Love incongruous

Gebriel Alazar Tesfatsion
11 min readJun 18, 2023
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I was a strange lecturer, my freshman students would tell you, quite the specimen — young, in my late twenties, only less than a decade older than them, yet I was emotionally numb, bereft of enthusiasm; life tasted bland in my mouth. I showed no interest in who the students were and in building rapport with them. I had one object coming to class: deliver the day’s lesson as a pizza delivery person delivers pizza and then leave. I would come to class and delve right in to lecture without so much as greeting. It did not matter if it was the first class, that I was meeting the students for the first time. To me, they appeared like matchsticks, no different from the last batch.

“As far as this course, Freshman English, is concerned,” I would declare, on day one, “the first class is the most important. This is when I lay out all you need to know about the course: you don’t learn language in class — you just have to practice the four skills on your own. Do not bother coming to class; I won’t tax you for attendance. Just make sure you appear for the exam at the end of the semester”.

“Teacher,” a student would venture to ask the conspicuously missing information at the end of the orientation, “what is your name? What should we call you?”

“Don’t bother,” I would reply curtly, “that question won’t appear in your exam”.

Soon as I uttered the last word on the day’s lesson, I was out of class, without any hint of my leave, even if that was the last class, that I would not see the students again. At first, my students waited around, looking at one another, thinking, he can’t have left just like that! They would soon learn to accept this too as the idiosyncrasy that was me.

I had only one rule: do not come to class; if you do, come in time and let me do my job in peace. I did not allow a student to come in a second later than I set my feet in. Instead, I cast an indifferent glance at whoever stood knocking at the door and said, in the most expressionless tone, “Go back” with a jerk of my hand, as though I was shooing away a fly. There was nothing insolent in this act, nor did my students see one in it. They found the emotionlessness of this interaction rather comical and late comers would still knock, just to get the indifferent reaction and the class would chuckle at that. That became my trademark.

I was not punctual myself. Many a time I walked in several minutes late to find the lecture hall packed with students that would have been waiting. At such times, I would overhear, a backbencher dare to give me a taste of my own medicine, by whispering, under his breath, “Go back”. The whole class would stifle uneasy laughter. I pretended to not have heard it and continued with my lesson.

Tyranny, you might say, but for me, there was nothing tyrannical about this. I was the traditional-teacher type. A teacher, for me, was the law.

This disposition put me in stark contrast against my fellow colleagues, young and senior, who sought to create light, fun atmosphere, in the way they ambled up to the day’s lesson with trivia, small-talk or anecdote; throw in jokes, here and there, during the lesson; and devote time at the end of lesson, reaching out to students and talking to them, being approachable, encouraging them to consult them etc.

I did not care.

I was not the strict teacher outside class. Far from it. I was, in a word, a mess. A helpless inebriate. Frustration flamed in my bosom with where I was in life and where I ought to be, and a sense of being of little use to myself and my family whose future depended on my success. The opportunity of pursuing my education on scholarship I banked my hopes on was not forthcoming. The strict teacher was a cloak I pulled over this burning frustration and worry at work. After work, I could not wait to throw the cloak off me and hurry downtown to a bar and douse the flame with the cheap pleasures it caters.

In the bar, myself and my-bird-of-the-same-feather, my buddy, who harbours the same feeling in his heart, would drink with abandon. Afterwards, we would stagger our way back to our bed. We did not always succeed in this objective though. A few times, I found myself lying on the street instead. At dawn, students going to early morning mass to church would cross themselves in horror to find the man sprawled on the street was a university lecturer.

In class, I did not allow any of this sign of that life to show, save the scent of liquor and cigarette I emitted and reddened eyes. Not that I was concealing it from them; I just wished to guard what was left off my dignity on the last ground. My students knew, of course. My reputation superseded me. Plus, a few of the students, the ‘cooler’ ones, hang out in our spot. These children got a kick out of walking up to our table and say, “Ruddy, may I?” (Calling me by my diminutive name was to establish equal standing) and light their cigarette from mine. Plus, this act would spice up the rumour they would spread the next day — and I actually lit my cig off of his.

