"Why don't you read like you used to?"
"There's no deep reason. ... maybe, at some point, I just decided it was all in vain. On top of that ..."
"There's more to it yet?"
"Again, it's nothing profound. In my younger days, it was always awkward to be asked something and not have an answer - almost shameful. Lately, though, I've lost that feeling, and with it my drive to read up and stay current. In short, I'm old and decrepit."
Sensei spoke calmly. From this man who had turned his back on the world came no hint of bitterness. My reaction was accordingly muted. While I didn't view Sensei as old and decrepit, neither could I applaud his deportment. I took my leave.
From that day forward I toiled at my thesis like a man possessed, looking out on the world through bloodshot eyes. I approached my friends who'd graduated the year before to seek their advice. One of them told me how he'd rushed to the office in a rickshaw just prior to his deadline. Another told me how he'd nearly been rejected for delivering his thesis at fifteen minutes past five. Only by good graces of the department head was it accepted. I was still anxious, but I also felt emboldened. Day after day, I slaved away at my desk, testing my physical limits. If not at my desk, I was in the library, searching among the dimly-lit stacks. I scanned the gold-lettered bindings like a curio hunter let loose among ancient wares.
Plum blossoms appeared, and the cold north wind gradually shifted to a southern breeze. A short while later, talk of cherry blossoms caught my ear. Even so, I kept my eyes trained straight ahead like a cart horse, my thesis deadline forcing me on. Only after those final days of April, when I'd wrapped up my writing according to plan, did I again cross Sensei's threshold.