A/N – This is actually an original short story I wrote for my 'Intro. to Fiction and Poetry Writing' class last semester. My professor really liked it and said it had potential, so potentially, you'll like it.
Disclaimer – I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.
The Adventure of a Student
There came a morning in the fall of the recent century when Kaoru K., a student at ---- University, woke with a conviction. For the past few weeks she hadn't been able to make up her mind at all. Whether she debated which homework assignment to do first, which way to do a certain problem, or when do eat dinner, it had all been the same. In the end, she'd let one of her friends decide for her in matters of a social nature. The academic side of her life was similar to the social as well. She simply muddled along, shifting from classmate to classmate and seeking out the occasional teaching assistant for the rough classes, moving along fine in the easy ones. Put mildly, Kaoru was unnerved by her sudden switch to this languorous approach to life, which was quite uncharacteristic of her in the past, as she was characteristically a demanding person.
But this morning, a difference struck her. This morning, she woke with the determination to make a stand for herself and prove to the most skeptical eyes (her own), that her enrollment at the university did not equal a waste of her parents' money, she in fact did deserve the scholarship money she'd received, and her professors weren't wasting all their time on her education. Kaoru woke with the conviction to go to the office hours of Professor Saitou, who taught her most challenging course, mathematics.
Kaoru knew this wasn't a bad conviction to have been seized by, for she had been seized by bad convictions before. In fact, she should have woken with this conviction earlier, or even gone to sleep with it weighing on her mind. The birth of this conviction had in turned birthed the problem that now rested on her shoulders: she didn't recall herself at all a people-person, at least when it came to older men, and no one else liked to go to office hours, meaning she would probably be alone with Professor Saitou, well-known as a know-it-all, or who at least gave off the air of being one rather well.
As Kaoru dressed in her customary jeans and t-shirt (she refused to "dress up" for class), the notion came upon her that if she planned to go to the professor's office hours, she needed more specific questions than 'I don't know anything', which summed up all her problems with the class. So she decided on the spot to seek out Misao Makimachi, a girl also in Professor Saitou's class, who she knew worked in the university's admissions office every morning at the front desk. Surely, if Misao was not busy, and if Kaoru herself hurried, she would arrive in the admissions building with Misao still working and be able to ask her fellow student what kind of questions Kaoru herself should ask the professor.
Thus decided, Kaoru shouldered her varied schoolbooks, notebooks, writing utensils, and other necessities, and headed into the city morning. On her walk to the office building, which lay by happenstance on the opposite side of campus from the side she entered every morning, Kaoru allowed her mind to wander from her surroundings to dwell on the moment when she entered Professor Saitou's office. She pictured him sitting in his desk chair, pouring over his lecture notes with help from a cup of coffee, or napping. After all, he was old. What if she should happen to walk in the room while he was asleep? Would it be rude to wake him up? His office lay on the fifth floor of a building where the only elevator doubled her in age. She couldn't bring herself to trust it. Kaoru felt dismay at the mere thought of hiking up five flights of stairs, only to happen upon a slumbering Professor Saitou.
At this point in time, Kaoru reached Death Lane, so-called by the students because everyone knew someone who had almost been hit by a car crossing that street and at least ten students had died there over the university's extensive history. Kaoru temporarily lapsed from her conviction in order to traverse the street with extra caution. As she always did when crossing Death Lane, she made a point of gazing down the street to the tall skyscrapers miles away in the center of the city. The sight of them on this morning, shrouded in thick fog that rendered their outlines barely discernable, filled Kaoru with a sense of peace. There, in the heart of the busy city full of so many people with all their different agendas, everyone co-existing together and clashing more often than not, there at least, serenity could be found.
Too soon, she forced her gaze downward so she didn't trip over the curb on the other side of Death Lane. Kaoru cast the quiet feelings of peace and awe to the side. They didn't belong in her day if she meant to make it through, and they had nothing to do with her conviction, which she began dwelling on once more.
Only two minutes away from the building where Misao worked, a friend she knew from church, a man named Kenshin H., hailed her.
