WHO HE? – A short story

Published April 6, 2017 by Nan Mykel

When Trish entered the Front Room, Cassie was already in the booth, waiting. Both smiled broadly,  glad to  see the other after being briefly separated on this, their first day of classes as freshmen roommates. Being from the same small town in Ohio, they felt a special comaraderie–or safety–in the others’ company.  They had both wanted Journalism 101, but Cassie narrowly missed the registration deadline, so she settled for World Literature.

“But look, they’re both taught by a man named Johnson, so maybe that’s not so bad,” Cassie joked.  Although Johnson is a common name, they wondered if they would have the same professor, but Cassie hadn’t thought there was much in common between the two academic subjects, and decided they would be experiencing two entirely different professors.

Trish had been feeling fortunate to have made the registration deadline for the journalism class until she discovered it was at 8 a.m.  Today they grabbed a late lunch from the cafeteria line and got down to it.  “Well,” Cassie asked, “are they the same? How old was your professor?”

Trish frowned and rubbed her brow, thinking.  “It’s hard to say…35? 45? Maybe 50.”

Cassie sighed as though in disbelief. “Surely there’s a difference between a 50-year old man and one 35! In what way did he seem young and what made him seem old?”

“His dress, for one thing. He wore blue jeans and a collarless shirt, and loafers.”

Cassie paused to drink her tea, then nodded. “So did mine. Maybe there’s a kind of dress code the first day, to make the students feel more comfortable…”What about his hair? Does he still have it?”

Trish seemed to smile inwardly. “Does he ever! He has a full head of gorgeous dark hair with just a touch of silver in it you can see when he’s up close.  Maybe that’s what made me think of him being older.”

Cassie stirred her tea and asked, “You were up close to him?”

Another secret smile. “Just when he walked back and forth among the students, and stopped to make a point….Was your professor easy to hear?”

“Oh yes” Cassie answered. “He would expound in a loud voice, often looking fervently at the ceiling like he was communing with God, or trying to. He really gets excited about the early civilizations, and knows Greek. Now that I think of it, maybe he was trying to communicate with the  whole bunch of Greek gods.”

Trish  laughed. “Sounds like a winner…How do you know he ‘knows Greek’?”

“He told us, and said a few words in what I guessed was Greek.”

“So it sounds like your Dr. Johnson is an enthusiastic hippie type too. He must love his subject.  How old does he seem to you?”

“Well, older than 35,  definitely.”

Trish was curious. “Based on what?”

“Maybe some of it’s the subject matter.  He seems so entrenched in the ancient world, and so knowledgeable.”

Trish nodded vehemently. “You got it. Maybe it’s my Johnson’s enthusiasm for current events that’s rubbed off on him and makes him seem possibly 35.

Cassie closed her eyes in order to re-vision her literature professor. “He’s got all his hair all right, but I didn’t notice any silver streaks. By the way, mine is about six feet tall and wears blue jeans, but I didn’t notice his shirt. How about yours?”

Trish said, “He’s tall, too.

“Well, is he good-looking?”

Trish shrugged. “Yeah, if you like men who work out a lot. His muscles seem weird on a college professor.”

“Any tattoos?…Sorry, just joking. What color are his eyes?”

“Oh yes, I forgot. When he gets these ideas that make him stand up straight and begin to walk back and forth he opens his eyes real wide and you can see the white of his eyes. Kinda spooky. And he has very dark eyes that scan the class a lot, as though he’s counting the students or looking for one who didn’t show.” Cassie smiled at her own words, then asked, “Does he have a cough?”

“A cough?” Trish puzzled.

“Yeah, my Johnson does. Like he smoked.”

“I didn’t notice. There was too much discussion going on in class.”

Cassie perked up, curious. “Like what?”

“Oh, you know; liberal stuff. Like how corporations are strangling good journalism, and how something has happened to the milk of human kindness.”  Trish paused. “I think we have to face it; they must be different Johnsons.”

That settled, the two friends were picking up their trays to leave when the sight of a professor entering the lunch line caught their attention. “That’s him,” they whispered to each other, as the tall African American faculty member pushed his tray down the line.


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