I did not care.

On my sixth year, I had a special spectator (to the quite the spectacle that I was). Her name was Lana. I noticed her from day one. She was — noticeable. Tall, shapely, graceful like an Arabian horse, her oval face, serene, as though she had just woke up fresh from sleep, she had a cosmic presence about her that the large lecture hall seemed unable to contain. Lana knew she was noticeable too — that her presence commanded devout attention in the opposite sex and stirred up a cyclone of envy in the hearts of her sex, yet, while this knowledge worked up persons of her age to vanity, she carried it with ease, simplicity. Underneath the blossoms of femininity, I discerned child-likeness, in how she was still and sincere when she attended to the lecture, like a child attending to her grandma’s fairy tale, which left me with the disconcerting feeling that she must be attending to much more than the dry grammar I taught — perhaps the grammar of my body language; the grammar of the ebb and flow of my breath; the grammar of my masculinity; the grammar of my spirit.

There was child-like sincerity to everything she did, as when doubt cropped up in her head, she did not raise her hand, as is the custom, but rather thought the question out loud.

She became my obsessive curiosity. I wanted to know her. That year, I was guilty of meting out too many writing assignments with only one object in mind: unraveling the enigma that was Lana.

“For your assignment next week,” I would say, over the students grumbles, “write an essay in no less than thousand words on this topic:”. One week I’d ask them to write a narrative essay on “The Saddest Day of My Life”; another week, a descriptive essay on “My Heaven on Earth” or “My Ideal Partner”.

Soon as I got back to my office with the student assignments, I would flip through the papers with utmost disinterest, pull out Lana’s assignment, and dumped the rest in the dust bucket. I studied her paper as though I was deciphering an ancient, dead language. I examined her handwriting, its size, the angle of its slants; and the content to understand her, her being, the being that had dictated those words and ignited life in me without so much as uttering a word. This mad occupation only deepened her spell on me.

A month in, I was floored on my back.

“I am falling in love,” I told my friend, over the loud music and thick cigarette smoke — an epitome of the train of our existence speeding out of control to its ultimate destination, death.

I grabbed the arms of the young waitress who came to serve us another round of dry gin and slurred, “I am falling in love”.

“I can tell, honey,” the waitress flashed a smile at me.

This was, of course, incomprehensible to my friend. We were incapable of falling in love. Love was a semblance we let the girls in our lives wrap around their conscience to justify sleeping with us.

“You have never even spoken to her!” he exclaimed. I was acting like a teenager who has fallen in love for the first time.

I explained to my friend in the eloquence of a man punch drunk with liquor and love that not even the mighty power of the elixir we gulped could douse the love I felt for Lana.

For the first time in six years, I looked forward to heading to class. As soon as I got there, I stole a glance to where she sat and made a tortured sigh of relief to meet her calm, collected figure perched on the armchair. The next thing I ever wanted to do was not lecture but sing, sing a confession, a confession of love, to her, in the presence of her classmates. I did not need music — I had the melody in my head. I wanted to walk down the podium, caroling Marc Anthony’s “I need you”:

From the day that I met you girl
I knew that your love would be
Everything that I ever wanted in my life
From the moment you spoke my name
I knew everything had changed
Because of you I felt my life would be complete.

Oh baby, I need you for the rest of my life
Girl, I need you to make everything right
Girl, I love you and I’ll never deny that I need you.

Nothing matters but you my love
And only God above
Could be the one to know exactly how I feel
I could die in your arms right now
Knowing that you somehow
Would take my soul and keep it deep inside your heart

to where she sat, hold out my hand and pull her up from her armchair, and pull her in, closer, so close I could feel the warmth of her youthful breath, as I continue to carol the words to her:

Girl your love to me feels just like magic
When you smile you have total control
You have power like nothing I’ve felt before
I’ve let all of my feelings show
Because I want you to know that.. I need you

But I would snap out of it and drug myself up to lecture.

