“Come up here and say something that will hold our attention for at least five minutes,” she says then trimly moves to the side.
Without much thought, I walk up to the front, pace left to right, swing my hands back, and turn around to face them.
At least thirty pairs of eyes look up at me as I inwardly count to ease my nerves. I like to count – in English and Nyanja, every time I get in front of people.
One.. Two.. Three.. Kamodzi.. Tubili.. Tutatu..
Three.. Two.. One.. Tutatu.. Tubili.. Kamozi
Three is my ironic favourite number. My father died when I was three, Christ was denied three times, Brazil, my much-loved soccer team, lost by three goals to France in that 1998 soccer final, and of course death comes in threes.
But I digress
..Three.. Two.. One.. Tutatu.. Tubili.. Kamozi
“Beauty looks herself in the mirror and says ‘Damn, you’re ugly,’” I begin and a few chuckles sound in the room.
“Life looks at her and says, ‘finally she knows.’”
No more chuckles, just dead uncomprehending eyes stare at me now.
“And so Beauty falls to her knees and begins to cry as Life walks away laughing. Now that ladies and gentleman is the Beauty of Life.”
She’s the only one smiling. Her eyes intently set on me.
“Thank you,” I say and quickly attempt to return to my seat but-
“No, no, no, wait. I need more,” she gestures with her hand for me to stay put, “I am looking for structure and how you put sentences together. With what you’ve said it’s difficult to pick out mistakes or errors you need to work on because it is already organised, do you understand?”
Oh well I am stuck here in front of the class a little longer than I hoped. Honestly, it is uncomfortable. It might not be evident but I hate attention; I know that’s ironic considering I effortlessly recite poetry back home.
But, this is different. There I expect particular reactions beforehand because I know my audience really well. Here however are many intelligent and diverse people I have no idea how they’ll react.
Long story short I tell them I am a writer of short stories, poetry and other unclassified things.
It wasn’t enough for her but still she allowed me to go back to my seat.
Our relationship started from there. It was at that point that we begun an eyes game that lasted for weeks. I would catch her looking at me and I would make faces towards her. It was from that point every time she looked at me I would stare back as if to say I-didn’t-say-anything. She, in turn, would shrug and gently tilt her head just a little bit as if to say I-know-you-didn’t-say-anything.
Exactly a day before that whole speak and hold our attention for five minutes business, I had watched her in the other room. Strands of grey hairs on her head distinguishing her as the oldest person in there, but, definitely not the least vibrant or energetic.
I have always considered myself extremely alert and observant, an excellent judge of character. So I noticed that all she did was simply look around and say very little that day. But I liked her right away.
The first thing that caught my attention was her voice and the clarity of her words. The way she simply smiled and observed people in that room as introductions went round I instantly knew I loved her.
I easily resonated with her strong yet aloof demeanour. It was clear she was a private person. It was clear to me she was reserved; the type of person who did not walk but glide when she moved.
I imagined her that very first day as the type of person who would on a one way path, stop and stand aside to give you way to pass so she would thereafter freely and serenely walk alone on it.
I am also like that.
By the second or third day I could feel that she too had figured me out. Not entirely though because I could tell that I fascinated her, she was curious about me. Obviously there was something she was seeing in me which didn’t seem to play well with her.
One particular day, as I entered the room with somebody behind me, I stood on the side and held the door for them to walk in before I gently closed it shut. Then as I headed to my seat I graciously smiled and made a delicate bowing gesture towards her.
She’d placed her right hand in the middle of her book so as not to lose the page and asked me “are you genuinely this polite or is this just for show?”
In response, I had simply extended my smile to her.
“Ok,” she said as if catching herself, telling herself not to have bothered to ask.
To me, weird as I am, and the fact that I love to interpret people’s words and behaviours, her question communicated two things. Either I puzzled her or she resonated with me too.
I know she loved all of us. I could never even bring myself to admit it to the others when they said I was her favourite. It was clear. She loved me differently.
She loved seeing me standing there talking. I have to admit I enjoyed having her there listening to me talk. I would say something witty and only her voice in the room would be heard; only she got the joke.
She was like a mind reader. She could express my thoughts even without me saying them. I remember when we returned from our tours she asked me “What did you enjoy about the trip?”
“I enjoyed nothing at all,” I said and she gave me a discerning look that showed me that she knew and understood right away I didn’t want to talk about my trip.
She was psychic like that. I relied on her to understand everything I said. She also relied on me sometimes to tell them what she meant.
Even though our relationship was that of a trainer and student, it was still one based on mutual respect, courtesy, and admiration.
I miss her, and everyday I think about her. I learnt so much from her and I am proud to have been taught and trained by her. She is by far the most patient person I have ever met. I hope to meet her again one day.
(My Intellect’s Loud And Noisy-MILAN)