“I’m a healer . We should play a round together some time . ”
“Sure . ”
As they kept talking, eventually came the time for the second class . The Korean teacher that walked in had a bit of a square jaw with long wavy hair . He looked a bit peculiar, to be honest .
“Nice to meet you . I’m Park Moonjung, and I’ll be teaching you kids literature for the next year . I know none of you will bother remembering my name anyway, so just call me literature teach . ”
The man leaned over the podium as he scanned the classroom . Unlike with his homeroom teacher, Maru couldn’t help but grin when he saw this teacher . He must’ve had many good memories with this person .
“You’re a bit disappointed, aren’t you? Since there are no girls here . ”
“ . . . . . ”
No one answered . It was the first day, after all . And it wasn’t like Maru was a social type either . Plus, the teacher actually felt quite a bit younger than him, making him hesitant .
“Guys, come on . We can’t become friends if you don’t talk . Tell me, you guys are disappointed because there are no girls in your class, right?”
“Yes . ”
A few of the kids responded with a smile .
“I do feel for you a little . Spending your youth in a classroom that smells like sweat for a year… What a waste . Why did you guys choose electrical engineering to begin with? Should have gone to art or design . Those are pretty much half boys and half girls . Ah, drawing has more girls now, actually . ”
“No girls at all in ELEN?”
More of the students were talking now .
“Of course not . Unfortunately . Told ya, the only thing waiting for you in the near future aren’t flowers . It’s just sweat . ”
“Wow . . . ”
“That’s why you kids need to be especially careful in choosing your clubs . If you end up going into sports, you aren’t going to have a chance at seeing women at all for all three years . ”
Right then, one of the more playful looking kids raised their hand .
“So what are the clubs with the most girls in them?”
“Good question! People need to know how to ask questions like these if they want to live an easy life . Applaud him, guys . ”
Clap clap clap .
The teacher had a thing for making class seem recreational . Maru clapped enthusiastically as well .
“Clubs with girls… First of all, there’s the manga club . They’re the people that sell drawings and cosplay during festivals . They have a few girls there . There’s also the origami club . And then the movie review club . I’m probably going to be the advisor for that club this year . Always gets quite a number of girls . Especially since it’s a club where you just go to theaters to watch movies . The drawing club’s nice, too . ”
“Which one would you recommend?”
“Hm, don’t know . We got a lot of girls this year, so pretty much any club would do . Even mech got 5 girls! Of course, elen has 0 . ”
“Ah, we’ve been cursed . ”
More kids opened their mouths one by one . Maru tried searching through his memories one more time . He was fairly sure there was a girl in his class when he was going to school .
He couldn’t remember anything about her, but there was definitely a girl .
‘So not everything stays the same . ’
It didn’t seem like a perfect rollback . Perhaps several other things changed other than the fact that the year was 2003 .
‘Most things stayed the same, but a few minor things seems to have changed . ’
After some more casual talk with the teacher, the kids began to introduce themselves one by one . The teacher asked the students for their name, goals for the year, and things they wanted to say to the class .
“I’m . . . ”
“Hey guys . . . ”
“This is embarrassing . . . ”
Maru waited as he observed a set of familiar and unfamiliar faces in the class .
“Anyhow, let’s have a good time together for the next year . ”
Dojin finished his introduction .
“Lastly… Oh, Maru! That’s a pure Korean word, isn’t it? I like it . ”
As expected of the Korean teacher, he seemed to know the meaning of his name . Maru answered with a ‘yes’ and stood up . He was around 175cm tall . It was considerably tall for the kids in his class . Of course, Maru was well aware that he wouldn’t grow much more after this .
“Mm, my name’s Maru Han . I’d like to live fairly quietly for my first year . Let’s get along . ”
“Quiet, huh . Nice . Alright, you can sit now . ”
Maru finished his introduction in a simple fashion . The teacher moved onto talking about his first love that no one asked about and wrapped up the class nicely . The kids seemed a lot more fond of him than the homeroom teacher . Everyone was having fun . Well, save the few that was muttering stuff like ‘guy talks too much’ under their breaths .
“He seems like a fun guy . ”
“Agreed . ”
The first period ended relatively safely . Maru took a look at the other kids during break time . Was it because he had the eyes of an adult? The kids around him all looked young and cute . Even the ones that were trying to look tough .
‘Girls, though, huh . ’
Maru recalled to the time when he proposed to her in the past . He gave her the ring saying that he’d propose to her again even in the next life . His wife laughed about it whenever she looked back at it .
‘Well, I guess I’m fine with dating her . ’
He was living a new life . Might as well have a fun time while he was at it . Though, there would be a few hurdles to pass in the future .
“Ah, entrance exams and the military . . . ”
Entrance exams were fine . He was fine with studying for them . Compared to everything else in life, studying was quite easy for him . But the military…
“Ah… Sergeant Kim, that son of a bitch . ”
Dojin flinched when he heard Maru curse under his breath .
“Eh? Ah? Did you say that to me?”
“No, I just remembered something . ”
“Oh, I see . ”
Dojin smiled awkwardly .
‘It’s still several years away, so let’s think about it then . ’
Re-enlistment . His hair rose up in fright when he thought of it, but he couldn’t do anything about it . Unless the country reunited again, at the very least . The third class passed, and soon the fourth class followed suit . The two new teachers started their classes fairly normally . The only weird one was the Korean teacher, really .
“Now it’s lunch, cleanup, and home!”
Dojin shouted in joy . School finished at 2pm since it was only the first day .
“Where do we eat?”
“You see that gymnasium under construction over there? It’s right under there . ”
Maru remembered himself running there almost daily when Dojin told him this .
