Little is known about the summer's day Han Jihyun was born in. He has no way to be sure if it was one of those beautiful June days, the kind that has skies that look too blue to real, with a heat that bounces back everything it touches and hugs the skin, the kind of day you can see the hand of God in it's creation. Or was it taken over by rains, the monsoon season at it's worst - the kind of pathetic fallacy that seems appropriate for the sad start of an orphan boy's life. He might have not been born that day at all, or even in June, there are no records for him to check, no one for him to ask.
Jihyun has no recollection of the very beginning of his life, no memory of a mother or father, just the knowledge that at some point his mother had left him with her neighbor, a mere stranger, only to never return. The people who took him in didn't do it for any tender hearted reason or with the well being of the child in mind - they kept him as soon as they realized a child meant wellfare checks and an indepted soul for life. He grew up knowning they had been more than ready to dump him at the nearest orphanage and left his life in the hands of chance. But there was money to be made in badly raising Jihyun, and that little unwanted child would one day grow into two pair of useful hands.
In their eyes, Jihyun should've been thankful to have grown up in their home. It was so much better than a life in an orphanage, where he would've never been adopted, where he would've grown up knowing even the institution he was in didn't want him there. The older Jihyun got, the more his tattered patchwork family grew as the couple started telling scared, single women they were the perfect home for the children they could not keep. They moved from one apartment to the next, never welcomed in schools or neighborhoods thanks to the sordid business taking place within the grubby walls of a never-home.
The family eventually settled, five children in total, all too old to be handed to an orphanage for a handsome cut of the profit. They lived just outside of Seoul, the apartment too small to house so many growing boys but no one in the area asked questions about the rag tag family, so it was perfect. Now that the conveyor belt of children had ceased, Jihyun was no longer allowed to sleep in the spacious living room lined with pretty cribs and tiny beds, where unloved children were treasured based on the possibility they one day would be loved. Instead, they were given a dark room just big enough for all their mats to line up in a row, for them to sleep huddled for warmth, left to take care of each other.
Those children had three comforts in life: school, church, and one another. The couple wanted them around as little as possible, keeping them at school as long as they could, if not handing them off to church efforts to keep an eye on them through weekends and long afternoons. School kept them fed better than they would be at home but it was a place where they were mostly shunned, not for who they were but for what they lacked in their eyes. The orphaned children found joy and comfort where they could - in whispered games, in the tales they could piece together from the few books donated to the church or school, and whatever little of the outside world they could piece together, imagining families that had places for them, futures they could one day have despite having lead lives with little present and even less of a past.
Where Jihyun found his true joy, his true comfort, was at church. For the first time in his life, he had found some place welcoming, was shown that many others had gone through hardships like his - not because they were bad people, but because it played a part on who they had to one day become. The thought that God had plans for him, that He had him in mind in some small way, that there was Someone greater than this safeguarding him was everything to young Jihyun. So he lived as best and rightfully as he could, being kind where there was no kindness, thriving where few did.
It was at church that Jihyun first learnt to sing, figuring that the best way to spend more time within it's walls was to join the choir. As time went by the pastor taught him much more than hymns but all that was born from it - soul, RnB, blues, jazz and even some rock and roll. Although his knowledge was limited, it was everything to Jihyun, learning that there were genres touched by pain and plight, by delight and people trying to bring about their own blessings, their own joy - all inspired from the same source. Genres viewed as damned throughout history, all because they rang with aching roots of a truth too many couldn't accept as part of life. He was shown not just something he could be good at, but also given a history, one made not by the living of his own life but the path of those who had lived before him.
His pastor taught him that light had to exist because God called upon it, because there would always be dark but that doesn't mean we should let it conquer. As soon as he was old enough to, he started speaking out to the abuse and neglect him and his adopted brothers went through. It didn't result in many changes, mostly bruises and nights without food but good was out there, good was there just as his grasp, he knew it, he could feel is throughout his body. That sureness, that strength, it amounted to very little in the face of cold, hard facts. At least that was the case one winter, Jihyun was just nine years old when one of the four other boys didn't snap out of his sickness like they usually would. The medicine he and the others faked to get from the nurses office or snuck from the kitchen did little to help the frailest of them all.
