Um

um

The English teacher had high, thin eyebrows over sharp, Korean-like eyes. Her lips never curved up in the slightest shadow of a smile as she outlined the rules in her classroom.

It was the first day of college class.

I could feel the frost as each of us fidgeted in our neatly spaced rows of seats. Each one wanting to shyly smile at the nearest person, modestly indicating a desire to be friends and a mutely call for help in this dizzying new world.

The teacher spoke, “English words usually originate from foreign sources. The commonly known are Latin, Greek, French…”

We strove to jot down her crisp, staccato-rhythmic lecture.

She seemed and sounded terribly strict.

We were meek lambs in her presence.

She continued, “…Several words are also from Arabic descent, if you can believe it.” A few widening of eyes but no audible, impolite response. “Words ending in “–um” are of Arabic origin. Aluminum and curriculum are some examples.” I remember thinking about ‘plum’.

“Now kindly give me examples of English words ending in ‘–um.’”

A few hands raised up. “Datum.” “Sputum.” “Yes. Another,” responded the teacher.  The responses were soft-spoken in the chill morning air.

“Costume.”

Some of us choked back a laugh, my inconsiderate self included. All traces of humor, however, disappeared with the teacher’s wintry words next heard, “No, Miss…“ she paused and looked at a class card.  “…Miss Perez, that is not correct.”

She walked over to the suddenly flustered girl, who looked like a doe caught in the headlights. “Kindly spell costume for me.” The unnerved young soul tried and failed to even speak. Our English instructress rapidly sized her up then turned her back on us, walking rapidly to the whiteboard. “Costume ends with ‘e’, and even though it is a silent ‘e’, we still consider it in our correct spelling,” she said, emphasizing the final e on the board with a savage stroke. She turned to face us. I could feel palpitations in the room.

“Now,” she said softly, “another example.” Not a muscle moved, except for eyes frantically lowered to stare at desks. I could hear the silence stretching, like a piercing high note on the violin lengthened beyond auditory endurance.

“Kindly give another example of words of Arabic origin, in particular ending in ‘–um’.” It was worse than watching a horror movie.

Finally, after strained moments of silence, we heard the soft shuffle of class cards.
My brain was frantically searching for a darned word ending in –um, which suddenly seemed to be scarcer than endangered pandas.

“Mr. Lugtu.”

Heads suddenly lifted up. There was relief written all over our faces, and morbidly, not without the weird anticipation of the goring of the poor chosen one to be sacrificed for the class. At least until the end of this session.

“Yes, Ma’am.” The voice was vainly trying to be brave, but I heard the quiver.

Soft and deadly, the dreaded words were spoken. “Mr. Lugtu, kindly give me an English word ending in –um.”

He was all earnestness when he answered in a clear, trembly voice: “Kaboom?”

I am sure, up to this day, that we disturbed no less than fourteen classes in the college that morning.

Laughter erupted everywhere– loud, rambunctious laughter. We were panting after minutes of laughing, and even the not-so-distant threat of being gored next failed to sober us up.

I’ve loved college since.

(photo courtesy of Criminalatt/Freedigitalphotos.net)

Estel Grace Masangkay About Estel Grace Masangkay

Estel M. is a creative and freelance writer who writes environmental news, tech topics, and occasionally disturbingly profound reflections. She has four cats and enjoys life in the slow lane.

Estel Grace Masangkay About Estel Grace Masangkay

Estel M. is a creative and freelance writer who writes environmental news, tech topics, and occasionally disturbingly profound reflections. She has four cats and enjoys life in the slow lane.

Smiles For All