Shadows. Shadows call my name. When I was learning Spanish at JNU, I used to sit all alone most of the time on the last bench, unnoticed by the lecturer and my classmates until….?

She was a beautiful, young woman in her early twenties. She was doing her Ph.D. from JNU in Spanish language and doubling as a lecturer in the evening. She taught us Spanish in the part-time course that we had joined at the famous University.

And, we, her students, were a motley crowd of office goers. We were in our twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties.

Everyone was trying to impress her i.e. with his wisdom and knowledge or what have you. She was having none of it.

She wouldn’t even acknowledge your greetings if you found yourself in a lift with her. She would turn her face to the other side, boys had told.

This used to bug me.

I thought she shouldn’t have assumed that we would be all interested in her just because we were men and she was young and beautiful. Did we have no choice or say in the matter? Did we not have our own likes and dislikes? I waited for a chance to get even with her.

It came during Spanish conversation class. She said each student would ask another sitting beside him or her a question. He would answer and then proceed to ask another. This would go on from the first bench to the last where I sat with some late-comers.

A day scholar was sitting next to me on the last bench.

“What’s your question going to be?” she asked. She wanted to have her answer ready when her turn would come up.

“Es la maestra hermosa,(Is the teacher beautiful),” I replied. She didn’t quite understand what I had asked her. I had skipped a few chapters of my Spanish textbook to locate a word for beautiful in Spanish. I had to explain its meaning to her.

“No,” she said

I didn’t quite understand her

“I’ll say no.” she said.

I didn’t want to let her embarrass the young, rookie Lecturer. I decided to give the question a go by.

When it was finally her turn, she asked me, “Senor, esta muy cansado?” (“Are you tired, mister?”)

I have always looked tired and weary of life

“No, Yo estoy muy enfermo,’ (No, I am very sick,”) I said and flopped down on the bench almost like a sick child.

The young scholar picked up a notebook and started fanning me as if on cue.

When the uproar died down, I sat up straight once again.

The young Spanish language lecturer and I looked at one another over the heads of the other students.

“Now, it is your turn to ask,” she said.

“I just asked,” I said trying get out of it. I had not been able to come with a fresh question.

“No, “ she said. “You answered, now it is your turn. Ask another student.”

I realized there was no way of getting out of it in the face of her. strong determination I felt embarrassed and shy. All eyes were on. me I fell back on the old question to get out of the situation.

“Es la maestro hermosa?“ I asked a man next to me.

The young Spanish lecturer froze immediately. The class clamoured to know from her what the question was. A couple even rushed up to her. In the din, the man’s answer got lost.

“Miss, ma’am, madam, senorita and with whatever word they could think of to address her, they did to catch her attention. I am sure many had not even understood the meaning of the word hermosa. They just felt I had been naughty and were jumping in to take advantage of it.
She caught on to their ignorance.

“Repeat the question, please,” she said.

I did as told.

When the class ended, she hurried out of it. By the time, everyone had got to know what I had been up to. A few men back slapped me. Some even went to the extent of saying I seemed a seasoned operator in the game.

Was I?

I don’t know. I only know that after that I never got the opportunity to sit alone on the last bench. From being another face in the class, I had become quite popular in it. There were always a couple of people sitting next to me in class hoping to join me in my fun and games.

As for her, I remember she always used to walk up to me after that and greet me (Que pasa, Como esta usted, Senor? and what not) and ask me how I was if we ran into one another on the campus or outside the class when she found me hanging out with some classmates.

And, boy, did some men want to be in my shoes? I don’t know. Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. I did not like the attention I got.
I wonder if she was buying peace with me. I never troubled her after that one incident..

Shadows. Shadows call my name. When I was young….?