(This is a short story that I wrote a while back)
The wait was unnerving. I was sitting in the cubicle for the past quarter of an hour, imagining the scenario that may unfold. I wish I had a bad habit, like nail biting or lip chewing, anything to pass the time. In times like these even habits betray you, and I had enough on my mind already. Footsteps sounded outside as someone pulled open the door moments later.
Professor Aaliyah entered, with her lips thin and frown stern, as she took her seat. She had a way to make you feel you did something wrong even when everything was right. Today, however, nothing was as it should have been and for the first time I felt her expression was justified.
“I have no idea what you want to do with your life,” she said in her crisp tone.
I stared down at my feet, unable to answer. My worst fear seems to have come true.
“You have been acting irresponsibly for such a long time that you have successfully jeopardized your future,” she continued, “I am afraid you have failed this course as well. You may as well say good bye to this degree because administration will soon be notifying you of expulsion.”
I continued to stare at my feet. I heard her take a deep breath, probably controlling her anger. I didn’t care anyway.
Silence hung in the air. There wasn’t anything for me to ask, I saw no reason to even stay in the seat listening to another lecture. I have always been well behaved with teachers though, and it would be rude to simply walk away so I stayed until she would dismiss me. As I wondered how long will it take her to ask me to leave, she spoke in milder tone.
“When you first came to my class, in your first semester, I had never experienced a livelier student than you. You were not like the usual top graders who were exceptionally skilled at memorizing books or begging for grades. You excelled at challenging the teachers, forcing us to raise our bar in order to teach you. What happened? Where did that boy go?”
“He just didn’t have much to do professor. He changed into what I am today” I said.
“No one simply changes, you weren’t one of those who were confused” she said irritably, “I used to dread teaching your class because your questions often made me doubt my own sanity and sometimes even education qualification. You reminded me of my own mentor who challenged my every concept and belief. I had great hopes for you.”
“Sorry!” It was all that I can mumble.
“Well, sorry won’t cut it. You decided to skip personal effort for good and ruin your marks in the process. Both are directly proportional young man, you have failed.” She said.
“My apologies professor, I don’t agree with your premise” I said without realizing what I was saying. My mind was suddenly racing, words coming out of my mouth as if my body decided to rebel against my mind.
There was a sudden silence in the cubicle. It must have caught her by surprise since I hadn’t said this sentence in last two years.
“Well then, let’s hear your theory. You believe personal efforts and gaining marks are not directly proportional?” She asked curiously, slight hint of amusement in her voice.
“On the contrary, I agree that they are proportional. I disagree that I failed”
I heard a thump as papers fell on table in front of me.
“Please tell me this transcript and the exams papers below with abysmal marks are not yours. Maybe someone else who looked like you failed here and we assumed it was you”
“I never said academics; your assumption was faulty professor”
“Please elaborate” she was clearly irritated. I couldn’t help but smile.
“University is a place of education and it isn’t just the courses that we study. We study life itself in a whole new way,” I began, not realizing myself what I was saying.
“When I came to this institution, I had no idea of my strengths and weaknesses; I didn’t know what to believe and what not to believe. I made new friends, experienced different type of education and felt more open-minded than ever. It was you, professor, who made me believe on one thing.”
“What’s that?” She inquired
“Yes professor, stories. You often told us stories in order to make us understand new concepts. Throughout my childhood I read so many stories, I have lost count. I never took them seriously, only something to amuse myself. When you taught us new concepts using those stories, not just my memory jogged with old uniting with the new, I was also reminded of the lessons I learned through them. I understood my strengths and, ultimately, my weaknesses.”
“I have read plenty to know what type of people have good character, sound judgment and kind heart. I always wanted to be good person, have ambitions and fulfill dreams. The only thing I was lacking … was understanding of my own self. When I came to this institution, I realized what I really am.”
