When he realized that he was falling, his center of gravity was already outside his body.
His body was leaning towards a point in the air.
When his body leaned about halfway, he saw Joomin dropping the coffee cup in shock as well as Dongho who was reaching out to him.
The falling cup eventually stopped in the air, and Dongho’s actions also stopped like a paused video.

Time passed by slowly.
At this speed, he felt like he needed ten years to fall down on the ground.
It was a strange experience, but that wasn’t the important part.
Maru probed his memories and became an adventurer treading on the wrinkles of his brain.
Fragmented memories shot out from around him as though popcorn was popping out of the ground.
He felt like his brain was being fried.
All the calories that were supposed to be spent in his body was being stolen by his brain.
Maybe even his body weight was being consumed by his brain.

Amidst the swirling memories, Maru saw the masked man.
He did not say anything.
Maru soon realized why he was silent.
It wasn’t that he was being silent.
He had said everything already.

He could hear eggshells cracking.
No, he felt like he heard such a noise.
A thin layer of something crumbled apart, allowing a sunken memory to surface.

Maru remembered the masked man’s face.
Han Maru.
What would the historian who has been watching an individual’s history repeat itself over and over again, feel like?

The fragments of memories that had been scattered and blocked by someone were gathering little by little.
In the middle of them was a song.
The humming song that tickled his ears was like a lighthouse shining down on the vast sea.
The memories curled up beneath the darkness followed that faint light.
The memories gathered towards that one guide and mixed among each other in a chaotic manner, but the organization was happening steadily.

Maru saw a drop of coffee that popped out from the cup.
He was still falling, and he felt like the distance between him and the ground was as far as the distance from the Earth to the moon.

He went through a process of turning and moving the various memory puzzle pieces before putting them together.
It was a hard and excruciating process.
It hurt his brain so much that he wanted to give up immediately.
What’s the point of regaining those memories? – these sweet words reverberated inside his ears.
His reasonable mind whispered to him that it was right and proper to focus on the present rather than being obsessed with the past.

Yes, that was right.
Longing for a bus that had already passed won’t make it return.
A wise person would wait for the next bus at the bus stop.
Perhaps it was a good idea to enjoy some coffee in the meantime.
Only people who were able to let go of what had already passed would be able to grab the future.

Bullshit – someone said.
It was a familiar voice.
It was rough, unlike the voice that told him to let go of the past.
Just listening to it made him feel uncomfortable.
If you missed that bus, you should chase it down and catch up to it – the voice said.
Maru felt stifled when the voice told him not to package the past as good memories and to face them properly.

A voice that made him comfortable, and a voice that made him uncomfortable.
It seemed clear who to follow at this crossroad.
Maru consciously ignored the voice that scolded him.
He felt like a wave of pain would crash into him if he followed that voice.
He wanted to choose the side that others suggested he take, which was also the path that he wanted to choose.
The words that told him to let go of his past felt warm like his mother’s words that he heard when he was young.
They felt right like the advice of his wise father.
Was there a reason to follow the rough words where a gut-churning, difficult journey was certain?

He felt like time was returning to normal.
The falling cup started speeding up.
Everything was returning to normal.
Everything was returning to the flow, where everything should be.

The sunlight was very strong.
He suddenly remembered an old memory.
He was driving across Hangang bridge, and next to him was a woman.
She was someone who he met for the first time that morning.
He was a ‘fill-in’ manager, while she was a ‘fill-in’ support actress.
The sunlight that seeped through the window emphasized the contours of her face.
The car audio was quiet, but the car was filled with her humming.

That hum.
Maru knew that song.
It was a song that he could sing and listen to right now.
It was the song that Gaeul hummed from time to time after all.

Maru felt his pupils widening.
His back felt chilly.
The puzzle that was his memory fit together at this moment.
The voice that whispered to him became smaller and smaller.
Instead of the voice that told him to forget about the past and look at the present and the future, the humming song filled his mind.

The memory of his death at 29 started expanding.
The memory of his death at 30 returned to him, then 31, then 33, then 35….
The memories that had been swapped out numerous times by someone started returning to their original places.

