*It's not the kind of sadness at where you cry all the time, but more like the sadness that overwhelms your entire body, leaving your heart aching and your stomach empty. Making you feel weak and tired, and yet you can't sleep because there's sadness in your dreams too. It's almost a sadness you can't escape.
I didn't like to complain. My life is good, I'm in university, I have great friends, and I have amazing parents and the best siblings. But sometimes thinking got the best of me and when I think too much, I tend to drive myself rather crazy. What was the master plan behind my existence? As a religious person, I believed that ultimately life, in general, was a test from God, to see who qualified to enter heaven or hell. As Tomas Carlyle wrote, "One life – a little gleam of time between two eternities." I could not help but think ahead, trying to imagine what my life will turn out like in the long run. I imagined I'd graduate, get a good job to allow me to live a financially comfortable life, I'd eventually meet the man of my dreams and start a family. But that's as far as I was able to let my mind wonder and even then, what I could imagine didn't seem at all possible or even realistic. It was foolish since I never thought that half the things I daydreamed about would ever happen, but that never seemed to stop me from daydreaming anyway.
One Thursday morning, I woke up knowing I had a huge day ahead of me. I convinced myself to get out of my warm and comfortable bed to get ready for my day of long classes. A little while later I had showered and dressed. I stood in front of my closet mirror as I ran a brush through my damp hair and applied my light touch of daily make up. Being a fairly religious Muslim girl, I was spared the trouble of deciding how to wear my hair as I wore a headscarf and the only agony of that was ironing and matching a headscarf to the outfit I was choosing to wear. As I pinned my headscarf safely in place, I grabbed my shoulder book bag from my desk, along with a paper packed folder and headed out. I left my building and walked the short distance to the café for my morning jolt of coffee to ensure the morning wasn't spent falling asleep with my face in a text book at the back of a lecture theatre. My extra-large cup of coffee in one hand and a blueberry muffin in my bag, I left the café 5 minutes later more confident that the day was going to be bearable. The morning went by rather quickly, and before I knew it, I was being led to the canteen for lunch. As I sat among my friends, I wasn't keeping track of the conversation, instead choosing to read Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time while slowly eating my sandwich.
"Layla, please pay attention!" Maryam snatched the book from my hand.
"Okay, I'm paying attention," I looked into her face with a straight face.
"Are you coming today?" she asked.
"Coming where?" my mind was drawing a complete blank as to where I was supposed to be going today.
"we all have that revision session today at five thirty, you didn't forget, did you?" asked Sana, curiously. I guess my face was still blank because the next thing I knew, Maryam was slapping my arm.
"There is no way you're bailing; we put your name down weeks ago!" I looked away guiltily, and was about to launch into excusing myself from the session today, but Sana beat me to it.
"Before you start, it's not going to be a waste of time, you'll actually benefit from it because it's organised by third year students so they know what they're talking about and you'll still have time to finish the rest of your studying in the evening!" Under Sana and Maryam's glare I found it hard to summon up an argument against this particular session and I found myself promising to be there against my will and better judgement.
My last lecture went over time by around twenty minutes so I found myself gulfing down a chocolate bar and chasing that down with a juice box as I rushed to the assigned lecture hall for the revision session that Maryam had sent me in a text message. As I pulled open the one of the double doors to the room, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who had shown up. The revision session was for human physiology and anatomy and since the module was taken by most of the sciences department, I shouldn't have been expecting a small turn out. I noticed Maryam and Sana sitting around the middle and they hastily waved me over as the session was about to start.
"Good evening, thanks for coming to the first years crash course, my name is Hassan Ali. Hopefully we'll make a good start on human physiology and anatomy," a strong voice said. As he uttered the first word, the rowdiness automatically subsided. I had been writing the date and heading on the fresh piece of paper, but at the sound of his voice, I looked up.
Hassan Ali stood quite tall and broad with open arms, talking as if he addressed masses of people every day. His words came out effortless and I couldn't help but notice that even though the words were not especially captivating or even interesting, he had managed to capture the attention of everyone, from the first row to the last row of seats. I took off my coat and made myself more comfortable to enable me to pay better attention because I had a strong feeling that what he was saying was actually worth listening to.
