The Bogeyman In Disguise from Issue 91/92
Today is the I-would-like-to/I-would-not-like-to lesson. Half of the students, the women, all black hair and high cheekbones, will predictably employ the sentences “I would like to play basketball” and “I would like to eat pizza.” The boys in their torn jeans and dress coats will sit in the back furthering the ruin of the floors, walls, and chairs by writing their names everywhere, each telling the others that he, in fact, is the future Nogonian-Style-Wrestling Champion of North Pacific Asia.
Except for Sodmod, sitting next to Tumyar, poking his pen through her ponytail, hoping she’ll pick up on the metaphor.
I would like to fuck Tumyar. I’m kidding, of course. “Raptash.” That is the Nogonian word for kidding. I’m a high school English teacher in Nogonia, a professional, a twenty-two-and-a-half-year-old. But what have I taught them? They have taught me “raptash,” at least that.
Tumyar ignores Sodmod and raises her hand, offering to write “The Fifth of September” on the board, every capillary glowing in her cheeks. She wears a gray pantsuit and strides to the front of the class, proffering her hand for the chalk like a little Hillary Clinton. A sexy little Hillary Clinton.
Sodmod, I will beat your ass. If you ever use that stolen cell phone camera to sneak a shot up her skirt again I will rip your arteries out of your throat.
Tumyar returns to her seat and the lesson continues. I pay no attention to Tumyar. I don’t even see her.
What if she were naked right now? What if we were all naked? What would we do then?
I’m about to throw a teddy bear to some student whose name I don’t know, asking, “What wouldn’t you like to do?”, but even before I pull back my arm, Tumyar’s hand is in the air again as she yells, “Me, teacher!”
I throw the bear to her, wishing it were a panther. I would like to be a panther on you. Raptash. She stands up, leaning on the desk and massaging the bear carefully with her hand before saying, “I wouldn’t like… date Nogonian men.”
Do the boys notice? Are they engaged or offended? Not at all; they are still snickering and bragging. Only two female students near her crack a smile.
“What would you like to do?”
“I would like date American men,” she says.
I step toward her. “Why?”
She opens her notebook and runs through its pages quickly. “Mmm,” she says, licking her lips (I think), “American men, nice, money, men. America. Good.”
Not even the two smiling girls catch on. Tumyar’s face is blank as if she’s still searching for an answer. I crouch, turn around and face the blackboard. Am I here? Am I American? Are you in eleventh grade? Are you really?
Nobody hugs in Nogonia. I could use a hug.
The name on my ringing cell phone is “Tumyar” for the third time today and the tenth time this week. I think she wants me. Do they all want me? I always like to think that. That I am Sexy American. That this is their nickname for me.
Does she call alone or with friends? Are they all sitting around in a circle in their short-shorts and tanktops, crowding around and then tossing the phone up in the air when the dial tone starts? What would she do to me if we played Seven Minutes in Heaven? Why didn’t I ever get to play that in middle school? I don’t know if they play that in Nogonia. Maybe I could introduce it.
Do you ever touch your nipple and wish that I wasn’t your teacher? Don’t worry, kid, you’re not alone. That’s just gross, man. You’re sick. You’re fucked up.
What do her nipples look like?
I send her a text in Nogonian asking, “What are you doing?” I give her a chance to practice her English. Good teacher, good boy.
She responds with “im sorry disturbing yu what wold yu like to do.”
“I would like to go to sleep.” With you by my side. With your body by my side.
Technology is so isolating. Maybe twenty years ago she would have knocked on my door and run away. Then I could have chased her.
Nogonia is an island of deserts and dying pastures. It’s bare, almost soilless. Nothing grows except for cows. It’s isolated. I’m isolated. My penis is a desert and it needs an oasis. I haven’t had sex in so long I probably can’t reproduce any more. How long? Six months? Six fucking months. Six unfucking months. Men think about sex every seven seconds.
Jake certainly did. Here are some reasons why that guy is a creep:
- He actually did sleep with a seventeen-year-old, the pedophile.
