“Oh shit,” said Marco.
I could hear him mumbling then I heard the sound of something being dragged across the floor. I felt the warm light of morning through my eyelids, but I didn’t want to open them. The dragging sound grew louder like something soft was being pulled across the wood. I squinted a bit before opening my eyes to see an out of focus Marco digging through a box of clothes. He had dragged his laundry box from his room into mine. I sat up to look at him, as I was curious as to what he was doing. The room was chilly. I pulled the single blanket up over my shoulders. I was groggy with sleep as I silently watched Marco snuffle through his clothes. He reminded me of a little pig rooting in the dirt. He pulled out a sweater looked at it, smelled it, then looked at it again. He turned to me and shoved the sweater in front of my face.
“Can you smell this? Tell me if it stinks.”
“What?” I said pushing it away. “No.”
“Come on. I need you.”
It didn’t seem like the best choice for the first moment of my day or any part of my day. He shook it in my face again like an impudent child. He even whined a bit. I grabbed the sweater from his hand and sniffed. “It smells fine,” I said, handing it back to him. “Like cologne.” I scratched at my nose.
He took the sweater and stared at me, his left eyebrow rising slightly. The corners of his eyes creased as he narrowed them till they looked like two almond slivers. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Then why were you scratchin your nose?”
“Cause it itched. It smells fine, I swear.” I tossed the blanket from my lap. “You smelled it before me, you oughta know how it smells.”
“A’ight, ‘cause I can’t be goin to school smellin like dope, booze or shit.” He said turning back to dig through his box of clothes.
“You could never smell like shit,” I said. I fell back onto the bed and shoved the rock-hard pillow over my face to block out the morning glare and to deter Marco from shoving more dirty clothes at me.
“Are you still coming to school with me?” he asked, yanking the pillow from me.
I sat back up, highly annoyed. “Yes.”
He walked out of the room and as he did he tossed the sweater back into the box.
“And you’re not even going to wear it,” I mumbled. What a brat. I could hear him talking to himself in the kitchen.
“I gotta think of a lesson,” he yelled.
“How about teaching them English, maybe?” I called to him as I pulled on some jeans and a thin blue sweater.
“No,” he said yelling back to me. “I gotta think of something good cause this is my fun class. It’s not my favorite class. My favorite class is the eighteen year olds; the ones I brought to the train station,” he added for a nice morning jab. “But these kids are pretty fuckin funny, and smart. You hungry?”
I walked into the kitchen. “Famished.”
“It’s about time you put some clothes on.” Marco was dressed in a dark blue turtleneck, tucked into chocolate brown cords and a tailored brown blazer.
“My.” I said. “Don’t you look dapper? So respectable. So teacherly.”
“I know. These be my teachin pants.” He ran his hands down the sides of his body, tugged gently at his cords and posed, and then without a beat, he turned toward the fridge, and opened and shut it. “We aint got shit for food.” He threw his hands up as if he was astonished to find it empty.
“I didn’t think we did — unless someone broke in during the night to fill the fridge while we were sleeping. Or— if someone really industrious went out early in the morning and bought us some breakfast while the other was sleeping…”
“Could happen,” he said. “But, it didn’t.”
I followed him into the bathroom. He patted the sides of his hair and examined his face in the mirror. I reached around him to get at my toothbrush.
“We can pick something up on the way,” he said primping. “Shit. I need to think of what I’m gonna teach my kids. I gotta think of something good. These muthufuckers are always tryin to get outta class.”
I brushed my teeth in the kitchen, pacing between the sink and the window. Outside I could see the interior of the building behind us. It looked burnt, and was open as if someone had peeled off the face to expose its guts and skeleton. There were men in hard hats walking on various floors. “How old are these kids?” I asked, still watching the construction workers move along the boards and levels.
“Please, Mr. Reynolds, may we have a lesson outside,” he said affecting a singsong voice. He walked into the kitchen, peeked out the window at the construction, then turned to head into his room. “Fourteen,” he yelled while fishing around his bed. “They know I’m fuckin weak. They know I don’t want to be in the classroom, either. They smart, they can see I like to party, that I like to be outside sittin’ in the sun soakin’ up the life livin’ free like some hippie that wants to teach them that education is outside. Let’s read our books outside. They know what’s up.”
I tapped my toothbrush against the bathroom sink and walked back to the window.
“Shit. I gotta watch my fuckin language. Kick me or something if I cuss,” he yelled.
I stared down at the train tracks that ran in front of the exposed buildings and into an open lot. The night before I thought it was an empty parking lot, but it was filled with the rubble and debris from a demolished building.
“I don’t like lyin, but these kids ask me crazy shit that I never asked my teachers like, ‘Mr. Reynolds, do you smoke?’ Do I smoke? What’s that shit? Or ‘Do you party?’ and shit like that. Did you ever ask your teachers that shit?” Marco turned on the CD player. Erykah Badu began singing, and he began singing along with the music.
“No,” I said, “but then again I never had a cute teacher from another country.”
“You think I’m cute?” He went into his room and grabbed a book bag.
I shrugged him off with a roll of my eyes.
Marco returned the shrug then grabbed some papers. “Once, one of these girls comes up to me and she was all, ‘Oh Mr. Reynolds, we are having this party and I wanted to know if you wanted to go.’”
“Was this one of your fourteen year olds?” I asked.
“No seventeen. And she was hot. But you know, a fetus. And I can’t afford to lose my job. Besides… she’s a fetus, and I’m not into that shit.”
“You don’t have to explain it to me,” I said interrupting him with a wave of my hand. I knew all about the “fetuses.” It had taken us a couple of nights out to remember that the legal drinking age was under 21, and depending on where you decided to go clubbing or dancing on a particular night, with a bit of alcohol, some flashing lights, perhaps a drug or two, you might find the hot dance partner you met, while looking hot in the evening, looked a lot younger in the bright light of day. Marco called them fetuses. Predatory fetuses. Because: “They knew you was older and stupid.”
“I was going over their homework when she came up and asked me all quiet and shit. You know that scene in Indiana Jones when the girl has the shit written on her eyelids? The whole I love you on her eyes? It was like that shit. I just looked up and said really loud, so everyone could hear: ‘You asking me out on a date?’ She got all embarrassed.”
I leaned against the windowsill and crossed my arms to watch Marco dancing around to music and putting his things into his book bag.
“I’d heard this rumor about how the kids have this little contest where they see who can bag the foreign teacher,” he said.
“Really? You’re lying. Are you the only foreign teacher?”
I pictured him being propositioned and chased through the school halls by crazed teens like in some old Beatles movie.
“I’m the only American but there is an English guy and an Italian woman. If they wanted to bag her I’d be surprised cause she’s like sixty and looks a thousand, but who knows, maybe you get higher points for the older ones.”
He danced to the bathroom to check his hair one last time then took me by the hand and danced me around the kitchen to the CD player where he switched it off with his foot. He grabbed his jacket that was draped over the side of his bed. Then spun on his heels. “Shit.” He yelled, “I gotta think of a lesson.”
I grabbed my jacket as Marco flipped his book bag over his shoulder and opened the door to guide me out with the wave of his hand. “You think I’m cute,” he said, shutting the door behind him.
“Well, you’re no Indiana Jones,” I said.
“You sayin’ that cuz I’m black?. Indie shoulda been black. Han Solo too. I think I’m gonna make the black Starwars. The shit be off the hook.” He started laughing to himself as he bounded down the stairs with new found energy. He pushed open the decayed front door. A flood of light rushed into the stairwell. The light flashed over me and immediately warmed my skin. I stepped out into the street and lifted my face to catch the sun. It was to be my first full day in Prague.