Claire bit her lip as she walked slowly into her fourth-period class. She had forgotten to do the reading and short essay assigned the day before. The fluorescent lights on the classroom ceiling flickered with an off-white tinge. The rooms in her school had always felt a bit like jail cells, and Claire felt twice as trapped when she knew she was in trouble with a teacher. She wriggled anxiously as she settled into her seat, waiting for the arrival of the teacher and inevitable doom.
She watched in horror as the other girls, all clumped together on her side of the room, ceaselessly primped themselves in their compact mirrors and applied more and ever more lip gloss. Many of them had not yet learned the art of subtlety, and their faces were caked with makeup.
The boys on the other side seemed both transfixed and repulsed by the girls. They were stuck in a weak parody of a demilitarization zone, brought on by the onset of puberty and the last grasp of pre-pubescent boy culture. They could not acknowledge as a group that girls were interesting, despite the fact that the individual boys had all reached this conclusion.
None of this seemed to matter to Claire at the moment, however. It is not that Claire was a poor student– in fact, she was sometimes obsessed with her studies to a point that worried her parents. They would have been moved to intervene had she not also possessed excellent social skills. She certainly had plenty of friends both in and out of school. No, the reason she had forgotten to do her homework was the girl who came to visit her Social Studies class the day before.
Her name was Diana, and she was beautiful. A senior in highschool, her exotic dark complexion, smooth clear skin and long straight onyx-black hair made her the instant obsession of the boys of the class who were in the deepest circles of hormone overload hell. She had come from the local high-school to give a presentation on a diary written by a Japanese princess from over 1,000 years ago, Sei Shonagon. The Pillow Book.
At the bell's signal, the teacher introduced Diana, and she calmly began her presentation with a reading:
Words That Look Commonplace but That Become Impressive When Written in Chinese Characters:
A prickly water-lily
A Doctor of Literature
A Provisional Senior Steward in the Office of the Emperor's Household
Knotweed is a particularly striking example, since it is written with the characters for "tiger's stick." From the look on a tiger's face one would imagine that he could do without a stick.
Claire was utterly enthralled. Diana herself was half Japanese, and explained with care to the students that Japanese is a language written with characters, like Chinese. In fact, Japanese borrows one of its 3 "alphabets" from China. This borrowed alphabet is called "Kanji". She took some time to write a few of the words referenced on the chalkboard with the Chinese character version next to them.
The classroom was filled with rapt silence. (The boys hadn't heard the reading at all. They were too busy staring at Miss Diana. The girls were all wondering how she got her skin so clear and her hair so straight and shiny looking. They at least heard the part about the diary, or something.)
"Miss Diana," Claire raised her hand slowly,
"Yes, young lady?"
"Why doesn't she write about what's going on in her life like me and my friends do in our diaries?"
"She does, sometimes!" Diana laughed, "There's a several page long entry where she talks about having a battle with another princess to see whose servants can make the tallest snow mountain."
"Oh, so why does she also make lists?"
"Royalty didn't have a lot to do to keep them busy from day to day back in those days. I guess she made lists because they were a way for her to make the boring world around her a little more interesting. I think it's certainly interesting for us to read about, don't you?"
Claire's mind exploded with ideas and questions and the desire to find out everything she could about Japan and the beautiful writing on the chalkboard. A princess 1,000 years ago kept a diary! She was so wrapped up in her daydream, that she completely missed the teacher giving them their assignment for the evening. She only noticed she hadn't taken down her assignment when she went to do her homework later that evening.
Now, Claire anxiously hoped that perhaps the teacher would be sick today, or that she wouldn't call on her to share what she had written. But that was just the thing. The teacher always called on Claire because Claire always did her homework. She was doomed.
The bell rang just as Mrs. Salvador closed the door behind her.
"I almost didn't make it!" she said to the class with a wink.
"Claire, let's start with you. What did you you write about for your list in the style of Sei Shonagon?"
Claire's face turned several shades of red into purple as she dove into her backpack frantically looking for her diary and tried not to burst out laughing with relief.
Things That Remind Me of the Dark Night Sky:
Diana's long black hair
Our big grandfather clock in the living room
Opening my eyes under the covers
Turning out the last lights in the basement
Chocolate pudding with white sprinkles
The ceiling of the school auditorium during a play
My dog, Pitch's, fur
The Shenandoah Caverns
A field full of lightning bugs
She had accidentally done the assignment last night in her diary for fun. Mrs. Salvador seemed pleased, offered a few suggestions on how to improve her list to match Sei Shonagon's style, and moved on to the next student.