- Well, I don’t know. I don’t feel comfortable using that word. A seventeen-year-old is not a child. “Ephebophile” would make more sense.
- And I guess now they’re in love. They live three hundred miles apart but they call each other every day even though he doesn’t really know Nogonian and she doesn’t really know English (“but she’s good enough to be an English teacher,” or so he says).
- I remember the first day he told us about it during in-country English Teacher Training, professing his love for a seventeen-year-old as if none of us would think it in any way unusual. We all did, but none of us said anything.
- He insists that they never had sex but we all knew that they did, and he was always talking about hot bitches, about how at his college it was impossible to find a woman who was both intelligent and a hot bitch, though I’m surprised he cared about intelligence at all, given his love for hot bitches.
How do you become like Jake? Is he even human?
Sex is overrated. It’s like eating. You spend all this time making a meal and ten minutes or so consuming it. And four hours later you’re hungry again.
Why don’t I want to wake up in the morning? Sometimes I tell myself it’s because I’m tired of facing all the sexual tension in the world. That’s why I always come straight home after work, away from everyone.
I’m the only white guy among Kamdra’s three thousand Nogonians. On the two-minute walk to our school, built with creaky wooden poles during the Soviet occupation, I sometimes hear English spoken—“Hello” after “Hi” after “Hello,” a random “Thank you” or “I’m sorry.” Is it—no, it is only a little kid, and another, then another and the horse cart guy on the dirt road, always dirt, on the ground, in the air, obscuring us from each other. Finally there is the wolf pack of teenage girls, some of them cute, if underdeveloped. They all stare at me as they walk. I smile. They giggle. I say “Hi” and they all say it together and giggle again, then keep staring. I like to think it’s my good looks that garner so much attention, so many phone calls, but I know I have a nose that’s too big for my face, and if my good looks had gotten me attention, I would have had more than two sexual partners in college. And maybe I wouldn’t be here now.
I’m sitting alone on the faculty office’s lone faded sofa, when the hot mom walks in. The other moms may have been hot once, but this mom still is, even though she just bore a child two months ago. Good news: She still looks great. The other moms look as if all the joy has sagged out of them, their faces inching closer to the floor every day, and while I know there’s something beneath the sagging, our conversations usually end at hello. What else could we really say? It’s not like we could talk about Radiohead’s bass lines.
Sometimes I wish the hot mom’s husband would cheat on her and she would come to me for help. I know plenty of ways I could help her.
The two of us almost fill the room. I stare at her, but she doesn’t stare back. She’s always the only one who’s not staring back. Her husband comes and puts his arm around her. He stares at me, our eyes level, and I remember he’s Sodmod’s older brother.
I’m not sure how this all started, but whenever I see Tumyar, she gets the silly, squeaky Hillary Clinton look, and I say “Hi!” to her as loudly and obnoxiously as possible. And then she blushes and returns the “Hi.”
A woman where there are no other women. How can she look like that and be so young?
This time Sodmod and all of his friends happen to be there, and they cheer and applaud after I walk away, giving me thumbs up and saying, “Teacher, niiiiiiice,” maybe the only two English words they know. Well, aren’t you all a bunch of badasses with your perpetual slouches and crooked eyebrows? God, your cocks must be huge. Shouldn’t you be tipping cows or some shit?
The Nogonian government for some reason makes the woman students wear these pantsuit outfits that could land them positions as international sex symbols if anybody knew how to find Nogonia on a map.
It must make them national sex symbols to the boys. Last week I caught Sodmod walking past Tumyar’s desk and flicking her buttock with his finger. She cursed, then went over to his desk and slapped him. I made him leave the class, but later in the day I found him and some of his henchman cornering her in the stairwell, pushing her, grabbing her, laughing while she told them to stop. I kicked them out of school and told the principal, this man-man who was probably once one of them, but he just made them stand silently in the faculty lounge for three hours. Couldn’t he have cut their little Nogonian cocks off?
I follow Tumyar into class, and the boys are all in the back with their arms around each other as if they’re some sort of sports team. They ask me to take a picture of them. I tell them in Nogonian, “I don’t take pictures of bad students.” They all moan with the same intonation.
