Kwaku paused in front of the doors glass pane, assessing his clothes one last time before entering. The tailor had done a terrible job with his trousers length; It was cut too high, almost as if casually with scissors. With every step he took he felt it flutter against the space above his ankle, giving what to him felt like a caricatures effect. It was sad that it was all he had; Years of wearing jeans and tee-shirts, and, constantly missing church meant he was no longer part of his mother’s Sunday-best shopping list. This was going to be his life for the rest of the year: tight shirts and comically short trousers. His mind played a picture of a thousand students snickering as he walked in, faces grouted with constipated laughter, the class clown (and there was always one) making it a point to fall to the ground in an exaggerated amusement. He wondered what they would call him when it was all done.
Papa Butterfly, Shorty low, Pimpi-real?
He was still standing there when Mr. Clement came, the soles of his shoes clicking loudly on the pavement.
He followed behind the tall lecturer, desperately taking in the trail of authority the “veteran” left behind. He did not notice the gaunt in his step change to match Mr. Clements, but it did. They entered and all the students arose. He felt the stares and his legs wobbled, causing him to trip almost. Stylishly he turned it into a half jog.
With any other lecturer, the stage would have felt a reasonable proportion. Under Mr. Clements imposing figure, it seemingly recoiled into a far smaller size. He set a small bottle of water unto the podium and took out his round rimmed glasses, placing it neatly on the edge of his nose. With his head, he motioned Kwaku to sit down.
The class had fallen into a deathly silence, so that when Kwaku pulled a seat from the front row, slanting it to directly face Mr. Clements side, every squeak and scratch resounded off the walls.
Clearing his throat, Mr. Clement began the class, and Kwaku, his fidgeting. He felt a thousand eyes burning into his temple with every minute move he made. He tried opening his legs and easing into the chair, it felt too informal; he sat up and pretended he was scribbling down something, it felt too forced. He was in the middle of pulling his laptop out when he heard his name.
“Kwaku will be assisting me for the duration of the Semester. He graduated this year, which means he not so long ago sat in the very chairs you sit in, and he is doing his national service with me. It should be easier to relate with him then. Any questions, materials you need from me, pass it through him first.”
Slowly he turned his gaze towards the class, a sheepish smile on his face. The sudden belabor of eyeballs caught him by surprise, their faltering silence leaving a dry feeling in his throat. In a foiled attempt at escape, he unintentionally made eye contact with one of the female students and froze. In her eyes, he imagined an agitation of pupils. The kind right before a person’s eyelids closed shut in rapturous laughter. He saw mockery and then his short trousers, way up his shin now that he was sat up. A cold tingle descended down his spine, forcing him to swiftly turn to his desk. If only the ground would open up and swallow him.
The rest of the three-hour class was spent with his head bowed, scratching gibberish into the table. He had never felt so embarrassed. He knew the class had ended only because the students were all of a sudden all on their feet and shuffling out. He packed his books and joined Mr. Clement.
The tall lecturer stood on the podium still, his reading glasses hanging precariously.
“Mr. Kwaku, you are finally back with us”
Kwaku stared at him, bewildered.
“Yes, yes, you do not understand me. Five times I asked for your opinion, five times you stared at your desk like a buffoon.” Mr. Clement looked down at him through his tiny circular lenses, eyebrows furrowed.
“I imagine you feel like a fool. That’s punishment enough.”
Image credit: Shoe Shine Boy (film)