It started out as a pretty good day. The sun was almost out when I left home, the metro was only threatening to fall apart right underneath me but eventually decided not to, and the soft, 220 km/h breeze that blew in the wind tunnel in front of the NET building only tried to blow me away three times, like some discounted Mary Poppins.
But none of that mattered because I had the most amazing thing waiting for me. The thing that made all those pesky little inconveniences worth it.
A lecture at 8 AM.
Nothing could ever beat that.
As a “perfect” student I was only seven and a half minutes late, but luckily the lecturer came even later so I had plenty of time to prepare for class – a notebook, pens in all sizes and colours, highlighters, correction fluid, coffee; all lined up in a neat order on my desk. Unfortunately, this nice composition meant that I couldn’t take notes because even the tiniest movement would have messed up my beautifully prepared still life and then my coffee would have showered the student sitting right in front of me. (He would have deserved it though, he only brought a pen and two pieces of paper to class, like he couldn’t even care less about this fantastic lecture.)
These desks and chairs weren’t made so that you could take notes anyway, they’re more about forcing you to sit at attention like some obedient soldier. But luckily, they’re uncomfortable enough that I could never fall asleep in them.
The lecturer started off his presentation with unparalleled enthusiasm. It was an astonishing lecture, only every fifth word was Latin, Greek or some abbreviation I never heard before. And he didn’t even show us slides of appalling pictures of different medical conditions, as if he wasn’t one of those professors who firmly believed that we never wanted (or needed) to eat again after his class anyway. Sometimes he’d get so carried away that he’d forget about the microphone in his hand but then he politely compensated by raising his voice. Then he’d notice the mic in his hand, and he’d start talking into it again. Unfortunately, he often forgot that he’d already raised his voice and made us all go deaf temporarily, but that lecture, it was worth it.
And then it happened.
The professor called our attention to the screen, saying that he was about to show us the most important slide of the entire lecture.
We fixed our eyes on the screen. I held my breath as I imagined all the fantastic things that could come next: unpronounceable words, Greek letters, maybe even a Gaussian function.
But what came next surpassed everything I could have ever expected.
A black and white square appeared on the screen. Those not worthy of understanding its supremacy might have dismissed it. They wouldn’t have felt its mesmerizing power.
But we knew exactly what it was. Over there, in such modest surroundings, as if it wasn’t some glorious entity, gleamed the QR code.
Reverent silence descended onto the lecture hall. Then we all reached for our bags, to dig out our phones (because no one ever used their phones in class ever, of course, so they were all buried deep in our bags). I unlocked my screen with shaky fingers. I ignored the 27 messages I got from Neptun since this morning (I did make a mental note to remember to sign up for the 250 badminton contest, obviously), opened my camera and aimed at the code.
My phone focused on a bald head first, somewhere five rows ahead of me. I moved a bit sideways. I managed to find a birthmark this time. I stopped for a moment, involuntarily, and pondered whether I can see any signs of malignancy in it. But then I managed to pull myself together and focus on the task ahead.
I could feel the weak dying away all around me. Their feeble calls for help, their desperately whispered excuses – ‘I don’t have a smartphone’, ‘I don’t have an internet connection’, ‘I don’t have a QR code reader’ – didn’t reach us.
My camera kept refusing to focus on the code. The students behind me probably had the same problem because some of them simply gave up and climbed on top of their desks. Pens and notes were flying all around us, but no one cared. The end justified the means. And what an end it was.
I had to keep changing my position to somehow avoid the army of determined students standing in the way between me and the glorious code. For a brief second, while I was hanging out of the chair at a 75-degree angle, with my arm all twisted and my deltoid muscle going slowly but definitely sore, I thought about how I could totally count this as my weekly self-admitted PE class. Getting that QR code could definitely be considered an extreme sport.
And then I finally succeeded. My camera focused on the desired code and the web address showed up on my screen. I touched the link, with my heart pounding and with happiness and pride swelling in my chest.
This code isn’t valid anymore, my screen said.
I sank back into my chair, crushed. From then on I just couldn’t focus on the lecture, no matter how hard I tried, because for the rest of the class all I could think about was how I was going to process that surreal, out of body experience, that I’m present in class but actually, not really.