Most Memorable Teacher I Never Had
and Disappointment at a Mexico City Bus Stop”by
was waiting for a bus in Mexico City a few months before the 1985 earthquake.
It was one of the city’s major arteries like Reforma or Insurgentes. It was in
a posh neighborhood where the cross streets are named after rivers of the world
(Danubio for Danube or the economically-spelled Misisipi). |
On this particular
intersection on that particular afternoon there was a bench with a poster kiosk
next to it. The poster du jour was one for a Jean-Paul Belmondo movie. The poster
showed a long-armed Jean-Paul holding an oversized pistol. A young mother and
child were standing directly in his line of fire, as indifferent to the Gallic
gunman as a U.S. Attorney General at a Senate hearing. Frankly, the woman’s dignity
negated JP’s menace.
courtesy fan-de-cinema.com |
bench that I was sitting on was divided into two sides with a shared backrest.
The side facing the street was for people who anticipated the arrival of their
bus. The other side was for people who were going home to their families. Being
a neutral stranger, I sat with my back to the traffic and between blaring horns,
police whistles and the sounds of a church choir practicing somewhere nearby,
I heard a sound I hadn’t heard in years. It sounded like someone tsking. For people
of a certain age, tsking was a dreaded sound. It was how elders showed disapproval
or contempt for young people.|
The sound was coming from a middle-aged
woman sitting behind me. I slid down to the far end of my side of the bench to
get a better vantage point (and to put some distance between us).
was wearing glasses tethered to her sweater and was looking down into her lap.
She wore a plain starched white blouse under her sweater and a cameo broach.
She was extremely neat and proper, and if she had been a man, she would’ve been
Between her tsks, I would hear an occasional “Ay!” I
won’t swear to it, but I believe I also heard a quietly exhaled “Dios Mio!”
The woman was clearly talking to people who weren’t there. One minute I would
hear her say the name “Felipe!” And a minute later she would be saying: “Ay, Isabel!”
Her sounds were accompanied by a slow, but continuous side-to-side shaking
of her head.
My bus was approaching, but since it was Mexico City there
was nothing to be excited about. Actually, I had been watching it inch forward
for the last hour and a half. Things happen in Mexico at their own pace. They
also don’t happen, although at a much slower pace.
I got on the
bus and paid my fare, finding a seat next to the window. I was now able to get
a good look at tsking woman and discovered the reason for her tsking.
She was grading papers. Her finished stack was as thick as a phone book and she
had an equal stack still left to grade. Her worn-to-a-stub red pencil was the
same color as the lipstick on her pursed lips.
Her focus had blocked
out the rest of the world and had nearly caused her to miss her bus. She looked
up to the heavens to sigh (Innocente had evidently misspelled Coatzacoalcos again)
and noticed for the first time that her bus (my bus) had arrived.
Professora unhurriedly gathered her things and entered the bus, greeting the driver
as she showed him a pass. She sat down behind me and immediately ungathered her
things and went right back to grading papers.
Thirty minutes later, after
being forced to enlist the aid of a policeman, our driver eased back into gridlock
and until I got off at my stop about an hour later, I got to hear a “roll call”
of her students names.
Interspersed with the tsks where a few “bravos,”
but these were usually attached to girls names.
When I first heard of
the earthquake a few months later, I immediately wondered if she had been among
the casualties. I hope she wasn’t, for if there’s one thing we need more of, it’s
teachers who tsk.
shoe horses, don't they?" September 2, 2007 Column
Mexico | Texas