PROFESSOR, IN THE FACE OF DEATH

Submitted for Contest #5 in response to: Write a story about someone who finds life meaning in an unexpected place.... view prompt

1 comment

Submitted on 08/30/2019

Categories: General

A shred of pain was jutting out, but I managed to tuck it in below my shirt collar. I had put on a coat, fit enough to conceal my emaciated body. I clench my hands hard against each other, so the white of my hands would not show too much. My smart mind decrees a laughter, but it withers away before it reaches my lips. Some even dread touching me, because death is hard to touch, and I reek of death. I wonder whether this is the picture to survive me or just a frame that is going to be latched onto my center. I take a closer look at the walls, the faculty, its early-morning winter aura, the 7:30 class. For years, I saw the same picture through the window frames_ cars lining up on the one side and the power faculty and seismology center on the other. This time it makes a marked difference. Maybe this is the last look I take of images seen a thousand times before. Perhaps this time I feel more greedy for the same images I had seen thousands of times before while teaching at the board, greedy to walk up and down the long college corridors which have now grown dim, and I am taking my last steps through the hallways soon coming to an end, and see the faces of students most of whom obviously know me, and few of whom I accredit myself for knowing. I can read it from their eyes silently yelling that the doctor is a goner. What a pity! He was so erudite. See what the disease done with this guy. They seemed to shout the reveille of my death long before the death angel did. They were all ready for my passing but me…

They are taking me towards the elevator, but I insist on taking the stairs. This might as well be my pilgrimage. Every step I take down I backtrack a step I have taken forward in my life and get back to square one. The moment I knew I had a distance to cover, I realized I had no time to review memories. But memories intrude without asking permission. Playing in the backyard of my childhood house, of which I have no clear memory, the spacious L-shaped drawing-room, the trips to granny’s house with the mustachioed picture of his youth on the wall, the vine tree in the yard whose leaves had covered the whole ceiling, the water well in the porch, the cool breezy rooftop, the annual trips to my fatherland and the bittersweet memories that haunted me climbing down the stairs. All along these years, I grappled with bad dreams of death, but now that death was a little way off, I was overcome with an uncanny feeling. I was always ready and comfortable with the thought of death, at times even agitated, but at that moment it was none of these. Everything happens once, and you know those are your last looks. A few moments afterwards darkness will enshroud all, and you open your eyes to what? At long last we reached the ground floor, and I was still alive. A friend drove up to the front door of the faculty and I got on. Passing by the college gate, I turned around and squinted at the gate and the logo. We passed through bustling downtown streets, which reminded me of the long walks of the days I was in love, and finally entered streets jam-packed with traffic that I hated so much before, but now I reveled in the languor and sluggishness as if the pollution was a sick joke, compared to my pains. The only times I did not hate traffic were the times when I sat beside my beloved in the taxi, giving us a chance to see each other better. The past 30/40 years of my life vanished in the flash of an eye. There is no telling when I draw my last breath, but it feels no good when you await your death. It enfeebles and intimidates you. I wish I would face death bravely and by surprise so I could dare and ridicule death. Getting home I went upstairs as usual to face the blessing of the chrysanthemums which were not as old as me. The sun was just about to set and I was gazing at the distance where it was setting. Good for the sun, I thought. Because it was rising elsewhere. Maybe I could also rise elsewhere hereabouts or faraway the moment I set. There was the doorbell, and I did not know who it was. Looking through the cam, I saw a lovely young man, a bit bulky in a brown coat. I thought he said “hi, prof”, but I was so carried away watching his familiar face that I never heard what he said. Hard as I tried I could not place him. I heard him say, “Could I take your time for a few minutes, sir?” Opening the door I said” c’mon upstairs”. Seating myself in a chair on the porch, I felt a hand touching my feeble shoulders. I asked him to take a seat, but he wouldn’t, reasoning that I had taught them standing for so many years and asked to be allowed to stay standing. Suit yourself, I said. He asked me if I recognized him which I didn’t, though he looked familiar. Then he said he had been a student of mine 15 years ago. Incredible, how did you find me? He said an old classmate of his had come to tape me in my home the other day and led him over to my place. I asked why he did such a thing and he said” you know, my classmate knew all about me…let’s forget it”. I said “a man to whom every moment is one last chance, even important news is irrelevant, but I’m curious to know why he gave you my address.” He said it was all about the past, and that bygones are bygones, and asked after my health. I said “there is no past, since for me all is past. Please tell me what brought you here?” Shame rippled across his face, breaking the ice. He opened up and said “if you remember the semester I was in your class, I had done a little poorly on my midterm, I pleaded with you that my life was getting messed up and out of control and asked you not to take my midterm score into account and give me another chance, you were unhappy with my truancy and my average grades were low. There was a chance I would get expelled from college and all…” When he finished I thought his face was beginning to ring a bell somewhere vaguely. I thought it was the last day I saw him on the premises of the college. Reminding him that the past was past and asking what he was busy with then, he said “ I dropped out of college but found my proper way of life in a SPECIAL line of work which means he cared for people on their deathbed to help them pass the final days of their lives more hopefully. I thought it was weird and interesting. But what hope can you give a moribund man? He said when people feel the putrid stench of death around them they are in more need of company. I told him it was me who changed his life by refusing to let him through and asked him if it was a bad turn in his opinion. He said everything that happens happens for a reason and is best for us, but whether you did me a good or bad turn is another question. He said he thought it struck him hard but that made him prevent harder strokes to other people. I said “so you are on your rounds here to look after me. What do we do now?” “Allow me to leave now and come back tomorrow to visit a few places” he said.

