Very few if any people liked Dr.Palesa. She was uncompromising in everything she did. Her austere demeanor did not augur well with other lecturers too.
Tabby was scared. The college had assigned Dr Palesa as her mentor. She was supposed to meet the Doctor every week for mentorship programmes. She was jealous when other students yelled in joy at their assigned lecturers.
“Oh Oh Oh!” Her friend exclaimed as they sat around the cafeteria’s table. “I hear Dr Palesa is bad news! She is so strict and unforgiving!” Michelle went on.
Tabby glanced at her two friends with a forlorn face.
“I hate this! Why me, when all of you have good mentors?” She said and lay her head on the table face down as her friends sympathised with her.
“Tabby, if it makes you feel better, I have heard that one can appeal at the mentorship office and ask to be assigned another lecturer.” Flora remarked.
“Better still, Alex told me that he had been assigned Dr Palesa but he joined Dr Smith’s team without permission and all went well. I suggest you do the same. Join me at Dr Tino’s team.” Ivy, whose boyfriend Alex was in the second year gave Tabby the best suggestion.
She did not have the bravery to go and appeal in offices like Flora had suggested. She would join Dr Tino’s team by crook.
Nevertheless, things had changed this year. The college mentorship organizers had decided to be strict on students following their assigned mentors this time. Tabby would not escape. She was stuck with the intolerant Dr Palesa. It would be a long three years of her college life , a resigned Tabby thought.
The following week, she and nineteen other students waited outside Dr Palesa’s office. She had sent notices that her team should be at her office by 9:00 am.
“Such a selfish woman, she hangs notices everywhere in the college that we should be at her office by 9, then she keeps us here waiting for her like a goddess!” A young male student commented.
“Maybe she wants us to feel her power.” Another replied.
“She is a witch that one! With three horns behind her head!” Yet another quipped and the twenty students broke into shrills and roars of laughter.
“So, three horns you said?” The voice that asked made Tabby and her first year college students squirm in fear. Dr Palesa was standing behind them, holding a big file in her hands, with an amused look on her face. Tabby watched as the amusement faded and a stern look replaced it.
She pointed at the three students that had mocked her and asked them to stand aside.
She opened her office door and the students saw her pull out pieces of paper from her drawer then she jotted something down.
“The three of you should come in.” She called out menacingly and handed them the papers . The look on the faces of the three spelt anxiety. She dismissed them even when they tried to mutter apologies. One of them whispered ,”Good riddance to you!” as he walked away. The seventeen students that were left, remained speechless.
Tabby and her colleagues listened as she read out her plan to mentor them on life matters. Unlike other lecturers who held group meetings, she allocated each of them a day and time to see her. When she finally dismissed them, the students walked away silently to a safe distance and started their complaints.
“Why does she like doing things differently from others?”
“Imagine being on a one on one with her in her office, I swear I will be wearing diapers when I am about to meet her, that woman can make you soil yourself.”
“She is so bitter!”
“I heard that she was dumped on her wedding day, that’s why she is so bitter with life.”
“What a wise man. You can’t live with such a woman in the house.”
A frustrated Tabby left the group and went to her hostel feeling blue. She thought college life was fun but it no longer seemed that way. It was hard at home living with a cruel aunt, now she had to deal with an insensitive lecturer.
When her day to meet the lecturer finally reached, she arrived in time.
“Huh, the only surviver?” Dr Palesa jibed. Tabby did not comprehend what her to-be-mentor meant. She did not have the guts to ask Dr Palesa to be clear with her statement. She stood rooted on the ground at the office door.
Dr Palesa gestured to Tabby to walk in and have a seat. Tabby obeyed and observed as Dr Palesa neatly arranged her desk.
“Well, Tabby your name is. The only one who did not jump ship.” She said smiling. Tabby smiled too uncomfortably. Had the rest left to another mentor? She shifted restlessly.
“I have been reading your file and I must say, I like what I see. You are destined for great things for sure. Now my work is to guide you as you sail through college life.” Dr Palesa announced.
Tabby was surprised her heart had stopped palpitating fast. She was also surprised that Dr Palesa saw hope in her life. To Tabby, living one day at a time was safer for her. She was afraid of the future, ambition would only bring disappointment.
When they parted, Tabby felt unusually excited about the long journey of mentorship with the most feared lecturer. The news that the other sixteen had been assigned a new mentor after filing complaints did not push her to the dumps either.
“We thought you were aware of the plan to appeal.”
