Memorable Teacher I Never Had
and Disappointment at a Mexico City Bus Stop”
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
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.
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).
She 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 wearing spats.
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.
The 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
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.
© John Troesser
September 2, 2007 Column
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Related Topics: Mexico