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 in that deli a block away from school, displaying a showdown of wit against Recca's… er… humor, or rather, the lack of it. Or I could be creaming Domon in a video game at the mall. Maybe I would be accompanying Ganko on her latest fashion escapade, which she had recently developed a knack for. Or helping Koganei with his homework. The stars have changed their positions. The familiar camaraderie from my hometown was now 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 on an empty chair right now with an open 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. The book I'm holding? It's called Politics of the 20th Century. I am now a full-fledged college freshman poring over a 2365 paged textbook.
Now don't be surprised. I'm not the bookish type to begin with. The abrupt change in behavior can be credited to one of those scary moments when 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 set my heart on, I had to put some effort into it. Naturally it followed that in order to obtain that top-class, quality, steady-paying job, the next step was to get an education. I passed Tokyo U, so here I am.
An ear-splitting reverberation which was the bell broke my latest discovery on the monarchy system. For five seconds, silence prevailed, broken by the immediate stagger of footsteps toward the two exits adjacent the room. All of a sudden I was alone - left to the company of books.
I sighed, picked up huge textbook and walked toward the nearest door. My footsteps shattered the silence of the library. Even the librarian was gone.
My first class on the first day of school was… political science (surprise, surprise). Fortunately, I had explored the halls out of boredom yesterday, and was quite sure I could find my way around. Picking up my pace, I struggled against the steady stream of students headed my way and slipped into the open doors of room PS12. The weight of the textbook was getting on my nerves.
The room was literally large, with a number of posters bearing Polsci trivia tidbits in interesting shades of neon pink and purple. It also had pictures 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 the front row.
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 who 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 hellos when a stocky man limped into the room. "Okay. Shut up people." He boomed in a gruff voice. Without delay, all noise ceased. Everyone turned their attention to the 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's all."
Then no one in class would have guessed what he did next. He took out this hotdog from his open suitcase on and started chomping away. For the next one hour and thirty minutes, nothing was heard except munching sounds and occasional burps. Unbelievable.
I felt the major symptoms 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. 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 eighteen units of 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 knew that this was going to be my last class today. And tomorrow? Ha. 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 shut in 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 catching my breath when the professor, who looked somewhere in mid-forties, 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 aura, I assumed he was a man of caliber, someone 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 on the first day of class.
"Which I hope to accomplish by pairing you off. I have always believed that two minds are better than one. By the way, this pairing will remain until the end of the semester. But before that, shall we deal with the formalities?" He smiled kindly, giving anyone the impression that he truly loved his job, and had embarked himself on the journey of drilling important lessons in 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 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 your academic performance in my class. I know you would probably find it rather, er, strange that I am going to pair you with the opposite sex. 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 of these traits, but just trust me. I know what I'm doing." He held up a silver box in his right hand. "The names of the gentleman are in this very box. Ladies, the choice is yours."
"And then the icebreaker. I have here a couple of questions you are going to ask each other simultaneously. Work on this together and submit your answer sheet next meeting. You can leave the room once you have identified your partners. Use the remaining time of our class period 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 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 at him and took two sheets of paper from Mr. Yakida. Hooking an arm around his, they fled 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. There was a lump in my throat. Hesitantly, I summoned my voice and choked out his name…