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  • Smriti Nambudiri

First/Last Day at Ashoka

You wake up from an abruptly interrupted sleep, punctured by uncertainty and the building anxiety that sits in your throat, threatening to hold you down to a mattress that is nothing like your bed at home. The pillow uncomfortably cushions your head, a headache building behind your eyes because this isn’t what you are used to. Somehow, you push yourself out of bed and start to get ready for your first-ever day of classes at university.

You wake up from an interrupted sleep, the thing that you had been avoiding thinking about finally bringing itself to the forefront of your mind, unable to be ignored. You roll over on the mattress that feels like your body’s second home. The pillow shifts under your weight, cradling your head as it has done for the past four years. You have a headache from the lack of sleep, a product of late-night conversations in dorm rooms. Somehow, you force yourself out of bed to get ready for your last-ever day of classes at Ashoka.

You spend far too much time in front of your open cupboard, fussing over what to wear. What you decide to wear feels more important than it probably is. It’s the first impression people will have of you, and you want to start it all off on the right foot. Somehow, you manage to piece together a passable outfit and you start packing your bag for the day, making sure you have everything you could need.

You spend more time than usual in front of your open cupboard, trying to gauge what to wear. Most of your A-game clothes are sitting in a laundry bag in the RH5 basement because you forgot to pick them up. For some reason, your outfit of the day still feels important, as if it's the last impression someone would have of you. Eventually, you manage to scrounge together a halfway-decent outfit, and pick up your already-packed bag.

You find yourself in the mess hall for breakfast, right in time for the pre-10:10 class breakfast rush. You manage to grab a dining plate and make your way to the breakfast counters. You actively scan the room for any familiar faces, in case the people you had met and had been hanging around with for the past 3-4 days were at breakfast like they said they would be. Eventually, you manage to catch their attention, and after getting your food, you make your way to them. Over slightly-less nervous conversations that leave no room for silence, you finish the food in front of you as quickly as you can before class begins.

You walk to the mess, having found the perfect time when the crowd comes to a lull between the people running to 10:10s and those coming back from 8:30s. You grab a dining plate and give the dishes a cursory glance, before deciding it’s another day of cereal and buttered toast. After taking your food, you find an empty table, pulling out your Kindle to get in your day’s reading. Only one of your friends even makes it for breakfast these days, and you don’t mind sitting alone. You’ve found a way to make that time productive, even if it took 3 and a half years for you to figure it out.

Classes go by in a blur. Every class you go to is packed to the brim, filled with awkward introductions, class activities to build rapport, and hordes of new people that are too overwhelming to talk to. You stick by the one person you know just a bit better than the others, a product of the last few days of lunches. You sit through professor after professor outlining the course, and the months, coming ahead. By the end, it starts sinking in. The amount of time you’ll be spending within these walls. You walk back to your room after a long day out, and sit at your desk, just taking it all in.

Classes go by far too fast. With the years crawling along at a snail’s pace, you were not ready for it all to be over in a blink. Every class was filled with goodbyes, of professors recounting stories and experiences shared over a semester. For the first time, you think of how it all began, with the introductions and the awkwardness, and you look around at the people you’ve now shared memories with. You’re next to your friend who has been there by your side since the beginning, as professor after professor bid farewell. In your last-ever class, it begins sinking in. All the time you have spent within these walls, how it pales in comparison to the time you will now spend away from it. How a short span of time has fundamentally changed everything. You walk back to your room and sit at your desk, trying not to take it all in.

You already have work set out for your next day of classes, but you don’t think you can do it right away. You stare out of your window, faced by another set of red bricks as you begin to wrap your head around your life for the next four years.

You have so much work for the end of the semester, but you can’t bring yourself to start any of it just yet. You stare out of your window at the open fields beyond Ashoka, as questions of the future start to swim through your mind. As the past four years begin to play out in your memories.

You feel a nervous excitement in your bones as you hear someone knock on your door, and your neighbour walks in to ask you how your day was. You talk about how the day went, how it feels like the start of something new.

You feel a bittersweet sensation down your throat, as your neighbour-turned-roommate walks into the room. You talk about your day, avoiding all mentions of how it feels like the end of something amazing.

As you go to bed after your first day of classes at Ashoka, you can’t help but think about the years to come, and how you have no idea what’s in store.

As you go to bed after your last day of classes at Ashoka, you can’t help but think about the years to come, and how you have no idea what’s in store.

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