Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Fall*

Bader secretly prided himself for being one of the recognized students in his English class. He was known to have near perfect verbal skills. Many of his colleagues in his fifth grade class embarrassingly answered their teacher with broken words and mispronounced letters. "People," Mr. Nasser would correct them sternly, "Not beoble." Mr. Nasser, the boys' Palestinian English teacher, was deeply revered by Bader's class. Unlike some teachers, Mr. Nasser never carried a threatening ruler at hand to slap the palms of mischievous and sometimes framed students. He relied on the respect he earned and deserved from his students who in time recognized and appreciated his passion for teaching the basics of the English language. Whenever the boys walked into class on Wednesdays, they would always find Mr. Nasser standing proud and tall in his thin, neatly ironed suit near the blackboard. Behind him would be what he called "The Thought of the Week," an exercise where students would right one paragraph about a random subject. After they were done, a handful of students were selected to read their thoughts out loud for the rest to hear.

One Wednesday afternoon, Bader was the first reader to be chosen. The young boy brushed his black hair away from his eyes and began to read, "I looked out the window…" Mr. Nasser slowly walked over to Bader's desk until he was behind the young boy. His inquisitive, green eyes scanned Bader's paper while the young boy continued to read in mild trepidation. "Bader," Mr. Nasser said while staring at the blackboard before him, "Spell 'window'." Mr. Nasser started to walk to the front with his back to the class. Bader sat still in his seat. He felt all his peers' eyes weighing on him with curious scrutiny. He finally cleared his throat and answered, "W-E-N-D-O-W." Mr. Nasser stopped walking. The class was silent and anxious to hear the results of the riddle. "That's incorrect Bader," Mr. Nasser replied before he finally faced the class.

Later that evening, Bader was busy solving his mathematics assignment at home. His mother walked into his room and sat primly on his bed. Bader turned his attention to her. "I got a call today from your school," she said. Bader nodded and raised his eyebrows, "Yeah?" His mother took a deep breath, "Mr. Nasser said that you didn't know how to spell 'window' in class today. Is that true?" Bader pursed his lips and bobbed his head in agreement. "You know, speaking English fluently doesn't amount to much in the end. I know that you learned that skill from all the American sitcoms and movies you've seen. Anyone can perfect their accent by simply watching television." Bader's wide, brown eyes searched for an excuse. He knew that there would be some sort of catch to his mother's lecture. "Starting today, I am going to assign you books to read. English books. I know that reading alone will improve your spelling as well as composition skills." Bader knew that there was no way out except to surrender to his mother's ultimatum, "Okay."

After a few months into the school year and the four English classics that were brewing in Bader's thoughts, the initial incident that occurred between Mr. Nasser and Bader came up. A student in Bader's English class was mumbling a passage from the reading book, "The large window…" Hearing that, Jassim nudged Bader's elbow that he had propped up on the desk before him. Even minor occurrences do not pass by unnoticed by Mr. Nasser. "Stop reading," he said, "Bader, spell window please." Bader's reply was too quick and too loud, "Window! W-I-N-D-O-W! Window!" Mr. Nasser smiled to himself, "Very good Bader."

Bader never forgot Mr. Nasser's smile that school day. Although brief and subtle, the smile was proof that Bader was truly one of the best students in his English class. From that day on, both Bader's spelling and composition skills improved.

But the Gulf War came and changed everything. After attending sixth grade abroad, Bader returned to the same school he had been in after Kuwait's liberation. Yet everything was different. Kuwaiti educators were a minority as scores of teachers from Egypt flocked to fill up the empty slots found in many of the government schools. Students were keener on taking the easy route as talks of which teacher turns a blind eye to cheaters and which ones are friendly to students' bribes buzzed during break time.

During English class, Bader channeled out the raucous around him and wondered to himself where Mr. Nasser was. He turned to his neighbor beside him, a student who had been with Bader in Mr. Nasser's fifth grade English class. "Do you know where Mr. Nasser is?" The young boy slowly shook his head. Bader looked at him, disappointed, before he returned his attention to his present and even more disappointing English teacher.

