“That’s how they behave, those hundred level students.”
The speaker holds off your stare as if he expects a retort but is certain you can’t offer one due to the years between you. Four years, you recall. Four freaking ones between you and the speaker who has more wrinkles on his face than wisdom in his brain, and suddenly, you wish he didn’t make the statement.
Later, you told Debbie. “The best he could have said was freshmen.”
“Freshmen?” A small laugh. “Why? What difference does it make?”
You shrug, certain she can’t see your shoulders lift. “There’s something about the word. Freshmen, kind of hedges you into a box in which some certain attitude are expected of you. No one blames a freshman who discovers, a minute to class, that he neither knows what course he’s having nor the venue. Hundred level student means, ‘you are now a part of us.’ Like you’ve been accepted into the pack and have matured from the box.”
“I assume this is purely objective? Not relative?”
“Simple words, Debbie.”
Another small laugh. “I mean, it’s your own opinion? Not a universal idea?”
“Not like they use hundred level student in the states,” you say.
“Wait, you didn’t say what you did.”
“What’s what? You had to have done something wrong.”
“Get to school first,” you say.
“I’m serious. When are you coming?”
“Could be –”
“Anytime. You are a writer and a science geek. Draw an estimate of when soon would be.”
“That’s not –”
“Talk to you later,” Debbie says. A tone chirps. Call ends.
You set the phone at the edge of the bunk and set your arms parallel to each other, your eyes glazing over the textbook, your breath as even as the pace of a brakeless sedan. You begin to hyperventilate. I’m hyperventilating. I’m gonna have a heart attack. Not that sweat is breaking off your face or you are twitching, but you just know. It’s something the writing maestros call…
The sixth sense.
Goes like, Jack could swear he heard the door hush open as he poured a glass of drink or when the boy woke, he knew tragedy had struck. Yes, his roommates were all asleep, their snores a symphonic melody, and his fingers had not been chopped off, but he knew something terrible had happened. He just knew. Said boy then climbs off his bed, lands with one palm facedown, lifts the palm to see it’s soaked up blood, bulges his eyes as he spots a trail of blood coming from the window, holds back a scream, and checks his nearest roommate to find a pool of blood around his neck.
When said boy would be asked how he knew someone had died, he wouldn’t say, “I just knew.” Instead, he would say, “I woke like it was a normal day, got down, yawned, whispered a few prayers, made a mental note to call my class rep, noticed a pen was on the floor, bent to pick it, and lifted blood.”
It is so easy to lie, to twist statements in reported speech. It is so easy to dodge out the sixth sense.
It’s half an hour since you started thinking of the sixth sense. Half an hour since you denied your MTS textbook a touch. Half an hour since you called Debbie and told her about the curmudgeon final year brother.
Your phone chirps. You know it’s Mother. You just know.
“Something bad happened.”
“How are you doing?” she asks.
“I’m alive. You were saying –”
“Are you in a class?”
“No ma,” you say.
“How’s school, fellowship, friends…?”
“They are all good. Ma.”
Only when she keeps the questions rolling do you realize something bad did not happen. It was just a play on your mind.
“I’m feeling a bit somnolent,” says Mother. “Can I call back?”
“Yes,” you say and end the call.
You climb down the bed like the fictional boy would have done. Inside your backpack is a book. A higher education note. It’s filled with over five hundred words, dating back to the days you never assumed you’d be a hundred level student, days when you didn’t know zilch about writing and Debbie. You slap a page open, then another, until you arrive at the word.
Somnolent. A bit of drowsiness. Whoa. A surprised air settles into the room. You trace down, to curmudgeon. A crusty, irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn idea.
Not allowed. You hold the book and silently say, not allowed, because you’ve read a few many blog posts by professional editors who often speak about writing in simple, comprehensible terms. They normally end with, “the adverb – and adjective – is not your friend. Except you intend producing a potboiler.”
So, silently, you remind yourself that you cannot, in any event, slot in the word curmudgeon in a piece of writing because it has three strange qualifiers in it.
Slowly, you return the book and crawl back to the bed, suddenly moody, and totally not intending to wash it off.
A minute later, you count the number of adverbs you used. Five. Very good, writer.
When Debbie picks, you say, “You are on your way.”
A pause. “How do you figure?”
“Sixth sense.” You can be honest with Debbie.
A small laugh. “Hmm.”
“Seems you plucked off a habit during the strike period.”
“Hmm. I’d mull on it.”
“Means meditate. Can’t believe you don’t know the word, a writer.”
“I’m a writer, not a litterateur.”
Silence. Static air creeps into the call. “A writer of literary works,” Debbie says.
“You cheated,” you retort. “You checked the word on your phone.”
Another small laugh. Guilty, guilty.
“How about excogitate?”
“No idea,” she says.
“Means meditate. Mull.”
“Touché,” says Debbie. “Sacrilegious.”
“Synonym of blasphemous. Cretin?”
“Meant to be secretive. Same as –”
“Esoteric,” Debbie says. Her voice drops. “I think we should stop. I’m beginning to get this weird looks from passengers, like I’m Soyinka’s distant niece.”
“Uncanny would be a suitable word.”
“Yeah, definitely. Creepy. Uncanny. Weird. Outré. Gotta go,” she says.
“Yeah. See you in a trice.”
“Get off,” she says. She laughs.
You end the call and start laughing. A roommate pokes his head and watches you, his eyes twisted in a way that suggests uncanny. Yeah, definitely uncanny.
P.S: Thank you very much for reading. What do you think about the picture? Does the emoji justify the absent M in smile? There’s a micro post on my Instagram page where something’s said about it. You can check it out here