Abdul-Welis short story: The Last Lesson [Archives:2002/06/Culture]

February 4 2002

Translated by:
Saad Sharif Taher
Revised by:
Dr. R. V. Anand
Nadira Ibb
The class was quiet. Thirty pupils were breathing quietly, looking at the door with anxious eyes, for the teacher would enter in minutes to present his last lesson.
During the ordinary days and in such moments, the class would be completely disturbed: pupils would throw pieces of chalk at one another and shout with bad words. You could find one of them in a corner filling his mouth with remains of bread while gluttonous eyes were following the movements of his hands and mouth. Another pupil would hold a chair to stand on to write on the board something in mind in a small weak hand writing while another one would laugh while correcting the mistakes and if the teacher entered suddenly the noise would come down and the pupils would push each other on their way to their places. Calmness would prevail and the eyes would perplexed, anxious and terrified, other eyes would feel guilty but they would start again soon after the teachers leaving.
But today the matter is different. All pupils are sitting quietly in deep silence and their small eyes which always look forward are looking perplexedly at the door, the black board and the empty chair of the teacher. All pupils of sixth class are sharing one feeling of real anxiety and awe against this last lesson.
A year ago a twenty-six-year old elegant teacher entered the class with a small mustache and glasses behind which young daring strong eyes appeared and little baldness was creeping quietly to dominate the black-haired head. To the pupils he was a strange teacher but later on he became beloved and came near their hearts.
They didnt expect that some day they would sit quietly in that silence of funerals to say goodbye to their teacher. Why and why should he leave? They loved him more than school. His lesson was the only one that no one missed.
His words came from the heart in a quiet, serious and deep voice to settle in those young hearts which were full of love for life, the hearts that were opened by the teacher to overlook a wide world as they heard from his mouth new words for the first time people, nation and homeland and how they should love others. It was true that they heard the same words from other teachers or from their fathers while reading newspapers but they heard them differently from him with new beautiful meanings.
The eyes are fixed on the door but the teacher hasnt come yet. The pupils feel for the first time that they are in need of him, his speech and sad voice. Why has he delayed? They havent wished to miss him even for one time, or never believed that he would leave them specially this day because they may not see him or hear his voice in their class forever.
The door was opened quietly but no one felt when the teacher entered and he himself didnt feel when the pupils stood to offer him Yemeni salutation. He came in quietly and looked at them attentively with a sad smile on his face and eyes. Moments passed as the teachers eyes met all pupils eyes in silent greetings.
– Sit down, sit down.
But the pupils kept standing up. Then the teacher smiled and they sad down after he had sat down on his chair. The pupils remembered the first day when the teacher entered the class. They had heard much about him before he became their teacher. They had heard and read his writings before they saw him. How much happy they were when they knew that he would be their teacher to teach them history. That day he entered with a smile on his lips not similar to that of this day.
They remember well how he started the first day and talked to them as a brother. An elder brother who didnt impose them to respect him. But they found themselves respect him while he started writing the title of the first day with elegant letters History of Yemen. He didnt talk to them about what was written in school books but told them new things about ancient civilizations and the roots of a population that made civilizations, built dams and erected a small paradise in its homeland Happy Yemen. Then he shifted from ancient history to the present and talked quietly more and more about their homeland which was divided into north and south.
Here they are meeting today in the last lesson in their small class of old walls and wide windows with memories of a complete year waving in his mind and every pupils with the hanged fan in the middle of the class moving quietly.
Mohammed Abdul-Weli was a Yemeni writer born in Abyssinia in 1939 and died in Yemen in 1973.