In another world I could’ve been a peacock.
The way I proudly strutted around, head cocked in a superior manner, eyes alight with the fact that people were blessed to have such a person in their midst. But unlike a peacock, I did not have ugly feet. It was an ugly mind, an ugly soul I had, but looking back, I realize I was ignorant of that then.
A well-known, 47 year old professor at the time, teaching in a prestigious university, I was sure the world could not have a better place for me; sure that the education I had received was ten times better than anyone else’s. Why wouldn’t it be, since the walls of my office were plastered with countless degrees and certificates, more degrees and certificates than the whole of the staff combined? All modesty aside, you could simply not meet a person more literate than I was.
The day started off monotonously enough, with me lecturing a bunch of senior year students. I was well halfway through my lecture when a student of mine walked in, flustered and apologizing. Tardiness always irritated me. Snapping at her to sit down, without listening to whatever excuse she was about to present, I continued with my lecture.
However, when she walked in late continuously for the next two days too, my thread of patience, already frayed, completely snapped and I made it clear to her that she would not be attending my classes again, and that it made no difference whatsoever to me that she’d have to repeat my subject next year.
If I’d cared to notice, I would’ve seen how her eyes dimmed at those words, how her shoulders had fallen in resignation, how she’d wanted to clear up her position but seeing that I was adamant, she’d simply left.
A week passed. This incident had long left my mind. But it was a Tuesday morning that caught me red-handed; I was late for my own lecture. Furious and panicking, I found I had to take the bus since taking my car would result in me getting stuck at the rush hour. Thus, it was with a crooked tie and flyaway hair that I found myself sitting at the back of a bus, a bus, I grumpily realized, I’d have to change twice.
Getting off at the first stop, I took a seat at the bus stop and waited moodily for the next bus. On my left were shops, already bustling with activity at this early hour. To my right, was a large open cathedral, except for the fact that it was no longer used as a cathedral, what with it’s stone walls faded and crumbling, and it was only pigeons who still visited this sorry excuse of a building.
Those cursed pigeons. I could hear them now, squawking or cooing or making whatever sounds a pigeon makes, no doubt, I thought, fighting over a piece of bread. Oh God. Why did He let creatures of such non intelligence roam the earth, not just creatures but humans too! Wasn’t it just supposed to be the ‘survival of the fittest’? Wasn’t it just supposed to be people like me, if there were any?
Fuming, these thoughts ricocheting across my mind, I was interrupted by voices from the cathedral. Turning my head, I saw two figures crouching on the floor of the cathedral, feeding the same pigeons I’d been ranting about. One of them was a girl probably in her early twenties, and she seemed to be guiding the other person’s hand as he fed the pigeons. On closer inspection, I made two discoveries. A) The man who was a beggar, was blind and B) The girl was the same student I had kicked out of my class.
I was completely taken aback. DId she not have to go to university? Could someone be that careless when it came to their education? Deciding to give her a piece of my mind, I walked up to her. She looked up as I approached, and her face instantly clouded with hesitation. She was no doubt remembering me as ‘the bully’ but that was what students did. It was us who had to teach them better,no?
”Good morning to you,Sir,” she said with obvious politeness,standing up. ”What brings you here?”
”It is certainly not a good morning,” I glared at her. ”And may I ask what brings you here? Why aren’t you in university? You’ve already been excluded from one class, does that make no difference to you?”
The blind beggar suddenly addressed the girl. ”If I’m not mistaken, this is the professor you told me about?”
The girls’ eyes darted anxiously towards me before she whispered a hurried ”Yes.”
”Well then Professor,” the beggar spoke. ” Hear me out before you go on arresting this girl.
Did you ask her why she walked in late in your class? Did she tell you she’d been missing the bus just to comfort a man over his recently lost sight? Did she tell you how she’d sit with me, describing how the blues of the sky mixed with the purples, how the pigeons would eagerly snap at the bread we were giving them? Did she tell you she’d been missing half of her class at university to help a blind man live and see again? And after all this, I wouldn’t say she needs a mere degree to state who she is.”
I don’t know which words exactly did the magic. I don’t know which ones left me gaping at him. But I found, for the first time in my life of answering and asking, of stating and arguing, i had nothing to say.
Because maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t my office wall that needed to be decorated with certificates. It was my soul that needed to be decorated with ornaments of kindness. Maybe it wasn’t degrees that should need to define us. Maybe a simple smile could do some of that defining instead.
And I think it’s safe to say, that I learnt more in those ten minutes than I had in all those years of my education.
About the Author:
Mustajab Farrukh is currently doing her O-levels. She lets loose her thoughts in the form of poetry,stories,debates and art. She looks forward to one day being recognized for her work.