I awake a troubled man. A night of restless sleep has done nothing to shake the cloud that my meeting with Kenji has cast upon my thoughts. I switch to auto-pilot and cruise through my morning routine. Hanako is still asleep on the bed. I don’t think she has any lectures this morning; hence the lack of enthusiasm to arise. She’s tossed the sheets from herself to try to escape summer’s sticky heat. Her black underwear hugs her hips and a loose grey T-shirt hangs loosely from her shoulders. I try and swallow my breakfast as silently as possible, but in such close quarters it’s impossible not to disturb each other.
Hanako rolls over and surveys me with bleary eyes. “A-are you really going to… to class?”
“I kind of have to. We’re about to head into the mid-year exams. After that I can slow down a bit.” It’s not entirely a lie. I really need to start applying myself to my studies. We live a good forty-five minutes from campus, and that really bites into my study time. The train is almost exclusively packed to the brim with people bustling to or from their daily occupations, making study impossible until I either get to the University or back to our apartment.
Not to mention time lost at work. If I were caught reading a text book whilst on duty that would be the end of me, and that would be the end of our “cosy” little apartment.
The lie, of course, is the “slowing down.” I’m going to have to bust myself over the summer break to find employment. In a lot of ways, University is a lot more forgiving than schools. There’s no pressure to perform, and if you fail something you can always just pick it up again next year. Not that I’ve failed anything (despite coming close on occasions), but you get the point. Normally the majority of Third Year is spent job-seeking, and most of my classmates already have an internship at their company of choice. But in my haste to enjoy my lazy undergraduate days I have neglected that most essential of duties. Unless I pull my finger out, I will be in the unenviable position of a NEET during Sakura Season.
“O-okay. And you have… work tonight…?”
“Yeah. Graveyard shift. I’m going to stay at the Library until my shift starts, so I guess I won’t see you until tomorrow morning.”
“O-okay. I l-love you.”
“Love you too.” I put my plate in the sink, kiss Hanako gently, and then rush out of the door.
Catching the train is one of the changes between secondary and tertiary education that I’m not fond of. Casually sleeping in until the latest possible moment, throwing on a uniform and trotting from the Dorms to Yamaku’s red-brick schoolhouse seems almost like a dream compared to my current daily commute. Suit-clad businessmen and women clog the carriages, silent and black. The only thing that could make the scene more depressing would be a funeral dirge playing as they sway softly with the train. No matter how hard I try I can’t imagine myself being “one of them,” but I know that the day I join their ranks is fast approaching.
As if wanting to break free of the solemnity of the train ride, I rush to my first lecture, finding myself the first one there. I pick a seat towards the back of the middle section, and sit and watch as the room fills around me. It almost feels as like I’m watching it in stop-motion; the passage of time is warped as I spend time in my own head.
Just what the hell am I going to do with myself? Even in the last few weeks, as we hurtle headlong towards the mid-year exams, I’ve been slacking off. By the time I get through lectures, work, and the endless assignments there is barely enough time to eat and sleep, let alone study.
If only a few days a week contained that elusive 25th hour.
But I am not the only one in this position. Surely everyone else in this room has similar problems… right? Even if you factor in my additional time vampires; work, travel to and from our apartment…
The lecturer has been droning on for a good 15 minutes before I even acknowledge his presence. My mind is set squarely on one thing: securing another hour out of each and every day. After an eternity of meaningless transmission, the lecturer peers over his glasses, scanning the room for any final questions. I have already rammed all of my notes into my satchel and bolt like a gazelle when he clears his throat, signalling the end of the lecture.
A sudden frenetic mania has gripped me as I charge to the student accommodation office.
“Excuse me, but are there any dorm rooms left?” I pant. Sudden exertion still taxes my constitution, and even though the accommodation office is a scant hundred metres from the lecture hall I find myself short of breath by the time I reach the office window.
“Probably. By this time of year most people are looking to move out, not in…” the bookish woman behind the glass surveys me with curious eyes. I must look a sight… who on earth is this excited about getting a dorm room mid-year? As I am still panting, she concludes the conversation herself. “Let me check. Are you on a scholarship or anything like that?”
“I have a disability entitlement from Yamaku.” My words seem to trigger a light bulb in the administrator’s head, and I watch as her expression goes through the usual phases; first surprise, then understanding why I am standing before her, sweating like a gym-junkie, and then that faint tinge of shame for paying “too much attention” to me.
“Oh, right. I think we have a few of the discounted rooms available. When would you want to move in?”
“Is this Thursday okay?”
“Thursday?!” her eyes nearly double in size as she processes the surprise. “I… I guess. I thought you were thinking about next term, or at least over the holidays.”
“Nah, that would be too late. I want to get in now and save an hour of my life.” I know that without the proper explanation that there is no chance of her understanding, but I don’t care. I have only a scant half hour before my next lecture and I want this sorted out by then.
“Er, okay. Sure. Let me make a few calls. Can you put your details down here and I’ll email you if we find a room.”
“Thanks. I’ve gotta run…”
“You probably shouldn’t,” she said with genuine concern in her voice. Most of my embarrassment about my condition has faded with the years. Today, in particular, I don’t really care if some faceless stranger knows about me or not. Hell, I will probably get a room out of it.
Without the daily commute I should be able to squeeze an extra hour out of every day. Being a Yamaku alumni has some benefits as well; whilst we don’t get any direct scholarships we do get discounted rates on campus accommodation. With a little belt-tightening and the amount I’ll save on train fares, I should be able to pay for the dorm room and keep our flat. On weekends I’ll travel back and live with Hanako. But during the week I’ll hit the books, hard.
It’s only a small step, but it’s a step. Just like Lao-tzu said; a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.