“You only saw the boy who challenged his teachers; I saw the one who infuriates teachers enough that whole class suffers their wrath. So many times my classmates confronted me, blaming me for jeopardizing their grades that I had to control my habit. Eventually, I realized that I had plenty of ability to control myself and I began to use it frequently. My class took a sigh of relief, and I was happy for them.”
“I soon discovered that I had this shameless habit of bragging myself. I was so good at critical thinking and chess that I bragged about myself all the time, until one friend told me to control this unfortunate habit. Since I had learned to control, I did and I became more likeable person. My social circle took a sigh of relief, and I was happy for that.”
“For the first time in my life, I fell in love. I discovered, to my horror, that I had serious problems of extreme jealousy and possessiveness. I fought myself hard to control my weaknesses, to be more humane and a better person. I prayed to God to give me strength to get through it and help me in becoming a better person. When I had barely managed to take control, the girl got married and I was invited to her wedding. I never even got the chance to tell her and it was too late to confess, so I suffered through it all with a smile, all the while fighting the pain and anguish that were tearing me apart. I lived through hell and survived, controlling all my raging emotions and came out smiling. She was married now, and I was happy for her.”
“During last exams, I was constantly going back and forth between university and hospital. My grandfather was suffering from throat cancer and his frail health did not allow any heavy medication or operation that would save him. Destiny had chosen death for him, with or without help and we were left as helpless observers while death claimed him. All the money, facilities, medicines, relatives, business, friends, nothing could save him. We spent the previous two years watching him suffer and he left this world in pain, leaving us aware of how difficult it is to live. All the science around us and we couldn’t even lessen his pain for moments. My grandfather is now with his wife in the realms beyond humankind, and I am happy for the peace he must be in.”
“In this short time I have aged decades from inside. I feel like an old man who has seen life, faced every emotion and feel weight on his shoulders that he can’t shake off. Bunking classes, gossiping, backbiting teachers, making paper airplanes and attending seminars, worrying about exams and pop quizzes … they all seem so trivial now. I don’t feel like a 20 year old anymore. I feel like 60 year old man stuff inside a young body without my consent and forced to live through this life again as if being punished.”
“All these years at this institution, I have done nothing but put all my efforts in becoming a better person. I have done all in my power to control myself for the sake of others and their happiness. Isn’t that what a good person do? Live and let live? Make others happy? Sacrifice their own selves when needed? I have done all that and so much more that I can’t stop now. I have so much control on so many aspects of my life, it’s impossible for me to let it go.”
“I am unable to go back to my carefree life that I once so enjoyed. I am unable to be that boy who challenged PhDs and played exceptional Chess. Despite all my efforts, I cannot play Chess even remotely good as I used to, because I feel my old habits of bragging will resurface stronger than ever.”
“I have successfully throttled myself, my abilities and qualities, all for the sake of others and now I cannot undo that. I believe my personal effort is much more than the rest of my class put together, but obviously this effort will not reflect good marks on the transcript.”
“Therefore professor, I disagree with your theory. I have neither failed nor succeeded because my extreme personal efforts bore results in both categories. I have successfully flattened my jealousy, anger, rage, possessiveness, self-bragging and pitiful aspects and in doing so faced pain and anguish, which I successfully survived. I sacrificed my free-mindedness, boldness and carefree nature in order to be a better person. As a student, I became a failure.”
“I don’t know if I would do the same all over again if given the chance to re-live my life. A failure in studies may find life better in other ways and probably live happily, but an excellent student with other failures of life may not be lucky enough to live happily. Since I unknowingly made a choice, I will have to live with it.”
There was stunned silence in the cubicle as Professor Aaliyah looked at me with wide eyes. I had not spoken so many words philosophically to anyone in quite some time. All the liveliness I just felt, after such a long time, began to ebb away and I was slipping back into that defeated person I have been lately.
It was good that no one else was in the staff room. Realizing what I have just shared, it would have been awkward if someone was trying peer into the cubicle or eavesdropping right outside. Still, I felt too exposed after sharing so much that has gone these past years. I had the urge to simply run away. So what if it’s rude? I would be expelled in any case and maybe I would be justified as well since I can blame my behavior to being upset over news.
