“Did you see that old lady get off the bus?” Marco was practically yelling into my ear as we stood on the corner of a wide intersection watching compact cars whiz by like carbon insects.
“Bitch pretty much did a fuckin’ cartwheel. I tole’ you you a foo’,” he said, giving me a little side nod of his head.
I ignored him. It had looked to me like she labored off like she had labored on, but Marco yelled out, “look at that shit, bitch just did a flip” right at the moment I happened to be looking elsewhere. Apparently, the old woman is a part of some family of Czech contortionist acrobats, according to Marco.
The baroque and medieval buildings and the picturesque gothic towers of the castle were gone. There were no images of art nouveau embossed, engraved or chiseled into the faces of the buildings. Instead there were blocks of high-rise apartments, stacked like boxes packed into industrial warehouses, sterile, concrete, and institution green. If Oscar Wilde had been alive to see what early communism did to architecture, he would have died. He’s probably still rolling in his grave. There is something to be said for aesthetics: it seemed to me that there has been a misconception that because people are poor or working class that they could not appreciate or grow in beauty. Even worker bees live in golden honeycombs, and that never stopped them from producing honey.
“I didn’t know they had projects in Europe,” I said.
“These are not the projects,” said Marco. “But they aint far from it. And they exist everywhere.” He shrugged then adjusted his bag.
The area was not telling a story of lore so much as of pragmatic, logical, and efficient living. It had a dismal conservative effect. It was depressing.
“Are their schools like ours?’ I asked as we walked toward a medical-looking facility.
“Na. These kids are put in the same class since they start school.”
“You mean like since kindergarten till senior year they are in the same class?” I asked.
“Yeah, but they don’t have juniors and seniors. I’m not sure how they are put in the classes in the first place. It may be tests or something cause I swear to god I have a stupid class, and that’s what everyone calls them- the stupid class. I swear those kids are dumb. Sad. But then I got a class with average kids and then I got a class with uber smart kids like they should be teachin. Each class sorta has a personality — like the serious class, the funny class. Today is the funny class. I haven’t been here long enough to have figured out how they are placed.”
Marco opened a large glass and metal door.
“Oh this is the school? I thought it was a hospital,” I said shocked looking at the dull mint green building. What was it about schools, hospitals, and prisons all looking the same?
With a nod of his head, he directed me into a wide white and sterile hallway. The sounds of our footsteps echoed around us.
“I like it better,” he said. “These kids all get to grow up together. They’re like a family, they help each other out, and they stick up for one another. You don’t know how many times I’ve had some kid crying over my desk because some other kid was failing in the class, and they wanted him to pass.” He gestured down another hallway, identical to the last hallway, but narrower. “When I was in school if you were failing you either fixed it yourself or you’re fucked. And if you got parents that don’t give a shit then you’re even more fucked. Here these kids literally will help the other kid by studying with him, starting groups, whatever. I think it’s cool.”
“But you said you had a stupid class. Doesn’t that mean they all believe they are the stupid class and they won’t get any better, because they believe it?” I asked.
“They are the stupid class ‘cause they’re stupid, but they are all stupid so it’s even. And they are not isolated from the rest of the school like getting put in the back trailer in the parking lot where everyone calls them retards.That shit’s rude. These kids; it’s a whole dumb year. Like that year a bunch of people had dumb babies and everyone just accepts them as they are now. It doesn’t mean it’s not possible some of them will become geniuses, but I doubt it. Must have been something bad in the water that year.” He shrugged.
Marco nodded at a couple of adults who passed us in the hall. They both looked at me then quickly looked away without a break in their stride.
We stopped outside a thick wooden door as Marco fished through his book bag. “I don’t see a lot of competition for popularity and that’s something I think is cool. Plus, it’s weird, they actually want to learn. Like they totally understand that education is important. They probably have fewer opportunities to succeed to the financial level as some Americans because of the economy yet they still recognize the power and importance of knowledge. I like it. But, like I said, I don’t know much about it,” he said.
He pulled out some keys and opened the door to a small room with four desks and a single window overlooking a sparse courtyard. “I hate the grading system, though. I think it’s shit.”
He tapped on a door that looked like a closet. No one answered. “This is Brunella the Italian woman’s office. She shares it with Jana who is also an English teacher, but she’s Czech. They are both cool as shit. I swear they be drinkin’ wine or spiking their tea with rum every morning. I swear that’s all they do; drink tea and laugh their asses off.”
He dropped his bag off at a desk by the window and then opened his arms wide and spun around. “This here is my office. As you may tell I share it with three other teachers, but they as boring as shit, so you don’t need to know about them.” He pulled out a little teapot with a plug attached. “We have a few minutes. Would you like some tea?”
I nodded in his direction.
He stepped out of the room then returned a few minutes later with the kettle, and sat it on his desk. He plugged it into a socket on the floor near the window.
I walked around the room. It looked like it was built for solitary confinement. If the white walls and floor were rubber instead of tile it would be a padded cell. The brown wooded desks, piled and over flowing with papers and folders, books, and mini bookshelves created the only color in the room. Some of the desks had personal photos. It was strange to see Marco in this setting, he’d always find work wherever he lived, but normally in a pub or cleaning rooms in a hostel, not anything that really resembled a “real-person” job with a lesson plan. I thumbed through the edges of some paperwork that was poking out from the pages of a closed book. I wondered what it would be like to have a real job, a professional job, while living in Prague. Something other than waiting tables or cleaning rooms.
“Okay,” he said half to himself. “Tea, and a few minutes to fine tune my murder mystery. Sit down yer making me nervous.”
I pulled out a chair and sat down while Marco dashed from one side of the room to the other grabbing things and pulling open his desk drawers, all the while talking to himself.
“It’s bullshit that I think this shit up and don’t even get paid. Some assholes need to be payin’ me soon or shit’s gonna fly.” He grabbed a couple of tea bags and dropped them into two porcelain cups and then placed the cups on their respective saucers. “Francisco better get off his ass and get a fuckin real job when he gets back. And none of this fuckin’ medical cut-your-body-open, fuck-you-up sorta shit. A real job. Start payin’ his share.”
The kettle whistled and Marco poured the water over the bags. “Sugar?”
He pulled out a narrow sugar paper tube and tore the top off then poured a small amount into his tea. He folded the top in on itself and put the left over in his drawer. He sat down and then with a small spoon stirred his tea and sugar with serious precision.
“I can teach them something fun today, because soon we’ll have to prepare for their exams. My eighteen year olds are going through their final exams. It looks like some grueling shit. I want to make sure my kids pass, you know? I like them. They’re great kids. Even the stupid ones. But these kids I have today have some time so we can do something fun, something conversational. Besides I fucked off for the past two days and forgot to put together a lesson plan so it better be conversational.”