"Bader, could you please get your father's laundry from down the street?" It was six o'clock in the evening and Bader had already completed his homework for tomorrow. "Sure," he replied to his mother who was taking a nap on his bed. Bader walked out the front door and marched down the darkening street. The Laundromat was less than a ten minute walk from Bader's house. Beside it was a small convenient store, a decent photography studio and a steamed beans and chickpeas shop. Bader stepped into the tiny Laundromat and placed his hands on the grey table before him. The employee had his back to Bader as he quietly folded strangers' dirty clothes. "Hello," Bader said in a matter-of-fact way before he slid the laundry slip on the cracked wooden table.

The man slowly turned around and faced Bader. It was Mr. Nasser. His face was haggard and colorless. His trademark sharp suit was striped away from him; he stood naked and empty wearing a plain white gown. His features softened as he looked Bader over, "Ah, my favorite student. You've grown taller. How are you doing Bader?" Mr. Nasser's student stood in silence. "How can I speak? What shall I say?" the young boy's head whirled with confused thoughts and sundry questions. "I'm doing well Mr. Nasser," he managed to stammer back, "And how are you?" Mr. Nasser looked down at the floor and chuckled, more to himself than with Bader. He looked up at Bader and replied plainly, "I'm here Bader. That's how I am doing. I'm here." With that, Mr. Nasser quietly picked up Bader's slip and went to the rear of the store to fetch the laundry.

* Based on a true story.

The Box Tops - The Letter
Cat Stevens - Moonshadow
The Manhattans - Shining Star
Tavares - Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel
Sonny & Cher - I Got You Babe
Beach Boys - Barbara Ann
Aretha Franklin - Rock Steady

at 9:00 AM


  1. Blogger Shurouq posted at 1:05 PM  
    Life isn't fair and I miss my teachers.
  2. Blogger Jacqui posted at 1:50 PM  
    Is it who I think it was? And did that really happen?

    Its really sad but a nice heartfelt story!
  3. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 4:04 PM  
    Did he lose his job because he was Palestinian?
  4. Anonymous Prometheus posted at 7:39 AM  
    "steamed beans and chickpeas shop"

    Hehehe... tell me you didn't write that with a straight face.

    Man I miss na`7i and ash!!!
  5. Anonymous Swair posted at 1:32 PM  
    Takser el kha6er el qusa..
  6. Blogger Erzulie posted at 10:38 AM  
    shurouq: nope it's not. and i miss my teachers too. it's too bad that nowadays, both public and private schools are void of those unforgettable teachers that really make a difference in their students' lives.

    jacqui: no. well, if you're thinking of 9ofano then no :P~ sleazy little guy. but yes, this really did happen.

    intlxpatr: yes. that's the gray area of the gulf war i guess.

    prometheus: shagool ya3ny nikhee oo bajila! i have to say this, all your nikhee with the mandatory lemon juice and olive oil but add a little bit of garlic (mashed i.e. hawan) and diced tomatoes. yummy! your breath might stink but it's totally worth it.

    swair: yeah well, here's to our fabulous education system.
  7. Blogger 7zaya posted at 9:18 PM  
    Sub7an's amazing how your world can tumble and turn you from one situation to a completely different one. Like how we had rule over our own country one day and baam the next day we're taken over by another country's army. Guess we shouldn't take any of our blessings for granted. May God protect Kuwait ALLA LA Y'3AYYIR 3ALAINA.
  8. Blogger Amethyst posted at 2:15 PM  
    Ouch! What a shame;\

    As for the music, "Rock steady, baby!"
  9. Blogger Erzulie posted at 11:16 PM  
    7zaya: It already has changed, to the worse.

    amethyst: that's all we can do for the time being!
  10. Blogger Trevelyana posted at 5:39 AM  
    Sad story.
    I gave my teachers the devil of a time in high school, and I still remember how confused and proud I was to hear them praising me to my mother at graduation.

    Also.. baaarb-ba-ba-baarbara aaaann. Man I love that song.
    Btw, ever heard of Rain? I was supposed to go see them recently but forgot.. coulda been a chance to re-live The Beatles.. oh well.

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