Sixteen.

I’m trying to remember what I was like at sixteen.
Hair flat, nails worn, a thick shell weighing heavily down on my back,
I fell in love with a rockstar with thick, tousled locks and tight, leather pants.
He was better than any boy I’d gazed at, any boy whom I’d written to on MSN.
That callous green icon flickering.

My students aren’t like sixteen year olds.
Immaculately groomed, nails chiselled, no shell displayed on their backs,
I shudder when I’m with them, hunch when I’m explaining,
Confused gazes litter the air,
And smirks and faces smacking of apathy.

But they are sixteen, that ripe old age,
When Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink should be a staple.
And me?
I withered like a flower in front of adults,
I retreated back into my shell in class,
(Don’t. Make. Me. Read)
I self-flagellated any chance I got,
And still do.

Where is my confidence? Am I lacking some crucial brain component?
I’ll soon be turning a quarter of a century.
So why do these sixteen year olds intimidate me?

The Gran Canarian heat

The Gran Canarian heat has me sprawled across the stony floor like a starfish.

Pores open, chest red from sunburn,

Three showers a day is a common occurrence.

Deodorant stick runs frighteningly low,

Armpits stagnant after a hard day’s labour,

Teaching the youth of today and tomorrow.

Donning long sleeves to look presentable, more business-like, like I belong,

The fabric only clings to my fruity skin.

Famous for our lack of air conditioning,

Parents implore we purchase more fans to keep their children’s brows free from sweat,

But even when they’re blasting, and kids

With snotty-noses and grotty fingers brush their fingers along the tables,

We’re still roasting like English potatoes.

Week nights.

I took to my bed like Janis Joplin to her Southern Comfort. Diving down between the sheets… earplugs in because the TV’s a-cracklin’ in the living room. Fleeting thoughts about one of my students whose curiosity puts his classmates to shame. Wondering if I’ll ever have a kid like that. Couple of Spanish words bicker inside my brain, pushing them lightly to the side, I slumber. Phoebe’s clawing outside the bedroom door… it’s 1am and the TV’s still moaning but the air is black and stuffy from my snores. He’ll come to bed eventually, I say. Phoebe will tire eventually, I say.

I awaken in the deadest of hours and open the door to her furry feline face. The TV has tired too and switched itself to mute, boyfriend sprawled across the couch with a bag of weed and a dirty jar or gherkins beside him. Midnight snacks are always devilishly peculiar, I say. Phoebe is whimpering at me, rubbing her dainty little furs against my warm shins and peering up at me with two eyes like glazed donuts. The dry food bowl is still plenty full and there’s a ring etched into the sofa from where she’s been sleeping beside her master. Hoisting my pyjamas down in the bathroom, she follows me in, dearth of any human need for privacy. All too willing to hear the gargle of the toilet just for a few measly pieces of her Whiskas luxury tin. Finally, I’m forced to scurry back to the bedroom at lightning speed to avoid her following me in. She’ll hide under the bed and then crawl on my face, I say. Like Flash, I’m gone within seconds, and poor Kitty finds herself in a state of (what she would call) starvation once again. Let her nibble on the toes of Boyfriend, I say.

Too many teachers spoil the broth

They all filter into the classroom like the condensation on my Coke can. Four of them, all older than me, all wiser than me, all infinitely better at life than me. One sells properties to banks (at least, that’s what I gauged from his clumsy L1 expressions) and another wears too much eyeliner. Funny, isn’t it? How I comment on the guy’s profession and the girl’s make-up. Unintentional, I promise.. they were the two characteristics which came to me first. I could have said he does crossfit for an hour after every class because he makes a point of throwing up this very riveting fact in pitifully broken English just as he’s notioning to leave. “Crossfit nooow.. one howerrrr. Si?” “Yes, yes, very good.” Maybe think about putting as much sweat into your irregular verbs exercises. I want those sheets to be dripping in human juices when you tug them out of your bag next class.

The other two are teachers. We have three teachers in the classroom in total. Chaos ensues and I, the “main” one, am judged and pecked by their beaks for a full sixty minutes. Vultures who peck and sneer and tell me they don’t understand me, “what did the muchacha say?” Yes, because I can’t explain for toffee when you’re eye-balling me like I’m the last papa con mojo left on the table. A small, rounded, youthful potato waiting to be stabbed by your fork. Breathy, I feel my throat clench up and suddenly I feel like I might actually die. Panic radiates through my kneecaps and I wither like a flower, pen pointing shakily at the board, as if I actually know how to write in a straight line on one of those things. As I attempt an explanation, I start to confuse myself about when we use get on, get up, get off. “Get down?” she asks. And all I can think about is Kool and the Gang.

Desiring only speaking and listening practice, the hour passes and I feel my heart thump to the beat of the creaking ceiling.. (leaky pipes, we suspect. Possible zombie? Hard to tell.) I’m a third of your age, but somehow I’m omnipotent in this room of horrors and it’s up to me to provide insight. Yet she, with her Goldilocks should-be-grey-by-now barnet, who towers over me even whilst seated, plagues me with her questions and commands and “escribeme ese muchacha” without even a por favor gracing her lips.

I know I’m mousey and fragile-looking. I know I have the demeanour of Tweety Pie and as much presence as that abandoned stapler, flung to the floor without a care, but I mean something. Here, I am the goddess with all the answers, and you are all peasants, seeking refuge in my moth-eaten knowledge and comfort in my flat-chested bosom. I might hunch my shoulders forward when you address me, and I might stand at the front with my feet shuffling because looking natural has never been my forte. But I mustn’t feel bullied by your heavy glare or weighty experience, because I’m learning. Nobody should make me feel smaller than I am. I’m already only 5ft3.