Before I could have moved, professor took an audible breath and said.
“I really did not know you went through so much these past years. Living for others is a quality which is hard to find and rare to see at such extreme. But letting it take over you at the expense of your education, it only leads to destruction. I would ask you to look past your barriers and see what you are missing as a result of your helplessness to take stronger stance for yourself.”
All of a sudden the energy began to race back into me, my mind becoming clearer like before.
“Look past my barrier to see what I am missing? You mean graduate with a business degree, get a job, get married, have kids and live happily ever after?”
“It is not always such a fairytale but yes, in essence it is somewhat same,” she mused.
“Then maybe I am not missing much. Through research it has been proven that business students learn the least compared with all other undergrad and grad level programs. They have little to do with research; none of the courses have depth, have something of everything but stand with nothing. In these times of recession, when already jobs are scarce and competition is tough, the right way to survive is to be an entrepreneur and every institution just teaches one course of it. So far there is not a single BBA or MBA program for entrepreneurship in the entire country despite the fact that our urban society is entrepreneurial in nature. What sorts of life will I be missing when after graduation I will be struggling like every other run-of-the-mill graduate running around looking for a job with certificates and degrees in hand?”
Silence met my question though it was different than before. I could see a spark in professor’s eyes, indicating she saw more than I could guess. The energy was still there and I wanted to make full use of it, and so I waited for her response.
“Caught up, have you?” she asked.
Words got stuck in my throat. Of all the responses I had pictured and prepared counter for, none came close to this.
“Sorry professor, I didn’t understand you.” I said.
She kept on looking at me, a small smile playing on her face. Nervousness began creeping upon me. I just hoped the awareness I had due to that unknown energy would stay a bit longer.
“Of all the thousands of students that have graduated, from this institution and others, none ever questioned this simple fact that our education is so disconnected with reality. What you learn, particularly in business institutions, is little in the way to prepare you for practical life. It’s a utopia until you wake with a graduation degree in hand and rushing after the same companies’ graduates from all institutions run after. There are very few who find their true calling and realize the path they have taken may not be as green as they were led to believe” she said calmly.
“You believe I found my true calling?” I asked
“Experiences change a person, often dramatically. What you went through is a proof of it. When you came to this institution, you were suited to this program and its run-of-the-mill-graduates production line. It seems your experiences have taught you how different you are and what you really could be, therefore this program is no longer suitable for you”
I chewed on this information for a while, my mind working at overdrive. She sat there, no longer the stern looking professor I had encountered but an influential guide and mentor that I never believed she could be. I looked at her and she smiled.
“You came to a decision?” she asked.
“Yes” I replied.
“What will you do now?” she inquired.
I stood up and swung my bag on shoulder. With my eyes closed, I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Big decisions do cost you heavily in spirit first .. and surviving the initial pain is most important for future successes.
“If selflessness is my quality and helping others is my calling, then business is not destiny. Starting tomorrow I will transfer to Social Sciences program, if the administration is willing to accept me at all. If not, I will try other institutions. I will be of more help to society than join the ever growing crowd of money makers.”
“I might be able to convince the management, they do take faculty recommendations seriously,” she said.
“That would be more than enough help for me. I will try not to be disappointing as I have been,” I said with smile.
“I am sure you will be much better when you are in your element,” she replied in kind.
I nodded and thanked her before leaving the cubicle. After such a long time I felt my spirits lifted and life back in my old self. I no longer felt like a grim old man stuffed in a young body anymore but a person who was aware of his life and was ready to shape his destiny.
I smiled, not just at the knowledge of what I will be doing but also to the fact that the unknown energy was still with me and my awareness was getting stronger. Somehow, I knew that it will remain with me and aid me in my endeavors. With this certainty, I pushed the door open and entered back into world with new hope and determination.