I'm standing outside. It's getting dark earlier now. It's dark when I leave my flat and it's dark long before I consider heading home.
It's dark and it's cold and it's raining. This wouldn't be a good story if it wasn't cold and raining. Clutching my arms close to my chest and shivering, I wish this was just some amateur story device used by some lousy writer trying to illustrate my state of mind – but it isn't. It's twice as cold as a Republican's heart and it is the rain drops are so fine that the air is water - this doesn't represent my state of mind in the least.
I am not sad. What I am right now is pissed off. I am standing by myself in some sleepy district on the outskirts of Prague who's name I can't pronounce in the cold and the rain waiting for a tram that won't come for another six minutes. I just got done teaching my first lesson with a new student. In three weeks he'll start canceling his lessons at the last minute – which won't bother me, because I'll still get paid – and in another few weeks he will cancel the course all together. I won't miss him.
"Since this is your first lesson with our school you will be taking a placement test today. The test should take about an hour and consi-"
"I will take test home and do it tonight."
"Um – I am pretty sure I am supposed to observe you taking the-"
"I will not sit and take a test right now."
"I – I should really observe you taking the test."
"Okay, I'll take test home and do it tonight, then."
* * *
"Yes, you are starting three weeks into the semester."
"I was sick."
"It's fine, though, most businesses don't start their courses until early October. If you would like to make up those three weeks the best and easiest thing to do would be to add an extra half hour to each lesson for the next nine weeks."
"I will call you when I am not busy and we can do a lesson then."
"That ... won't ... really work for me. My schedule is pretty full and I can't just have a lesson ready wi-"
"Okay, If I am not busy Friday evening I will call you and you will come teach me."
Some people are too arrogant to listen to other people. It's funny. One of the things that made me want to leave the U.S. Was to get away from business men and a capitalism obsessed society – now here I am in Prague, teaching English to businessmen so they can get ahead and get a better job so they can make more money and buy a bigger summer cottage.
In the cold, wet rain, all alone – my phone rings.
It's my mom.
"Mom – no, mom."
The cars driving by are so loud I can't hear her.
"Mom – MOM! I can't hear you. Can you call me back in an hour?"
Here I am in Prague teaching rich business men English and my mom is calling for the fourth time this week to inform me that my account is overdrawn.
She always seems to call at times when it is impossible to talk. I feel bad – I do. I want to talk to her. I miss my whole family. And I know she is calling to tell me she put some money in my account – my parents have been more supportive in this than I could ever have expected or hoped for.
I can't take it though. I am too prideful. I moved here to escape a life that was all too easy. I was going to do this on my own. I guess my budget calculations were about one month off. I am too poor not to take their help, though. I can barely say thank you.
This will humble me.
The rain is starting to build up on the road now. When cars drive by they splash water on my one pair of nice pants. Why can't these types of things be reserved for old celluloid slap-stick. Right here, right now – this is not funny.
Oh, thank god, there it is! My ship out of here has finally come. Back to building lined streets and crowded sidewalks – full of people speaking a language I can't begin to understand.
I get on the tram and take a seat. My own private train! Who is out this far at this time? I love to sit and watch the golden lights of Prague pass by in the night.
My phone rings, again.
"Hel ... Jana wi ... edonian."
It's Jana from my school. Where would we be without caller I.D.? I plug my left ear and lean into the phone as close as possible.
"I am calling about a substitution tomorrow."
"Okay? When is it?"
"It's at nine-thirty at Dejvice." If the Czech accent isn't hard to understand in person, you should hear it over a phone.
"I'm sorry, did you say nine-thirty?"
"Yes, at Dejvice. ... Hello?"
"Sorry. I am trying to think when my class before that ends."
"It ends at nine. I have your schedule here."
"Yeah, that's over a half hour trip." Are you kidding me? I don't need this right now.
"You can make it."
Do what? "Do what?" I lean into the phone a little more.
"You can make it."
What the fuck!? Did she just say that? ... Okay! You know what? Hell yeah I can make it! "Okay, I'll do it," I say calmly. Besides, if I don't make it in time – or at all – it isn't really my problem.
"Okay. They are using the Cutting Edge Elementary book. You can start on page twenty."
Fuck, she said that fast. "Did you say Elementary?"
"Yes. It is a beginners' class. Goodbye," she spits out even faster. She's off the phone.
Oh. I guess that explains the last minute call. Beginners. I have never taught beginners! How am I supposed to ...
Okay. I guess I am doing this. I'll just do it. If I do a bad job then I do a bad job. I won't be asked to teach beginners again. Worst case.
Shit! I've got to get off this tram. I have to go up to the school. I hope the library is still open. I hope they have a copy of the book. I hope I haven't gone too far to change trams – that will take forever, all the way back to the center and-
"Hradčanská," the speakers announce. "Vedlejší zastávka Sparta."
Woo! Last stop to change!
