On my way home from the station, I stopped by a convenience store and bought myself a pack of soju. Breaking open the pack, I cracked open a bottle and inserted a straw to enjoy a drink along my way. Taking a sip with each step, I soon felt the alcohol warm my body along with a surge of emotions. A moment later, my cheeks were wet with tears.
I cried my heart out as I walked down the dark isolated road. Overwhelmed with grief, I continued to drink my soju without pause. Feeling like I was losing my sanity, I lifted my head and gazed at the sky.
I was walking along with my misty eyes half-open, when someone suddenly bumped into my shoulder. After staggering a bit due to the strong force, I eventually fell to the ground.
When you see someone fall, it’s only polite to stop for a moment and check on their condition. But when I turned around, the person who had bumped into me was simply walking away without a care.
“Why did you bump into me?” I cried out loud.
I was already sad, but my mood worsened with the fall. Overwhelmed with despair, I sat on the ground, burying my face in my knees, and cried.
After some time, I began to feel a bit better. I lifted my head and wiped the residual tears at the corner of my eyes and cheeks. After picking up my bag, I placed my hand on the ground to push myself up, but instead of the rough gravel, I felt a cool metal object. I picked up the object and examined it. The metal object was circular in shape and small enough to fit into the palm of my hand.
There were Chinese characters engraved on the top, and when I pressed down, the lid popped open, revealing the clock face of a pocket watch. The position of the hour hand indicated that it was 11 o’clock.
‘Oh my god, is it really this late?’
Pulling out my phone, I checked the time and confirmed it was indeed 11 o’clock, the exact time shown on the pocket watch. I turned around and looked in the direction of where the rude stranger had gone.
‘He probably dropped it.’
Sighing, I shoved the watch, along with my cell phone, into my pocket and continued walking.
□ ■ □
I was sprawled out on my bed, staring blankly at the wall. Every wall in my room was covered with Seon-jae’s pictures.
My favorite person had died, and not a single person cared to ask if I was okay. Probably because I never showed my emotions. I was very good at hiding my feelings.
No one knew the real me. I had everyone completely fooled.
The depressing thoughts had my eyes brimming with tears once again.
At that moment, I heard a bell ringing next door through the thin walls.
‘How loud do you need your TV need to be?’
The TV was so loud, I could hear the voice of someone yelling, “Happy New Year Viewers!” through the wall. I jumped up from my bed and started banging on the wall with my fist.
“Turn down the TV!”
The people next door responded by banging on the wall even louder.
“Then stop wailing like a ghost!”
“Wailing…like a ghost?”
I hadn’t realized anyone could hear me. I bit my lip in embarrassment as I fought the urge to cry again. But it was a losing battle and my silent tears turned into sobs. I quickly covered myself with a blanket to muffle my cries.
It was the start of the new year, a day where people usually wish each other good luck. But, a new year without Seon-jae was already an unlucky start.
I buried my face into the pillow, allowing it to soak up all my tears and hugging it tightly for comfort.
I tried to hold back my sobs, but all of my efforts were in vain.
Return my Seon-jae to me, you cursed world!
I tried to will myself to fall asleep, but I could only toss and turn restlessly in my bed. After shifting my position again, I suddenly heard a jarring sound, like nails on a chalkboard, coming from beneath the covers.
‘What is that? That couldn’t be my cell phone, right?’
I held up the blanket with one hand and fumbled around the bed with the other, searching for the source of the sound. Beneath the blanket, there was a strange glow, which was gradually expanding from the direction of the sound.
“Uh… What is this…”
A blinding light suddenly illuminated the whole room, I closed my eyes tightly, while screaming in shock.
The light that appeared without warning, disappeared in an instant. Even with my eyes closed, I could sense that the room was now completely dark again.
“Soo-ah, Im Soo-ah.”
I felt someone grabbed my shoulder and shake me wildly.
As I raised my head, my eyes met another pair of dark-brown eyes. The familiar face was staring at me with a nervous expression. I shifted my eyes to the side, and saw a woman with an expression of displeasure staring down at me with her arms folded.
“Are you talking in your sleep while in class because you didn’t get enough sleep at home? Do you want to run a lap around the field?”
My mouth fell open in shock.
‘Why is my ethics teacher here?’
When I glanced down, I noticed that I was no longer in my bed, but sitting at a square desk, where a textbook with a damp cover was placed in front of me.
Instead of my pajamas, I was now wearing a dark blue jacket, a dark blue vest, and a scarlet tie, which suspiciously looked like school uniform.
I turned my head to look up at the familiar face. It was Eun-hee, my classmate during my second year of high school.
‘Oh my god. What is this? Is this a dream?’
The Ethics teacher lightly hit the top of my head with her fist.
“Take your textbook and go stand at the back of the classroom.”
After watching me stay seated with a confused expression on my face, the teacher repeated herself with a slightly raised voice. I closed my eyes and opened them again. The teacher was still frowning while standing next to my seat. Why was this dream so realistic?
‘Oh my God. Why does my voice sound so different?’
Grabbing my textbook, I pushed my chair back, and got up from my seat. I walked to the back of the classroom and stood there in a daze. Looking at the entire classroom from behind, I thought I was going crazy.
‘What is happening right now?’
Clutching my textbook with one hand, I rummaged in my pocket with the other until my hand cold metal object.
