Fuuko: Hell Week
The world has changed a great deal since last year. On a regular Monday like this a year ago, I'd be bored out of my skull in school. Or I'd be at Yanagi's place chattering the hours away with a tray of her latest culinary expertise nearby. Or that deli a block away from school, displaying a showdown of wit against Recca's… er… humor, or rather, the lack of it. Or creaming Domon at the latest video game in the mall. Maybe accompanying Ganko on her latest fashion escapade, which she had developed a knack for. Or helping Koganei with his homework. Granted, the stars have changed their positions. The old camaraderie was somehow replaced by a fresh milieu, a collection of new faces. Gone are the old days. And I can personally attest to the fact that no matter how much time goes by, one can't escape metamorphosis.
Which conveniently explains why I am sitting at an empty chair right now with a book in one hand. Hold on, you say. What's so unusual about that? Nothing blatant, huh. Except that if you look outside the nearest window of this library (yes, you read right), there's a size-defying sign engraved in gold letters which hangs across the top of the building. It spells out: Tokyo University. Now about the book is entitled Politics in the 20th Century. Yup. I am now a full-fledged college freshman poring over a 2365 paged hardback.
Now don't be astonished. The abrupt change in behavior can be credited to one of those rare and a bit frightening moments when the someone suddenly wakes up and finds a ray of light creeping into her soul, warming up those quiescent rooms of wisdom and practicality. I'm eighteen. It fully dawned on me that if I wanted that top-class, quality, steady-paying job I desired, I had to pour some effort into it. Naturally it followed that in order to obtain that top-class, quality, steady-paying job I desired, the next step was to get educated. I passed Tokyo U, so here I am.
An ear-splitting reverberation which was the bell broke my latest unearthing on the monarchy system. For five seconds, silence prevailed, broken by the immediate stagger of footsteps toward the two exits adjacent the room. Approximately a minute afterwards, I was left to the company of books.
I sighed and picked up the broad volume and moved towards the nearest door. I could hear my footsteps audibly shattering the silence enclosing the large room. Even the librarian was not in sight.
My first class on the first day of school was… (yes, you guessed right)… political science. Fortunately, I had explored the halls due to boredom the day before, and was quite sure I could find my way around. Picking up my pace, I found my way through the steady stream of students and into the open doors of room PS12, ignoring the inconvenience of extra weight brought about by the book in my bag.
The room was quite extensive, adequately adorned with a number of posters bearing Polsci tidbits in interesting shades of neon pink and purple, as well as some illustrations of famous people who had managed to alter the course of history. I noticed I was among the last people to enter the room, and as a consequence I had the privilege of sitting in front.
First hour, last day of the first week of school. And I had skipped breakfast for the benefit of academics. Another first.
I plopped into the only vacant seat, the one which was located dead center of the middle row. To my left was a shy, sweet looking girl which instantly reminded me of Yanagi. She pushed away a shock of fine dark green strands and offered me an introverted smile. I grinned back. And to my right was a guy who appeared very effeminate. He was dabbing his cheekbones with face powder, and noticing my sudden presence, dropped the cosmetics and waved at me gingerly.
We were on the verge of exchanging formalities when a stocky man breezed into the room. "Okay. Shut up people." He boomed in a gruff voice. Without delay, all noise ceased. Everyone turned their attention to the man who qualified as professor. "For today, turn your big, fat Politics of the 20th Century book to the first chapter and marvel at the ingenuities of political science. Oh, and if you don't have a copy of the book, I suggest you make like a roadrunner and scram. Read chapters 1-4. I will give a test tomorrow. That is all."
With that he took out a large hotdog from the opened suitcase on his table and started chomping away. For the next one hour and thirty minutes, nothing was heard except munching sounds and occasional burps.
I felt the major signs of a migraine as I gratefully crossed the border from death to life. Never in my entire life was I grateful to see the corridors, much more to actually walk in them. I know I am quite exaggerating, but after exploring the grim world of advanced physics, the mere sight of the halls sent me into cloud nine.
Temporarily into cloud nine, anyway. I amended, sighing. Why on earth had I opted for full load? I quickened my pace, almost ramming into another hurrying figure.
