Authors: Anastasia Vitsky
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Romantic, #Romance, #Contemporary
“Mira, look me in the eye and tell me that this isn’t some crazy ploy to get out of telling me that you haven’t done your homework for today.”
. I thought she didn’t do interrogations. I thought she was Encouragement and Cheerleading and Meticulous Dedication, not some psychic mind reader suddenly seeming far more than four years older.
“Could you just sign it?” I mumble. Even though her tutoring is private, it is still an official registered class. It was, naturally, she who waded through the mounds of paperwork and red tape to give me transcript credit for her after-hours labor of love.
“I could sign it,” she says in a strange voice.
I involuntarily look up to see such vulnerability and hurt on her face that I again have to look down. Blinking the tears away.
“I could sign it and let you walk away from the months you’ve invested in this school—all because you couldn’t take one day to complete your work. I hope you’re not planning to attend another language institute in the near future because a drop-fail will hardly help your chances for admission. Is that what you want?”
I hadn’t thought about jeopardizing future school plans, but I have to admit that she is right. Suddenly this all seems a lot more serious than I thought. I thought I could just pick up and leave on a whim. After all, I’ve already done the college thing. This is just extra. But if I want to become a translator, at least some official credentials are needed.
“No,” I admit in a small voice.
“What do you want, Mira? Have you thought
except just to run away?”
“Why are you scolding me?” I ask plaintively. I know it’s a mistake even before the words are out, and her voice stiffens.
“What do you want me to say? ‘Yes, go ahead. Walk away. Give up on yourself.’ Do you really want me to say that?”
The tears are becoming dangerously close now. This lecture might be a once-in-nine-months occurrence, but she’s certainly packing enough punch to make up for lost time.
“I’m sorry,” I murmur. Her warm, sweet-smelling arm rests on my back and gently presses me to lean against her.
“Don’t be sorry,” she says in her familiar gentle voice. “Be persistent. You owe it to yourself to give it another try.” I can only nod as the tears slip noiselessly through my closed eyelids.
“I’m sorry,” I say after a moment. “I don’t really want to leave.”
“I know.” She lets me rest against her for a moment. I pull away, sniffling and wiping my eyes with the back of my hand.
“And I think we need to make some changes in our modus operandi.”
Her gaze wanders briefly to the “rod of love” lying horizontally across her desk. Her eyes search my face questioningly. I gulp. Me? Like a high-schooler? Finally, I give the smallest possible nod.
That night her warning rings uncomfortably in my ears.
“I think we should end today with your first taste of discipline.”
“Oh please no...I promise I’ll be motivated and focused without it...please just one more chance.”
“If we don’t get the first time over with now, you’ll obsess about it for the rest of the week.”
“Oh no, I promise. I swear that, now I know you mean business, the threat will be effective enough by itself. You’ll never have to use it even once.”
“I don’t want you afraid. That’s not what it’s for.”
“I’m not afraid! I swear. If I don’t have all of my work done by next week I’ll take twice the usual punishment without a peep of complaint.”
“All right, Mira. I don’t think it’s wise, but perhaps you’ll have to learn that the hard way.”
Initially I am proud of my newfound rhetorical prowess, but as the week wears on I find my razor-sharp concentration fraying like 1970’s shag carpet.
Would it hurt?
I find myself wondering—rather stupidly, I might add. But considering that corporal punishment is illegal in the schools at home and that my parents gave me little more than the odd wooden-spoon swat here and there, perhaps it’s only natural that this “rod of love” looms ever and ever larger in my mind.
I pick up a pencil to start writing, only to twirl it absentmindedly in my hands and compare its thickness and smoothness with The Stick. That’s what it has become in my mind, a capital-letter affair. She’s stopped being my beloved tutor and has turned into this awful threatening figure. For the moment this fear is very effective in forcing me to work, but much more of this awful fear in the pit of my stomach and I just might develop ulcers. I have, in the most platonic way, a crush on her. I think having to be punished by her would humiliate me beyond recovery. How can I go from being her “star student” to just another unruly student who needed physical punishment to mind? For all of ten seconds I wildly consider leaving the school sans official approval, but the papers are at the bottom of her wastebasket. Placed there by me, with rather obvious symbolism. After my blubbering and sniveling, I threw away the discharge papers without prompting.
