And so our friendship began, with regular visits to the office hours he used to hold once a week for each class. It wasn’t hard for me to become his star student. When I wasn’t taking class, I was either perched on a chair in the library, or sitting at home with my parents in the deadening silence Father demanded, working. But now, in that final semester, the hours eased past, the deathly quality of Father’s silence dissolving as I lost myself in my studies. The other students were mostly absent from his office hours, and so we used to hold many private conferences about something I’d written, or questions that had come up in class, his huge desk brooding between us, a natural barricade. But its existence no longer troubled me.
One day, we were in his office as usual, and our conversation had long drawn to its natural close. Yet we lingered. I had just finished reading Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s Montaillou, an account of life in a medieval village in France between 1294 and 1324, one of the extra readings he suggested for the history course.
“I’ve never read a book like that before, it doesn’t come across as a history.” I paused, frowning, fumbling to clutch at an evanescent thread of thought. “It feels much more like science—like case studies—”
He sat up suddenly, his eyes capturing mine.
“You noticed that?”
“Of course,” I replied. “Isn’t it obvious?”
He sagged back into his seat. “Not to the other students.” He warmed me with his light-brown eyes. “But you are unusually mature for your age.”
I scrutinized his expression, surprised.
“I mean it,” he said, his eyes glowing as they lingered on my face. They were compelling eyes that seemed to call forth secrets, things I never spoke of. And perhaps that is why I slid into disloyal talk about my parents, how I’d had to beg them to let me go to university, how they insisted I live at home, and how I had few friends.
“You didn’t have a childhood either,” he remarked.
He leaned across that huge desk as if to reach for my hand, but his arm lay on his side of the desk, his fingers hovering in the air, disconnected. [To be continued.]