Programming Class



     It was a gorgeous day. The sky was bright blue, and practically cloudless aside from a few puffy white ones near the horizon. The air was crisp, and so cold that little puffs could be seen from one's mouth and nose when breathing. The winds were strong, blowing furiously, chilly. And I was sitting in programming class. One of the most delightful things about being a female minority in a technical field is that one's classes are overwhelmingly populated with males. This particular one ran three women to seventy-eight men. And on this particular day, which was not at all out of the ordinary, I was thankful for those numbers.


     I had been feeling a bit deprived of fulfillment as of late, and something within me was silently hoping to catch maybe a sneeze or two. While concentrating on the lecture notes, the thought had suddenly popped into my head, and I found myself willing that someone around me might sneeze. Perhaps the idea was not so sudden as it seems; it's not as if my mind wanders there at every available spare moment. Everywhere about, guys were sniffling. I myself had a bit of a sniffle after coming in from the cold outside. There was a lad to my right, one desk ahead who was continuously rubbing at his nose with two fingers and giving long, wet sniffs. From somewhere behind me there was one guy who was sniffing constantly every few seconds quite lightly. And one was right behind me as well, sounding as if he were sniffling right into my ear.


     "ekksshhhhh!" Came the sneeze I had been waiting for and I delighted in the smile it brought to my face. It had been a lovely sound, not too wet or too loud. But at the same time, not too dry or small. I found myself half expecting a second. "ehhhShhhhh!" And there it was, as marvelous as the first. A third, perhaps? Silence, aside from the instructor's lecture. Ah, it was not to be. Only two. But they had been a beautiful two hadn't they? They'd come from behind me, somewhere in the very back of the room and to my left. I was hesitant to turn just now, having no real reason to do so. I could easily drop my pen to the floor and turn to look, but I was a bit too hesitant. Beside, it had just been two and by now there might not be a single visible indication as to who the sneezer may have been. "eeeehhhhhKShhhh!" The third. And what a third it was! But still I did not have the courage to turn around and look for the sneezer, though perhaps he would be easy to distinguish with a rub at his nose or a sneezey expression stuck deliciously on his face. Moments passed, and no further sneezes from him. I'd missed my opportunity.


     Letting my eyes roll around, I wished the sneezer had been someone in front of me. Perhaps the preppy boy who'd been sniffling so very much. I looked over at him, studying him a moment. What I first had thought to be a bit of a runny nose from the cold looked different now. Most noses were not sniffling as much now, but his was still working overtime. He was preppy, yes, with greased, short, dark, spiky hair, a dark blue Old Navy fleece vest, khaki cargo pants, and sandals. Sandals in thirty-five degree weather. Yep, cute but as stupid as a typical preppy boy. But cute... quite cute. There were very few, and I stress the very, cute boys in CS. The odds are good, but the goods are odd my friends and I usually say. But this was one of them. His eyes were gray, his features smooth, and his nose, well, a little pinkish at the tip. I suddenly wondered if he might be sniffing from a cold. He was rubbing two fingers at the bottoms of his nose still. And then, all of a sudden, he stopped.


     "ahhChoo!" Preppy boy bent forward, sneezing against his two fingers and following it with a long, wet, miserable-sounding sniff. Yes, surely it was a cold. He seemed distracted, rubbing, sniffing, not paying any attention to the lecture as he slouched in his seat, feet up on the bar beneath the seat in front of him. "ahh-Tchoo!" he sneezed again, keeping his eyes closed after that one for a while. When he finally opened them, he blinked, sniffed, and lowered his hand in a fist to the deck in frustration. Poor preppy.


     "ehhFishh!" it wasn't three seconds later when whoever was sitting behind me sneezed. It sounded personal, as if it were right in my ear, right for me. I could feel the desk behind me bump against mine.  As first sneezes are nice, but so unexpected that I can't usually enjoy them, I held my breath, holding out for another. And indeed, there it was, a double sneeze, bumping against my desk again. "ehhPFishh!"


     Building up my courage, I turned my head halfway and whispered a polite "Bless you." Ironically, I didn't get a look at the man behind me, but I did catch a glimpse of the one beside him, a row over for me.


     He was tall, lanky, and holding two hands over his mouth in 'praying' style. I paused, watching out of the corner of my eye as he bent forward in his seat. "Archishh! Ah-Chishh!" His brown bangs flopped past his forehead, over half of his face. He sniffed rather loudly, moving his hands up and pushing his bangs back in one suave sweep. He wasn't too bad looking at all. Sweet, quiet, typical sort of lad. A plain face, perhaps a slightly larger nose than fit his face, but soft brown eyes.


