Maru’s mother, Lee Sunji, woke up in her bed in surprise . She reached out for the TV remote . When she pressed the on button, the TV sprang to life with a beep .
“What do I do . . . ”
7:50AM . Bada was fine since she could walk to school in ten minutes, but Maru…
“Why didn’t the alarm go off?”
Maru was going to be so mad at her . When she made her way out of the room, though, she was greeted with Maru doing the dishes .
“You’re up, mom? I made breakfast right here for you, so have some after you dress up . ”
Maru pointed at the fried rice on the plate . Sunji could only nod in confusion .
“She’s over there . ”
Bada was watching TV in the living room while eating some apples . She noticed her mom staring at her and blinked a few times .
“You’re up, mom?”
“Y-yeah . Did you eat?”
“Mhm . Maru made breakfast for me . ”
“Phew, that’s good . ”
She sat down on the dining table with an exhausted look . Maru passed her a glass of warm water, earning another confused look amongst the many he’s received from her lately .
“I’m just… surprised . ”
“What’s there to be surprised about? I’ll be going now . If you want soup, there’s some on the stove . ”
“Soup? What soup?”
She looked at the stove with wide eyes .
“Just seaweed soup . I didn’t have time to make anything better . Just leave it if you don’t like it . I’ll eat it when I come back . ”
His alarm in the morning woke him up . He went to the kitchen where his mother was nowhere in sight . Upon peeking into her room, he noticed her still snoring in her bed . His younger self would have tried to wake her up for breakfast, so he cooked the one of the few dishes he made often, the seaweed soup . It wasn’t as good as his wife’s, of course… but it was good enough . At the very least, his sister ate it without complaint .
“I’ll be going,” he said .
“ . . . Sure . Be careful of cars,” his mom still sounded confused . Maru waved his hand at her and went outside . It was already mid-march, but the weather was still cold as ever . He could see little bits of ice form at the front window of a car parked near his house . He had been hoping for the weather to get better by now, but… the sky seemed to disagree .
Maru put on his gloves and started pedalling, music blasting in his ears . This was the path he’s taken for 3 years of his life . The path he’ll have to pass for 3 more years . After pedaling through familiar shops, trees, and people, he’s reached the school . Along the way, he noticed a few students talking while glancing his way .
“I feel so jealous of them . Casual wear and all . ”
“I hate my uniform . ”
Just wait a month, you guys . You’ll realize how great your uniforms are by then .
As Maru got off his bike, he came across a few students trying to get over the school fence . Ah, that waxy hair… the disciplinary teacher would punish them with a slap on the face at the very least . Maru didn’t have such a problem, of course . Having short hair made him feel like he was on the highway .
“Good morning, sir . ”
“Sure . ”
Maru passed by the disciplinary teacher without a hitch . He walked over to the bike stands to lock his bike in place . Right then, he felt someone approach him . Oh, it’s that road bike from the other day . He could finally meet the owner for once .
“Oh, it’s you,” realization dawned upon Maru . It was Dowook, who immediately turned towards him with a frown on his face .
“I was just wondering who had such a nice bike . Don’t lose it, man . ”
“ . . . . . . . ”
Dowook’s frown grew more intense . Maru just walked off before the boy could open his mouth . He could hear Dowook lock the bike in a violent manner behind him .
Maru took the staircase located on the right side of the building to enter his class . It was a loud scene that displayed everyone’s friendship with one another .
“Yeap . ”
Dojin greeted him with a candy toss . Ah, strawberry today, huh .
“Dude, your teeth are going to rot at this rate . ”
“No worries, I’m brushing three times a day . ”
“You do your homework?”
“Nope, I used that time to prepare my bribery for you . Can I copy your homework?”
“ . . . Bribery? Just this candy?”
“Want one more?” Dojin grinned at him . Maru just threw him his notebook . Daemyung approached the two of them from the first row along with his friends .
“H-hey Maru, can I see too?” he asked .
“Nope . ”
Daemyung’s face fell . Man, this guy took his jokes too seriously… Maru told him he was just joking, to which the boy responded with a grin on his face . The other boys behind him were looking at Maru with desperation .
“Hey! I had to bribe him, you know!” Dojin said, raising Maru’s notebook up in the air . Maru just snatched it out and threw it at the circle of kids .
“Just don’t copy it word for word . ” he said .
Man, to think such a day would come… He’s never done his homework on time during his high school years . He only did his homework by copying others or after being scolded . At this rate, he could probably aim for a B in his class . That should be good enough .
* * *
“Han Maru . ”
“Yessir . ”
“You got any complaints?”
“No, sir . I’m sorry, sir . ”
“Let’s not do this again, alright?”
“Yessir . ”
His hamstrings were burning in pain after each slap . Maru knelt on top of his desk, getting slapped by a wooden stick . Each and every hit burned uniquely . Just what kind of wood did they use for this stuff? It’s thinner than even his finger, but it hurt like hell . Even more so than getting hit in the butt by a PVC pipe . The English teacher had an apologetic look on his face, but that didn’t make the stick hurt any less .
“I’m letting you off with just this, since this is the first time . Alright?”
“Yessir . ”
“And for the guys who copied Maru’s homework today, I hope you won’t be doing this kind of thing again . ”
“ . . . Yes,” said a few of the students with a dejected voice .
Maru sat down in his chair to massage his throbbing legs . Sharing his homework was fine, but he glossed over a major problem .
