“I can love you because I also hate you.”
Maru read the last line of his book out loud. The sentence spoke to him quite strongly. Love and hate were basically like two sides on a coin, but in the end they were just one emotion. After all, real hatred would dismiss any care you had for a person.
“You’ve been reading a lot.”
Maru jumped up at hearing a voice come from next to him. It was a woman. She was wearing a white suit, taking a look at the child development book Maru borrowed recently.
“You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Please don’t worry. Your heart is fairly strong, I assure you. But in any case, it’s been half an year. How is it?”
“I’m doing quite well. The past 45 years of my life almost feels like a dream.”
“That’s good to hear. Some people had killed themselves because they couldn’t get used to their new lives.”
“I see. More importantly though, what brings you here?”
“I came to check up on you. It’s one of my duties.”
The woman scanned the book quickly before putting it back in the bookshelf. This time, her curious eyes drifted over to his script.
“Are you satisfied with your new life?”
“I don’t know. There’s going to be a lot of things happening in the future. Perhaps after that I can say I’d be satisfied.”
“You seem quite prepared, though.”
“It’s the least I can do. I don’t know much about the future, but I might as well prepare for whatever might come, don’t you think?”
The woman looked around his room, akin to a renter looking at a potential home. It wouldn’t be strange for her to ask him if the sunlight was good in this room, as a matter of fact.
“I’ll change the question a little, then. Is life fun?”
Fun… Somehow, to Maru, that was an even more difficult of a question. After a brief pause, he shook his head.
“I can say I’m keeping myself busy, but I don’t know if it’s fun. There were moments where I’ve had fun, but overall… Oh, I’m not saying I’m regretting it. I just think the word ‘fun’ is too vague to begin with.”
“That’s true. It’s a vague word. After all, you might as well say it’s everyone’s goal in life. It’s used to describe simple situations, yet no word is more complicated than it.”
The woman turned to look elsewhere. She looked beautiful, too beautiful to be human. On that face of hers, Maru noticed curiosity creeping up on it.
“Speaking of which, Mr. Maru, you’re very… Unchanging.”
“Yes. I honestly thought you would be a little more selfish in this life.”
“Well, I am living pretty selfishly.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I’m not harming others, nor am I being harmed by others. I’d rather not have to harm others to get what I want, so I think I’m in a good place now.”
“I see. But what about at the club?”
“Yes. The club you are in isn’t treating you very well. Aren’t you being harmed?”
The woman seemed quite curious about this world. Or maybe she was just curious about Maru.
“Are you talking about how the kids are looking at me?”
“That’s right. I’m new to my job, so all this is very foreign to me. I’ve met ten people so far, but you’re by far, the most unique. Aren’t you bothered by all this?“
The woman wasn’t prodding him in an offensive way or anything, she held a genuine curiosity towards his perspective. Maru was able to finally understand what he found so odd about this woman. It was almost as if she was unable to feel any emotions, almost like a robot.
“Do you have a clear sense of what good and evil is?”
“I suppose you can say so.”
“Then I suppose you can also be influenced?”
“That’s not a fitting word for us, we are constantly in a satisfied state. As such, we are not affected emotionally.”
“I’ve been curious about this for a while, but… Are you god?”
“I’ve said this before, but we’re closer to what you’ve historically called angels or demons. Of course, that’s what you humans thought of us. We are like secretaries created by ‘him’. I don’t know if I can give you a straightforward definition of what I am. Angel, demon, reaper… They all sort of fit.”
“So a higher being does exist. Well, that’s not important, so let’s skip over that for now. You asked me before, right? About if I was feeling bothered. Well, I’ll raise you a question. You see an immature child. I hope you can answer this question under the assumption that you believe that any immature person deserves a chance to mature and grow as a human being.”
“I understand.” “If that kid points his finger at you and calls you ugly, what would you do?”
“Ah, that was a good explanation. I see that you have a talent for teaching as well, Mr. Maru.”
The woman nodded in understanding. Maru knew better than anyone that Geunseok and Yurim weren’t fans of him. Their gazes were offensive from the very beginning. So, how should Maru handle this?
‘It’s too much work to even try to deal with it.’
Could you really call a person an adult if they were angered over such things? If he did, he would be berated by society for being too immature himself. Of course, Maru’s actions, from a high schooler’s perspective, would look strange to his friends.
He’s not even mad?
Is he scared of Geunseok?