     I gave him a smiling "Bless you." To match and turned back around. It might have been pleasant and notable if it had even stopped then. But as it was, I was in for a number of other sneezes during the long class period.


     Not ten minutes later, the preppy boy sneezed again, and again, and again... "AhhCheoo! Ah..ahhChoo! AhhTchoo!" Then a brief pause, his fist raised to his nose and mouth expectantly. "ah-Choo!" He sniffed wetly, rubbing his fist beneath his nose, closing his eyes with a miserable sort of cough. Preppy boy got a few looks from the guys around him, not so much condemning but curious. He sniffled again, looking up at the professor and leaning a bit to the side now.


     Trying to hide my smile and pull my concentration back on the lecture, I heard another sneeze. This one, again, right behind me. "hehhPhishh!" There was another bump against my seat, a very brief pause in which I could hear a deep, hasty intake of breath. "ehhFishhh!" And a light smack as a mechanical pencil rolled off the desk and hit the floor beside me.


     I reached down for it quickly before anyone else could, and saw his foot sticking out to get at it as well, but it was a foot and a half or so further than he could reach. I strained, picked it up, then swerved around. Trying to look casual, I put on a soft smile and placed it on his desk. He picked it up, uttering a whispered, "Thanks." In reply. He had red hair shaved close to his head and freckles covering his whole face. His nose, too, looked just slightly pink, and a flush was still in his cheeks. Was it from the cold or embarrassment? Hard to tell. Holding his pencil tightly, I noticed he was pulling a tissue out of a pack of tissues which seemed not so full. I nodded a 'you're welcome' as I turned back around. I heard a light blowing sound, and felt movement as the desk bumped my back.


     I watched the preppy boy rub at his runny nose, and thought of asking the lad behind me for a tissue for him. But that wasn't the sort of relationship I enjoyed with most of the guys, nor was it the sort of thing I would do at all, a bit embarrassed for noticing the sneezes in the first place. Normal people don't do this sort of thing, do they? They don't make tiny, indecipherable notes in the margins of the course packets so they can recount such tales later, do they?


     They don't sit, smiling and warm, trying to remember each and every detail. Normal people don't notice the lad beside me, two rows over, rubbing at his nose with the cuff of a rugby-style sweatshirt. They don't pretend to copy down notes on the far side of the board that they already have in order to catch the sight of the guy sneezing into the crook of his arm. "Cushhm! Keshhhmm!" Muffled, but nearly impossible to describe phonetically. A delightful sight, as the guy rubbed at his nose again, a smile, a laugh on his face as the guy behind him punched him playfully on the back of his shoulder. They don't notice how he then pulled a wad of tissues from his pocket, extracted one, and rubbed fiercely at his nose.


     I shifted in my seat because I needed to shift, smiling widely. I turned my attention back to the preppy boy who, after a while, sneezed again. This time, strong and wet. "Ahh-Tchoo!" He seemed reluctant to move afterwards, then suddenly stood, striding quickly to the front of the room, and ducked out of the door. He returned a few minutes later with a wad of toilet paper in his hand, pinkish nostrils, and much less sniffling, unfortunately.


     A most interesting occurrence, well, occurred in the second half of the class period. It was a simultaneous sneezing, from the lad behind me and the good natured guy to my side. From behind, I heard a strained "ehhhFishhh! Heh-Phshhhh!" And between the two sneezes, came the wet, muffled "Kutchhhm!" Everyone was silent afterwards, no bless you's or anything of that sort. But I could see the guy to my side rubbing roughly against the bottom of his nose with another, or perchance the same, tissue.


     Preppy boy sneezed just once more during the class period. A wet "Ahh-Chumph!" into the tissue. He rubbed at his nose and continued to slouch in his seat. The lad behind me did not sneeze again either, though he did emit a few very soft snores and snorts when he fell asleep on the desk behind me.


     I didn't get the last sneeze of the class until we'd been dismissed and guys were shuffling out the door eagerly. It was a guy I'd not seen earlier. Rather big in a hired good sort of way. Broad shoulders, crew cut, long-sleeved shirt tight against a muscley chest. He cupped one hand over his mouth and nose as he stood behind people lined up to leave. He bent forward slightly with a strong "ehhhhhEKSHhhhhh!" He straightened, wiped his hand on the side of his jeans, and walked out.


     I gathered my own things, hearing the lad behind me waking and doing the same. And I left with a smile, looking forward to deciphering my notes into a proper retelling.