Jihyun remembers the day Sungmin died like it had been the death of them all. It had taken weeks for death to fully wrap his hands around the young boy. Weeks spent by his side, hearing to a cough wrack his insides from raw to nothing. Nights spent awake more than not, praying that if the cough wouldn't stop, then his breathing wouldn't either. They were well into January when it happened, the boys slowly believing that the disappearance of the cough meant he'd get better just in time for spring, just in time to see the creeks thaw and the new school year to begin. One morning they woke up to Sungmin gone and the house empty, holding just five now and the multitude of space their grief took up. Jihyun thought a sadness this strong would bring the walls down, would make the building crumble beneath the weight of their tears, that the sky would blot out with snowstorms, with hail and rage for the injustice that evil had been allowed to win.
It snowed instead, soft, pretty snow, the kind that illuminates everywhere your eyes fall despite the gray of the sky. What felt like the cruelest irony of the time would become a comfort to Jihyun when there was no proper funeral, no final goodbye, not even answers to the questions they all had. He was gone, and that was that. The pastor did a private service for the two other boys who needed and wanted it just as much as him, said words of comfort and guidance and assured them all that Sungmin was in heaven, that he would not suffer there. But the sickness wasn't over, and even if they tried to stiffle their coughs through the night, the adults heard and knew better than to leave their health in the hands of fate. Only a few weeks after the death of Sungmin, Junghoon was taken right before their very eyes.
Junghoon didn't go to heaven, he was given away to yet another home, far away from their own, to suffer novelty once more now that he was deemed less worthy that the money they had collected for him. The only comfort left was for his beaten down faith was prayer. Jihyun grew to believe that if he prayed hard enough, the rest of them would stay together, would get the futures they had grown too scared to wish for anymore. "Let us be healthy, let us grow strong, let us be healthy, let us grow stong." He uttered before bed, just loud enough for his own ears to pick up his voice, for the words to ring true and strong. He felt strength just by saying this, as if speaking so made it all true because it pulled at his heart, it made his hands clench in fists because please, please, please, the will to want better had to amount to something.
And it did. It amounted to so much more than he realized at first. Just a few days later, his plea to God had been answered and they were better, stronger in fact, as if disease had never loomed upon them like a promise. Jihyun kept praying, fearing that if he let his will waver for just one second, if he showed compliancy, God would take what he had given just as quickly. But one prayer become two, then three, then more. Just little things - for more food, for the shouting to stop, for the bully to not notice him, for the teacher to forget there was homework. As long as he said it outloud, as long as he really, really wanted for it to happen, it would.
He never asked for too much, and never asked too often. He had been warned about greed, about envy, had spent his life hearing he should be content with what he had and work towards there ever being more. So Jihyun never abused his prayers, and tried as well as a child could to not be selfish with it. Even if he could feel something pushing at his skin each time he asked for a miracle, like it wasn't God himself making all of this possible but a power He had leant to Jihyun to make it possible. That push grew stronger as months became a year, a pulsing power in his throat each time he thought something he could speak true, in his chest as he held the will for it in a breath. The prayer slid all the way down to his palms as he held them together in plead, and as time went by they grew stronger and wider as well, a whisper that he held something limitless. All of this cultivated belief in a boy that the world said should have none.
Jihyun was twelve when he started working. He and the eldest were ripped away from the little youth they had left, one was a bag boy and he took a job at a gas station. By that time he was old enough to look almost four years older than he was, already tall and with broad shoulders, voice deep and hand large from years of playing the piano. He watched as his time at school grew shorter and his classmates were sent to academies after school, saw children on weekends with their parents still in uniform, being taken out on a break. Jihyun would fill up the engines of cars that he dreamed of driving away in. The more he worked, the harder it got to attend choir practice, to be at church and spend time doing something that wasn't a cruel duty. In tired desperation, twelve year old Jihyun found himself asking for a little more time in his day, for it to please be possible that he'd be able to make it to choir practice today, that his shifts would give him just a few hours to himself a week. Little did he know just what his words were doing.
Just one wish could distort so much. Just one word, one beat of his heart could ripple out and affect the reality of too many. Jihyun wasn't aware of the consequences a wish could have, didn't realize just how careful you had to be for what you wished for. Not until one day he stepped foot in the church and it wasn't quiet and empty, the pastor wasn't there ready to welcome him already by the piano. There were men, maybe five of them, all serious and in suits. Jihyun thought it would be about his family, that the government had decided to start caring about what was happening within the walls of his house and were going to split them all up, roll the dice on fate again. Run, some part of him said, get the others and run. But Jihyun took a step forward, not knowing that he was walking towards a future he could've never imagined.