I sigh and return to my translation. We’ve finally moved beyond the Dick-and-Jane of “My name is Jane. This is my brother, Dick” into slightly more exciting fairy tales. “My name is Kongee. This is my stepsister.” So far I’ve gotten poor little Kongee weeding in the field while her mean stepmother gives Kongee’s stepsister a new dress. Then the stepmother orders Kongee to fill the water jar, but because of a frog the river overflows.
No, wait a minute. Is “jangee” river or well? And what the heck is this frog doing in the story? I wonder idly if Kongee was struck by her stepmother, or if her nasty older stepsister was ever disciplined for not doing her lessons properly. I picture shrinking-violet Kongee holding out trembling hands as her intimidating stepmother intones, “You must feel the ‘rod of love’ for your own good.” Then, crack! Crack! Crack! Kongee is wringing her poor hands and weeping pathetically until the local handsome magistrate comes to rescue her.
I wonder, guiltily, if my tutor was ever disciplined during her school days. Compared with my stammering and blushing, she’s so comfortable with assaulting students with a stick that she can even joke about it.
“Well, Mira, you wanted to fully experience the culture here, so what better opportunity is there than learning how we deal with our students? Did you know that in the old days we used the phrase ‘picking up the rod’ to mean becoming a teacher? How deprived your education has been!”
Balefully suggesting that I might prefer to remain deprived was only met with affectionate laughter and a squeeze of my shoulders. As if I were a petted and precocious child.
I both resent and enjoy the vulnerability of being a foreigner. I like the freshness and softness it gives me, like being a child again. For my application essay, I described my study abroad experience as a “second childhood” and expressed thankfulness at the new lessons I was learning. I had no idea that entering a second childhood would make me subject to the rules of childhood once again.
The next week, I again enter rather late. Not because I blithely forgot the time but because there was no courteous teacher to usher me into the office. As a result, I stand outside of the office door for a good fifteen minutes while studiously ignoring the curious looks of students passing by.
At long last I reflect that tardiness is probably not the best way to start the lesson off on the right foot, and I make my way over to her desk. I set a small grammar textbook onto her desk and smile expectantly. I had so many questions during our last translation that she mentioned a recently published grammar book for foreigners. I spend so much time at the local bookstore that the manager has jokingly threatened to charge me rent, so I was happy to pick up one copy for myself and one for her.
She opens it and smiles at me delightedly. “Oh good! You were so fast! How much was it?” I tell her the amount, and she opens her purse to hand me the next largest bill. When I search my pockets for change, she pats my hand. “It’s all right. It’s ‘shimboolum gahp,’ money for doing an errand. We give it to children,” she teases.
Only four years older than I and yet still able to rub it in! I make a face and briefly wonder what it would be like to graduate from all this student stuff and be a professional, a colleague. Finally an adult. I have a hard time imagining it.
We immediately plunge into our work, previously delayed for two weeks in a row. She chuckles at one of my spelling errors.
“It’s omgee, not omgway,” she corrects me. “Omgee is thumb. Omgway is someone that babies are afraid of. Sometimes a mother will say to her baby, ‘omgway will get you!’ and the baby will cry and cry.”
Sort of like my mother’s bogeyman
, I think, and I marvel at the similarity between cultures.
“Does omgway also ‘get’ teachers who are too scary to their students?” I can’t help asking. She taps her red felt-tip pen playfully in my direction.
“No, but I’m sure they would be interested in a student who calls her teacher ‘princess disease.’”
I burst into laughter. Her last name is almost the same as the word for “disease,” and here “princess disease” means a girl or woman who is always concerned with looking beautiful. Ever since I learned that, I’ve addressed every e-mail and note to her as “To princess-disease teacher.”
