It was an ordinary day of class, and I – as students do – was sitting with my chin-up and eyes-forward, attentively observing my professor as he lectured. Of course, I don't mean to imply that I was attentively listening as well. No, that wouldn't be accurate at all.
Instead, it could be said that I was simply hearing my professor speak. The content of which, some Late-Victorian novel or some such, was of no consequence to me; rather, it was the curious style in which he spoke that held my captivation.
His language seemed an overwhelmingly obvious, but failed, attempt to mimic an academic vernacular. Meanwhile, his mannerisms served to enforce this farce as well. He stood with his back perpetually straightened, and as he spoke, his stiff arms appeared to move along a locked axis.
None of this behavior suited him. Indeed, how could it suit anyone? After all, who could be true to one's self and still act with such carefully constructed decorum?
Furthermore, he never once offered up a personal anecdote or gave an informal aside. There was a cold, inescapable, impersonality behind everything he said. His true self, or who he was outside of class, was entirely concealed to me.
Curious, I began to ask myself questions I had never asked about a professor before. What does he do in his free time? He was a scholar by day, but what was he by night? Who was the real man behind this mask that was so hastily scraped together?
When I brought these thoughts up to my classmates though, they laughed and branded me paranoid. Paranoid?! If only they could have seen him as I saw him! They would have noticed how he hides behind his blank expression.
They would have seen that his eyes, the window to the soul, revealed nothing in its frosted glass. Yes, it was clear to me that he was hiding something. But what was it?
My mind worked furiously to conjecture who I thought he was – nay, who he must be. Images were planted firmly of a lonely home, lit entirely by gas lamps and candles. It was Gothic in architecture, but it lacked much of the extravagance typically associated with the period.
I pictured my professor, alone and silent, hunched over a wooden table, pacing himself as he ate out of a can. It was an image of perfect pity, but in the isolation of his darkened home, he felt no shame. Here, there were no unwanted eyes upon him, no students who could witness his true, vulnerable form. No one except me.
I watched him finish his meal and then venture down a long winding staircase. His torch illuminated the way, but as he pressed downwards, all it seemed to reveal was more blackness. It was only until he reached the basement floor and held his torch outwards that his secret was finally unveiled.
There, in the dark underbelly of his home, were row upon row of white, faceless, mannequins. I couldn't believe my eyes! It was a classroom – a classroom of mannequins! The professor stood in front, straightened his back, and faked a smile. With a book in hand, he began to teach his lesson.