The Pangs of Unrequited Love
Was it “puppy love”? I wouldn’t have thought so at the time, even if I had known the meaning of the phrase. I was 12 years of age, skinny, short and a “new Australian”. Susan lived in the next street and was in my class.
Since the beginning of that school year, I became captivated by her. She was considerably taller than me, with typical Anglo-Saxon features. Her manner of speaking and the way she carried herself transported me to an England I only knew from TV; of chivalry, old world manners and traditions.
Nary a day would pass that I did not try to be as close to her as I could without attracting attention. However, my relationship with her was the same as anyone else’s; purely platonic.
One day I decided that I must impress her! And the only way I knew I could do this was academically. She was an A grade student, excelling in everything. She was a perfectionist, and she did not like being second best. I was good at reading and spelling, but not in arithmetic. This was my plan.
The teacher, Mrs Smith, conducted a weekly “times-table” quiz. She would randomly select two students and ask each a multiplication question such as “3 x 5”. If the student gave an incorrect answer, she would replace them with another student.
I still vividly recall the hours of practice at home. Even in bed before sleep I would recite, “one times two is two, two twos are four, …” until my mind drifted off to a place where times-tables were forbidden.
When my name was called the following Monday morning, I walked to the front with nervous anticipation. My nemesis to begin with was Jimmy.
“George, eight nines,” Mrs Smith called.
“Seventy-two,” I replied quickly.
“Jimmy, nine twelves,” was the question.
“Eh, hundred and ten,” Jimmy returned.
Gary replaced Ian who replaced Angela who replaced Jimmy. After each dismissal, I sneaked a peek at Susan. She did not seem particularly impressed at my endurance thus far in the competition.
And then she was called to replace Gary. My knees weakened, and my throat suddenly felt dry.
“Susan, eleven elevens.”
“One hundred and twenty-one,” she stated confidently.
“Six twelves,” I was asked.
“Seventy-two,” I mumbled.
And so it went. For ten more minutes, both Susan and I were quick with our responses. But at each response, I noticed Susan become more agitated.
“Susan, twelve elevens,” Mrs Smith called out.
Susan was staring at her feet. “Er, ah, one-hundred, and, er, thirty-two,” she announced.
And then I knew what I had to do.
“Okay, George, twelve eights,” Mrs Smith declared.
“Ninety-four,” I quickly stated, quickly looking at Susan’s reaction as I did so.
Her face suddenly lit up.
Was I chivalrous? Yes, I was. Susan would have been proud of me if she knew.