I never sung her the confession, nor did I communicate interest in any other way. I concealed my feeling behind the same rigid professionalism. Until this one time. An incident, unearthly, unexpected, blew wide open my cover, exposing my feeling.

I had just begun lecture when the door was knocked. I darted an impatient glance to utter the words the class were anticipating in bemusement when who else walked in but the enchanted figure of Lana (I had noted with heavy heart that she was not in class when I came in, but it did not occur to me that she would come late). The reaction never came. Instead, I was flung back to oblivion. I found myself eyeing her, with unadulterated gaze of desire, of deep love, as she floated in, like a dream.

When I came back to my conscious, I scampered to collect my attention and return to lecture, my face flustered. The whole scene, brief though it was, was wide open for the whole class to see. Yet, on the faces of the boys and girls I saw not ridicule but empathy as the little scene that played out before their eyes, so candid, pure, and true, struck a heart string with them. They seemed to feel sorry instead for witnessing what they were not supposed to.

In retrospect, I could not help thinking, after all, in that moment, I sang my confession of love to her, in the presence of her classmates, in a means much more powerful than words.

I never spoke to Lana outside the premise of class whilst she was my student. Lana was not like those girls who rushed after me after class and asked me if she could visit me in my office because she ‘had some questions’. I did not take any steps either. Because she was my student, or as we referred to them in our circle, ‘a forbidden fruit’. Now, I would be the last person to deny having bites off the forbidden fruit, but I never picked the fruits per se; they had to fall on my hands, so to speak. My incongruous coldness tended to excite in the bosoms of the fair sex the feeling that there is ‘good-naturalness’ buried underneath my lifelessness’ and the desire to reach out and pleasure and mother the goodness out of me. I would be happy to play along, until I find my way between their legs. Afterwards, the whole affair tasted bland on my mouth, just like class had been; I would delve right into the mission of delivering pleasure, without any niceties, and soon as it was over, I was out of their arms, on my foot, pulling my pants up, and groping about for excuse to exit.

I spoke to Lana the year after she was through being my student, in her second year. She was standing in front of an office between her two friends when I swallowed down my heart and approached her.

“Ahm, hi, could you meet me after you are done with your thing,” I said, dryly, “I will be in my office”.

Half an hour later, she sat on the chair in front of me. Seeing her sitting before me, in my office seemed surreal. I glanced at her face. Her expression betrayed neither curiosity nor alarm.

“The reason I called you,” I began to say the opener I had contrived and rehearsed before she came, “is because the fluorescent in my office — it is burned out; I wanted to change it”.

Lana gave me a blank look unable to see where I was going with this.

“Ahm — and I wanted someone tall who could change it for me”.

Only for the nervous smile on my face, did she know this was meant to be a joke. She rewarded me with a broad smile — it was the first time she had ever seen me try.

We talked. Once the initial tension was out of the way, we did not feel like we were speaking for the first time, but rather picking up from where we left off the conversation that had begun that first class when we plopped into each other’s existence and over the course of the semester, conversation that took place between our souls in silence. We liked where that conversation was, were happy to continue it, over the days that followed.

Lana never brought up the subject of fixing me like the other girls. Yet, I wanted to fix myself, dust myself off, set my life right.

“I am not proud of the person I am,” I told her, in one of our first dates, wishing to come clean with her.

“You are not?” she asked, studying my face.

“You don’t know?” I rejoined.

“Know what?” she asked.

“That I — I am–a mess,”

“I hear rumours”.


“What do you mean ‘and’?”

“How does that make you feel”.

“Makes me feel like you are a fool”.

That was that. I renounced that life and never looked back. I guess that is what love is — love is not wanting to change someone, but it is wanting to change for someone.

My friend has another theory. He tells me I have not changed a bit; I am still the same old inebriate, only promoted to the finer liquor called love.