She tries to scowl. “For shame! Don’t you know you aren’t even supposed to step on your teacher’s shadow?”
“Aww!” This is another proverb, one that means a teacher should receive so much respect that even her shadow should be honored. It’s her standard weapon whenever I’ve succeeded in teasing her.
“There’s no shadow when we’re inside,” I complain.
“I can make one,” she answers cheerily. She pushes her chair back directly underneath the ceiling light until a very faint shadow forms next to the bottom of her chair. I can’t resist. I stomp happily.
Even as she laughs, she wraps her right hand—with such strong fingers!—around mine. “Son day!” she says to me.
I look at her in shock. It’s the traditional order for a student to hold out her hands for punishment. Against my will, my hands uncurl themselves and start to tremble.
“P-p-please...I was just joking...”
She smiles at me, so warmly that I can’t help trusting her. She lifts her pen and strikes it ever so softly against my outstretched palms. A sudden unexpected gladness fills my heart. If this is a joking matter, I have nothing to fear. Yet again my eyes prick with sudden tears, this time at her amazing and compassionate intuition. She knew I was afraid. That’s why she wanted to do this last week.
“It’s still me,” she says softly. “This doesn’t change how I feel about you. Or our work together.”
“Th-thank you,” I stammer incoherently. In answer, the pen flicks against my palms a second time.
“Don’t be afraid,” she tells me. “You have no reason to fear. I’m on your side.”
For the briefest moment, I wonder if being struck —but it seems too harsh a word—is too small a price to pay for receiving her seemingly limitless love. I’m almost ready to ask her to give it to me. Almost.
It’s the familiar Wednesday-morning stomach-sinking realization it’s been another week and I have nothing to show for it. The hurried scrambling through my book to read and jot down notes, underline, highlight, anything to make it look like I’d pored over every word. The panicked scribbling of a translation in the hope it would take up some class time. Every Wednesday night I swear I’m going to spend the next week like a study hermit, and every following Wednesday morning I berate myself for not doing so. My roommate knows the best parties and clubs. Every time I promise that I will stay home the following night, and every following night I persuade myself that I am learning my new culture firsthand. A translator needs to know the cultural context of the words she translates, right?
I throw in some big words for impress value and dash to the bus late. But by some miracle, I actually arrive to my tutoring session on time. Maybe the traffic was light today. I honestly can’t say since my nose was pressed against my book the entire trip. I’m early, she’s late, and I silently thank her for giving me a few more precious minutes of preparation.
After she comes in—“Oh, you’re early today!”—and we begin to study, the inner nervousness builds. I’m not sure exactly which side of the slacking-off/squeaking-by line I’ve crossed today. Is it enough? Or was she really serious? About...treating me like her students? The hickory is nowhere in sight today, but I can’t help giving a small shudder of both anticipation and dread.
“You have to come to my hometown,” she says suddenly. I look at her blankly. Is this an invitation? “I’m getting married,” she says. I gape at her, staring at the silver “couple ring” she began wearing a few weeks ago. Engagement is a formal affair involving nearly as much expense and ceremony as the actual wedding, so very few couples purchase an engagement ring. Never able to resist marketing opportunities, jewelry stores began promoting “couple rings” instead.
In the time we’ve studied together, I’ve heard her say over and over again that she’s not ready to be involved with someone and that she wants to focus on her graduate work. How she manages graduate school, teaching, and caring for her father I have no idea. I have enough trouble getting myself to class each day.
“At the end of the month, so we can’t have class for the next three weeks.” Still silently watching her, I feel something sink inside. I’d never in my wildest dreams...I’d decided to be really diligent and make the most of our class time together...
“Are you serious? Is this a joke?”
“I wish,” she grumbles. “It’s crazy. But since my father is so sick, he wants me to get married quickly. My parents and my boyfriend’s parents decided the date, and for the first time my father looks so happy.” She’s the oldest child and the first to get married. “I can’t erase the smile from my father’s face.”