“I got this. How would she say no?” I thought to myself as I walked into Maria Reis’s office 30 minutes before class started, equipped with confidence, a black eye and a written outline of my speech.
“Professor, I prepared the outline, but I won’t be able to make the speech today. I was jumped on campus last weekend. I’m still in physical pain. As a matter of fact, I’m on Vicodin, so can I do it next class?”
The reality was I was no longer in pain. This was only my second semester in the U.S., and coming from Egypt, my default mode was if I could ever postpone an assignment, I should. Besides, the night before I had accepted an invitation to a party, and I hadn’t prepared much. This was the first time I ever had to give a public speech, and I knew there was all his hype around public speaking being people’s biggest fear—comparable to the fear of death. So if I could sit back, relax, and better prepare for next time, I would.
“No,” Maria Reis responded.
“But professor, as you can see, I’m badly injured! I am not making this up; I was featured in the school’s newsletter, and there were campus-wide warnings sent out after the incident.”
“Yes, I can see that, but I’m really sorry. Sticking strictly to the schedule is the only way this works. This week I had three students who lost their parents or grandparents.”
At that point, it knew I was stuck. And to think that I had taken this specific class because I had thought Maria and I would get along well . . . how foolish of me? I had actually tried different sections during the first week of classes before I settled on that one. Maria Reis was a mid-forties, attractive Brazilian with an obvious accent. “This was it!” I had thought, “a fellow heavy accenter . . . we’d bond!” I was dead wrong. She was holding her ground, and it was obvious, there was no way out.
As I was turning my back on her, making my way to the door with my head low, she shouted, “Look! I appreciate that you’re going to make the speech in this condition, and I will take it into consideration.”
“Not bad” I thought to myself. She hadn’t said it, but this might mean she’d be a soft grader. Honestly, at that point there was nothing stopping me from speaking. Yes, when I got jumped it did hurt as hell, but I was fine a couple of days after.
I made my way to class, sat in the back towards the right corner. To my left was my buddy Amir, whom I told ahead of class how my plan to postpone the speech was going to work. And although he’s never said it, it was obvious he was a bit happy that my negotiations had failed, and we were all going to suffer together on the same day.
People started getting up and making their first speeches. Some were good, some too calculated and mechanical. One guy kept repeating his opener three or four times, stared at the clock, and with watery eyes said, “I can’t do it.” Maria Reis and the young man burst outside and came back a minute later. He sat down and never finished his speech.
Then my turn came. The outline I had prepared was for a speech on “energies,” like karma, bio-geometry and metaphysics. We were asked to start with an attention grabber, and that I hadn’t given much thought to. I stood up and made my way to the podium. I felt some unease; a guy just cracked down before my eyes.
There was a cute Asian girl sitting in the front row; she had her little mirror out to fix her makeup between speeches. I walked next to her and yelled “boo!” and the poor girl jumped out of her seat. Thinking back that probably wasn’t the nicest action, but that was my attention grabber. I somehow managed to tie this to the concept of “for every action there’s a reaction,” which is irrelevant honestly, given the topic of my speech. Amir called me out on it after, “Karim what did ‘for every action there’s a reaction’ have to do with what you were talking about?” But it worked, people got a kick out of it, the momentum of the laugh snowballed into a ten-minute-long smile, and against all odds, I got a good grade.