“You know a lot about the school already, don’t you?”
“I looked around during break time . ”
What a guy . He started walking towards the cafeteria with Dojin . The school was shaped like a capital ‘L’ . One side was the main building with all the classes, and the other side had all the labs . The cafeteria was next to the lab building . It was quite loud with all the new construction happening upstairs .
“We can’t even use that thing even if it completes . ”
“No way . ”
“I’m telling ya, the only exercise we’re going to get is from cleaning it . ”
“How the hell would you know that?”
“Call it really good instinct . ”
Maru looked up at the unfinished gymnasium with a grin . The principal used quite a bit of money building it, but he ended up blocking it off after it completed . They only really used it for festivals . As a matter of fact, the only reason for students to visit it was to clean it up .
Maru remembered his friends complaining about having to clean up a place they didn’t even use all the time . Fond memories .
He left the gymnasium behind him and went down to the cafeteria . Thankfully, the lines weren’t very long today . The menu today was fried fish, doenjang soup, and spicy braised tofu .
“Poop soup . ”
“Oh, I meant doenjang soup . ”
Maru looked for other kids in his class .
“Over there . ”
Since most of them at least knew each other’s faces, they were all gathered around one table . The same went for other classes . No one really knew each other, though, so lunch was fairly quiet . Maru knew very well that this wouldn’t last, of course . High schoolers were very loud creatures .
“Blegh . ”
Dojin frowned after his first sip of the soup . He didn’t seem to like it . Maru wasn’t much of a picky eater, so he was able to eat it well .
‘Then again, I found military food pretty tasty as well . ’
Maru walked out after lunch to notice a few seniors running around the field . On one side they were playing soccer, and on the other, basketball . With kids from different classes getting mixed up everywhere, the field looked incredibly chaotic to him .
“Hoo boy, it’s a lot worse than middle school . ”
Dojin clicked his tongue in surprise as he watched . Maru felt otherwise .
‘It’s the military . ’
A bunch of kids with short hair were running around with all their strength . If you just took the occasional girl out of the equation, it really looked like the military .
‘Ah, right . That’s why we called this place the barracks . ’
It was a really fitting nickname . Maru stepped back into the classroom . The sunlight was streaming in through the windows along with the cold air of march . The kids near the windows were already fast asleep . The lot of them were still awkward around each other, but that’d change in a week . Most would form friend groups with each other save for a few outsiders .
‘We had a few here, too . ’
He couldn’t remember all too well, but there were a few outsiders in the class . Though they managed to form their own group in the end .
“I guess they were similar to bread shuttle in a way . Though the term didn’t really exist yet . ”
Dojin perked up with a curious look .
“Just talking to myself . ”
“Why do you keep talking to yourself? Talk to me too, bro . ”
“Just go back to sleep . You look sleepy . ”
“True that, I am sleepy . ”
Dojin slumped back down on his desk .
* * *
“Don’t be late . We’re going to start cleaning out designated areas starting tomorrow, so remember that . Just go back home and study, you hear? I’d hate to see your sorry faces in some weird place outside school . The end . ”
The teacher exit the room after smacking the board lightly with his board . The kids stood up tiredly from their seats .
“Where do you live?”
“Guwol-dong . ”
“That’s pretty far . Do you bus here?”
“Bike . ”
“Don’t you feel cold?”
“Yeah, but it’s cheaper for sure . ”
“Fair enough . ”
“See you tomorrow . ”
Maru waved as he left the classroom . The first day went by well . He thought he might make a few mistakes due to his memory, but that never actually happened . Everything felt nostalgic though . Maru changed direction on his way home and went into one of the smaller streets . He was heading to the little PC bang near school .
“This place never changed . ”
He spent quite a bit of money over the three years in high school . His entire friend group would assemble in the PC bang after school whenever one of them said ‘go?’ . He played Starcraft, Warcraft, and Lineage harder than he ever studied .
“I wonder if I’d play games in this life . ”
Maru turned away from the PC bang as he thought to himself .
A new life .
A fun life .
What would a fun life entail? Maru couldn’t quite remember what he’d done for 45 years . He lived for his family after he married, but before that he did things without much of a purpose . He passed the college entrance exams with a decent enough score, so he went straight to college . And after failing his first exam there, he was sent straight to the military . He eventually graduated afterwards, and decided to work all sorts of jobs afterwards .
Maru slowed down a bit . He could see a cloud floating right above him . It resembled a wet tissue paper, moving about in the sky as the winds willed it to . Maru thought his life resembled the cloud a fair bit .
“I didn’t think I lived a bad life… But I didn’t really life a good one either, huh . ”
Work before dreams . Things he had to do came before things he wanted to do . He never took risks, and he never looked far off into the future either .
Maru clicked his tongue without even realizing it . He did do fun things . He did experience happy things . But there was nothing that could sum up his life in one word . Well, he did have one .
If anything, his life was just so-so .
“How do I want to live?”
That question came at Maru now harder than it ever did in the past 45 years .
* * *
Maru stepped into the house with a heavy face .
“How was school? Not weird or anything?”
Mom asked him a question after a small pause . She seemed to be a bit worried, what with him having gone to an engineering school and all .
“I’m fine . ”
“What about the other kids?”
“They’re chill . ”
“They’re all people . It isn’t like a prison with criminals in it or anything . Don’t worry about it . I’m not going to do anything weird, they aren’t doing anything weird . ”
“S-sure . ”
Mom turned away from him with a bit of a surprised look . She must’ve been so surprised with her son being direct all of the sudden . Then again, he never was that direct till he went to the military .