The classroom was warm, as it always was. The stale summer air barely drifted through the open windows. We were breathing each other’s heat, all twenty of us.
It had been over two years since I graduated university, and today I was back in school. Well, night school, but school nonetheless. Every few minutes, a familiar face would show up with a smile or a grin, and on one, a look of absolute anxiety. It was almost sunset and the third week of class.
In high school, we were all uniform—people whose backgrounds were so similar to mine that mindless small talk would only remind me of myself. In university, they were more diverse but all the same; they listened to the same bands I did and spoke of the same festivals we went to over the weekend. I belonged, and I needn’t have to try.
But here, none of us were on the same plane. There was a gangly old man who always wore a slightly oversized suit and a Homburg hat. He greeted the class every time, and I liked him most. In the corner of the room was a medical student who spoke quietly; the type of articulation where you had to consciously pick apart to understand. He rarely spoke but I had always waited for him to. Next to him, a blonde with short hair; a doctor who practiced not far from the university.
Beside me was a girl most likely my age who I always looked forward to seeing every evening. She had a full smile with eyes that laughed along with her. On the first day, she wore a soaking wet Star Wars t-shirt. Today, she wore all black, but on her it looked as cheerful as ever.
Three seats next to me sat a small Indian woman whose right arm was adorned with an intricate tattoo of a dreamcatcher. She always spoke a little too much, but her voice was so sweet that I didn’t mind.
There were a few more. The man with shoulder-length hair who was a dog-walker. The three animators who enrolled together. The quiet, effeminate teenager. The lawyer with spectacles. The quiet dark-haired man in the corner. The Swedish high school graduate who was on a gap year. The man with the tremor.
And then, our teacher. An angular forty-something who always tied his hair in a ponytail. The man always wore a blazer, regardless of the heat. He was eloquent, with ears that knew rhythm better than a metronome.
There we all were, sitting, listening, taking notes like we were back in the fifth grade. We spoke about writing—a passion we shared and the reason why we were all here in this room on a Tuesday night—but not much else.
And then we would read aloud our short stories. I loved these little reading sessions because it was a window into their lives. While everyone tried so hard to swallow their personalities in class, that’s when they let it slip. The old man with the suit had a physically abusive father, which he described in a heart-wrenching villanelle. The woman in the ponytail wrote about her time as an EMT. The teenager, who was nineteen, read her piece on her lonely high school days.
We were all walking through life in mismatched strides with barriers invisible to one another. The man thirty years my elder knew much more about life than the barely-legal students. The doctor and the EMT had seen more gore than all of us combined. And the Indian woman lived a life so far removed from Australia that we could only imagine what it was like.
Every week, I get to understand a little more about them. Their past, their sorrows, their troubles.
I hope they get to understand a little more about me too.