Does he just not care?
Well, as far as Maru was concerned, he had no reason to be interested in what Geunseok did or what Yurim said. It’d be stranger if he was. Things might be different if they were friends, of course. If that was the case, Maru surely would have spoken to them.
“I think I understand your line of thought now, Mr. Maru. It’s almost like you’re shooting a movie.”
“You’re looking at yourself through a camera. You’re looking at everything very objectively. I see why you’re so logical so much of the time.”
Maru looked up at the ceiling almost subconsciously. At that moment, it almost felt like he would find a camera filming him there. A life through a camera… It made sense. Perhaps he felt free in these stressful situations not because he was mature, rather because he didn’t treat them as real problems to begin with.
Was that… wrong?
Maru couldn’t find a quick answer to that question. It couldn’t be good, though.
“Perhaps your clock stopped on the day you died, Mr. Maru. You might be looking elsewhere, even while living here.”
“Is that a problem?”
“No, not at all. I am just observing. I’m simply asking you this to satisfy my personal curiosity. It’s up to you to decide where you want to take your life. But personally, I do hope that you would become a little bit more greedy in this life.”
“I care for myself quite a bit, I believe.”
“I think you should care more.”
“That feels a bit strange to hear, coming from you.”
Maru looked at the woman. She said moments ago that she was completely neutral. So why was she urging him to be more selfish now?
The woman smiled a beautiful smile. When she waved her hand, a silver curtain draped itself in front of Maru. It acted like a mirror, allowing his face to reflect on it.
The face on the curtain changed.
The face on the curtain was that of the old lady who gave Maru the chance to live again. No, she didn’t look like an old lady anymore. With her silky hair and fair skin, she looked like a fairy through the mirror. But Maru was able to recognize her despite that.
The old lady was joyously talking with other people around her. When her eyes met with Maru for a brief second, her mouth opened to speak to him. While her voice didn’t come through the mirror, Maru could still understand through her lips.
“Are you living well?”
The silver curtain disappeared. The woman in the white suit came back into his vision.
“The lady in the curtain is wishing only for your happiness. What I was telling you was just the message the lady wanted to tell you. I tried to send the message to you through a dream originally, but due to time constraints, here I am.”
“By time constraints, do you mean...”
“This is our last meeting. This will probably be the last time we meet. The splitting point has stabilized now.”
“This world isn’t just ‘one’ world. Each and every person is capable of creating little branches of time based on what they do. Just now, your life where you died just managed to stabilize.”
“The life where I died?”
Maru felt a little numb for a second.
“But I came back to the past.”
“Right. That’s where the split occurred. There’s a timeline for you when you came back from the future, and there’s a timeline where you died.”
“But I died, so how...”
“That’s why the branch was created. Over there in the other branch, the sadness created by your death just ended. It’s actually taken a very long time compared to other people.”
“My wife… My daughter… they’re continuing their lives without me?”
The hair at the back of his neck stood up in surprise. He had thought all this time that because he came to the past, his family wouldn’t have to suffer. But to think that during all this time, they were living in pain…
“That’s just life. You can’t just make someone’s life vanish. It’s not like the world without Mr. Maru makes everyone else’s life meaningless.”
Maru felt a chill run down his spine. In that case, his family was…
“That’s why I’m telling you. You need to live for yourself. It’d be cruel to make your family experience the same sort of sadness twice.”
“...Is my wife fine?”
“She still misses you. But she isn’t crying anymore. She has someone to protect, after all.”
“...What about my life insurance? Was the payout from that alright?”
“Yes, it was.”
“You have no connections to that world anymore.”
“...I’d still like to know. Is my daughter doing fine?”
“There’s no way a child without a father would be happy.”
Maru’s heart throbbed a little. The fact that the two women who he cared for were hurting all this time, and he was having such a good life over here made him feel very apologetic and ashamed. Tears started trailing down his face.
“Can I… Is there a way I can talk to them?”
“It’s possible. As long as you use the medium of a dream. The people you saved are all wishing for your happiness, so this much I should do for you.”
Maru thought for a very long time. He thought and thought, enough to start feeling like time was flowing slower than normal. After thinking some more, he finally managed to come up with one sentence he wanted to tell his family.
“Please, stay healthy.”
With that, Maru closed his mouth. The tear running down his cheeks only managed to make his chest hurt a little more.Previous Chapter Next Chapter