Some mornings I wake up groggy. Some times I linger in dreams. And some mornings I am pulled instantly from slumber by an urgent buzzing in my brain. Things to do today. No time for dawdling. Things to do.
Pajama clad, I pulled my computer onto my bed to put the finishing touches on my final essay for 20th Century Chinese Literature. Then I rolled out of bed, threw on some clothes, and headed out to my Japanese Final Exam.
The weather assaulted me as soon as I stepped outside. Something in the air, a thickness associated with the absence of rain, was giving me difficulties in breathing. I puffed on my inhaler as I waited for the bus. Constrained as I am by public transportation, I tend to arrive at my destination either ridiculously early or unacceptably late. With a Final Exam at stake, I chose the former, and arrived on campus over an hour before things would begin.
Trekking over the grounds in the muggy heat was less than desirable, and to my disappointment, though not surprise, I found the classroom locked when I arrived. Forehead dripping, I joined the other students camped out outside the room and began to frantically review my class notes.
Japanese has never been my strong point, despite my devotion to the culture. My teacher had warned me the week before that this Final Exam would be the deciding factor in whether or not I would pass the class. I have already failed Japanese 102 once. Failing it a second time would be an inexcusable failure.
The humid air surrounded me. Bugs flickered around my face. Nearby, a bird dug through the foliage, devouring insects. I tried to concentrate. Transitive verbs. Intransitive verbs. Honorific forms. I spoke and even sung out loud, trying to retain the foreign language in front of me. Finally the doors opened, and we all filed in. I ran into a fellow classmate. “How do you think you’ll do?” He asked. I just laughed nervously.
The classroom was actually a lecture hall, ascending in rows of arm-desked chairs. We were instructed to use staggered seating so that no one would be next to another. The lecture hall filled. The chatter rose steadily, then fell. The teachers (for they were all there, all sections) stood at the front of the class. They called for silence, cleared desks, phones off. The tests were passed out.
Eight pages long. We had two hours. I had two mechanical pencils and a thick white rectangular eraser. The first part was multiple choice. Nothing looked familiar. Was it all a trick? I circled one. The test went on. Some things I recognized, others were quite foreign. My mind was blessedly calm, but even in the air conditioned room my asthma was giving me troubles. I had my inhaler handy in my pocket. I didn’t want to be scolded for digging into my school bag when I just needed to breathe.
The reading and writing sections were last. My reading is stronger than my writing, but I was able to use parts of the reading to help me complete the writing. I double checked my paper then grabbed my bag and stumbled down the stairs to the front. There was my 101 teacher, smiling encouragingly, and my 102 teacher asking, “Daijoubu?” I smiled at them, turned in my exam, then walked out.
This was a strange door. I wasn’t entirely sure where I was, but already the adrenaline was starting to hit me. I was finished. Done! I had just completed my last exam of the semester, of the school year, and I was finished with school. Not finished, finished, certainly not. In less than a month’s time I will begin my study abroad. Yet for that moment I had reached the end of a long journey. I had worried so much about that Japanese exam but finally, here was freedom. I walked onward, nearly skipping, surely grinning, swinging my bags in my hands. I stopped into the bookstore to sell back my textbooks. The clerk accepted all but two, puling them all together and awarding me seven dollars and twenty five cents. Armed with my earnings, I went to lunch.