"Morning, Kaoru. I don't usually see you this time of day. How have you been since Sunday?" he asked, falling into step beside her.
"Alright," Kaoru replied, suddenly superstitious that if she told Kenshin of her troubles with Professor Saitou, the whole situation would cast her in a less than favorable light. "I'm on my way to visit Misao Makimachi at work before my classes start."
"Hmm," Kenshin considered. "I don't think I know her, but I'm on my way to the same building. How fortunate, us meeting this morning."
Although Kaoru liked Kenshin, she felt dismay to discover him on his way to the same place. She didn't resent his accompanying her, but she did resent the possibility that had just now sprung into existence. Kaoru hadn't minded Misao knowing of her hopelessness in Professor Saitou's class. She didn't associate with the woman outside of a few friendly conversations after class. Kaoru had just now found she valued Kenshin's opinion of her more than Misao's and didn't want him to think her stupid because she was behind in Professor Saitou's class. So she smiled and said nothing, not quite able to lie and agree it was fortunate indeed, that they shared the same destination, but reluctant to risk portraying the false image that she didn't enjoy his company at all.
They finished the walk in comfortable silence. Kenshin stepped in front of her and held open the door for her to pass, then smiled a good-bye and headed for the stairs to the second floor. Kaoru pasted on her polite countenance and walked gamely into the central area where she observed, with relief, Misao sitting at the reception desk writing something on the paper in front of her, and no one else around but a lost looking old man in a blue plaid shirt sitting on a couch and hiding behind the day's newspaper.
"Can I help you? Oh, hi Kaoru. What brings you here?" Misao asked, looking up from her paperwork with a ready smile. "Tell me Professor Saitou pushed back our midterm to Wednesday."
Kaoru sighed dramatically for Misao's benefit. They both knew that wouldn't happen. "No. I did come to talk to you about his class though. I'm going to his office hours today, but I have no clue what to ask him because I'm so far behind. You wouldn't have any questions in mind, would you? Specific ones I could ask."
Misao frowned and her face wrinkled a little as she stared at a point on Kaoru's shoulder for a moment.
"To be honest, I'm attempting the homework for his class now," Misao gestured to the papers lying on the desk in front of her, "but I don't understand enough yet to even have questions."
"Really?" Kaoru asked incredulously. "You must at least have one from the beginning chapters."
Misao shook her head. "I'm sorry, Kaoru. I'm taking more credits than I'm supposed to this semester, so I have a lot of course work. Professor Saitou's class is my elective. I'm going to drop his class if this first midterm doesn't work out. This is my first time studying for the class. But tell me how his office hour goes, okay?"
Kaoru had not allowed herself to consider the possibility of Misao being clueless in the class. Stunned, she nodded politely to Misao, made excuses to leave, and wandered in the general direction of her first class.
For the rest of the day until Professor Saitou's office hours Kaoru drifted in a fog as thick as the cloud that had obscured the inner city buildings when she'd crossed the Death Lane that morning. Her fog, whose damp droplets of moisture sunk through her clothes and into her thoughts, distanced her from the rest of the world until she felt as remote and high above the city as the tallest skyscraper in Italy.
But Kaoru had woken up with a conviction. She'd promised herself that she would go to Professor Saitou's office hours, and go she would. She reminded a reluctant part of her character that it could do no harm after all. If she made a horrible impression on the professor, he couldn't very well fail her. Still, Kaoru doubted. Partial credit was a tricky system that could very well undo her during the grading of the first midterm. What if she submitted a re-grade to him and he refused, simply because he remembered this particular office hour? Surely, some past student must have made a bad enough impression on him that it would cause him to think, Kaoru's not so bad compared to so-and-so. But what if no one had made such a bad influence as she?
Still, Kaoru had her conviction, and she knew it was near impossible to get any closer to understanding the class material with her foreign TA who barely spoke Italian properly and didn't like speaking because of that fact. When it came time for Professor Saitou's office hours, Kaoru found herself on the first floor of the Mathematics building. Briefly, she considered taking the ancient elevator to the fifth floor, but her sense of self-preservation kicked in and she turned to the stairs instead.