I walk toward Tumyar. Sodmod yells that she is his girlfriend. She shakes her head and says “no.” I pull out my phone and she looks down at her notebook. I point to the word “Tumyar” and the number by it under the “missed calls” section. That red swims right out of those cheeks, creating two almost perfect ovals.
She mutters a “not me” about the phone and puts her face in her notebook again.
I had considered the marriage lesson for today, but decided to skip it. It sounded fun, though, Tumyar as the bride, safely married to one of the decent male students, sending them galloping off into the sunset. A nice thought. Tumyar married. To someone else.
When the class ends, Tumyar walks out without saying her usual goodbye. From the board I see that her desk has new graffiti scrawled on it. It’s probably a kid’s name or “Mikel Jordin.”
No. It says “I (Heart) You.”
Someday I will enter you.
Did I just think that no I did not just think that. Raptash.
You’re in America waiting to deploy, and you think of women, single women, single, hot, Asian women, burying their noses in your armpit, and you hope that maybe one of them will be an art teacher who likes David Sedaris. You’re so tired of lying, of telling everyone “Looks don’t really matter to me,” which maybe they wouldn’t if you found someone special. But they do matter; in fact, they’re your first priority.
But where are the beautiful women in Kamdra? Anyone who is remotely attractive is either married or boring, and the art teacher is thirty-years-old, fat, and a single mom.
The first day I was here, two months ago, I hunted. I walked around town three times. But there was only dirt scratching in my eyes like a cosmic joke, and sagging faces, waiting to escape, and I wanted to keep my teeth safe from their husbands.
The Nogonian word for “marry” means “to make a family.” Why does it have to mean that?
I spent today teaching my most female classes, tenth and eleventh grade. They came up to me with their notebooks, begging me to check their work, the sides of their arms grazing my shoulder.
Sometimes that graze wriggles all the way to my testicles. Human touch. And that wasn’t even actual touch—our long sleeves had barricaded our skin. When was the last time someone’s skin touched mine? Babies who grow up without human touch fail to thrive.
There is no one tangible to masturbate to in this country. I have to think about potential love interests back in America, women who have probably forgotten about me by now. There was Katie, whose warm legs, when I think about it really hard, I can still feel pressed against mine at twelve-thirty at the football game, but I know she’s going back and forth on that one guy she was with, and despite our playful emails to each other, I am probably just a potential love interest. And maybe I’d rather be a sex interest, to be perfectly honest, ha ha.
But suppose… Tumyar. A more adult Tumyar.
How old is she, really? There are some twelfth graders who are eighteen, one who is nineteen, and I think one boy tenth grader is eighteen. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if she was eighteen. Not that that would make everything OK.
But in five years she’ll be twenty-one, at least. And the only thing different about her will be her age. Maybe then I can return to Kamdra for another round of teaching, and she’ll be here in the summer, waiting to return to college to finish up her English Education degree. Of course she’ll be one of the best in her class, probably already fluent. Or maybe she won’t be, but I’ll study up on Nogonian while I’m back in the States and when I come back we’ll run into each other in the street, she’ll stop and stare in a different way than all of the others, and she’ll want to know how I’ve been, so she’ll ask me out to lunch. Maybe she won’t like me because I still don’t drink tea, or because I can’t chop my own wood very well.
No, she’ll like me. Finally, everything I’ve wanted to say that I couldn’t say I could finally say, and vice versa. I’ll find that she’s been working on a collection of paintings that she’s prepping for an art gallery. And somehow, amazingly, she loves David Sedaris! She’ll take me back to her house to show me her work; on the way our hands will brush together, but neither of us steps away, although she blushes. At her house I find she is as vivid and challenging a painter as I can imagine, even though I don’t know that much about art. I’m be so swept away by her work I can’t avoid touching her. Before we can even kiss, her perfectly overripe melon-y breasts slip out of her pantsuit and press against me, begging for my help. My lips work such magic that the entire pantsuit disappears. We don’t have time to make it to the bed, we’re surrounded by the art, she’s on top of me, somehow managing to avoid collapse, we finally manage to kiss, and—
I consider confronting Jake about the seventeen-year-old, even though he’s five hundred miles away. “Don’t bother talking to me about it anymore,” I’d say. “I don’t want to hear about it. None of us wants to hear about it. In fact, we were all completely disgusted and thought you were a creep.”