It was the pocket watch that I’d picked up on the road last night. Roman numerals ranging from 1 to 12 were embedded on the watch’s face, but the directions of the hour and minute hands were different drastically from what it should be.
I turned to look at the clock hanging on the wall of the classroom. The times was 3 pm.
‘Is the watch broken?’
‘No, of course, they wouldn’t match, this is only a dream.’
Suddenly, there was a knock on the classroom door. A woman wearing rimless glasses, with her hair tied back in a low ponytail, opened the door and entered. She was the school nurse.
“Ah, my apologies for disturbing the class. I’m here to discuss health checkup results. Student Im Soo-ah, can I see you for a second?”
At the mention of my name, everyone turned toward the back of the classroom. As I stood there, blinking my eyes with confusion, the ethics teacher gestured me to leave.
After setting my textbook aside, I went out to meet the school nurse in the hallway.
If my memory serves my correctly, she would say something along the lines of, ‘Your last checkup results shows that you have acute anemia, so you nee to start taking an iron supplement.’
“Student Im Soo-ah, according to the results of your last checkup, the iron level in your blood is much lower than normal, which puts you at risk of acute anemia. It is dangerous to leave it untreated, so you need to start taking iron supplements immediately.”
My memory was right.
“Have you ever had any occurrences of blurred vision or dizziness after standing up?”
As I stood there in a daze, the school nurse watched me with a strange expression.
“Student Im Soo-ah?”
“Are you okay?”
It was impossible for me to be okay right now.
Instead of answering, I turned toward a window in the hallway and looked outside. From my position, I could only see the schoolyard and several maple trees covered in red leaves. At the left end of the playground, a makeshift fence had been installed due to the reconstruction of the cafeteria.
‘The cafeteria reconstruction…’
The memory of dust falling and the loud noises that sounded like the building was collapsing filled my mind. I remembered how the students would complain about the construction noise and the head student would shout, “This isn’t an excuse to not pay attention during class!”
I recognized this scenery.
Because this is my past.
□ ■ □
As I sat on the bus, my legs were trembling from anxiety. I was biting my nails nervously while attempting to ease my mind.
―The next stop is Jagam Street. Exit here for Jagam High School.
I lifted my knees to support my head and looked outside the window. As the bus moved forward, the Ginkgo trees lined up along the road flew by. After the bus passed drove over an overpass, a path I had walked along once, came into view.
There was a time when I’d visit the schoolyard of the high school Seon-jae used to attend. I’d looked at the map incorrectly and kept hovering around this overpass.
I rang the bell, and stood in front of the doors as I waited for the bus to come to a stop. My heart was pounding. Time was flowing around me with a sense of normalcy and was absent of any disturbances.
‘Is this what you call a lucid dream? Are dreams supposed to be this vivid?’
I had left school nurse standing in the hallway and ran out of school abruptly. The past that I’m experiencing currently, was my life from six years ago. I wondered how if it was possible to dream of an event in the exact order it occured.
If I was truly dreaming about the past, and this dream was proceeding as it did six years ago regardless of actions, then maybe I could meet someone I never got a chance to encounter in the past
In my current life, I had graduated a while ago, so when I left school, I hailed a taxi out of habit. It was only then that I realized there was no cash in my purse.
The dream was so accurate that even the wallet I used in high school was as empty as it’d been during my school years. So, I had no choice but to ride the bus.
On the way to Jagam High School, I caught sight of my reflection in a glass door of a commercial building as I walked past. The short bangs with a single long braid, and the pink knit socks worn over stockings, were totally me six years ago.
‘Incredible.’ I was completely shocked by the accuracy of this dream.
At first, my walk was brisk, but then started to sprint towards my destination. I felt like my heart was bursting with expectations and desire.
‘Even if this is a dream, I want to meet you, even if it’s only once, Seon-jae. I want you to know that you’re such a lovely person. There are so many people in this world who love you. It’s just that their voices aren’t loud enough to reach you.’
I was soon out of breath and my sides were aching to the point I had to bend over to relieve some of the pain. As I waited to catch my breath, I lifted my head, and saw the sign for Jagam High School.
‘Wow, I have never felt so nervous.’
I paced in front of the gate for Jagam High School over and over. It was inevitable for my heart to flutter even though it was a dream, but I knew there was nothing to be nervous about.
I gathered my courage, then started walking towards the schoolyard. As I approached, I could see a student wearing gray trousers, a white shirt, and a beige knitted vest standing in front of the sink in the distance. Even if I was blind, there was no way I wouldn’t recognize Seon-jae.
‘Oh my god.’
I ran at full speed towards Seon-jae. At the sound of my voice calling his name, the familiar body turned around. I could clearly see his face at that moment. It was truly Seon-jae.
Seon-jae, the person I could only see in pictures.
In an instant, I had already crossed the schollyard and was hugging Seon-jae tightly.
‘How did I manage to run so fast?’
Well, maybe people can fly, even in their dreams.
Seon-jae was pushed back because I didn’t slow my speed when I hugged him without warning. Burying my face into Seon-jae’s vest, I burst into tears.
“Seon-jae…it’s Seon-jae. Oh my god. It’s really you.”
“What, what?” Seon-jae responded in surprised.
Suddenly, someone grabbed my shoulders and pulled me off of Seon-jae. After gazing at Seon-jae with my teary eyes for a moment, I turned around to identify the owner of the hand gripping my shoulders.
It was Baek In-hyuk.
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