  The following day he came after me at nine. He asked “where do you want to go?” and I said “nowhere in particular. Go wherever you please.” Without saying anything he headed for the south. We were in a freeway out of town. “Where the hell are you taking me?” He answered “I’ll take you someplace nice.” It turned out to be the southern cemetery of the town. I said it’s a little early to be here. “ Is that how you help dying people restore hope?” he said “ just wait a while, sir” and took me to a spot where he showed me his father’s grave with his name on the tombstone and said “ you remember the day I said something’s come up and I blew my midterm exam” I said “ you said this yesterday too.” He said “my dad was a war invalid suffering from blood cancer. He passed away in those days.” I looked away and said “what a familiar disease, my disease” I walked through the graves for half an hour. The graves look like the closest thing in the world at my age. Let’s go to the tower. We went to the tower and started watching from the highest vantage point a town in which I had spent the most days of my life and watched the whole city. What did I go through to build this one tower? And now I’m a few hundred meters underneath the ground where I’ll finally find rest.  For one solid hour I looked at the farthest places of the town before giving up. It was noontime when he said “what’s the game plan?” Drive me to the faculty. I called the dean and asked that he should put together a seminar or something I got a few things to talk about. They said it couldn’t be coordinated now, but the next week would be fine to fix. I said I was pressed for time and made them do it then. When we entered the premises of the faculty I found it more crowded than usual. I thought I’d never see this place again. Some of the faculty members were there at the reception and the place was all booked up for my lecture. After a short rest my friends accompanied me for my postprandial lecture in the auditorium. The place was all packed and I thought it was perhaps because of my deteriorating health. I was summoned to take the floor and I climbed up the stairs very slowly. Taking the podium, I glanced at the audience. There were some of the instructors, the deathbed boy and several students, some of whom I had never seen before, and I so started: “In the name of He who is the first and the last. I like to call this lecture “my last lecture”. Today I have a hard time standing here to tell you hard what I should. You all probably know that death is a little way off for me. Though some of you may not know how close it can be. When you get too close you doubt everything, according to which you lived. Then is the time for breaking principles that have debilitated rather than empowered you. Today I realized that sometimes what you deemed as reasonable and insist on for years produce waves and aftershocks just like a tsunami that turns a placid beach into a destructive hell. Today I stand here to admit that I have done some of my students wrong. Today I had the chance to look at myself through the eyes of those wronged by me and detested myself. I swear today in the face of death that I had never taught this virtue to any of my students. I was apprenticing under an old student for one day and learned what I needed to learn before my departure. I solved a lot of problems and complexities for my students but seldom did I believe their problems for one moment. This is the finish line, the only line of all the lines I have ever drawn in my life. We are all destined to pass but not to be forgotten. I apologize to those offended by my ignorance and all those whom I loved so much and could not prove this despite all the problems and corollaries, and seek their forgiveness. I seek God’s forgiveness for all those times somebody in distress deferred to me and I treated them nonchalantly and categorically. I recommend you to forego all the delusions you have made up for yourselves whose authenticity vanish before the last lecture of your life. Do not play God to others. These are my last days to speculate the question whether the rule of law is in the service of morality or morality for the better exercise of law. I now suspect all the rules since most of them have not been moral. I had laid down laws for myself most of which did not proliferate morality. I guess they achieved justice but I wonder if that kind of justice was up to me. Let us all contemplate before mulling over irrelevant and useless sciences and improvements that render our world modern and our souls hollowed out. I do not remember what happened next but the last picture I still harbor in mind is the tears in the eyes of my fellow teachers…”


You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Mohammad Hadi
12:11 Sep 10, 2019

This story is inspired by the last days of Dr. Golafshani's life, Professor of the Faculty of Civil Engineering, Sharif University of Technology-Tehran-Iran

Reply

Show 0 replies