But he had this way of bouncing out statistics and maxims. There was the one speech:
“Who are we to say that these seventeen-year-olds don’t have a right to enjoy their bodies with the people they choose? Perhaps by denying them the right to sex, we are denying them the experience and maturity needed to make the right decisions later in life? By criminalizing their behavior, might not we be ‘sexually abusing’ them? Hmmmm? Aren’t they old enough to consent? Isn’t the age of consent twelve in the Netherlands? Hmmmm?”
Maybe once a day I think about building a time machine, going back and saying, “But it’s the age thing, man. You’re twenty-three and from America. Don’t you remember how immature you were at seventeen?” And then I’d add my own scientific niblet about how brains continue to develop past twenty.
He’d probably say that studies show primate males prefer younger females, and that another study revealed that men find seventeen-year-old faces the most attractive.
He wouldn’t really say that. He’d say that if he’d met her without knowing her age, he would have thought she was twenty-three. And I don’t know how I’d reply to that.
What it is about her? Sometimes you never know. There are those cheeks. And she wears eyeliner.
Sometimes when I see her I can feel little antlered demonbugs eating away at my heart and stomach. I want to float away. I sing her name when it happens today, multiplying the “u”s and “m”s to their greatest potential. But she doesn’t laugh. Why doesn’t she laugh? Why the baffled look?
Does she know? Does everyone know? I think everybody is looking at me and my name is Jake. Maybe she came and looked in my window last night with the intention of seeing me naked, and then got more than she’d hoped for. Or maybe she can read my mind. Can everybody read my mind? It’s so strange that there are other people in the world who can think and have problems and make decisions. How am I not the only person alive?
I admit it, I feel bad about it. I tell myself that I don’t but I do.
Do parents whisper things to their children in the night about me? Am I the bogeyman in disguise?
Watch out for Sexy American. He could make love to you.
I walk in and stand by my desk. I considered making today’s lessons an optional sex talk with the school social worker. Maybe twenty-five percent of Nogonian kids have engaged in sexual activity by the time they’re out of high school, but that’s all in the city, and sex is more or less a bad word here. There’s a lot to learn.
Just what has she done? Imagine that as a lesson. “Have you ever been with a man?”
What if I grabbed her breasts right now?
It’s not even that I like her. It’s just the thought of my face pressed into her smooth, naked body.
Jesus. I can’t even walk.
These are not my thoughts. I’m filling in for Sodmod. He needs someone to occupy his brain, which is otherwise empty. He walks into the class after re-gelling his hair for maybe the fifth time today.
What’s the next step, Sodmod? Are you going to creep your finger right up her panties this time?
Naked, smooth, hard body.
I would follow him, but I can’t, and when he passes her, he grabs her ponytail. He pulls so hard that her head hits the table behind her.
It’s a tragedy. Right now he walks like the alpha gorilla badass of the century, as pleased with himself as if he invented heaven, and it’s only a matter of time before he convinces her to sleep with him. In a few years he’ll start putting on pounds and his feet will point out like a duck’s, and he’ll lurch around with a cigarette in his mouth. They’ll get married when she’s going to have a baby neither of them wants. (Maybe I should do that sex lesson). But she’ll leave him because he’s unemployed and drunk.
And here I stand, almost out of habit, on the sidelines, watching the Sodmods and Jakes of the world achieve their targets. Why am I not playing their game? It could be the nose. A girl once told me I should consider plastic surgery. I sometimes think she may have been right.
Sometimes I wish I’d been born here, raised by missionary parents so that I could speak fluent Nogonian. I could help them, give them a good education, show them a better world. We really need more Americans in this country.
I have argued with myself about which lesson to have—dates or dating? “What year were you born?” “When is your birthday?” But then those seemed like the type of questions that Jake would ask.