“Never mind. I will see what I will do.” Tabby replied to her classmate. She had no plans to appeal against Dr Palesa. A gut feeling urged her to stay on.
She would later realise that she had made the best decision in her college life.
Tabby attended Dr Palesa’s appointments in her office religiously. Every trip from her office changed her. She had a better outlook towards life, her self esteem heightened and the belief that she could change the world became more real in her.
Moreover, Tabby realised that Dr Palesa was not the snake most people thought she was. She was just a tough but sweet cookie.
In her third year, Tabby had caught her in good moods and managed to poke into the doctor’s private life. She never knew anything about her but she decided to push her luck.
“Doc, your children must be so lucky to have you as their mum.” Tabby regretted the words as soon as she said them.
Palesa’s face dropped. She stood from her chair quickly and went to face the window. Tabby thought of running away but her legs were too feeble. She waited for the scolding but things took an unexpected turn. Palesa turned to her and then took her handbag.
“Follow me. Text your friends not to wait up for you for supper.” Tabby obeyed as she manoeuvred between texting and taking the quick steps after the doctor to her car.
It was a quiet drive that ended after thirty minutes or so. Tabby stepped out of the car and followed her lecturer to the third floor of the apartment.
“Make yourself comfortable as I warm some food for us.” Dr Palesa said heading to the kitchen.
The living room was large, nicely furnished with high-priced electronics and furniture. There was shelves filled with books but what caught Tabby’s eyes were two picture frames neatly arranged on top of the window’s curtain box. Tabby’s curiosity propelled her to have closer look at them.
She took her shoes off and climbed on top of the leather sofa and picked a picture of a middle aged couple.
“That’s my mum and dad.” Dr Palesa said as she startled Tabby who was about to mumble a sorry but her mentor brushed her off and joined her on top of the sofa.
“They passed on when I was sixteen. That was the last day of a normal life for me. Everything changed. My relatives fought for their property and fought against hosting me. I was accommodated by different families.
One day I would be in an uncle’s home and the next I would move in to another’s. They beat me, some molested me . I worked on fields for my fees, sometimes I stole from the uncles who stole my parent’s property. I have contemplated suicide. I have self harmed, got depression but I have survived.” It was a sad Dr Palesa narrating her story to a teary Tabby.
Tabby knew what it meant to be an orphan. Her father had died while she was young. Ten years later, her mother succumbed to pneumonia. An aunt took her in and treated Tabby like a slave. She knew only too well what it meant to have one’s parents dead.
“This was my fiance.” Dr Palesa said, picking another picture. Tabby remembered what people said about her being dumped on her wedding day and wondered whether it was true.
“We were about to marry when he got hit by a bus crossing the road to meet me. One minute he was smiling at me, the next he was lying in a pool of blood, dead. I was eight months pregnant then and the shock caused a miscarriage. I lost the twins and my womb.”
Tabby exploded to a loud outburst of sobs. The woman standing next to her had suffered enough for one human being. Dr Palesa held her and embraced her until she was calm. There were no tears from her eyes.
“Come let’s eat.” She welcomed Tabby who was still recovering from the sad life story.
“I do not cry anymore. I have cried not a river but a lake. People think I got what I have easily but it has been so tough sometimes I have thought of giving up. That is why I believe in you. Your fighter’s spirit is even tougher than mine. Focus and you will achieve big despite all obstacles.” She said as she smiled at Tabby taking her first bite of pilau.
Tabby nodded to every statement her mentor made. She understood what Dr Palesa concealed behind the tough no-nonsense facade at her workplace. It was years of toil, abuse, struggle and pain. When everyone was having their good times, she was mourning and struggling to grasp even at a straw and hang in there.
That evening, when she was back to her friends, they could not believe that Dr Palesa could be so friendly to welcome anyone to her house.
“Supper at that devil’s house? I can’t!” Ivy snorted.
Tabby stared at her. She knew it would be difficult to convince them that Dr Palesa had a kind heart beneath that stringent attitude.
“Ivy, I have learnt never to be so quick to judge people without knowing their story. By the way, how is your mentorship going on with Dr Tino?” Tabby asked.
Ivy glanced around in embarrassment.
“Dr Tino is too busy for us. The last time we heard from him was two years ago.”
Tabby managed to conceal a smile but was grateful for Dr Palesa who had kept her promise to guide her through her college life. She knew that even if Dr Palesa let go of her hand right now, she would still be able to soar very high. She now had a dream and hope for her better tomorrow.