He woke up in his room, the room that was familiar enough for him to just conjure it from memory alone. Today, this room felt especially alien to him. Maru stroked his hand over the floor. The wooden floor gave that would give with just a little push. After pushing on it a few more times, Maru sighed.
“A… dream? Or...”
Last night, Maru saw two women on the street. The mother and daughter couple going through a crowd hand-in-hand. Maru swallowed the sadness that welled up inside of him, and walked up to the two of them. They looked at him with a surprised expression before giving him a hug. They felt warm, soft, and incredibly comforting to him. Little teardrops started to well from the couple’s face. Each time a teardrop hit Maru’s shoulder, it felt like he was getting hit by a hammer.
Maru almost let out a scream of sorrow, but by then, Maru became aware that his time here was coming to an end. Instead of crying, he told the two of them what he wanted to say.
Thank goodness he was able to wish them good health with his own mouth. And thank goodness his family looked healthy in his dream. He wouldn’t have known what to do if they looked starved and depressed.
His daughter had grown by a fair amount after six months. Or maybe not. He didn’t get too much time to look at her. But he was able to tell that his little girl had matured a little bit through his death. Thank goodness, at least there was a silver lining for her.
His wife was… still wearing the cheap wedding ring that he had given her. How foolish of her. She wouldn’t be able to meet anyone new if she kept that on. Even at the age of forty-five, she looked as young as ever. To think such a beautiful woman would have to suffer like this because of someone like him…
Maru took his hand off of the floor to rub his eyes a little bit. He could feel little sandy particles coming off from around his eyes. He probably looked like a complete mess right now.
‘Thank goodness… I got to meet them.’
His wife might simply forget that she saw him when she wakes up. After all, that’s what most dreams are like. They simply fade out of existence the moment you wake up. Maru actually hoped his wife would forget. He didn’t want her sadness to return because of a dream. All he wanted was one thing, someone who could replace him.
At the same time, a part of him screamed to never be forgotten. A part of him wanted to be a nail that’s embedded deep into the two people’s memories. Perhaps he was being greedy, cruel even.
Maru took a shower, trying to wash away those thoughts with the flowing water. He looked at himself in the mirror afterwards. Only then did he finally come to terms with the fact that in their world, Han Maru no longer existed.
“Well, at least I got myself one hell of a life insurance,” said the young man in the mirror, with tears still streaming down his face.
* * *
Dojin decided not to talk to Maru, just for today. The boy just felt so different today. Dojin tried to talk to the boy a few times, but all he could do was stare.
“...Something’s happened to him, right?”
Daemyung was looking quite troubled himself. Dojin shook his head, he had no idea how to handle this either. The one friend who was always calm and happy was sighing like the world was ending.
Right then, Dojin noticed Dowook step out of the class through the back door. The boy glanced at Maru before leaving.
To be truthful, Dojin wasn’t a great fan of Dowook. He saw his past self in the other boy. Dojin stopped glaring ever since the other boy stopped his bullying, but they weren’t really friends.
‘Why is that guy...’
Dowook surely had something in mind when he stared at Maru. Was he looking for a fight?
“I wonder if something’s up with Dowook, too,” Daemyung noted.
Did this guy forget that Dowook used to bully him? Why was he so nice? Then again, being nice was what made Daemyung pretty charming.
A few moments later, Dowook stepped back into the class with a paper cup in hand. He must’ve gotten himself a drink from the vending machine downstairs. There were two cups, actually.
The boy stepped up behind Maru. He mumbled to himself with an annoyed look for a second, before stepping up in front of Maru and setting the cup down on Maru’s table.
“Cheer up, you bastard. And… ugh, it’s nothing.”
With that, Dowook went back to his seat.
Dojin was incredibly confused. Did that guy just try to cheer Maru up? Maru looked a little confused himself. After a few seconds, Maru smiled and thanked him.
“Were they close?”
Dojin looked at Maru and Dowook repeatedly for a few seconds.
“The hell was that?”
* * *
Maru looked at Dowook as he drank his iced tea. Since when did Dowook care about him so much? As far as he was aware, they greeted one another every once in a while, but not much more than that.
“Dude, are you okay? I’ve wanted to ask you since a while back, but you just looked so sad… Did something happen?” Dojin asked.
Did Maru really look that bad? Bad enough to make even Dojin hesitate? Maru stared at his reflection on a mirror hanging on the wall behind him.
‘I guess it’s pretty bad.’
There were all sorts of emotions flowing across his young face. Maru put a hand over it for a second. The memories from last night were still hitting him like a truck. He told himself he was fine this morning, but clearly he wasn’t.
“It was just a bad dream,” he decided to tell them.
“Was it a nightmare? Or did you get caught by your mom while masturbating or something?”
“No, it was a really good dream.”
“Then what’s up?”
“It was too good of a dream… One that I didn’t want to wake up from.”
What if he was still alive in that timeline? Thinking of that made him feel anxious again.
‘The big events of this life haven't changed at all.’
There was the world cup in 2002, and before that, the IMF. Would things change much in the future? Unlikely. No matter what he did, there would be events in the future that will remain unchangeable.
