Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Smile Like Moonlight on a Tombstone or Eating Over the Sink

Sometimes it’s like this:

I woke up, as I always seem to do from an afternoon nap, at dusk. I had slept so long that I was totally disorientated. Even after a three-hour nap I still couldn’t seem to make up my mind whether I wanted to get up or not. I lay in the retreating light for a while feeling like I was about to doze again, when something changed my mind and I kicked off my sleeping bag and swung my legs to the floor in one motion. There was no reason to regret the nap, on Mondays I teach in the village school, something that’s not necessarily harder than teaching in the university, but takes a different kind of stamina, one that I really haven’t built up yet and probably won’t until I’m on the verge of leaving, considering I only go there once a week anyway. I can remember this feeling from substitute teaching in the states, after only 4 or 6 hours of work, coming home and promptly falling asleep, children’s laughter still a flush in your face and smelling of crayons.
Here the smell of school is a chalky, earthy redolence, like wet concrete walls, but it doesn’t cling to you like the way I remember American Elementary School smell clinging to me: brown paper bags and green vinyl floors. Smell or no smell I have woken up to my Friday evening, so I don’t regret the nap, now I’m ready, charged for a long walk in the closing light and then maybe a movie with a beer or something. I was looking for a sweater to throw on when I realized my stomach was aching with no small insistence. I ignored the feeling, dismissed it as some odd post nap thing, grabbed my headphones and set out.
Outside in the cool fall air my mouth felt thick, gummed up inside. My stomach was hurting more than it had been inside and I still felt disorientated, like I could still have been dreaming. On the pavement outside my apartment my shadow, thrown out by a lighted window startled me, as I thought it was some small animal running directly at my legs. Walking to the internet café, I realized that no one had called me. One of the volunteers had mentioned that he would be coming in for a class and would call me when it got out. I had looked forward to this, so it was with some dismay that I checked my phone and found I had missed no calls. I knew there was some excuse that I’d hear the next day or maybe the day after, and some how I dreaded this, dreaded it because I knew that nothing mattered except the present. At the moment I would’ve like to have had some company and I felt slightly abandoned for being denied it. Tomorrow that wouldn’t matter and I’d brush the issue off, but somehow that future conversation seemed absolutely abhorrent to me. Now I was alone, and there was a reason for that, he had some other engagement, but for some reason I almost shuddered to think of the time that would come when he’d explain to me why he hadn’t been able to call, like qualifying exactly what it was that was more important than me.
I left the internet café with a sudden desire to get far away from the center of town, away from all the cloying lights, the husky laughter and the cars. I was feeling thirsty as hell as I walked to the southern edge of town. For some reason my sense of smell felt incredibly heightened, to the point where all the burning and rotting smells of autumn were practically chocking me. I was feeling tired, it wasn’t just sleep I hadn’t shaken off but a deep fatigue, like what you feel when you’ve got the flu.
I watched the stars as I walked, One of them fell but I crowded it too full of wishes for any of them to come true. I then thought what a shame it was that I spent the beautiful scene wanting something more, as if a falling star on a quiet night wasn’t enough. I remembered how my childhood friend and I used to hook pinkies and wish for things after we had said the same thing at the same time (where people usually jinx each other). I had read somewhere that this was a foolproof way of attaining wish fulfillment. He and I spent so much time to together that we said many things at the same time, leading to many wishes. At first they had been long and descriptive but gradually they had been shortened, probably more out of the embarrassment of having to tacitly link pinky fingers as late as 7th or 8th grade after saying something at the same time, only further pandering to the rumor that we were quite gay, or as it was in the parlance back then "gay together," as if one needed a cohort to be gay with, or possibly that it would’ve been ok to be gay alone.
My stomach still hurt and I began to think how nice it is to smoke when things like bad stomach aches present themselves. When you want something to take your mind off the pain that also lends a little composure. I decided that a lemon Fanta would go well with the cigarette I was going to have when I got home. I stopped into a store and bought one, feeling like I looked horrible after a woman nearly shut the door in my face, wheeled around to see what was blocking the progress of the door and actually dramatically widened her eyes when she saw me, like something out of a Hitchcock movie, which I guess made sense considering I felt like vertigo itself, standing there taking in too much smell, too much brightness, feeling too tired with a lead stomach. When I got home I thought about phone calls I’d like to make without actually making any of them while smoking cigarettes and drinking my Fanta.
