Elizabeth is the kind of student that teachers, like me, called perfect. She always tops the exams—no matter how easy or difficult—then attends classes, even if it’s raining hard and she’s got a fever or flu, then she always comes on time, does every assignment and project you asked for, can answer questions during recitation, teaches her classmates who cannot cope up with the lessons, always has a warm smile for everyone, never cheats, and most of all, never proud.
She is a perfect student by and by.
So, just imagine my surprise when I saw her one day and learned her darkest and dirtiest secret.
I was at a party then, and it wasn’t your usual Saturday-night party where people dance and get drunk. Rather, it was a gracious gathering of high-ranking people from different fields. I wasn’t really supposed to be there because like I’ve said, only elite people were invited, and I’m just a young budding professor who hasn’t yet contributed anything. But it so happened that I have a good friend that is one—an influential entrepreneur—and he couldn’t attend the gathering because according to him he had a very important business trip that he would never dared to miss even for his life, so, I represented him instead.
At that time, I made sure to use the opportunity to make connections with other people.
However, just before the night ended I saw her, Elizabeth.
She was sitting alone, wearing a red cocktail dress, and she seemed to be concentrating hard on a glass of—I still hope it was water. Then, I made my way to her but she didn’t notice me. She was still engrossed at the glass.
“Elizabeth,” I said.
She was startled; I would even bet that her heart had stopped at that moment. But she didn’t glance up at me. She just continued looking at the glass, and holding it more tight.
“Hannah,” a voice of an old man spoke behind me.
With this, she looked at me, and she seemed a different person, and then she stood and went to the man who called her Hannah.
I turned back, and recognized the man; he was one of those many that I had been introduced to. I gave a polite nod to him, and saw at the same time that Elizabeth was holding hands with him. I thought he was her dad.
“Phillip Earl, young man!” the old man said, beaming.
“Sir, er—,“ I couldn’t remember his name. And at that time, I wondered at how good these people are at memorizing names.
“Henry. Henry it is. Henry Davis,” he said, still beaming.
“I’m sorry, Henry, I hope you’re not offended,” I said, “I’m not really good with names.” Then, I stole a glance at Elizabeth.
“No, no. It’s all right, Phillip! By the way, meet my—my—my companion, Hannah,” he said, and then he turned to Elizabeth, “Hannah, say hi to Phillip Earl, he’s the best friend of my biggest client.”
Elizabeth stared at me for a moment, and did a courtesy bow, “Nice to meet you, Phillip Earl. And if you will please excuse us.”
She turned to him and said, “I think it’s beyond time.”
“Oh! Yes. Sorry Phillip. We have to go by now, and say hi for me to Vince,” he said, and then they went off. They were heading upstairs to one of the hotel’s room, and he had put his arm around her waist, and I thought I saw him slipped his hand behind her too, yet she didn’t seem to mind it.
The next day, I expected she wouldn’t come to class. But she was there, and early. She even topped the surprise exam that I gave them.
I told her to meet me at the office after the class, hoping that she would confide to me about it. She came all right, and she had even the nerve to ask me why, and we talked about the lessons, about her classmates, and what they find difficult with my lessons, and all throughout she didn’t even give a hint that she knew what I was thinking about. She was acting as if nothing happened last night, like we hadn’t seen each other.
Then I found the courage to bring it up.
“Do you have a sister?” I said.
“No, Sir. I—I am an only child,” she said.
“So it was you who I saw last night?” I said.
She stared at me, devoid of emotion.
“Yes,” she said, at last.
Then she got up hastily without even saying goodbye, and when she was at the door, she paused.
“I hope you also ask whether I have a mother or father.”
To tell the truth, I hadn’t been able to sleep at all that night.
The next day, she didn’t come to class, and the next day after. I wanted to visit her at her home but I didn’t know where she lives, and I was afraid to ask anyone because rumours might arise. Days stretched to one week, and then 2 weeks, and until one afternoon, news came to me.
She overdosed herself to sleep.
Until now, no one knows—except for me—why she did it, not even her so called friends who aren’t really her friends after all.
I learned that her parents died when she was 10, and since then, she lived and raised herself alone.
Exactly one year had passed since her death, and I still couldn’t forget about her.
I hadn’t been the perfect teacher, because if I was, I should have risked asking her classmates where she lived, and I should have asked more about her.
But I didn’t.
I know that I will encounter a lot more intelligent, or perhaps more intelligent students than her.
But Elizabeth will always be my greatest student, because she had made herself the perfect student despite of the imperfectness of her situation.
:: This is my entry for Friday Flash Fiction: Cycle 45: It’s a Dirty Job.
P.S. This story is exactly 1000 words!