"Sorry." He muttered, almost a mile away.
I nodded distractedly and ran towards the flight of stairs leading to the second storey. Doubtless, Tokyo University was one of the broadest establishments in the entirety of Japan.
At least for compensation, I banked on the idea that this was going to be the last class for today. Tomorrow, I had the whole afternoon off.
I finally located the room I was looking for and quickly entered it, just as the teacher was on the verge of ramming the door of the classroom against my face.
I slipped in rapidly. Mumbling a quick apology, I took an empty seat in the second row, trying to avoid the set of bemused glances being thrown my way. I was in the process of catching my breath when the professor, who looked somewhat in his mid-fifties, turned to me, the corners of his mouth twisting upwards. "Well, better late than never, ne?" His eyes crinkled, forming lines instigated by age.
He turned to the class, the light expression on his face quickly replaced by that of a grave one. "However, that philosophy does not apply to getting work accomplished. That's the very reason why today, as soon as possible, I am going to insinuate the finer points of literature. Insinuate in the sense that I am leading you towards the path of self-discovery."
By his initial facade, I could tell he was a man of caliber, one to be regarded as wise and precautious, but affable at the same time. Which was probably why nobody seized the temporary silence by groaning or complaining at the notion of working their butts off at the first day of class.
"Which I hope to accomplish by pairing you off by twos. I have always believed that two minds are better than one. By the way, this pairing shall be consistent until the end of the semester. But before that, shall we get beyond the formalities?" He smiled kindly, giving anyone the impression that he truly loved his job, and had embarked himself on the journey of drilling noteworthy lessons into the minds of young students.
He introduced himself as Mr. Yakiba, who has been in the school's administration for about 20 years. He mentioned a little about his family background and described a series of hilarious antics he had to deal with from the previous batches. The class was immediately put at ease with its new instructor, which was clearly established by the feats of laughter elicited at the end of each anecdote.
"Anyway," Mr. Yakiba glanced at his watch. "Since I consider it against the laws of teacher ethics to be nasty on the first day of class…"
A chorus of giggles could be heard in the background.
"For today, I would like you to ascertain friendship with your pair, this is an essential ingredient to the success of the course. I know you would probably find it rather, er, uncanny that I am not going to pair two members of the same sex together. The series of projects you will soon accomplish will need the flair of a woman and the strength of a man. It's not that a woman cannot possess all these traits, but I assure you it will be more appropriate this way." He held up a silver box in his right hand. "All the names of the gentleman are in this very box. Ladies, you will have the privilege of choosing your teammate. Whomever you pick will be your official partner until the end of the term."
"And then the icebreaker. I have here a couple of questions you are to ask each other simultaneously. Accomplish this by pairs and submit it next meeting. You can leave the room as soon as you have discovered your designated partners. Use the remaining time to fill out the questionnaires. That will be all for today."
I watched as girls pulled out a slip of paper from the box, reading out the names that determined how they would fare in this course. I could only hope that the one person I was intended to work with would be someone I could learn to get along with.
The girl beside me wiped sweaty palms against her skirt and pulled out a piece of paper, biting her lip anxiously. She quickly unfolded it, her face lighting up as her lips pronounced, "Kaide Nobunaga…"
Whispers filled the room at the sound of that name. I could only catch phrases such as, "The senior heartbreaker!" and "Oh, the bad guy."
A tall boy with dark red hair falling smoothly past his chin stood up and ambled nonchalantly towards my seatmate's direction. She grinned up at him and took two sheets of paper from Mr. Yakida. Hooking an arm around his, they fled from the room.
Mr. Yakiba smiled at me. "Your turn, Miss…."
"Kirisawa." I said smoothly, taking a deep breath and drawing randomly a piece of paper containing the name that would seal my fate. Sending a swift line of prayer towards the heavens, I pulled out a slip of paper which, unless my eyes were playing tricks on me, actually glowed.
As my eyes skimmed the content of the paper, my whole body immediately went limp. The color drained from my face.
"Well?" Mr. Yakiba prompted me, the smile never leaving his face.
I drew in a considerable amount of air. A lump seemed to have found it's way to my throat. Hesitantly, I summoned my voice and choked out the name…