II. Sometimes it’s like this:
I watched the sun come up this morning from my kitchen window while grinding stale coffee beans by hand. Sometimes, and I couldn’t tell you why, the morning feels rushed even when I’ve got more time than things to do; this morning there was, however, no hurry. I stood on the broken vinyl floor in my bare feet looking out over the mountains without really concentrating on a single thought, just kind of going along with all of them.
After the coffee I heated some water in my living room and bathed by dumping cup after cup over my head in an old bathtub that already needs to be bleached again. With my hair still wet I walked down to the university, wearing ridiculous clothes but not feeling at all awkward.
Over the course of the day I shifted out of various classes and talked about various vocabulary words, the need to learn them and any verb tenses that they could possibly be coupled with. Probably not the best way to teach a language, but so far it seems to be getting me somewhere.
Sometimes I thought of South America, or the southern end of Armenia, or, inexplicably, a late evening coffee in Ann Arbor, Michigan I drank almost two years ago.
At the end of the day a student approached me, as many of them have been doing lately, and asked if I was doing one-on-one tutoring. I told her she was welcome to come after class to a session I was doing with only two other beginners. She seemed to balk at the idea of having anyone else around and asked if I was free at the moment. I was and we met a few minutes later in my classroom to talk about her village and possible travel ideas.
As mundane as the experience was, between the Armenian clarifications and the slow, basic English questioning, I suddenly became aware of a familiar feeling of light-headed, almost transcendent happiness. Like the feeling I remember getting when I was a kid getting my hair shampooed before having it cut somewhere. Even at ten years old I remember sitting perfectly still, while someone worked the coconut-smelling shampoo out of my hair and feeling like I was about to drift into some kind of beautiful dream. Talking about the village of Malishka and Paris today this feeling came back to me, and though the conversation faltered as a result I didn’t mind at all and just smiled when I realized that I hadn’t really been paying enough attention to advance the conversation beyond a certain point.
When my after-school lessons had finished, I went home to a quick meal before going back out for my language tutoring, during which I made my tutor laugh quite a few times, not directly as a result of my incompetence, but rather through my making light of it. As the sun set we had begun to talk of the recent events of our daily lives and the exchange was comfortable, as I both understood and seemed to have little problem in communicating my own thoughts.
I stopped by the internet café again and caught the main market area in the rare window of time after the sun has completely set but none of the shop keepers have closed, in the darkness the lights wash out into the piles of garbage, catch the eyes of stray dogs and flicker in stationary car taillights.
I stood by the window awhile again after I got home, drinking a bottle of half-frozen peach nectar, three-liter size, looking down in the now dark and empty streets. My phone rang and the girl I tutor was suddenly telling me I had to go over to her house. She’s done this before, telling me she has something really important to say only to shove an overstuffed bag of walnuts, tomatoes and peppers in my arms and run back inside. I told her I didn’t want any food, still had enough from the last time I barely escaped getting two sweaters along with my farmer’s market surplus bag, a cornucopia that’s still rolling all over my fridge. I wasn’t bothered at all, in fact I was enjoying the novelty of the conversation, which essentially consisted of her trying to get me to come over, or at least meet her somewhere to take some food under the ruse that there was to be no food involved and that she merely had a question.
"Well, ask me the question now."
"I can’t…it’s important, you have to come over here"
"Why would I have to do that, I’m coming tomorrow, we’ll talk then."
"No you have to come now, right now (first time I think I’ve ever heard anyone say this in Armenian.)"
"I don’t need anymore food (kind of laughing.)"
"Come over! There‘s no food."
I wondered what I was going to find myself carrying back as I set down my apartment stairs, skipping over the steps familiarly in the dark.
I met my friend and tutee in the street between our buildings’ lots. She said hello and thrust a hot pastry at me, my favorite, Zhingelov hots, like southern greens baked in the middle of a loaf of homemade bread.
I went back home to my window and my frozen nectar and a dinner I hadn’t expected to eat a few minutes before.