"The first thing we're going to cover is the cardiovascular system, and everything you need to know as far as that goes," Hassan carried on, writing the heading onto the white board and going on to draw the basic structure. Time lapsed rather quickly and Hassan went into further depth of the curriculum, answering questions as they came and confidently asking his own questions to unsuspecting students as though he had been a lecturer for many years and this sort of thing came naturally to him, like second nature. Another student, a red head named Madeline, soon took over from Hassan and picked up where he had left off. Even though she had previously prepared a presentation and had given more thought than Hassan in her section, it was obvious that she was less self-assured as she stood up and addressed the crowded room.
As the presentation came to an end and Madeline concluded the evening, she announced that if anyone had further questions they could come down to the front. By this time I had accumulated around 8 pages of notes, which hopefully would be put to good use. I did however have a lingering question and so I picked up my notebook and approached Madeline and Hassan who stood at the front beside the teacher's desk and computer screen. Madeline was talking to a group of people towards the side and Hassan sat behind the desk, using the computer. I approached him cautiously. As I reached him, he looked up instinctively and smiled easily.
"Did you have a question?" he asked me kindly, his eyes intense. I opened my mouth and attempted to explain what I didn't understand but the words came out in a stutter and mixed up together. However after a few minutes of me rambling he seemed to get the gist of my question.
"How to explain this..," he pondered for a minute about which way would best explain the places I had trouble with. Taking me by shock, Hassan took my book out of my hand unexpectedly and drew a diagram on the page after my notes and he explained through illustrations the process. He was very passionate and enthusiastic as he answered my question. I found that it more made sense to me just because he was wholeheartedly trying to get me to understand. As I tried to grasp the concept, he showed no exasperation and when I asked him questions to clarify what he was saying he egged me on, genuinely pleased that I was trying to learn.
"Thanks so much, you're really good at this whole teaching thing," I told him, honestly impressed. Talking had become easier.
"I like teaching, it gives me satisfaction," he smiled. As I walked away, I saw Maryam's gaze fixed on a spot behind me.
"What are you staring at?" I asked as I reached her, looking back to see where she was looking.
"Layla, he's gorgeous," she let out in breath, nodding her head towards Hassan.
"What happened to the pen guy?" Sana asked, teasingly. The three girls headed out to pick up a pizza for dinner since it was past seven o'clock by then.
"I know that I've only spoken to him once, but I really think he has a deep personality, that one conversation was so meaningful!" Maryam carried on.
"Sweetheart, he asked you for a pen, how is that meaningful?" I sighed, smiling at Maryam.
"Because him addressing me is meaningful!" Maryam replied, "out of all the girls in our section at the library, he chose me to borrow for a pen from. And he never gave it back, might I add, which means my pen is currently either in his bag or on his desk," she smiled, mockingly at me and Sana who was giggling.
"Ok, Maryam, he's desperately in love with you and he just felt the urge to ask you for a pen and couldn't bring himself to ask anyone else. He also tends to think about you all the time and the pen you leant him is his most prized possession," Layla laughed
"See? That's the spirit!" Maryam laughed carelessly. The three of us spent the rest of the evening coming up with different scenarios to how Maryam could ever talk to her dream guy ever again and then going on to analyse how absurd they actually were. Later on, as we left the communal dormitory diner, stuffed with extra cheesy pizza and diet coke, I went to pick up a cup of coffee from the café and retired to my room.
Out of habit more than to actually solidify the information I had obtained, later that night I copied the chaotic notes that I had scribbled down during that evening's revision lesson onto fresh paper. I noticed that Hassan Ali had written in the margins of the last sheet of paper. I thought for a moment, but could not remember him doing this while I was standing with him. Of course, he had used my notebook to illustrate his points and I saw the things he had written in my presence; however the extra information Hassan must have written when I was rambling on trying to wrap my head around a particular point. His handwriting was clumsy but I had no trouble deciphering the words as I traced the letters with my index finger.
As I incorporated my notes with Hassan's, I came to find that his notes completed mine; giving me a better understanding of the topic and it concluded what he was explaining. Later, as I dotted the i's and crossed the T's in my last sentence, I looked up and was surprised to see that the alarm clock read 02.00am. My books were put away, the notes filed out of sight and teeth brushed as I lay in bed 15 minutes later. The last thing I remembered from that night was making a mental note to thank Hassan Ali, if I ever saw him again.