He was special. Special in a way no one should be, because no one should be able to cast their own miracles, no man should be able to give and take and change just like God would. And here was Jihyun, with all those abilities and more, and countless others, they assured. What he had was more special than special. They offered to take him away, to a place they called a Safe Haven with other children like him, adults who could help him figure out just who he was and what this is. Jihyun finally had an out, so much sooner than expected, a whole new life offering help in finally belonging. But none of it was right - he was just a boy who prayed and God listened to. He had been so sure.
It was the voice of his pastor that decided it for him - he would go. To stay or not was his choice, but Jihyun would go, would see, would learn. He said this with eyes that mirrored so many of the looks Jihyun had seen throughout his life. Jihyun was no longer a human knelt before God, willfully at his mercy. He was a forsaken challenge. So, he went. Jihyun was kept in the manor for days, put through a series of tests and training sessions, with hoards of what he assumed were professionals trying to understand something he still couldn't accept. Once they had a clearer picture of what it was he could go, they explained it to him, how powerful his words and intentions were, how the possibilities were near enough to endless. They suggested he'd stay, that he live within lavish walls and be taken care of as he came to know his true self.
No was an easy enough answer to give. He knew what was waiting for him at home was unpleasant but his brothers were still there, and if his prayers - no, his powers - had been protecting them this long, what would they do without him? Jihyun was allowed to return on the condition he'd come back for training, they couldn't allow him out into the world with a power like that unchecked. They escorted him home, talked two the adults of the house that went from furious to disturbed during their low conversation. The treatment he got after was a different kind of brutality - one of fear, from even his brothers the more time they spent apart. Jihyun kept doing what he could, not knowing different even when the world seemed to lack any kind of shelter for a soul like his.
As the years went by their little family began to split - one brother found a place to run away to, another agreed to move away with another family who would foster him, the one that remained was estranged as they pulled apart by their own doing. Jihyun didn't dare to wish for different, didn't do much more than harbor it all in a heavy chest that couldn't help but still hope, still dream, still think all those belief's that had meant so much to him could still be true in his life. At the age of fifteen he was working odd jobs full time, highschool a forgotten adventure as he dreamt of days of independence, of a chance at a future not entrenched in all that kept him in his place. It was around that time that the cleaning company he worked for shipped him out to a club - not just a club, but what turned out to be one of the most famous jazz clubs in Korea.
Jihyun was grateful just to be there, sweeping the wooden floors the greats and their audience had stepped on just hours before. And Jihyun would sing, the way he still did whenever he could, play the piano over surfaces and dream, and wish, and speak all he could into a song that wouldn't be magic but just sound, just expression, just the sentiment alive and there. One of those days someone stopped him short, a sharp bark of an order to stop and name himself.
It's then that Jihyun's life truly did start to change for the better. One nervous introduction later, Lee Misook - the new owner of the club - grew curious about him, about how a boy clearly so young despite his frame could have a voice like that. The woman had a way of getting what she wanted, and Jihyun was too star struck to not spill the answers to every question she had for him. He didn't understand the interest, but they spent his full shift talking, and then the next, and the following - until it was clear to Misook what she needed to do. She sat Jihyun down and told him to quit all his jobs and to stay at All That Jazz full time, not as a cleaner but as a student of sorts. That she would adopt him, foster him, whatever it was, give him a home, a real foundation to build a real future on. All because of that voice that already spoke of all the truths he had shared with her gently.
This time Jihyun had no reason to say no, none aside from the one thing he had not told her. So he did, because to lose what he had almost gained would be less difficult than to truly lose it. Misook looked into his eyes as a challenge and asked him to prove it, and Jihyun did - willing all the lights to turn on and glow with the same intensity of his beating heart and beat they did, in rapid flutters until she said enough. She had heard about people like him; and that's when Misook explained thing about jazz, the thing about places like this, is that everyone is welcomed, that it was their heart that mattered just like she knew his did.
Under her care Jihyun learnt many of the things he didn't know life could hold for him. The musicians that passed through the club taught him techniques, trained him as best they could and provided him a family, reminded him what support was, what belief was. Jihyun grew like that, each step a little more sure than the last. He started performing early in the evenings or late into the night, invited to perform by those who knew him until he was making a name for himself - touring the oldest jazz clubs in the country, travelling to Japan, always learning. There were stumbles along the way but Jihyun knew that he wasn't stuck anymore, that he was no longer abandoned in a dark room and forgotten by everyone. The world was out there, full of welcoming people, and maybe, surely, he had a place in it too.