She held her hands in front of her mouth, her bottom lip pressed on her two index fingers. Behind her, near the door of the common-room, my destination, stood another student. He was staring at me.
‘Depends on what it is?’ I replied.
Dropping her hands to her sides she asked, ‘Is Doctor Oakley Shell, a man or a woman?’
Dr Shell’s has shoulder length hair, which is always neatly tied into a pony tail at the back of the head.
‘Well, I think Dr Shell, ‘ I paused in contemplative thought.
She frowned and let out an exacerbated sigh.
‘I really need to know,’ she insisted.
‘Why don’t you telephone Doctor Shell?’ said I, ‘would you like the extension?’
‘How can I ask, excuse me, are you a man or a woman?’ said she and then added, ‘But, would I be able to tell from that, you think?’
I was about to say, of course you will, but stopped. A voice inside my head said, don’t be a voiceist, the American University of Beirut is an equal opportunities university.
‘That is a more difficult question then the first one?’ I replied.
‘I asked you something very simple!’ she said.
‘Why don’t you go upstairs and ask one of the secretaries,’ I suggested.
Placing her hands on her hips she said, ‘You professors think secretaries have nothing better to do, than than tell me, if one of the professors, I shortly have a meeting with, is a man or a woman!’
‘Does it matter?’ I asked.
‘Of course it doesn’t matter, matter,’ she replied, ‘but, how would you like to go for a meeting with Dr Shell thinking she’s a woman and turns out to be a man, or thinking he’s a man, and turns out to be a woman.’
I was about to tell the student who I thought Dr Shell was when she threw her hands up in the air, and rushed past me saying, ‘How do you professors manage to teach when you make simple things so complex?’
The student by the common room was still staring at me.
As I got close to him he asked, ‘Where is the English department?’
I pointed to the stairs next to him and said, ‘Up on the 3rd floor.’
His face lit up. He turned around and ran down the stairs and out of the building. A moment later Dr Shell came walking up the stairs.
It was a horrible, hot humid day and I was sweating profusely.
On seeing me Dr Shell smiled and said loudly, ‘Another wonderful day, for you to enjoy, Tariq.’
I told Dr Shell about the first student’s question.
‘And you told her!’ Dr Shell exclaimed.
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