Although Kaoru felt trepidation, what should have been the longest walk of her life wasn't. Somewhere in her, Kaoru discovered, inner courage must reside, because she felt none of the sick fear of failure as she trekked up those flights. All the worry and misgivings over which she'd agonized all day faded, replaced once again by the conviction she'd woken up with that morning, the conviction to wring every droplet of knowledge she could from Professor Saitou so that she aced the midterm and proved to herself the validity of her family's belief in her, meaning she could function with the burden of making a name for herself and not disgrace her family name by flunking out of school.
With this in mind Kaoru knocked firmly on the office door of Professor Saitou and entered without waiting for the customary 'come in.'
He sat on the couch, alone in the room, just as she'd pictured earlier that morning, pouring over his lecture notes. When she entered he smiled and said hello and asked what he could help her with. He listened politely as she explained who she was and told him she was behind and wanted to know what she should know for the midterm. He didn't frown, merely chastised her with a few soft words and proceeded to give her a mini-review. Kaoru sat there, hardly believing Professor Saitou wasn't a snob after all, and she was sitting in his office, nodding to his explanations and copying down notes and she actually understood what was going on when he put it oh so well, and she was far behind in the class, but it wasn't so far that she couldn't catch up before the midterm if she really tried.
Afterwards she sailed from his office and down the five flights of stairs and out of the mathematics building and onto the still green lawn in front of the building and plopped down on the ground for a moment to rest, playing with a few fallen leaves.
"You look happy," a voice commented. It was Kenshin, minus a little of the alertness and control she'd sensed in him that morning. "Something good happen I should know about?" he asked, lowering himself to the ground beside her.
Since she could catch up in the class after all, Kaoru didn't see the harm in telling him she'd gone to Professor Saitou's office hours and how nervous she'd been, so she did tell him, and he made the appropriate faces: grimacing with sympathy and then laughing at the end when everything turned out right.
"I had that class last year. I did pretty well. If you need any help, just ask me. I'm pretty good at explaining things, or so they tell me."
Since she still felt overwhelmed with relief from office hours going so well, Kaoru actually considered his proposal. In her experience, when people volunteered their time, most didn't really mean it unless they were being paid. She didn't know Kenshin as well as she would have liked, she discovered, because she couldn't discern the level of his sincerity.
"I have a midterm in Professor Saitou's class next Monday," she began slowly, watching him closely for signs of backing out of his offer, but his expression remained the same. "Would you mind if I asked you some questions tomorrow? I have to study first."
"Sure, sure. You have my number. What do you know? We'll actually see each other outside of church."
Kaoru believed then, that her conviction had paid off after all. Not only had she discovered her capability of earning an A in Professor Saitou's class, but now she would be spending more time with Kenshin, a person she found interesting. Perhaps she shouldn't have cast aside the sense of peace she'd felt crossing Death Lane. It looked like she could deal with the city even absent from aggressively polite mode. Good news then, this revelation she'd just had.
Mutually, they stood and surveyed the campus with its red brick buildings surrounded by manicured green lawns. The students walked in a collective rush, weaving between each other where their paths crossed, in a hurry to complete their day and relax, shedding their burdens only to shoulder them once again the next morning. Kaoru wondered how many students operated securely in a life of class, work, food, sleep, and the promise of a job after graduation. How many of them had developed a habit of forgetting the fact of their insignificance in the schema of the world? Then again, college was one long entrance exam for the real world, and she deemed it best to focus on an exam during the exam.
Kaoru knew herself to be usually no different, but temporarily, she existed as an observer, not as a student. In a few moments she would lose her impartiality and rush off to the library to start studying for Professor Saitou's class. Meanwhile, having conquered the first, a new conviction dominated her thoughts.
A/N – Hope you liked it. It's written in the style of an Italian author named Italo Calvino. It might be continued eventually, depending on my ability to write in the same style for long periods of time. Until next time,