At night, hospitals still feel like day. Viruses don’t pick a time to strike, it just does. I stood behind the counter of the pharmacy with my prescription in hand, covered with illegible scribbles written by a young general practitioner I had seen just moments ago.
When the lady asked for my prescription and insurance card, I had to explain to her what I’ve already explained to multiple people that night.
“They misspelled my name on the card,” I pointed out. “It’s supposed to be Jasmine Tamara, but they wrote Tasmara instead. Will that be a problem?”
She glanced at my card and told me to take a seat.
In the background, children were screaming. I suppose to them, nights feel like days too. The pharmacy was fuller than I expected, so I might be called last, or—if God decides to be kind—in the next five minutes. But God doesn’t grant petty prayers, at least not that I know of. Which meant that I stayed there for a good half hour before I saw him.
Not God. But my old high school teacher.
He was frailer than I remembered. He was no longer as robust, or maybe that was because he had always walked around school with a light spring in his step and a friendly grin. Tonight, he was tired, and I realized I had never seen him out of his school uniform. He looked like a man, not the teacher I once feared and even hated.
At school, I had always been unreasonably chatty in classrooms. Even when teachers placed me next to the taciturn student, I would always find a way to get them talking. If all else failed, I would pass notes to the next person who was up for banter.
So when I acted out of order for the umpteenth time in his class, he completely lost it. I had heard a loud thud that interrupted my incessant monolog with a quiet friend. I looked behind me to see a whiteboard marker rolling on the carpet floor. Then another marker hit the carpet, missing me by a few inches. I turned my head to see the teacher, armed with whiteboard markers, throwing another one in my direction.
This wasn’t a school that promoted corporal punishment, but even teachers had their limits. He began shouting a tirade of abuse, one that I was too familiar with as he had used the same rhetoric to me only a few months ago.
Years later when I graduated, I had created a good rapport with a handful of teachers. He was not one of them. I had made too many mistakes and he had said too many unpleasant things about my attitude that I never really bothered to say goodbye to him. If someone asked me which teacher I would like to avoid for the rest of my life, he was the one.
I hadn’t seen him since I moved to Australia. Of course, I had seen his pictures on Facebook but I was not his Facebook friend. So I sat in the waiting room, watching him father his two kids. When his first son was born he told our class his name and we giggled at the funny moniker. It wasn’t until a few years later when I was watching a history documentary that I realized he named his son after a great English politician and philanthropist from the 18th century. His son was all grown up now; maybe eight or nine years old.
Then I remembered—the pharmacist was going to call out my name and I couldn’t let him see me. I wanted to avoid the small talk, but most of all, I wanted to avoid the embarrassment. The last time he saw me I was an exasperating teenager with no regard for authority, and I didn’t want to face the one teacher who I feared most.
I looked down at my phone, letting my hair fall over my face like keratin drapes. This time, I prayed for him to leave the pharmacy before my name was called, but he didn’t. He stayed in the back, entertaining his son quietly and waiting to be called. I looked at the pharmacists at the counter. Don’t say my name, don’t say my name, don’t say my name—
I rushed over to her, snaking my way through the crowd of tired families. I saw from my peripheral that my teacher was oblivious to my presence, even though I was the only one standing in the room. The pharmacist gave me the medications, but I was only half listening. I was too busy hiding behind my hair and making sure my back was turned against him at all times.
But when I left the pharmacy, he was no longer there. It was only when I turned the corner that I saw him hand in hand with his eldest son; his wife and kid trailing behind him. I walked slower, this time observing him more than I’ve ever done back in school.
As my teacher disappeared into the darkness of the open parking lot, I wondered how many close calls I had dodged because of someone else’s mistake. That typographical error on my insurance card was a hasty oversight. But that error, the one I tried so hard to correct to everyone in the hospital, ended up saving me a Tuesday night’s embarrassment.