Strange encounter with my math teacher

If you’re a teacher and you’re reading this, yours is a noble job that should never go unappreciated.

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This week on Wednesday, I took a short break from work to run some errands I had been postponing against my better judgement, and with the deadline looming, I was in a race against time.

As I impatiently waited to cross the road, I spotted a familiar face across the road, and even though the last time I saw that face was over 20 years ago, I instantly recognised the person who was now looking at me quizzically, obviously wondering why I looked familiar.

In a moment of irrational terror, I contemplated diving into the nearest pothole to escape him but there wasn’t one around, (where are potholes when you need them?) and as my mind furiously tried to figure out another escape route, it occurred to me that I wasn’t a child anymore, I was an adult with my own things, thank you very much, and the person across the road need not fill me with such trepidation any more.

You see, that person on the other side was my math teacher in high school, and yes, you are right, I was no good at math, otherwise I would have been excited to meet him.

Every Monday to Friday for those four years, that man had tried to teach me what he knew about the subject but he never succeeded, and many years later, I was still embarrassed by this fact.

‘In spite of this you still made something of yourself, didn’t you?’ I consoled myself, even though I was still determined to evade my former teacher, who was still staring at me from across the road. For the life of me, I wondered what kind of conversation the two of us could have and I drew a blank, because our interactions back then had been limited to, “Njung’e, you still don’t understand what I am saying?” to which I would sheepishly mumble, “No teacher…”

He would groan with frustration and stamp my hair with chalk dust using the blackboard duster. That was his punishment when you didn’t know the answer. Do you now understand why I was ready to squeeze myself into a pothole? The cars on the other side stopped for the traffic lights, and as it so happened, my former teacher crossed, making a beeline towards me.

Without preamble, he growled, “I taught you.” Pray, why do teachers have such a long memory?

“Remind me your name,” he demanded. Obviously, teachers only remember those who performed well in their class. Also, they will still use their teacher voice with you even if you are on the verge of being called cucu or guka. “Caroline Njung’e…” I said in an involuntary whisper, feeling small.

“Yes… Njung’e…” he commented, finally placing me. “Did you finally get better at math?” he dared to ask, giving me a knowing look. After some hesitation, I said, “Well, not really…” to which he laughed out loud, clearly enjoying himself at my expense. At that moment, the urge to be cheeky was so strong, I almost told him, “Mwalimu wa math, huku ni wapi?” but I was taught to be respectful of my elders, so I bit my tongue and allowed him to laugh at me until he had his fill.

More than 20 years later and this gentleman had not aged a day, a factor that almost convinced me that teachers are vampires. I say this because all the ones that taught me and who I have come across over the years still look like they did back then, while their peers in other professions, (no offense) tend to look very much like their ages.

Anyway, if you’re a teacher and you’re reading this, yours is a noble job that should never go unappreciated.