After the first section of the professor's lecture came to the end, I entered the room of the lecturers near the door of the auditorium, with the other students following me. Professor Mulryne, who was delivering the lecture, was chatting with a student and several other faculty members. Those who were studying for a Master’s degree - some for a PhD - were sitting in this large room reading or doing some physics questions. Some came here to drink water, buy a cup of coffee or a cup of tea. Many students came to discuss how to answer difficult physics questions here.
I bought a cup of tea from the machine and stood near to the window to drink it. It was in that moment that felt a pair of eyes on me - the eyes of a beautiful South Asian-looking woman. I smiled at her and flipped through the pages of a ‘physicsworld’ magazine on the table. She walked towards me with a warm smile on her face and in no time at all, she was standing near me and bending over the magazine.
"Do you have any relationship to the country (…)?" she mentioned a name of a south Asian country.
"No, I was born in Sri Lanka and live here now, though many people have asked if I was from that country. Perhaps I look like one of them," I said. "I take it you are from that country?”
"Yes, I am.”
“Aren't there many people from (…) around this area?"
A significant number of people from the country in question had been living in this area of London (where our university was situated) for several decades. Perhaps it was because of that that I had seen many descendants of families who had emigrated from that country as students in this university.
"Yes, you’re right,” she replied. “Did you started the degree last year?"
"Yes – it's quite difficult but I wanted to; I love the subject. I did the level of higher maths needed for the course almost fifteen years ago."
"Do you still remember it? I graduated with a maths degree almost two years ago and I’ve already forgotten what I did." She laughed.
"I have been downloading the open university BSc mathematics courses – they were available online for free. After completing them, I was fine, though I have to admit, my mathematical knowledge was good in those days.”
"Then I can ask for your help?" she winked at me. I was surprised by her direct approach. The country she came from was strictly religious and known to ‘discipline’ women harshly.
"No problem," I replied, and started walking back into the auditorium for the rest of the lecture. That was the first time we met.
I went to lectures again next Thursday. She arrived to the lecture late. She had a beautiful smile on her face when she sat next to me and during the break, we chatted a lot. I learned that she had come to England many years ago and obtained her first Honors Degree for mathematics. After both lectures scheduled for the day finished, we came out of the auditorium together.
"Which way are you going now?" I asked.
"I have to take the 102 bus to Bethnal Green. You?"
"I came by car. Normally I travel by tube but I missed the train this morning. I parked my car at the next block on the other side of the road. If you want, I can give you a lift." I offered.
"That's okay. I’ll go by bus, but we can walk together to your car," she said as we stepped out through the university gate.
‘What is she trying to do?’ The question was spinning through my mind.
When we were outside, as we were walking and crossing the road, I noticed a kind of restlessness in her and a sense that she was trying to hide from other people. At first, I thought it was because she was a Muslim girl and felt shy. However, when I thought back to how straightforward she was on the day I first met her, I realised that that might not be the reason.
She glanced left and right once and suddenly started walking very fast. I was shocked at the speed she was walking – it was as if someone was chasing her.
During next few weeks, she’d sit next to me at lectures and we had our tea together. After lectures, we always exited the university together.
One day, Brian - an English guy - asked me slowly whether we were lovers. I very firmly told him ‘no’.
"See, I know you’re married."
I wondered how he knew I was married. Then it occurred to me that I had told Sarah about it one day - a physics teacher who studied with us.
"Pretty girl! Can I ask her out on a date?" Brian asked.
"Go ahead. Why should I care?" I replied with a bit of hostility.
The next day, when she talked to me, I realised that she wasn’t in her usual friendly mood.
"Are you my custodian?" She asked.
"Did you tell Brian to ask me out on a date?"
"Are you crazy? I should hit him. He asked me whether we were lovers. When I said no, he asked whether it was okay for him to go on a date with you. I said he could do whatever he wanted to - I didn't care."
Her face suddenly became very gloomy, as if grey clouds had been cast over it. "You really don’t care?"
Her question confused me.
"I don't want to go out on a date with him. I told him that," she said in a very sad voice.
I grabbed her wrist and pulled her out of the building in which we had our lectures. Directly on our right hand side was the students’ cafeteria. On the left was our pub, where you could buy beer at a cheaper price than outside the university (as well tea or coffee). Most of the time you could see teachers, students and their friends having coffee or beer on the wooden benches.
I bought two cups of coffee for us both and we sat on a bench in the corner, where no one was around.
"I’m married." I said, looking at her directly.
"Did I ask?" She fired back.
With nothing to say, I stared at her for few moments.
"Sarah told me." She murmured in a low voice. So... she had known that I was a married student.
"Isn't your name Siya?" I asked after a moment.
Even though we had sat beside each other during lectures, left the university, had tea and solved our maths questions together over the past two and a half months, I had never asked her name. At that moment, it came to my attention that she too had never asked any personal questions about me.
"Yes, you knew that."
"No, I just guessed - I once saw the name on an assignment you handed in.”
"Oh. And your name?” She asked.
"Call me Priyan."
"But isn't your name something else?"
"No, I go by Priyan – it’s a shortened form of my name. In this country, names are very short. I think it’s easier to pronounce Priyan."
"Yes… Priyan. I like that name. It has a musical sound."