“.. and this is the end of chapter 14. Please remember to hand in your assignment due this Friday. It is worth 20% in your final examination.”
The students started to pack up their belongings and talking to one another as the professor turned off the projector. I closed the book and placed it in my bag just as I heard a deep sigh next to me. “Oh my gosh. I totally forgot about the assignment!” I looked up at James who slouched in his seat.
“You forgot?” I raised an eyebrow. “I had been reminding you for..” Before I could finish my sentence, I was interrupted by a firm tap on my shoulder.
I turned, surprised to see the professor. “Ms Jones, I would like to see you in my office in fifteen minutes.”
“Yes sir” I replied formally.
When the professor left, James asked, concerned. “What was that all about? Are you in trouble?” I certainly hope not. I thought. Being best friends, James and I sometimes didn’t answer each other questions. “I’ll see you in the library after. Wish me luck.”
I hung the sling bag over my shoulders and paced out of the hall into the next building, towards the professor’s office. My heart was pounding so hard that I felt sick. Although I had no clue what this was about, I had a really bad feeling about this.
Upon reaching the office, I glanced at my watch and realized that I had over five minutes to spare. Professor Connell was known for punctuality; any students who were late for his class was immediately sent out without any excuse.
Breathe in. Breathe out. I told myself. After gaining composure, I mumbled to myself “Let’s get this over with”, exhaled deeply, and knocked on the door.
Professor Connell was sitting at his desk, looking more stern than usual. His thick eyebrows came together in a frown, which made him looked fierce and intimidating. The environment of the office felt extremely tense.
“Good morning” I greeted, my hands trembling. I clenched and unclenched it, hoping to shake the jittery nerves off.
“Have a seat.” And so, I did, opposite him.
“The reason I called you in was because of the emails you sent these few weeks. They were very inappropriate, to say the least.”
Email? I racked every inch of my brain for an answer, then I finally remembered that I had requested a recommendation letter and a referral for my future job applications but I never got a reply. That must be what he meant.
“About that email, I hope that I could get a favour from you.”
He slammed his palm on the table. No, he boomed.
I did a double-take; I was definitely not expecting such a forceful response. What was so improper about requesting for a referral and a recommendation letter and why was the professor so infuriated about it?
“I am very disappointed with you, Ms Jones. I will report you to the disciplinary board and appropriate action will be carried out accordingly.”
My stomach cringed. I had never gotten in trouble; in fact, I was always nicknamed the goody-two shoes who always stick by the rules. What did I do to deserve this.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” I blurted. “Is it inappropriate to ask for a recommendation letter?” Although I realized I was threading on thin ice, I had not think twice about how to politely phrase my question.
For the first time since I walked into the office, the professor looked genuinely surprised. “I had responded to that email the following day. That were not the emails I was referring to.” His tone was softer. That was a good sign.
I frowned in confusion. “But I only sent one email. And I had never receive a reply.”
“Is that right?” He turned to his computer and started typing on his keyboard. A few seconds later, I heard the printer, which was at the corner of his desk, spitting out papers. He handed the papers and demand an explanation.
I took the papers; there wasn’t just one email but more than ten over the span of one month. This was the first I had seen them. Several words jumped out; Hot. Batman. Underwear. And a lot of offensive phrases.
Even I was disgusted when I read them.
“I did not send this. You have to believe me.” I pleaded and pleaded. Tears giistened in my eyes as I tried to convince him. No crying, I pinched myself at the thigh.
“Enough.” It was evident that the professor wasn’t buying it. Then, came the long uncomfortable silence.
My heart sank. I saw my whole life fading away. Instead of graduating, I became a college drop-out; I stopped keeping in touch with my family and friends, then I fell into depression (self-diagnosed since I could not afford a physiatrist). I had to survive on my hard-earned money; I would take two jobs which barely cover the living expenses. Being overworked, one day I would faint on the streets somewhere and….
My train of thought halted when the professor spoke: “Do I have your word that this does not happen again?” As luck would have it, he decided to give me the benefit of the doubt. “I will.” There was nothing to do but to apologise profusely before I was dismissed.
Definitely not receiving that recommendation letter now, I thought to myself.
I felt ashamed; this was not my wrongdoings, yet I felt somewhat responsible. I had been checking my emails everyday. If there was anything unusual, I should have spotted it. But I didn’t. These emails were sent from my account, no doubt, but there weren’t in my sent folders. Whoever that did this cleverly deleted the emails that were sent to the professor.
I thought long and hard….. There had to be a clue somewhere. I wondered: Was it the one time when I forgot to log out of a school computer? Or the times when I lend my phone to a friend? Or a close friend who I trusted with my laptop?
Who would do something so profoundly despicable?
I was definitely going to get to the bottom of this. Whoever he was, he would not get away with it.