Maru saw the cup falling in front of him start to rise again.
Experiencing a phenomenon where something that should be falling was not falling.
Maru felt the tight chains that bound his memories starting to snap apart.

The rough voice became vivid again.
I’m sure you remember now – the voice that had become thick due to experiencing all the hardships in life belonged to himself.
It was that same voice he used to fight against his superior, console his junior, and quarrel with a customer.
It was the voice of his forty-five-year-old self.

The masked man suddenly asked something,

-Who are you?

Maru replied,

‘You’.  

The moment he replied, the clock that had been ticking everywhere; forward, backward, and nowhere, returned to its original path.
Maru immediately crashed into the ground that had come slower to him.
He saw people approach him in shock.
He wanted to say that he was okay and stand up, but he felt too dizzy.

“Han Maru, Han Maru,” producer Park Hoon said as he took out his phone.

He seemed like he was going to call for an ambulance.
Maru barely managed to reach out and pushed Park Hoon’s phone cover down.

“I’m okay.”

“No, you’re not.
You just collapsed.”

“It’s because I’ve been crouching for a while.
It’s not a big problem.”

Maru clenched his teeth and smiled.
Thankfully, his sense of balance had returned to normal.
Only his head felt heavy and dazed as though he hadn’t been sleeping for days.
He stood up and jumped lightly.

“See? I’m completely fine.”

“Forget it, and go to the hospital.
We’ve got a long time until we do your scene anyway.”

Maru looked at Park Hoon’s face before nodding.
As the person responsible for this place, it should be putting a lot of pressure on him, so he couldn’t act so stubborn.

“I’ll go to the hospital and get some vitamins.
I’ll also get a doctor to say that I’m okay.”

“Give me a call once you get diagnosed.”

“Yes.
I’m sorry for making you all worried.”

“Just get going already.”

Maru smiled at the people that gathered around him and told them that he’d be back soon.

“Are you really okay? You suddenly collapsed.”

“Men can get anemic too sometimes.
Looks like I ran out of stamina because I haven’t been able to get good sleep these days.”

Joomin dusted his clothes off with worried eyes.

“I knew you were going to collapse one day.
You looked somewhat weak since morning.
Do you want me to bring you to the hospital?” Dongho asked.

“You have a shoot to do.
You aren’t going anywhere.
I can go by myself.”

“What are you going to do if you fall down again?”

“That won’t happen, so don’t worry about it.”

Maru thought about Byungchul, who would be at the company, but he decided not to call him.
After all, he knew that there was nothing wrong with his body.
He left the middle school through the school gates and grabbed a taxi.
On his way there, he organized his thoughts.
When doing a 1,000-piece puzzle, the start would feel incredibly slow and unclear, but once the edges were done, it would become a lot faster.
This was also true for his fragmented memories.
When some of the pieces fit together, he could see the general picture.
The thing he had to do now was to grab the floating memories and stitch them together in the correct order.
His brain was doing this job even without him having to be conscious of it, so the memories should soon be restored with a bit of time.

He went to the nearby hospital, got diagnosed, and left.
Naturally, there was nothing wrong with him.
He sent Park Hoon a text message.
He got a call right away.

-Can you do the shoot?

“Of course.
There’s a lot of money involved.
The doctor said there’s no problem, so if you would allow it, I’d like to shoot.”

-It’ll take some time before we start your scene, so get some fresh air before coming back.
You should get some sleep or something.
If you feel anemic at your age, you won’t be able to do this job for long.

“I’m okay now.
Then I’ll get some fresh air before returning.”

After hanging up, Maru called Dongho.

-Yeah, it’s me.
Are you okay?

“I’m okay.
I’m going back soon, so can you give me a call when my scene is approaching?”

-Alright.
I’ll give you a call, so get some sleep before coming.
It looks like you ran out of strength because you’re doing two jobs.

After thanking him, Maru sat on a bench in front of the hospital.
He laughed in vain when he looked at the people walking around in patient clothes.
His own state was not that different from them.

-Do you remember?

