Lee Sunji, Maru’s mother, woke up as she turned off the alarm from her phone. Her husband was away on the night shift. She folded her sheets and walked out into the kitchen with a stretch. Today was the day when Maru and Bada would start school again. Maru, in a new school, and Bada, in a new classroom. She thought of her two sleeping children as she took the pre-soaked rice from the night before and put it on the rice cooker. Right then, Maru walked out of his room without any signs of fatigue.
“You’re awake, mother?” he said.
“...What?” Why was he sounding so polite all of the sudden? Sunji stared at him for a second in surprise.
“Ah, you’re up.” Maru immediately spoke a lot more casually as he turned in nervousness.
“Of course I am. I have to make breakfast. Why are you up so early?” she asked.
“I think I just got… nervous.” he confessed. Sunji wondered what happened to the boy for him to try to be so polite. Was he trying to change how he spoke since he was now a high schooler? She was as humored as she was prideful.
“Go wash up, it’ll be awhile before the food finishes.”
“Yes, I mean, sure.”
Sunji wore a curious look as her son entered the bathroom.
* * *
“How awkward.” Maru muttered to himself quietly. His memories were mostly gone, but he did still remember a few things. It felt a little strange to talk with his mother with such a casual tone. Though… when did he decide to treat her more respectfully again?
“I think around the time when I first got my check, huh.” He found himself speaking more politely to his parents when he realized how difficult it was to actually live in a society.
“Mother. Mom. Father. Dad.” Maru found himself growing accustomed to speaking like this faster than he had thought. Alright, perfect.
He washed his face and hair. He found himself smiling when he realized it took more than 20 seconds for the water to heat up. It was stuff like this that really made him realize he was back in the past. Maru walked out of the bathroom to discover his mom making some soup. He could understand now why moms were able to wake up so early to cook breakfast all the time.
They simply wanted their children to have a good day. No more, no less.
“Need help?” looking at her cook all the food made him want to help out a little.
“I’m good. You know stuff like this won’t actually make me give you a larger allowance, right?”
“How’d you know?”
“Because I’m your mom.” she answered in an obvious tone.
Maru opened the fridge trying to hold in his laughter. He could see dad’s beer and mom’s plum and raspberry extracts inside. He forgot how much he missed seeing this. His mom looked at him with a surprised face when he started mixing some of the syrup with water to drink.
“I thought you hated stuff like this.” she said.
“Did I?” he asked back.
“You always ask for soda instead whenever I made you one.” oh, right. He did. He used to hate how it made warm water taste weirdly sweet and sour. He decided to make up a quick excuse to cover it up.
“My tastes probably changed.” Maru silently exclaimed in joy as he took another sip of the drink. He couldn’t really explain it, but this syrup stuff was really good for men, he felt.
“Oh dear, look at the time already. Go wake Bada up.” mom asked. It was already 7:00am. About time to start getting ready for school.
“Don’t kick her again.” she warned.
“I know, I know.” Maru waved her off casually as he entered his sister’s room. The girl was curled up in her blankets like a caterpillar.
‘Come to think of it, we never talked after that point.’ he thought.
His sister went through a divorce once in the future. It was a common occurence back then, but he’d never imagined his own sister to go through it. He used to meet up with his sister every once in a while and watch movies together back in college, but they stopped talking after his sister started living on her own. He’d just maybe see her face at family gatherings? He didn’t have a bad relationship with her, but it wasn’t great either. Just… average, he supposed.
She just completely disappeared after her divorce, though. She would call the family whenever a family gathering happened. The last he heard about his sister was when his mother told him about how she was meeting a new man. Maru hesitated for a second when he thought about what he would call his sister. His 45-year old self would just refer to her as ‘you’ most of the time.
‘But the me of now...’ For the Maru of the freshman year of high school… he could only recall a single name.
“Fatty.” he said as he kicked the girl’s foot lightly. He immediately felt bad about doing it, but he couldn’t change his habits so easily right away. That’s right. This was the Maru of high school.
“Ah… What the hell?” Bada glared at Maru with a half-opened eyes before burying her head back into the pillow. Maru thought about kicking her again, but decided to just lean over to her face instead.
“Wake up, it’s morning.”
“Ah, damn it.”
Maru took a close look at his sister’s face. So this was what she looked like. He couldn’t remember his sister’s future face very well. Maru poked the girl’s forehead. He couldn’t resist. She just looked cute.
“Ah, damn it! Now you’re poking me, too?!” Bada stood up as she shouted angrily. Maru escaped before the girl got any louder. Her bad temper was the only thing that stayed constant throughout that girl’s life.
‘Ah, that must be it. That was the reason behind her divorce, wasn’t it?’ he thought as he ran away.
Maru sat down on the table as Bada walked out with a sour look.
“Ah, mom, he keeps hitting me.” she complained.
“Wake up on time, then.”
The mom retorted with ease. Bada, knowing that she couldn’t beat mom in an argument, just headed to the bathroom with a pout.
“You kicked her again, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Nope.” of course, he denied it. It didn’t really work though.
“Why can’t you be more friendly with her? You used to walk around everywhere with her hand in yours back in the day.” “I did?” Maru tried looking back in his memories. Did that really happen? He could somewhat remember himself walking around town with his sister’s hand in his. They used to go to arcades and go into the mountains together.
‘Right… and then I ended up losing her once.’ Maru ended up smiling when he remembered the memory.
“What is it?” mom asked.
“It’s nothing. I just remembered something old.” he paused for a second as if he was still thinking about it. “You know, when I lost Bada.”
“Ah, then.” she seemed to remember as well. “You cried a lot back then, since you couldn’t find her at all.”
