During the winter of 1983, Washington D.C. was cold, far colder than Yunu had remembered Korea to be. And the city was so much nosier. Cars honked. Brakes screeched, and she inhaled the burnt smell of the traffic’s exhaust. It nauseated her. Tall, gray buildings in the upper Northwest section loomed before her. Like mausoleums, they were, so huge, so overwhelming. She felt even smaller, and again she shivered. She missed the open country, sunny skies, and the wide, horizontal buildings of California. This capital city was far too much like San Francisco for Yunu’s liking. It made her feel closed-in, suffocated. And she knew it would not be to her advantage to speak to the Secretary while she suffered from claustrophobia.She would not appear to be her usual poised self. Appearing calm was crucial now, even if Secretary Addleman was no longer the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
Out of respect, she and Yung still called him “Mr. Secretary.” The Ghuunes considered it odd, too, that in the states, U.S. leaders no longer held their titles once they stepped down from their positions.
Today, while Yunu trotted along Pennsylvania Avenue, she worried, too, that the breeze might set her perfectly combed coiffure in disarray. Even if the Ghuunes preached that when couples, Blessed Couples, truly loved one another, external features, even such an indignity as halitosis, didn’t matter, Yunu understood the political value of external presentation. She’d observed that powerful American men responded more compliantly to women whose hair was groomed into a short, tailored style—neither too curly nor too long: It seemed they viewed a woman with disarrayed hair as either an aging Hippy or a temptress. Obviously, she did not want to portray either of those roles for the Secretary. From her perceptions, she had not gleaned that the Secretary could be enticed with sexuality. Thus, she’d planned to steer clear of any attempt at any subtle suggestions that he would receive favors for his aide. Instead, she believed an appeal to his lust for material goods would be far more successful—and far safer for everyone involved.
Already Yung had financed the Secretary’s yachting excursion to Mallorca during an era when the populace fretted about the rise of the national debt to more than a trillion dollars. So the Secretary did owe the Ghunnes a favor. Probably, he would battle for Yung’s release. On the other hand, she worried about rumors that the Secretary’s “connections to disreputable groups” might deflate the power of his “influence.”
While she walked, she considered how she would approach the man. She’d set up the appointment on the pretense of designing a special World-Saver program for accountants. She knew the Secretary was aware of Yung’s predicament, and she hoped desperately that he’d ask about Yung and volunteer to help him without her requesting him to do so. It perplexed her that the Secretary hadn’t stepped forward already. In fact, he hadn’t phoned Yung. He’d not sent him correspondence of any sort. Nonetheless, when Yunu called the Secretary, his receptionist put her through to him, and he sounded as if he were delighted to meet with her about the program. Perhaps he thought it’d help him “save face” and give him a better image to sell in the next election. The program, Yunu hoped, would help her husband save face, too.
A young couple walking toward Yunu sent thoughts of Oshi To to her already burdened mind. With him, there was always worry. He’d been a fretful baby, she remembered, and his rebellious nature had first truly surfaced when he’d smeared sorghum syrup over one of his palms before he was to shake hands with audience members. Although the crowd laughed and many people deemed his act “cute,” Yunu worried even then that the ten-year-old’s pranks would undermine the image of Blessed Children the Ghunnes had worked so hard to create. Later, when Oshi To grew into adolescence, Yunu and Yung stuck him behind concessions stands where they hoped he’d cause fewer disruptions.
She watched the couple hold hands and swing arms together when passing her. She forced a smile and trotted faster. Perhaps, always such a child appeared among thirteen, but sometimes, she wondered if she should’ve stopped with an even dozen. Then, she could have given Oshi To the attention his nature demanded, and he would have turned out more subservient. But she’d also wanted to appear to follow the creed of The Divine Principality, which degreed married followers should procreate as many offspring as possible. Besides, Yunu had enjoyed her pregnancies. A woman who gained little weight with each pregnancy, she felt stronger and healthier when she was expecting a child. Those times, she believed she was truly in line with God’s desires. And then, too, when she was pregnant, Yung hungered for less sex. She had to admit the semi-abstinence had been a relief. She hadn’t married Yung for his sex appeal. She’d been far more impressed with his charisma. Once he’d learned to control his voice, his style, and brush up on his logical, political thinking, he’d swayed huge crowds with his rhetoric, just as she believed he would. Her studies had revealed to her how crucial charisma and rhetoric were in seizing unlimited power. Especially in the United States, where politicians used those tools far more than any abilities to resolve problems. Instead, they rattled on about “freedom from oppression” and “security overseas.”
