Numbers

Everyone but me adores Sister Asha, our math teacher. Like the other nuns at school, she too wears an apricot sari with a matching blouse, plus a crucifix necklace. I find her too intense, too earnest, both because of what she teaches and how. I sit in her class with trepidation. I don’t want to know the value of X. I don’t care if A and B are traveling from C and D to meet at Z at the speed of Q. I’m fourteen. All I care about is the discomfort I feel in my skin. I don’t have the 24-inch waists of my classmates. My squat feet aren’t meant for three-inch high heels.

I am me—fierce and unafraid—only inside the school library. I’m friends with the numbers on the spines of books. We have ONE library period every week. I yearn for it all remaining days. Sometimes, the librarian, Ms. Radha, lets me check out grown up books. They take me to places real and imaginary, but in all of them, I’m respected.

One day, just as we are leaving for the library, Sister Asha walks into the classroom. She shuts the door. “You won’t be going anywhere today. I’m here so we can finish the algebra chapter.”

It takes every ounce of self-control to not dash out of the room or push her against the concrete wall. Disappointment rises to my cheeks, clouds my eyes. But before I can hide my face, I’m caught. Sister Asha smirks. “Ah, you’d rather read cheap novels, eh?”

Yes. Also, Graham Greene isn’t cheap.

But I’m raised a good girl, taught to respect elders, especially teachers. “No, Sister. I was just confused.” I smile and take my seat, one sheep in a herd of many, imprisoned yet again by numbers.

-Sayantani Dasgupta

Sayantani Dasgupta is the author of The House of Nails (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Fire Girl: Essays on India, America, & the In-Between (Two Sylvias Press). She teaches at the University of Idaho & edits nonfiction for Crab Creek Review. To learn more, visit www.sdasgupta.com