He wondered when he was going to speak.
Maru closed his eyes.
He was standing on the stage where the masked man lived.

“Somewhat.”

-Really?

Maru nodded.

“I have a lot to ask, but now’s not the time.
My head is still in a mess right now.”

-I’m sure it must be like that.
Tens of years of memories should have returned all at once.

Maru looked at the masked man.

“Are you going to keep wearing that mask?”

-It’s somewhat embarrassing to take it off right now.
At this point, I’m more comfortable with it on.

“If you’re okay with it, then so be it.
But how funny.
We’re all Han Maru in the end.”

-Yes, it’s comedic.

“We have a lot to talk about.”

-Yes, we do.

“But before that, there’s something I want to tell you.”

Maru reached out to him.

“You’ve been working hard until now.
And since you’re at it, let’s do some more.”

-I don’t remember the last time I was thanked like this.

“I’m sure you don’t.
You’ve lived for centuries after all.”

-I’m not sure if ‘lived’ is the right word.
The concept of life is very vague here.

“Can I ask you something?”

-Yes, to commemorate your return.

“What is it that you want?”

-I’m sure you must know already.

Maru could read the expression hidden behind the mask.

-I don’t care if it’s a happy ending or a bad ending.
An ending – that is all I want.
I want to stop getting tired and to stop watching for that matter.
If I could have the luxury of choosing, I wish to lie on the same bed as her, with our daughter in the middle.
I long for human smell.
I long for emotions too.
But I’m sure it must be impossible.
I don’t have a body after all.

“Why did you pop out like that? Why did you get separated and become another me?”

-I’m not sure.
Perhaps it was for the sake of you, the twenty-first Maru.

“The twenty-first.”

It was not a big number, yet an extremely large one too.
In this place where no one called out to him, a man had to witness his own death more than a dozen times.
What would that man be like? It shouldn’t be something that a human could imagine.
This being was once Han Maru, but now, it was questionable whether he could still be called Han Maru.

-Let’s talk once you get your thoughts organized.
Right now, you seem to be in need of some rest.

“Yeah, I think I’ll do that.”

Maru slowly opened his eyes.
The dark stage disappeared, leaving the autumn sky and the tall hospital building in his vision.
He took out his phone from his pocket.
He pressed some buttons to pull up Gaeul’s phone number on his screen.
Maru took his finger off when all he needed to do was to press the call button.

“This shouldn’t be the right time.”

He could not hurry.
His fate, as well as his life, was very twisted and tangled right now.
If he impatiently touched it, it might break everything.
He had to be careful as though he was walking on a tightrope.

Rather than that – Maru smiled at the memories that flashed through his mind.
He felt stifled when he had a look at what the warm-hearted Han Maru had done until now.
Ever since his memories of being betrayed by a devoted junior at the company disappeared, his entire person became really docile.
It was him who said that memories didn’t disappear easily, yet he had made a complete fool out of himself.

Maru pinched his fingers and put them between his eyes.

“So I can resist, huh.”

Was this a victory for the man that had repeated the déjà vu-like life over and over again? Or was this another one of god’s mischiefs? Maru opened the memo application on his phone.
There was something he needed to test out.

‘I died once and came back to life.’

He could write things about his revival.
Of course, this wouldn’t help that much.
If all of his memories vaporized, he would obviously treat this memo as a joke even if he found it.

“Uhm, excuse me.”

Maru stopped a woman who was about to enter the hospital.
He then looked into her eyes for a while.
A moment later, something familiar popped up above her head.

-What’s this child up to?

God didn’t seem that picky.
He didn’t take away the gift that he sent out.
The lack of functionality in this gift was still a pity though.
It would be great if he could see other people’s inner psychology, but he could still only read thoughts related to ‘Han Maru’ within the target.

“Nothing.
I must have been mistaken.”

He had to check things like stocks and estate prices, but he didn’t feel like that would work.
He only had some restrictions on his memory lift, not all of the ones placed on him.

Maru twisted his neck left and right as he entered the convenience store in front of the hospital.
He needed something to drink right now

 

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