A very true story, inspired by a random generated prompt in our experiment creative writing group.
As soon as she walked in, she felt the tension. It was the usual feeling she had on the first day of class. After eight years and eight different Czech schools, it still felt the same. Except each year she was older and had less of an excuse for learning the language.
The tension was high between the students too. Not unlike the childhood game of musical chairs, the Russians quickly found each other and sat together. So did the Americans. This was her crowd. The ‘one language crowd’ that would struggle. Even the non-Russian students would find their common ground as they already spoke two to four languages easily.
The teacher was not immune to the tension either. She also had to feel the students out for which ones were serious and which were not that into it. All while patiently figuring out if the students were appropriately placed in the class and even understood a word the teacher was saying. The teacher felt the nervousness from the students and everyone fed off that tension.
She felt that this time would be different. She knew more words and wouldn’t have to struggle so hard to translate each sentence while trying to understand the grammar points. It helped her a lot for the first week of intensive classes. She felt that this repetition was working. Her confidence was high as she spoke her simple sentences and provided an interesting topic for the teacher that was beyond the basic lesson.
But then the next week she started losing control. The Russians had got their bearings and began to speak faster, respond more, and make private jokes with the teacher. It bothered her tremendously and fed on her paranoia that the jokes were about her. By the end of the week, even the other American had become braver and happily responded with the new grammar points. She was already falling behind.
Her husband kept her going each morning and would remind her how proud he was of her attendance. In fact he would say specifically that ‘everyone’ was so proud of her. She didn’t know who everyone was, but it put pressure on to finally break the intermediate glass ceiling.
By the second to last day, she felt a cold coming on and stomach flu, and probably something more serious. She hinted to her husband about her symptoms worsening. He didn’t respond to that, but only asked about her homework and helped her complete it.
That Friday, the last day, she woke up with a real headache and a real stomach ache. Nothing psychosomatic about those symptoms. But he still didn’t budge or let her off the hook. He only encouraged her that it was her last day and the collective ‘we’ were still all so proud of her. It was torturous to her to think about disappointing him and the fact that it was money gone if she didn’t go. After all she did get that homework done. But she let her nerves get to her and preemptively decided to email the teacher to let her know she was sick and would miss the final class. Thankful to google translate she got the message out.
But now what?
She was already dressed and ready to go. So she said good-bye and walked out the door. Feeling completely guilty and stupid and like a failure she headed out on the tram – the one that didn’t go to school. All at once she felt paranoid and anxious about the possibility that her husband would track her on the iPhone. What then? She pushed past that feeling and went to Namesti Miru, changed trams and headed to the Flora shopping mall. This was a perfect opportunity to get her nails done. After the nails she shopped for new clothes. After all she couldn’t go home until after 12:30 and she now had some hours to kill so she wouldn’t get caught.
When she did get home she sighed relief at him being at work. She wouldn’t have to lie immediately right to his face. Unfortunately he walked in the flat within minutes of her arrival. When she saw him the first thing out of his mouth was “how was school, žížalko?” Panicked and face flushing, she broke. Feeling like a teenager who had played hooky from school and wasted her parents gas money she had such a terrible feeling. She blurted out all of it while she was hugging him. He scolded her jokingly about his disappointment and found it quite humorous.
She felt all the tension of the two weeks disappear all at once and resolved not to waste money on another intensive program. A 50-year-old woman skipping school and planning on lying to her husband, just doesn’t seem like the right fit.
Note: žížalko is his endearing term for her and means little worm