He was ass at English .
He solved the problems on the homework with some unorthodox grammar rules, and the other boys copied them word by word . The teacher probably felt ridiculed after coming across the eighth kid with the same mistake .
“Yo, does it hurt?” Dojin whispered to him .
“Hurts like a mother . ”
“Damn though, I didn’t think he’d just check it on the spot like that . Let’s not copy each others’ English homework from now on . ”
“ . . . Oh, you’re telling me?”
“Sorry . ”
The English teacher returned to his podium . Maru thought the class would resume there, but he was mistaken . The English teacher’s mouth curled down into a frown . Another one, huh .
“Kang Dowook, Lim Jichul . ”
Two this time . Dowook and Jichul stood up from their seats .
“Eh? We had a guy like that?” Dojin exclaimed . He was looking at Jichul .
Maru was pretty surprised, too . He thought he knew everyone, but he hadn’t even talked with Jichul before . The boy was incredibly skinny, wore metallic glasses, coupled with long hair to Maru’s notice . Jichul probably didn’t get caught by the disciplinary teacher because he looked so normal .
“Who copied?” the teacher asked .
Maru could tell Dowook was the one who did it . The others probably thought the same . After all, Dowook’s established himself as the delinquent pretty strongly since the first day . Jichul, on the other hand… seemed to be one of the outsiders . There was no way a kid like that would ask Dowook to copy homework . Maru doubted that Dowook would’ve done his homework to begin with either .
‘No, I’m just assuming things again,’ he realized .
Maru decided to watch for now .
“I asked who copied the homework,” the teacher said . He was sounding pretty pissed now .
The students called this teacher the pink pig, Maru recalled . Not because the teacher was fat, but because the man’s cheeks always had a pinkish hue to it . Right now, those pink cheeks were starting to turn crimson . The stick in his hand was starting to tremble from how hard the man was gripping it, too .
Man, that’s gotta hurt . Maru massaged his legs again .
Right then, he saw Jichul’s hands move a little bit . He was probably planning on confessing .
“I did it . ” The answer came from somewhere else, though .
What a surprise . Dowook raised his hand?
“Yessir . ”
“Ridiculous . You guys should realize that I’m not giving you homework to keep you kids busy, I’m giving them because they’re much needed practice for you . You get it?”
“I’m sorry, sir . ”
“Get up on your desk, Kang Dowook . Don’t you know how much I hate people who let others copy their homework?”
Dowook got up on the desk without another word . Maru looked at him with a surprised face . Did Dowook really let Jichul copy his homework? Nope, couldn’t be it . Jichul was standing in his spot with a very surprised look on his face as well . Then why did he confess?
‘To get hit in Jichul’s place?’
Maru looked at Dowook thoughtfully as the teacher’s stick whooshed down with brutal retribution .
* * *
English class ended . Maru let Dojin and Daemyung leave before him to keep an eye on Dowook . It felt like the boy became a loner after just a day . He used to be pretty loud between classes, but now he was just reading comic books by himself . The kids he used to hang out with were talking by themselves, with the beanie guy being at the center of the scene .
Jichul stood up from his seat to approach Dowook quietly . Maru pretended to look out the window as he eavesdropped between their conversation .
“Um . . . ” Jichul started off .
“Why did you . . . ”
“I-it’s nothing . ”
Jichul walked back to his seat . Well, that ended pretty quick . Right then, Maru noticed a new development . Dowook’s old friends were walking over to Dowook’s seat . They took their place right in front and started talking with each other .
“Hah, what a bitch . I didn’t even know a kid like that existed here,” the beanie guy started .
Maru scrolled through his memories for the beanie’s name . Ah, Jung Changhoo? Was it?
Changhoo, Changhoo… Wow, just the name made him feel disgusted . Almost like he took a suckerpunch to the back of his head, and he was greeted with a smiling face when he turned back? He couldn’t remember too well why he felt disgust at the name . Definitely not for a good reason, though . Come to think of it, wasn’t there a really bad delinquent in his class in the past? He couldn’t remember so well . But a growing suspicion told Maru that it was Changhoo .
What about Dowook, then? Was he misunderstood?
“Turns out that the skinny bitch had a friend though, huh?” Changhoo continued, as he gave a quick glance at Dowook . The boy’s friends laughed along .
“Hey, don’t be like that . Even little bitches can have friends . ”
“It’s a world where cripples have to stick together, after all . ”
“Hey, hey, it’s rude to make fun of disabled people, bahaha . ”
The group laughed for a bit before collectively turning to glare at Dowook for a second . They stood up to leave, walking towards the direction of the deli . And Dowook was left alone with his pencil, which his fury was vented upon as he gripped it to the point of snapping . Dowook’s eyes followed the group as they left through the door . Something drastic would happen at this rate . Maru walked over to Dowook .
“The hell are you doing?” Dowook asked . His eyes were still locked upon his former friends . “You… Fuck, you have something against me or something?”
Dowook stood up to glare at Maru .
[So annoying . What the hell’s up with this guy?]
Maru could practically feel the annoyance from the word bubble . It didn’t offend him or anything at all, though .
“Don’t stoop to their level,” Maru said .
“Don’t let yourself get provoked by cheap taunts . ”
Dowook’s face morphed into one of confusion . Maru just smiled a little and pat the other boy’s shoulder .