I rush off the tram and turn and stand. In the rain. And cold. Waiting. I look at my phone. 19:23. I check the schedule. Tram 20 – 19:21, 19:29. Cold. Rain. Why am I not wearing my jacket, again?
God bless the 20. It drops you off damn close to the school. It's nice to be back in the city. It's beautiful at night. Golden. Glowing. It might be cold and raining but I haven't yet grown too cold to appreciate this.
Up the stairs. If this security code wasn't a geometrical shape I would never be able to remember it.
"I need to get a copy of Cutting Edge Elementary for a class I am subbing for tomorrow," I ask the librarian. I don't know how Czech women are so consistently beautiful. "And the audio CD if you have it."
"Yes. Just a minute."
I can't believe the library is still open. I look at my phone. 19:57. I don't think I have ever been up here this late. Why are there still people here?
"Yes, I have a copy. Do you need to check it out?"
"Just the CD. I'll bring the book back in a moment."
I take my new materials and walk to the work room. Almost eight in the evening and there is only one unoccupied desk? These people are insane. It takes me half an hour to plan for a class, and there are no scissors or gluing involved with it. This is why i don't come up here – I don't want to feel like the slacker that I am.
I open the course book to page twenty.
Grammar Focus: 'have got'
Fuck! This teacher isn't sick – this teacher doesn't want to teach this lesson! Have got? To beginners!? I hate British English – with their cuing and tipping and articulating lorries and having got shit. I have a headache – I don't 'have got a headache'.
"Bye. Have a good weekend."
"Bye." Every student says bye when they leave. Zip up! If you say a word too many times quickly it becomes meaningless – it becomes nonsensical. I have too many books. I am teaching too many classes this morning.
I get my backpack zipped up finally and throw it on my back. I grab my jacket. I don't need it today, of course, it's already too warm. My dictionary! I guess I'll be carrying it. I hate making it blatantly obvious that I am an English teacher. It feels so imperialistic sometimes.
I wave to the security guard and he buzzes me out. Almost all my classes are in banks.
If I cut back over to Národní I can walk to Můstek in three minutes and take the green line all the way to Dejvice. I look at my phone. If I catch the metro quickly I might actually make it on time.
The speaker announces something I can't understand, but I have come to believe that it means to get your ass on or off the metro because the doors are about to close and they don't like ass stuck in the doors while the train is moving. "Vedlejší zastávka Dejvice."
One more stop. What did I do with my map? I didn't bother looking at it after I printed it off so I don't know where to go when I get off. And it's not in here anywhere!
I remember that I was being responsible and organized last night, so I put it in my folder. I can never find anything when I am responsible and organized.
"Dejvice..." My stop. "...Terminus. This is the end of the line. Please exit the train," fades off behind me as I walk off the metro.
Which way do I go? I didn't plan this very well – this side is closer and has an escalator, I am not walking up all those damn stairs.
I've always loved how fast these escalators are here. They get you to the surface in ninety seconds over a distance a normal escalator would take five minutes to travel, yet they are still so long that you can forget – in this forty-five degree world – which way is down. You have to be careful about your balance. After one ride on one of these you learn that you must pace your first steps off the escalator rather quickly or the sudden change in speed will end with you on your hands and knees. You can always tell the tourists.
I hit the concrete at a steady pace and speed up as I run up the last few steps to the surface. I pull my map out of my pocket, but I don't know where I am. I am not on the map yet. I turn in a circle. I see an open square. The address is off Vítězné náměstí, that must be it.
I run to the square and turn the map around in my hands trying to orient myself, but it is all too symmetrical. I look for a street name, I find one – Buzulucká. Houston, we have orientation. Across the street and to the left? I look up, there's the sign.
I run over to the cross walk and wait for a tram to pass.
"Good morning, my name is Clifton." I am still taking off my backpack and pulling out the book.
"Good morning." They are a choir – a purely monotone choir, sure – but still a choir.
There is a knock on the door. It's the receptionist with the attendance sheet.
"Oh! Děkuji!" I turn to the class. "So, let's take roll!" I say, enthusiastically as I can force.
The entire class stares at me – confused. Beginners! Remember, these are beginners! This might be far more complicated than I thought.
"Michaela Kalinovka?" I look up. "Is Miša here?"
A girl in the front row says something in Czech. I know about ten words in Czech – maybe twelve.
"Are you Miša?"
She shakes her head – no. I guess that means Miša isn't here.
I look down at the roll again. 9.30-12.15. This is a three hours class? Nobody told me this! I do not have this much material!
'You have got a piano,' I write on the board. "How do we make this a question?" I ask the class slowly and clearly.
"Um – Huv - you - got - a - pee-ano?"
"Very good, Pavla! You move the verb before the noun," I say, drawing an arrow from 'have' to in front of 'you'. I turn back to the class. "If you have got a piano, what do you say?"
"Yesss..." I suggest.
"Yes. I - do - huv - a - pee-ano."
"Yes, yes!" I write it on the board. "And if you have not got a piano?"
"No. I - do -not - huv - a - pee-ano?"
