Over the years he had given it some thought — come to think of it, it was more the stuff of fantasy than anything like real thought. But never mind, because now, with the fall term coming to an end, does he decide it is as good a time as any. And so, like always, he starts by stepping up to the podium. For today’s class he has brought only one page of notes, a single sheet of yellow legal paper, and even that is more paper than notes. With one finger he slides the paper from one side of the podium to the other, then back again. Meanwhile a sort of mid-morning hush falls over the class, but not for long as somewhere towards the back, someone, almost certainly Hamad, whispers unafraid, “Welcome, Professor, welcome,” followed by a tiny flurry of classmate giggle.
“Yes, well, before we start today please indulge me for just a moment, if you don’t mind, as I remind you about something. I promise you, this won’t take long.” There is a general shuffling of feet, a shifting of chairs, as Hamad, yet again, says something, which only those in the back can hear, and think funny. The professor smiles and then takes a deep breath, as if to demonstrate: this is what you do before putting your head underwater.
“Yes, well, as you know, or maybe not, for many years I have been a professor of history, specifically American History and more specifically yet twentieth-century American history, and to go one step further, America’s involvement in World War Two. This, you know, or, by now, have at least guessed.”
At this point, Sara, who is never late, walks in late, opening the classroom door spy-like, peeking in, saying, “Sorry to be late,” scurrying to find a front row seat, before saying, one last time, “So sorry.” And of course from the back is Hamad, assuring her, “It’s quite all right. No problem.” There is laughter, but not much.
The classroom fidgeting all done, he readies himself, looking down at his one page. “Yes, well, so it’s been established that I am all about American history and World War Two, and to prove it, allow me to remind you yet again that I have written three books about America and that war, as well as a handful of scholarly articles; as a matter of fact, I even won a prize for one of them, six years ago. Granted, it was not much of a prize: two hundred dollars along with a piece of paper that said I had won, but never mind because an award is an award, right?” The award part was not something he had meant to say, not in his notes; in fact, it never even crossed his mind, but once he started with books and articles, it seemed a perfectly natural fit. He looks down at his one page, reminding himself what to say next.
It is then, as if rehearsed, that a general classroom malaise trickles through the class: a yawn, a sigh, an assortment of glances at the clock on the wall, vacant stares out the window, looking into the trees across the street, watching birds, or maybe not, and so on. He sees all, does the history professor, from behind his podium, but glancing down at his one page continues. “And so, today I am here to tell you — and you may very well be some of the first to learn this — that after all these years and after thorough research, study and investigation, we now know that it was not the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor, oh no, not those Japanese, but in fact it was the Chinese.”
All classroom business abruptly stops, replaced by a lot of looking straight at him, the World War Two expert in the front of the room. There is silence. There is blinking. No Hamad, no backrow chatter. When Sara softly takes out her notebook and begins writing, some of the others follow her lead. As the quiet holds, the wall clock takes on a new bigness. He waits, takes the one page, folds it once, twice and slips it into his pocket. He waits one more time just to be sure, placing both hands on the podium, until finally he takes another deep breath and walks out the door and into the hallway.
He’s never given it much thought until now, but once by himself in the hallway, he takes a long, hard look, and it is a normal college hallway: a neatly polished bowling-alley long floor, with bulletin boards attached here and of course a door, and another door and another, and … the walls are painted a soft hospital green. As he waits he can hear Hamad’s voice, but when it finishes there is nothing like laughter. The history professor folds his arms and leans against the wall. He is in no hurry to reenter the classroom. In fact, according to his notes, he is to count slowly to twenty-five before going back to the podium to take a look at their faces one more time before setting things straight. But at fifteen, the door opens and out steps Hamad with the backpack on his shoulder, and before the professor can say anything, make any sort of announcement, Hamad asks, “If we are done for the day, can we go?”
For the last thirteen years Craig Loomis has been an Associate Professor of English at the American University of Kuwait in Kuwait City. During the last twenty-eight years, he has had his short fiction published in such literary journals as The Iowa Review, The Colorado Review, The Prague Revue, The Maryland Review, The Louisville Review, Bazaar, The Rambler, The Los Angeles Review, The Prairie Schooner, Yalobusha Review, The Critical Pass Review, The Owen Wister Review, Five on the Fifth, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Absurdist Magazine, and others.