“Of course you did. Anyway, here, have some food before you go. You got your bag, right?”
Maru nodded in affirmation.
“Don’t get on your teacher’s bad side. Alright? Make some new friends, too. You only get your real friends in high school.”
“I know, I know. I’m not a kid you know.”
“Of course you are. Don’t hang out with weirdos, ok?”
Maru nodded with a smile. She was right.
Right now, he was just a kid.
* * *
“I’ll be back.”
“Be careful of cars!”
Mom’s goodbyes never really changed. Be careful of cars. She started saying it after Maru’s grandfather passed from a car accident.
Maru opened the door and stepped out. The cold air of the morning whipped across his face. It was march. Getting a little warmer, but still closer to winter than spring. Maru walked down to the first floor and unlocked his bike from the stand.
“Haven’t seen this baby in a while.”
A casual bike armed with a simple shift. Maru hopped onto the bike and started pedalling. The air between his fingers felt frigid. But even this made him want to shout in joy.
“I’m… really back.” he muttered. An image of Mrs. Yu flashed over his vision for a split second.
‘Thank you for giving me this chance.’ he prayed in thanks.
Maru stopped at a crossing for a second to take out his MP3. It’s been a long while since he’s seen one. He plugged the earphones into the jack and started listening. Most were songs from singers in the early 2000s.
“This is good stuff.” he found himself muttering. At least, it was far better than those so-called k-pop songs with english mixed all over the place. He much rather preferred listening to songs he could actually understand. Maru stepped on the pedal as he sang along to some of the lyrics.
“The love I have for you~”
After around 30 minutes of pedalling… He could see the school coming into view.
‘That still looks the same. Then again, it would be strange if it didn’t, huh?’
A rectangular complex made with brownish bricks. Right in front of the building was a small podium meant for the principal. The field in front of the podium was a little larger than your average school’s. There was even a basketball court in the right corner of the school. And for whatever reason they even had a little pavilion next to it as well. Around there was also a small water fountain. Maru would often get water from there during a game.
Maru walked over to the main entrance. He found more and more students around him in their personal clothes. He, too, was in casual wear as well. There was a time back when he would be jealous of all the uniforms the other kids would wear. He quickly realized how much better casual wear was as he grew up though.
As he neared the entrance, he started feeling a strange sense of nostalgia and fear creep up from inside him. He could see a familiar face standing in front of him.
‘The disciplinary teacher.’ The bald terror was standing in front of the door with a scissor in hand. Maru found himself clicking his tongue in disapproval. He had bad memories of getting his hair cut by those scissors.
The horrible thing about them was the fact that they were dull, so your hair wouldn’t get cut off, they’d just get pulled off.
“Come on, faster! Hey, you! What’s that on your hair?” One of the boys got caught by the teacher. The boy didn’t seem like a first year. He waddled over nervously in front of the teacher.
“Hah, wax? Trying to look cool on your first day?” the teacher glared.
“I’m sorry.” the kid mumbled.
“Three laps around the field and come back to me. Got it?”
“I’m going light on you since it’s the first day, alright? Go.”
The boy threw down his bag and started running. Maru passed by the teacher as he observed the scene.
‘Our mental age is similar but I still feel weirdly intimidated by the dude.’ he found. He really did feel like a freshman.
* * *
After locking up his bike, Maru walked up to the second floor where his class was. He walked into class 2 for electrical engineering with a sense of nostalgia. The real him had never come here in the past, but Maru was fairly familiar with this classroom. The quiet atmosphere with the cold air… The other kids in the classroom were looking around nervously with their hands in their pockets. Right now, there were a total of 7 kids in the class.
Maru scanned the room quickly before going back to his own thing. Though… that ‘thing’ only really consisted of reading manga and listening to music, really. He decided to sit in the middle of the class. He’s always sat around here in high school. It was a spot the teachers always missed, and he could get to the store during lunch faster.
‘Come to think of it, I never studied during school.’
Woosung Engineering High School. This was the school Maru decided to go back in the past.
‘Middle school was spent lazily as well.’
Study a bit, play a bit. One of those students that never really made big mistakes.
That was pretty much who Maru was. One of those kids who weren’t dumb, but not smart enough to get themselves into a decent school. He had gone to middle school with the dream of getting into a good high school, but changed his mind to face reality by the end of it.
‘I can remember all this really clearly. Are my memories changing?’ Maru recalled the time when he was speaking with his middle school advisor. He could remember it well. His 45 year old self was getting more and more faint as time passed. Instead, he would slowly become himself in 2003. He could feel himself actively changing as time went on.
“So I really am starting over.” he realized. Even so, Maru tried his best to remember his wife and daughter. Since the woman had told him he could remember a few key things, he didn’t worry about it too much. As he thought a bit about the past and the future… He could hear a few kids talking next to him.
“Did he check you too?” one of them said.
“Check? Oh, you mean having to take my shirt off?”
“Ah, so you got it too.”
“I was pretty scared, to be honest. The guy next to me had a tattoo on him.”
“What happened to that guy?”
“The teacher told him to get it removed.”
“Damn though, engineering schools really are something else, huh. I feel like they’re treating us like criminals.”
“Just because we aren’t as good at studying as the other kids...”
“You smoke, by the way?”
“Me? Hell yeah.”
“God damn. Let’s be friends. You got one on you right now?”
“On the first day? Hell no. I’ll think about bringing some tomorrow.”
Maru grinned as he listened to their conversation. He recalled seeing something similar to this in his memory surprisingly well. One of the kids brought a pack of cigarettes to class on the second day and ended up getting hit by the teacher’s chalk. That must’ve been him.