Jude followed the girl across the plaza, along several walkways and down a hill to an old style brick building. A sign on the wall read “Brill – Mieszkanie dla studenta” and underneath the helpful Standard English translation – “student housing”. A plaque noted that this halls of residence had been named for one Yvonne Madalaine Brill, the Canadian scientist best known for her work on rocket propulsion.
“I’m so proud to be housed here,” Alta remarked. “She’s one of my heroes.” Jude did not disclose that she had never heard of the woman but made a mental note to read up on her once she was settled in. They took the lift, crammed in with other young and eager people, to the fifth floor then squeezed and excused themselves out. Another helpful sign read opposite the lift read “70-75” with an arrow pointing east. “This way,” chirruped Alta, bouncing along.
Room 75 was a typical twin student room. There were two each of single beds, chests of drawers, desks, chairs plus a large wardrobe and a couch. The walls had shelves for books. The large window, between the beds, looked out onto the tree-lined avenue from which they had entered. The room was clean and bright and smelled faintly of lemon cleaning products.
“Which one do you want?” Alta said to Jude.
“Side, bed. Do you mind if I take the left?”
“No, not at all.” Her young room-mate took off her jacket, neatly laid it on her chair and sat on her bed, testing its springs. “Not bad” she remarked. “Not bad at all.”
Jude made her way over to her side. She too removed her outer layer and, in deference to her co-habitant, hung it on a peg on the door. She sat down on the small couch and watched Alta unpack. Their belongings had been transported ahead and delivered to their rooms. Jude didn’t have much, just a large holdall and a rucksack, plus her own shoulder bag. Alta seemed to have packed for an intergalactic cruise, with three large flight cases, two bags and several boxes. She was methodically emptying each in turn, placing clothes in drawers, shoes and boots in the wardrobe and books and knick-knacks on the shelves. She unrolled a vacuum-sealed bag and from that produced then fluffed up a bright rainbow dyed quilt and matching pillows. The last thing she produced was a cylindrical tube from which she took a large poster that she fastened above her bed. It was of some scruffy looking group of young men, looking moodily out at them.
Alta must have noticed Jude looking at her wall decoration. “Envision The Alamo.”
“Only the greatest band in the world. I’ve seen them live five times.”
“Right,” Jude said. “Never really heard their music.” Although she had a sneaking suspicion that she soon would. A lot.
“Don’t you have a favourite band?” Alta asked her.
“Aren’t you going to unpack?” Alta was bobbing around, already re-arranging her hoard.
“I’ll get round to it, don’t you worry.” Jude was one of these people who could live out of one bag, never truly unpacking. A remnant from her days on the move, no doubt. Still, all being well, this would be her home for the next three months – the most sustained period she had been anywhere in a very long time.
“Alta, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No. Ask away.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m seventeen. And you?”
“Twenty four.” But Jude felt so very much older.
She felt positively prehistoric by the time Alta had dragged her around the campus. Once she had her side of the room just perfect, Alta had persuaded Jude to accompany her on a walk around the Institute. They went back to the main building to pick up their class schedules.
“Ooh, fantastic,” cooed Alta, once she had hers uploaded to her pad. “Doctor Levarr for thermodynamics– he’s meant to be the best. And look. Professor Doohan for engineering skills – she’s said to be the best.”
Jude had never heard of these people but she nodded in agreement. One word on her timetable made her shudder – Mathematics. Alta must have noticed the expression of gloom and doom on Jude’s face.
“Maths? No worries – I was top in my year. I’ll help you, if you like.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate that.” Jude had never had any formal education to speak of, never mind basic course in maths. “Is there anywhere round here we can get a drink?” She scanned around.
Alta pointed to a sign – “Kawa.”
To Jude’s disappointment, this meant a coffee house, not as she had dearly hoped, somewhere that sold strong liquor. Inside, it was crammed with new students, all chattering away in a host of languages. Alta spotted someone she knew, waved in a gleefully exaggerated fashion then pulled Jude along with her over to a booth in the far corner. A young man stood up and he hugged Alta. As they broke from their embrace, Alta made introductions. “Jude, this is Miro Zamka. He and I graduated from high school together. He’s from Łódź, like me.” Miro shook Jude’s hand.
“Jude’s my room-mate. She’s from…” Alta hesitated and blushed slightly, realising that she hadn’t even asked.
“I’m from all over the place. But mostly from T-City.” The young Poles looked puzzled. “Tokyo.”
“Of course.” Miro gestured to the figure still sitting in the booth. “And this is my roomie, Mo Banza.”
Miro sat back down beside the fellow who had his nose in his pad, who barely acknowledged them and Alta and Jude squeezes in opposite them.
A youthful server came over to take their order. Alta scanned the menu and asked for two caramel Inkas for her and Miro. Mo requested a black coffee. Jude puzzled over the mix of Polish and Standard choices. Then she saw a word that looked familiar.
“Wodka. A large one.”
The next morning Jude was awoken by a loud buzzing. She cracked open one crusty eyelid. How many wodkas had she had? Two? Four?
Alta bounced, as she seemed to everywhere, into their room, slamming (or at least it sounded like slamming) the door to their room.
“Ouch” Jude groaned, as she sat up.
“Never had Bison Grass before?” her room-mate grinned. “Anyway, you had better get a shift on. Our first class is in twenty minutes.”
Eighteen minutes later, Jude and Alta were sitting in a lecture theatre in the main building of the Institute. Jude had wanted to sit near the back to nurse her vodka hangover but Alta insisted finding two places down at the front. The classroom was full of around forty students, the majority of whom to Jude’s bleary eyes, seemed to be as young and fresh-faced as those she had met thus far. She felt very, very old and decrepit, the after effects of the previous night’s excesses notwithstanding. Alta spied Miro and Mo across the room and did that over exuberant wave that these more sprightly types were wont to do. A hush descended over the room. In walked Professor Doohan.
“Good morning. Let us begin.”
The smart board behind her flashed up the words “An Introduction to Statics.”
The smartly dressed don looked around the room and her gaze fell on Jude. Her steely eyes flitted to her pad then back to our dehydrated and sleepy heroine.
“Ah, Miss Sadako. Perhaps you can begin by telling us about Newton’s first law of motion.”
Next was another lecture with Doctor Levarr on thermodynamics. Jude hid up at the back this time, even though she had managed to mangle her way through how an object either is at rest or moves at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force. She needed coffee, lots of it and painkillers. That would be her next stop after this class, then off to the library for some study. And maybe a nap. The more jocular Levarr began his talk.
“Now, who has heard of Maxwell’s Demon?” he prompted. Jude resisted the temptation to tell him that it was currently drilling a hole in her skull.
Several hot dark coffees and sweet sticky pastries later, plus a handful of analgesics, Jude was back in her room. The library seemed one step too far at the moment with her head pounding. Anyway, she was going to a study group after dinner with Alta and Miro. Before she settled down under her thin coverlet – she made another mental note to travel in to Suwalki town this week to pick up some home comforts – her pad pinged with a message. Jude debated whether to leave it til after she had had some shut-eye. But her curiosity won out over her self-inflicted malaise.
“Hi Sadsack.” Hennessey, she grumbled, it would be you. “How’s my favourite sexy mature student doing on her first day? Sending you lots of love and luck and looking forward to seeing you at Winterfest. Your pal, Hennessey. Kiss kiss.” Always Hennessey, never Shawn. Jude smiled, and closed her eyes.