Fr K was every girl’s heart-throb. Yes. Heart-throb. We used the word for guys who made our heart beat quicken. Sometimes for girls. So, Fr K Heart-throb.
We saw him once a year during the annual retreat. And girls waited all year with bated breath for the ‘retreat’. The retreat was calendared for that time of the year when all the students except one batch went on their holiday. So, it would mostly be a particular batch and Fr K, the only other person on the sprawling campus being Chaukidar Daju.
Every day of the three-day retreat, the girls made an effort to look nice. Do your hair a certain way, wear your best blouse, and make sure to get a seat in the first row. Although, Fr K always made sure to reshuffle the seats eventually into a circle, with him standing in the centre.
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Leaning in his very dark navy blue contemporary habit, a hint of white popping out on the collar, he stood there for three full days of the retreat, talking, charming his listeners. What did he really do to work his charm? Not much.
But thrown into a classroom of 17-year-old girls, he did not have to do much. His competition were 60-year-old Mr Chaurdhary who taught Economics and Chaukidar Daju, who walked about with betel nut tucked between his teeth.
I suppose the only thing different Fr K did was smile. He smiled and laughed softly a lot between talking. And every time he did that, the scar from a sewn-up upper cleft lip showed itself off, adding something striking to his demeanour.
There were rumours about Fr K. They said that in his hill-town, women fell for him every time they heard him speak during church. And there were other rumours that made the girls blush. But there he was, standing amidst us, talking about ethics and love for all living beings.
Just as the bell rang after lunch break, I shoved my bag into Rosy’s arms saying, “I need to use the loo”. I ran in as I always did and stopped suddenly at the main door of the lavatory.
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The door to the cubicle in the centre was open, partly showing off the dark navy blue attire. Facing away from me was Fr K, relieving himself. When he heard the steps, he tilted his head, looked at me and said, “Oh, hello.” And continued at what he had been doing.
I felt like my face was on fire. Why was he in the students’ toilet instead of the GENTS in the staff room building? Had no one briefed him about the toilet rules in an all-girls’ institution? I turned away and left, the startling sound of shower softly hitting the toilet pan ringing in my ears.
Back in the classroom, Rosy asked me why I look so flustered. I said it was nothing. I said, I was glad the retreat would be over in a few hours. She looked at me like she couldn’t believe her ears.
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I make my way to the toilets, a short walk from the hall at the literature festival venue. The door to one of the toilets is open. A man stands inside, relieving himself. He is wearing loose clothing. His linen shirt collar is met at the nape by peppery curls. A cotton bag is slung on one shoulder. “Sorry,” he says.
When I go back to my seat, I see this man again. He is now seated on the stage alongside other speakers. The moderator introduces him as the writer of a book which is named after a certain exploding fruit. Later, I would try to read the book and never be able to finish it.
“I’m your fan,” I say to the politician, as he walks into the studio, preparing for a live interview. As the studio producers help him with the lapel mic and framing, I make small talk.
“I disagree with your thoughts regarding federalism, but I have always been impressed by how clearly you make your argument on why we don’t need it.”
“That’s all right, Nanu,” he says. “In a democracy, we’re all allowed to disagree.”
The interview is over and it is my turn to go on the air, before which I always use the toilet. I walk towards the row of restrooms. The first one on the floor has its door flung open and our guest’s colourful Dhaka topi stands out in the semi-darkness of the cubicle.
“Eh…” he says.
Past 6PM is always time for your last cup of tea. I ’m standing by the lift, waiting, when he absentmindedly walks past me towards the toilet, muttering a casual hi. Given the short distance between the lift and the toilet, a strong smell would sometimes hover in the lobby.
“When are you going to turn your feature in?” he yells at me from the toilet.
“Sorry?” I turn my head towards his voice. The door to the Men’s is open.
As always, I hate having to use the toilet at Nepal Tourism Board. In there, I’ve always wondered how one was expected to use a space so small. I tend to get apprehensive even before I enter it.
I open the main door and standing before the mirror, is them, towering over the basin. They’re doing some last-minute fixing, standing taller than anyone I have met in my life, poised gracefully in a peach silk gown, with floral patterns.
“I love your blog post about massage. I’ve often wondered what that kind of pain actually brings,” I say.
“Thanks,” they say and continue to get busy by the mirror. It was the first time I was speaking to someone who uses ‘they’ as a pronoun. I carry on into one of the cubicles, where it feels like the walls are about to crush me. I wonder how they might have used a space so tiny. I also think of how we had coexisted for a few minutes in a tight space and how, unlike similar encounters with men, I had not felt threatened.
Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.