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Archive for November, 2006

He was not a very convincing teacher. He was fresh out of school and nervous as hell. The class could smell his fear but they chose not to be unkind. He was the first goodlooking male they had seen in years. What does it matter that he sometimes stammers, that his stare wavers, that he had this habit of nervously steepling his fingers together whenever he was asked a question he hesitates to answer? He was the only male teacher in that all-girls school who was not ugly, not married, and not nearing retirement age. They were willing to forgive him anything.

He was twenty. She was fourteen.

She liked him the first time she saw him. He was hooked the first time she opened her mouth. She tried very hard to catch his attention. He was always willing to give her attention. She baited and taunted. He was enthralled. She was not like any other fourteen-year-old he had come across. But that was the problem. She was fourteen. He was not like any man she had ever talked to. But he was not just any man; he was her English teacher.

They argued over Shakespeare. He idolizes him; she thinks he is boring. They talked of economics, space exploration, morality, the Victorian age, and sex. She liked being outspoken. He enjoyed being shocked.

The one time she missed class, he was worried. The next day, he went to their house and visited her in the hospital. She was taking care of her sick sister. She never saw him; he never told her.

He hated the way he felt about her. He became distant. She hated what she thought was absence of feeling on his part. She became insolent.

Then, one day, he told other teachers how he felt about her. They were aghast. He was their Golden Boy. They had great plans for him. They told him not to pay the student any attention. That girl has a long history of liking male teachers, they said. Do not pay any attention to that child. Do not take her seriously. You are just an infatuation to her.

He listened to them. He felt betrayed by what he heard. It hurt his pride, that he was being used by a child. And so one day, he simply stopped talking to her. He brushed her and her questions aside. He no longer wrote comments on her papers. He would not even answer the questions in her eyes. He became very critical of her work and frequently gave her a dressing down in front of her classmates.

She was baffled and hurt. She raged. She baited him even more in class. She wrote scathing essays. But he remained indifferent.

A year after, he got married. To a woman they both love. He asked her to his wedding. She showed up with the biggest smile in the world and a heavily banged up heart. She sat next to a teacher who gripped her hand. She was clenching and unclenching her fists; the teacher must have known how she felt as he walked down the aisle.

Ten years later, they meet again. Over Yahoo Messenger.

He was married. She was married.

“I’ve never been able to forget you.”

There was a lump in her throat as she answered, “My husband knows you, too.”

“We seem to be landmarks in each other’s lives.”

They laughed like old friends, close friends, scarred friends. She was 24. He was 31. For the first time in a long, long time, they could openly acknowledge what they were to each other, past and present. They talked about the things that transpired ten years back.

Sad and shaken at how much he could still move her, she tries her hand at humor. “The universe will always be funny that way. But I’m glad you are happy.”

“Yes, I am. But I will never stop wondering. What if?”

She smiled. He smiled. They let the question hang in the air. The universe is funny that way. Gravity brings even the lightest of leaves down to the ground. But it lets questions, achingly important questions, remain suspended in the air.
What if?

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