By Shanti Chandrasekhar
We wait for Mrs. Gupta to march into the class. Today, there are no giggles or exchanged glances.
She never laughs. She wears stiff, starched cotton saris, her long hair always pinned up in a tight bun. What’s more, she yells at us. On the other hand, our stylish English teacher saunters in. Draped in a soft chiffon sari, she spreads a whiff of perfume and her cheerfulness, at once putting us at ease. Unlike Mrs. Gupta.
Today, an unforgiving silence stifles us. For five months, we’ve made fun of Mrs. Gupta. We’ve said maybe Sister Wilma could teach us Moral Science and Trigonometry.
Thump, thump, thump. We bow our heads at the sound of her in the hallway. As if it’s the last day of her class. As if she’s transferred. Or fired. There’s no way she’d ever get fired. She gets the best Math teacher award year after year.
Sine theta, cos theta. Her stern voice echoes even in the evenings as we do our homework. As though to ensure we get it right. In Trigonometry, there’s no other way. You cannot solve the problem without getting it right.
Today, we pray that the doctor gets it right. That she comes back to class. We promise ourselves, we’ll behave.
She enters. We stand up.
“Sit down, students,” Mrs. Gupta says.
Students. That’s what she calls us every day. Not girls, as our sophisticated English teacher does.
She begins to teach. Our fingers run along the words we’ve etched on our wooden desks. Nicknames, making fun of her. Our thumbs rub against the words and fail to erase.
We pray that it has not spread. That after her surgery, she’ll be normal. Back to her strict and mean normal self. We haven’t said all that in the get-well-soon card we brought for her.
At the end of the class, we walk up to her, all twenty-two of us. We crowd in front of her table.
She looks up with a straight face. Not puzzled. We’re not a puzzle for her to solve. We solve the sine-theta-cos-theta puzzles she gives us.
She reads the card.
We’ve all scribbled short messages, not wanting to say anything sentimental.
We want her to be our teacher. We need her to teach us. We agree, there cannot be a better Trigonometry teacher in all of Delhi.
Without having planned to, we say in unison, “We don’t want anyone else to be our Trig teacher.”
She raises her eyes. Perhaps we’re swimming in her vision as her gaze glides over us through a moist film.
“Thank you, children,” Mrs. Gupta says, still holding the card.
Children. Not students.
We want to hug her, but we don’t dare to. It’s just as well. Twenty-two hugs would crumple her starched cotton sari. We wouldn’t want that.
Shanti Chandrasekhar lives in Clarksburg, Maryland. Her short story has been published in District Lines, a Literary Anthology by Politics & Prose, Washington, DC and her nonfiction pieces have appeared in The Washington Post, Parade Magazine (online) and elsewhere. She attended the 2018 Summer Kenyon Review Fiction Writers Workshop.