Word Count 500
By Terry Rainey
My story hangs on the classroom wall, on large white paper. In Teacher’s handwriting. I admire it as I walk in. I read it, as I have many times. “My name is Rabu. I am from Thailand. I was born December 16, 1949. I came to the U.S. in 1974. I came here to marry.”
What it doesn’t say: he was a man I barely knew. I was 24. He was 38. He showed little interest in my past or in my dreams. He drove a truck. He died four years ago. I have some nice memories. I really do.
I began taking ESL lessons two months ago. They brighten my day. I like my friends in class from Peru, China, and Ukraine. I like Teacher.
Teacher starts with my favorite activity of the day. Worksheets with pairs of words. Teacher says one of them. We circle the correct word, pronounce it ourselves.
Teacher says “Fed.” I see “Feed/Fed.” I pronounce “Fed.” Teacher acts out the words for us. He dances or sways or even barks. We laugh. It is a fun time. That it is maybe the best part of my day makes me a bit sad.
But I cheer up with “Ounce/Bounce” and “Mutter/Matter.” I shout out the answers. Am I too loud? I blush. My Peruvian friend smiles. She knows I like to please Teacher. I try to please any person who helps me, looks me in the eye, and says my name. I always wanted to please my husband. Maybe I didn’t.
Teacher says “Time”. I point at the clock. He shows us a picture of his dog. “Tame.”
Next we do numbers. Teacher writes numbers 1-10 and then English words, one to ten. My classmates go to the board, write the Spanish, Chinese, and Ukrainian words for the numbers, one to ten. Now it’s my turn.
I go to the front proudly. I write the Thai word for one on the board, then two. I slump. I can’t remember the Thai word for 3. I face the wall, away from class. I have forgotten my own tongue. Tears pool in my eyes.
Teacher calls for a break. I rush to the bathroom, lock the door. In the mirror, I look old. I sag. I put my hands on the sink. I lean forward, throw water on my face, and dry off with paper towels.
Back in class, Teacher gives us a new worksheet. Sentences with words we choose. Must or mustn’t. He says we must choose correctly. Are the words in the sentence telling us we should do something or warning us not to do something? Must or mustn’t?
Along with my classmates, I say: “We must go to the party.” “We must be careful when driving.” “We mustn’t talk during the movie.” “We must eat healthy foods.”
Class goes on but my mind wanders. I must make happy choices. I must look ahead, not back. I mustn’t regret my life. I mustn’t. I mustn’t.