What if his death was also inevitable? Would Maru be able to try to change that?
‘No, besides that...’
He’s become even more desperate to meet his wife and daughter after his dream. He believed that he would be able to meet his daughter. She would be his little angel that arrives after he marries his wife.
But what about his wife? What would he need to do to meet her?
‘What would… What would happen to our meeting if I live a life that’s very different compared to my past one?’
His past life was like a train track. As long as he rode on this track, like it or not, he would be able to stop at set stations. But right now in this life, there wasn’t just one train track he could ride on. There were countless tracks that he could create himself. In that case…
How many of these tracks would lead him back to his wife?
Maru subconsciously ended up turning to a rusty train track in his head. He knew how this particular train track ended. If he got on this one, he would repeat his previous life all over again. That is, he would be able to meet his wife again.
‘Where did I meet my wife again?’
He needed to remember. He had to remember.
Bang. Maru punched his table lightly. Since the class was full of students talking to each other, not many people heard him. Dojin and Daemyung were looking at him with a surprised expression, though.
“I can’t… remember.”
“M-Maru, what’s up?”
Maru could hear his two friends, but he didn’t understand them. Right now, Maru was entirely focused on trying to remember.
‘Just yesterday… No, just this morning...’
His other memories had all disappeared, save for that of his family’s faces. The memory itself wasn’t perfect, but just the fact that he could vaguely recall them gave him relief.
Right now, he wasn’t able to remember any of it. He recalled what the woman had said yesterday. Something about this being their last meeting. Was this what she meant?
‘That can’t be it. She said I would be able to recognize my wife.’
Surely the woman wasn’t lying. She was supposed to be a representative for god. Surely he would be able to recognize his wife when they meet.
“So I need to meet her?”
“What’s up with him?”
Maru raised his hand to silence his friends. He thought back on his previous life again.
‘My… My daughter’s age was….’
He couldn’t remember.
‘My marriage. What was my marriage like?’
Again, he couldn’t remember.
‘...Where did we go for our first date?’
‘My wife’s… name...’
Nothing. The train tracks in his mind’s eye started to disappear one by one. In the end, there was just one train track left in front of him.
One that he knew all too well already. One that… would eventually lead to his wife.
God was fair. At the same time, that’s what makes him so cruel.
Maru put his hands through his hair, and gripped tightly. The pain didn’t help at all with his memories.
* * *
Dowook observed Maru from his seat. It was kind of worrying watching the boy punch the table like that. Did something happen?
Why did he have to get help from someone like him? Of course, Dowook felt pretty thankful about it, but Maru was just so difficult to approach.
Plus, as a person who’s never said thank you to a friend before… he had no idea what to say.
‘Maybe… Maybe when he’s calmed down a little more.’
For now, Dowook decided to leave it to his future self.
* * *
Geunseok gave Yurim a little glance from the side. The girl looked very cute with her brown eyes. She was a girl who comforted him during hard times, a girl he was very thankful to have.
As a matter of fact, recently the girl’s become his sole reason to go to school. As they decided together where to go for tomorrow, his phone rang. It was his brother.
“Who is it?”
Geunseok responded a little annoyedly. His brother wasn’t his idol anymore. As a matter of fact, his brother was just a weirdo who wasn’t there to comfort him when he needed it the most.
Thank goodness he had Yurim now.
- You sound good. How are you?
“I’m doing fine. What about you?”
- You know, same old, same old. How’s acting been?
“Acting? Did I not tell you last time? We won at the college competition last time. It was pretty easy once my mind was set. It’s kind of like studying.”
- That’s good. Did you tell dad?
“No, I’m going to wait a little bit.”
- Wouldn’t it be better to tell him soon?
“I said I’m going to wait. I’m going to get scolded if I tell him.”
- Well, obviously. But didn’t you join the club knowing that in the first place?
“Whatever. I’ll do it in my own time. You should just focus on your stuff. It’s not like you really ever helped me before. And don’t worry, I’ll get better than you at this sooner or later.”
Maybe he shouldn’t have said that last sentence? Geunseok thought back to the time when he saw his older brother eat instant noodles by himself in the corner.
Well, that was pretty much all his brother was worth, wasn’t it? It felt like Geunseok used to have a reason why he looked up to his brother in the past, but he couldn’t remember it anymore.
“Geunseok, it’s a green light.”
“Ok, I’m hanging up, bro.”
Geunseok hung up his phone and turned to look at Yurim. The one girl who understood him best, and judged him fairly. He was so lucky to have a girl like her in his life.
“How was my acting yesterday?”
Yurim responded with a bright expression.
“It was the best.”
The best. The word alone made Geunseok’s heart flare up in pride. It felt like it’s been ages since he’s been complimented like this.
“Really. You’re the best. Better than the second years.”
“Boo, no way.”
Yurim hugged his arm, which caused the boy to drag her closer towards him. If she was with him, he wouldn’t feel nervous. She was the person who convinced him that Hong Geunseok was worth something.
Geunseok was becoming drunk in her sweet words. There was a need for him to work harder if he wanted to keep hearing these compliments.Previous Chapter Next Chapter