After driving through the crowded morning streets, I circled the block for the second time and victoriously slipped into the ultimate parking spot; the one right across from my office. This unprecedented achievement brightened my morning and put a smile on my face. As I was locking the car door I noticed a small-framed man standing on the sidewalk looking through the window of an office supply store.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a peculiar sentiment feeling like a school boy again, a lazy pupil with homework full of mistakes, a student waiting for a severe punishment. My palms stung from the soul-piercing pain inflicted by the angry strikes of the ruler. Confused and shaken by this sentiment, cautiously I took a few steps closer to the man who was calmly standing there, utterly unaware of my suffering, gazing at the contents of the stationery shop showcase. I knew what the man was looking at; the ruler with the metallic edges; his favorite, the very kind that inflicted the most pain on my young palm.
In third grade, it was the last day of the New Year holidays and my family had just returned from the vacation in Shiraz. In the midst of commotion of packing, I’d forgotten my homework. How do I answer to Mr. Azari? I wondered. Will he believe that I actually finished my homework? I wouldn’t blame him he doesn’t believe a word of
Mine as I lied to him every opportunity I had.
The man staring at the window was my third grade teacher, Mr. Azari who frequently slapped me in the face for failing in exams and not doing my homework.
“You are a mule who will never make it! You will end up pulling a carriage!” The jarring words of my early year educator ricocheted in my soul.
Now the same man but smaller and slimmer was wearing a much kinder face before me after over thirty years. The same man who posted my failing grade on the blackboard, forced me to stand next to it, and ordered all my classmates to shout, “Lazy,stupid, failure. Lazy, stupid, failure.” This humiliation was my daily routine.
I battled through the third grade and passed the final exams known as Napoleonic style-the lowest acceptable grade. After the last exam to celebrate my victory, I burned my books and performed an Indian dance of joy around the fire. Summer arrived and I had three months to enjoy life school free. More importantly, I was rid of Mr. Azari, the torment was over.
My exhilaration did not last longer than that summer though. On the first day of the fourth grade, the principal gave us the news.
“I am sorry to inform you that your teacher has passed away. But you will not be without a teacher for a single day. Thanks to Mr. Azari, who has graciously agreed to teach the fourth grade,” he announced.
Normally the death of a teacher was not bad news to me, but this untimely loss was devastating! My daily routine of the third grade repeated another year. But I managed to finish the fourth grade too. Thank God my father was transferred to Tehran that summer. We moved to the capitol for good. I was convinced that if I stayed in that school and went to fifth grade, our new teacher would’ve died and I’d ended up with Mr. Azari again.
After the fourth grade I never again saw my teacher until today; but the nightmare haunted me for years to come. For many years I wished to run into Mr. Azari once as I’d devised the most evil schemes; the completion of each one of them would have meant a happy ending to my lifelong torment. Now it was the perfect time and opportunity to get even.
Mr. Azari wasn’t too old, but his back curved slightly. His hands were stuffed deep in his pockets. I stood frozen contemplating what to do next. I had to do something! I had to write the ending to the most painful chapter of my youth. I cleared my throat and nervously approached him. As I got closer, he sensed my presence, turned around, and squinted in an effort to recognize me. I stared at my newly-polished shoes. My heart was pounding under his intense gaze.
“Hello, Mr. Azari.”
He warmly returned my greeting.
“Hello, I am terribly sorry, but I don’t recognize you. What is your name?”
I introduced myself but he didn’t remember. I spoke eloquently, like a pupil making a presentation to the class.
“I am one of your old students. One of the worst and the most wicked one. I am so glad to meet you again after all these years. You don’t teach anymore?”
“I’ve been retired for many years. I served in the Culture Ministry for 36 years and I now looking for a job. The teacher’s salary was not enough, now you can imagine how difficult it is with a tiny retirement check I receive with much less health insurance coverage. I can’t afford to put meat on our table every day. To hell with the meat, how do I pay for rent and utilities? Only God can save us now!”
I stood motionless, not knowing how to respond.
“Please forgive me for talking too much but my students are like my children. Tell me about yourself. How
much education do you have? Oh, is this your car? You must be doing well. Nothing makes me more proud than seeing
my students become successful. Tell me, what do you do?”
“I am an architect. The building on the other side of the street is my company. What a coincidence you are looking for a job; we are looking for office help. We could use someone like you. If you have time right now, I’ll take care of your hiring right now.”
Mr. Azari followed me to my office as a child runs for candy. I instructed the Human Resources manager to hire him immediately. Mr. Azari thanked me profusely for the opportunity and promised to be at work the next morning.
I went home early, excited yet perplexed by the day’s events. I was hungry but didn’t have an appetite. I went to bed
early but couldn’t sleep. I felt as if I had not done my homework, something was amiss but what I didn’t know. I felt as if I’d done something wrong and must face Mr. Azari in the morning. The sound of his vicious slaps echoed in my ears. My cheeks flushed red and hot. What had I done
wrong this time?
I woke early the next morning after an agonizing insomnia, showered longer than any other day, meticulously clipped my fingernails, put on my best suit and carefully combed my hair. I wanted to do everything right and face my teacher without fear. I went to work earlier than usual and anxiously waited for his arrival.
Mr. Azari didn’t show. He'd never been absent from class but that day he did not come, he never came. Years later I heard he had died that morning.