliar she could not stifle her moans. “Spare me!” she cried, as Han Seung-jae stood before her, unnerved by her agony despite a steely expression that proclaimed: I AM NOT EASILY UNNERVED.
First things first. The baby was coming no matter what. So Han Seung-jae ferried Mi-sun to the clinic and waited nervously as she screamed the ceiling down. Was he contemplating infanticide methods? Or was he thinking ahead to the day when his own son would be born? There was no telling because he and his boss not only shared a woman, they shared an uncommon taciturnity. Fortunately they didn’t share the same hairdo because that would have been too much, really.
Little Tak-gu made his entry and his mom made her exit, the two events too close together for the doctor’s comfort. But there was no time to lose because Han Seung-jae would soon come barging in.
But not only did he not barge in, Han Seung-jae actually let Mi-sun go. “Promise you will never show your face before Gu Il-jong again,” he demanded (weakly). They were fellow victims after all, in a sense. He would pretend he never found her, and she would go far away to raise her son alone.
Unaware of the drama far from their house, the Gu couple went about their lives as gaily as possible, she with considerably more gaiety than him. Why he looked at her with the sort of fondness that one would harbor for dead roaches was hard to fathom. Perhaps he suspected that she was the one who drove Mi-sun away. Or perhaps he had (horrors!) gone to the same soothsayer and heard a slightly revised version of Terrible Tidings: “You would never have a son except with another woman. Your wife would never have a son except with another man. That would be 10,000 won, thank you very much, a discount on account of this being recycled news.”
The years passed and Tak-gu was now a lad who peed in bed. That made his mama mad and she forced him to walk around the village like some
convict boy who had peed in bed.
Maybe because of his mom’s draconian methods of punishment, or maybe because his father was one Gu Il-jong whose smile muscles had gone the way of the dodo, Tak-gu was constantly snarling. That certainly did not bode well for people mulling over whether to watch an adult Tak-gu in action (as some baking king or something). He was also quite a thug wannabe, beating his landlady’s son until the latter’s nose was flattened.
Although she screamed at Tak-gu in public for beating up the son of the woman to whom they had been tardy in paying rent, Mi-sun loved him dearly and told him so. They had only each other, after all. Would be great if he didn’t wet his bed, but a mama can’t have her cake and eat it too. Some things had to give. (And some things one could secretly anticipate grabbing someday, like a certain inheritance on account of one being the first-born son of a certain extremely wealthy man.)
Meanwhile, there was commotion in the Gu household because Dear Son was being obnoxious again and refusing to go with his dad to the family-owned bread factory. Tsk tsk, Gu Ma-joon, how could you drive your mother, your grandmother, and your two sisters up the wall with your never-ending tantrums?
Eventually persuaded by his sisters that he should be a good boy, Ma-joon changed out of his sleepwear and into formal clothes. Young and spoiled he might be, but he couldn’t look into Ja-kyung’s imploring eyes and not comply.
As Seo In-sook led Ma-joon out to the car, she passed her son’s birth father and the two exchanged “Same place tonight?” glances.
Her husband, on the other hand, did not as much as glance in Ma-joon’s direction when the latter approached the car. When he finally did look at his son, it was with the same sort of expression that he used on his wife. Oh, the baggage that Gu Junior was going to grow up with, and the bills that he was going to have to pay to his shrink!
Unlike Ma-joon, who absolutely detested going to his father’s factory where he would be assailed by the smell of bread, Tak-gu adored the stuff. (Of course he would. How could he be his father’s flesh and blood if he didn’t have bread running through his veins? Quibble about predictability all you like, but can you imagine the drama if Tak-gu hated bread? Case closed.) In fact, so enamored was he by all things in a bakery, he could tell what was inside a bun without even looking inside a bun. All he had to do was sniff the air! And curse the miserly bakery owner for refusing to give him some free breadcrumbs!
What’s a boy who covets bread to do if he can’t afford the bread?
Why, pretend to visit the bread factory where your landlord works and where thousands of loaves and buns await. Tuck as many as pockets and clothes could hold and then walk out blithely, without the telltale shiftiness of thieves. Do not get caught and start running in a panic, and do not let the loot drop out as incriminating evidence.
Last of all, definitely do not engage eyeball to eyeball with the owner of the factory even if you can’t help gasping at his hair!
This is the second in a new series of first-episode recaps: A Man Called Something. Before you scream “God help us, one wasn’t enough, now she’s doing a series?”, you may wish to note that thundie runs out of steam easily so she may not actually serve up a whole platter of these recaps. On the other hand, anything harebrained is right up her alley so be afraid, be very afraid. And oh, if you wish to read the first one, it’s here.