A 15-Minute Whirlwind
It’s cleaning time and a handful of first-year students and I are trying to clean the floors of our junior high’s English room. This however proves to be nearly impossible to achieve, as an inexplicable number of nickel-sized dust balls have found their way into the room and scattered themselves all about the sticky floor. The kids are on their hands and knees trying to dislodge them, all the while prattling on about whatever pops into their heads. I listen to their unfiltered chatter (picking out what I can from the mess of Japanese slang plus local dialect) and chuckle to myself after particularly silly comments. Suddenly their chattering ceases and they begin the interrogation.
“What’s みそしる (miso siru) in English?” asks the cheekiest boy out of the bunch.
“Miso soup,” I answer while pushing the desks back into straight rows.
“What about コーンポテジ (kon poteji)?” continues Mr. Cheeky.
“Why are they both called soup? Siru isn’t soup.” says the boy accusingly, as if I were the sole person responsible for the generally accepted translation of these words.
I shrug my shoulders.
“スープ(suupu) is English, isn’t it?”
“Yes, soup is a word in English,” I answer as I survey the classroom.
“I knew it.”
“Stop staring out the window,” I say to a chubby-cheeked girl who tends to look perpetually confused. “It’s cleaning time now, remember?”
“But the weather’s all messed up. Look–it’s raining on that side of the classroom but not on this side.”
Mr. Cheeky, who also prides himself in being a know-it-all, huffs loudly. “It’s raining on both sides you dumb-dumb, it’s just that there’s more green on that side so you can see the rain better against it.” The girl turns away from him at once, furrowing her brows and proceeding to push her broom around sulkily as if she were pushing around a vacuum cleaner.
“晴れ雨だ (It’s sunny rain)!” exclaims a small boy, oblivious to the drama unfolding near the window. He is smiley with a disposition as sunny as the sky outside. He is my Mr. Sunny.
“How do you say にじ (niji) in English?”
“Rainbooooow!” They all shout in chorus (aside from the pouting girl).
“Ahh, get off the shelf!”
“But I’m cleaning it, sensei!” replies Mr. Cheeky, cheekily.
“You can’t go up there with your shoes on!” blurts a short-tempered girl. Ms. Serious is irked. Sweat is forming in plump, wet drops at the hair on both her temples.
I give Mr. Cheeky a disapproving tilt of my head and he eventually gets off of the waist-high wooden shelf, looking pleased with himself.
“Beauuuuutifuu!” says Mr. Sunny. He points out the window to the sea, which is sparkling blue behind the see-through curtain of ’sunny rain’.
They have had only one semester of English so far, so when they do know a word they can’t help but repeat it over and over again, all the while overemphasizing every syllable with giddy delight. Mr. Sunny repeats himself a couple more times and giggles. He is clearly tickled by the sound of this word. Light and carefree, his laugh is the kind of sound made only by boys who’s worlds have not yet been complicated by the dark and perplexing challenges of puberty.
“Washington D.C. is the capital of America, isn’t it?” asks Mr. Cheeky, but said more as a statement than a question.
“Why are there two periods in D.C.?”
“Because it stands for District of Columbia,” I say as I write out the words on the chalkboard for them to see.
“Wow, that’s long!”
“Hmm…I suppose it is!”
“I’m a genius boy.” Mr. Cheeky announces in English.
“Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” Mr. Sunny cries out of nowhere.
“Who’s Elizabeth?” I asked confusedly.
“That’s your mom’s name? Really??”
“No, not really.”
I snort bemusedly. I can’t believe I actually fell for that!
The 4 o’clock chime rings.
“We are finished,” reports Ms. Serious in a flat tone after stuffing her broom into the broom closet.
“Okay,” I reply in English.
“FINISHED!!!” the others scream happily, in perfect English.
If there’s one English word these kids can remember and pronounce perfectly, it’s the word ‘finished’. It’s the magical word that frees them of all mops, rags, brooms, and dustpans, and marks the end of their 15 minutes of daily cleaning.
“Thank you,” I say to them as they file out the door.
“See youuuuuuuuu…!!!” they reply.
“Elizabeeeetthhhh…BYEEEEE!!!” cries Mr. Sunny, waving as he runs out the door.
I walk out of the classroom and let the door swing shut. My brain hurts a bit—following the high-pitched, fast-paced Japanese chatter took more energy than I had expected. Sweat trickles down my chest and I wipe a few droplets from my hairline as I head downstairs. Then I see it: the door to the interrogation-free, air-conditioned haven of the staff room. Hello, sweet sanctuary…!
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