I write this on the board as well. "Now we are going to play a game..."
"Who has got a driver's license?" I draw out slowly and clearly.
Everyone looks around. They look at each other and look back at me. I look at my phone. 11:05. Over half way through.
"No one has got a driver's license?"
A few 'no's and a few too many 'ne's come from the students.
"Okay!" It gets hard always being enthusiastic for these classes. "We will take a fif-teen minute break now." And speaking slowly and clearly and carefully enunciating every syllable that might be misunderstood. "Pease be back at eleven-twenty."
The only good thing about a three-hour class is the fifteen minute break. A chance to do so many things.
I reach the door before any of the students, which means I get the WC before any of them. Have you ever noticed how your heart can begin to race when you have to piss like a shark needs to swim and you are struggling with your zipper and it’s a relief as sweet as an orgasm when you finally win the struggle? It will take a moment for your heart to calm back down, though.
I wash my hands and make my way out of the tiny little labyrinth that is this WC. What’s with Czechs and using walls at strange angles in WCs?
I walk back to the classroom and sit down. One of the things you can do with fifteen minutes is plan out the next half of the lesson. Making it up on the cuff can end up with the students outsmarting you – and that can get embarrassing with beginners.
A reading exercise. Good. That will be rather simple.
I put the course book aside and dig in my backpack for my book. Rule by Secrecy. It’s about conspiracy theories – CFR, Bilderbergs, the Knights Templar – fascinating. I start reading about the history of the Illuminati. A student comes in with a small cup of coffee and closes the door behind him.
"What come from, you?"
I look up. He’s asking where I am from. "I am from the United States."
He looks confused.
"Texas," I add. "I am from Texas.
"Oh!" He gets it. "America! Yes, America. I come from Panama."
"Panama? What are you do-"
The door opens. A head pops in – a girl. "Are you the teacher for the first half?"
She disappears and the door closes again.
I look around, confused. That was weird. "That was weird." One of the students laughs. She was cute – brunettes kill me. That was weird, though. I should go check her out – I mean, I should go check this out.
I get up and walk out of the classroom. No one in the lobby. I walk to the reception area.
"Are you teaching the second half of the class?" I ask.
I am relieved and disappointed. It has actually been an enjoyable class to teach and she is really cute. "Oh, good. I didn’t know if I was teaching the whole thing or-"
"I thought I was going to be late."
"Oh, we took a late break, so it is fine."
"They called me last night at seven, and I-"
"Me too!" What is that accent? "I barely had time to make it to the library before it closed."
"How is the class? Are they really beginners? I haven’t had a chance to plan at all!"
"Yeah, they are beginners." It’s enchanting – I can’t place it, but it is gorgeous. "But they are a great class. Eager to give anything a try."
She glances in the door at the class.
"They can communicate though – especially the two guys in the back. They sit there – quiet – trying to be cool, but I think they know more than they let on. I’ve been trying to get them to speak." God she’s cute. And her smile.
We walk into the room and I start to gather up my things.
Introduce yourself, Clifton! Find out her name! And remember it – you want to see her again! "What’s your name?"
"Oh." She smiles. "Amanda. I'm sorry. And yours?"
"Clifton." Amanda – Amanda – Amanda – Amanda. I put the course book in my bag.
"Can I get the book from you?" She smiles, again.
"Oh, yeah. Of course." I get the book back out and suddenly realize that she couldn't plan because she didn't have the book. Because I accidentally stole it from the library. How can I see her again?
"Did you check it out? I'll return it for you."
"Not really. I took it to the work room and the library was closed when I went back." How can I see her again? "The CD. Do you need the CD? I did check this out." How can I see her again?
"Um – yeah, I’ll take the CD. And I’ll just quietly slip the books back on the shelf." She winks. "I won’t mention your name at all."
What is that accent? "Thanks." I can’t help but smile. How can I see her again?
She looks at the clock. "When is the break over?"
I check the clock. 11:22. "Two minutes ago."
"Oh, I better get started, then!"
I walk towards the door. "It was really nice meetings you, Amanda."
"You too, Clifton." She smiles. Her eyes.
"Goodbye – and good luck." I walk out. Excited. Wow.
I head down the stairs and out the building. That went so fast. Three minutes, maybe? I won’t be able to get her out of my head all day. Wow. It was like getting hit by a bomb. So much to intake – so fast. Still standing afterwards, but knocked back about ten feet.
I walk across the street and to the tram stop. I wait. I can’t get that out of my head. Why am I in such a good mood?
My phone vibrates in my pocket. A text message – from Jay.
'Hey, what are you doing right now?' No one calls anyone here. It's too cheap to SMS.
'Heading to a kavarna to read,' I text back. You get pretty fast at this with a little practice. Maybe I should meet him somewhere for lunch, I’ve got to tell someone about this girl. My phone vibrates again.
'Do you want to meet for lunch? My dad just called and told me my grandmother died and I’m trying to figure out if I should fly home.'