Like his political friends, Yung had used rhetoric to his advantage, to convince masses of people to give up their money and possessions for The Movement. Now, Yunu worried that Oshi To, once infected with another religion’s ideals, might expose Yung’s methods—or worse yet—the balances in some of his bank accounts and the county assessment of his real estate, which stretched over acreage quite beyond Simi Valley. With the problems concerning back taxes, her husband didn’t need a son with a big mouth blabbering away about family secrets. And worst yet, the kid might expose some of the other methods Yung used to manipulate the “tough sells,” especially those souls he needed for political protection.
She had to prevent that. She’d have a talk with her son. Still, she worried about how Oshi To would react to her words. He was the one human being she could neither analyze accurately nor, consequently, control. But this time, she had to gain control before this son ruined them all.
While she charged forward with this thought, a gust of wind snapped up her pink pillbox hat, spun it upwards as if it were a Frisbee, and sent it soaring northbound above the pavement. Yunu clutched her purse and started moving in, more or less, a canter. She zigzagged across the sidewalk to follow the hat’s uneven trail. Already her time was off this morning, and now this—a pink swirling disc was destroying her schedule. She picked up her pace, dodged other walkers, and continued zig-zagging down the sidewalk in pursuit of that hat. Finally, the wind swirled the hat around one more time, then tossed it on the ground next to a mailbox about two hundred feet ahead of her.
Yunu sucked in a deep breath and slowed her pace. Suddenly, before she was in reaching distance of the hat, a black and white terrier scampered up to the hat. First, he sniffed it. Then he pressed a paw on it. Yunu dropped her dignified canter and broke into a dead run. “Scat! Scat!” she snapped while she stomped and flailed her arms.
The dog stopped, stared at her a second then looked back at the hat. He licked it and was about to clench it between his teeth, when Yunu scrambled to the mailbox. The terrier balked when it saw a 140-pound woman charging, screaming like a locomotive, toward him. He tucked his tail between his legs and took off. But Yunu couldn’t break from her run before one of her pink pumps caught in a hole, and then, stretching an arm to grab her beloved hat, she toppled face first on the sidewalk.
She’d never felt so embarrassed, not even when the evening when she led a bible study alone, and Oshi To snuck in and paraded around in her bra. Not even when Yung had been arrested for tax evasion. No, this was far worse. Now, she looked like no one’s spiritual mama, not splattered on concrete like some wayward egg. She was sure, in fact, that she’d reached the bottom on indignity’s pit, until she pushed her torso up from the ground. Then, she saw, about a block and a half away, Secretary Addleman strolling toward her.
Yunu dropped back to the ground, unsure how to regain her composure while simultaneously avoiding the Secretary’s gaze. She wanted to melt into the grass somehow, to disappear.
“Mrs. Ghuune?” she heard the Secretary call. “Mrs. Ghuune? I say, is that you?” His voice rang out more loudly than the rapping of his feet clicking against the concrete.
Yunu’s sallow face turned a bright red-orange as she lifted her torso from the muddy grass edging the sidewalk. She sighed and hoped the Secretary would, at least, ignore her mussed hair. She forced a smile. “Yes, Mr. Secretary. I have experienced an unfortunate mishap. I am not yet used to your city.” He took her hand, and she hobbled up to a standing position. “I apologize for my clumsiness.”
“My dear Madame.” The Secretary cleared his throat and frowned, his eyes forming tears as he stared at her. Yunu glanced down and saw mud splattered across her dress. “Let’s go to the office,” he continued. “I’ll phone one of my aides to assist you. I am so sorry this happened.” Then he glanced behind her. “Was there a crack in the sidewalk? A hole?”
Yunu said nothing, but smiled again, more faintly this time. She suddenly reconsidered that what she’d previously believed to be an unmitigated disaster—this undignified event—might indeed work to the Ghuunes’s advantage. And at the very least, she would save face.