I wasn’t like this before. Maybe in America it was because sex was available. And here it’s not available so my eyes are always searching, suspecting that it is and then some.
Sometimes I glance at her during lessons or my eyes follow her when we pass in the hallway. No one should notice that.
I write the phrases on the board: “Go out with someone.” “Split up with someone.” “Get along with someone.” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Get hitched.”
I will not draw lines. There are no dots to connect.
What if I started humping her in class?
I hear her curse behind me and turn to see Sodmod seated next to Tumyar, grabbing her, pushing her lightly.
And cupping a hand around her breast.
I throw the chalk down and move toward him. He puts his hands behind his back and laughs, expecting I’ll laugh too. His friends certainly do. I tell him to stand up.
“It’s okay,” he says in Nogonian.
“Stand the fuck up,” I say in English.
“Teacher, I am a good student.”
I reach to grab his arm but he jumps out of his seat and rolls over Tumyar, who is crying now, then lands in the other aisle. I walk around and stand next to him. His friends keep laughing. He runs, turns and goes into the other aisle, and I sprint. Now the girls are laughing too, except for Tumyar, thank God.
He stops by her and I grab him. He holds onto her wrist, and I slap it away. Then he holds onto her desk, and I pry his fingers off. He keeps grabbing desks and I keep pulling away until we are finally out of the classroom. And then he still holds onto the door until I nearly shut it on his fingers.
Have I violated a regulation? I don’t give a shit. This will not go on. This cannot go on.
But there is no one in the hallway on either side of us. No one has seen what has happened except for the kids, in a place where this might just register as normal behavior for a teacher.
I want to pull him up by his hair spikes and slam his head into the window glass. I want the glass to break and cut up his face. I want him to become so ugly that Tumyar will refuse to sit next to him.
But sometimes you send your body signals, and your body won’t do anything. My hand is on his arm, but it won’t move.
I walk inside the class, stepping in backwards to make sure he stays outside.
Tumyar’s nose is in her arm. You can’t even hear the sniffles. By her desk, I ask her, “Are you okay?”
Her nose stays buried. I ask her again in Nogonian.
But nothing. Not even a “thank you.”
At the end of the lesson, Sodmod still hangs around the door. Tumyar approaches my desk and says, “Teacher your home go may I?”
Before I can reconsider, I ask, “Why?”
She starts to shrug, but before she lowers her head, I can see her eyes pointed at the door.
Finally, my chivalry is honored. She has observed my pained efforts and wishes to reward me with a little something.
“Yes, you may,” I say.
She walks away. I would like to stick my penis inside of you. One of her friends, not as cute as Tumyar, giggles. “Teacher Tumyar hitched get,” she says.
“What?” I ask in Nogonian.
For some reason I thought she’d arrive wearing short-shorts and a tanktop despite it being thirty degrees outside, but she’s in the pantsuit.
Is there anyone so pretty?
When I was eighteen I dated a fifteen-year-old. When I was three she had just been born. When I was six, she was three. When I am sixty-four, she’ll be sixty-one. By then you won’t be able to tell the difference. If you divide her age by mine, we existed in a .833333333 ratio. Jake and the seventeen-year-old lived on .73913.
When do you stop calculating? When someone turns twenty-five, forty, eighty-nine? Aren’t some seventeen-year-olds more mature than twenty-three-year-olds anyway?
We sit down on the futon, and she repositions herself as she opens up her schoolbag and pulls out her notebook, scooting slightly closer to me. Some Nogonians have beautiful hands.
I can’t read her handwriting, so I have to scoot slightly closer to her. She points to the date written in English, signaling that there is nothing beneath it. I could teach her “marry” and “make a pass.” I could teach her those hands-on. Raptash.
I point to my eye. “What is this?” I say.
“Eye,” she says, looking at mine.
And then hair, face and body. “What is ‘like’ in Nogonian?”
“Aitrod.” I can feel her breast on my elbow.
And then “type” and “what.” “What type of face do you like?”
How had Jake made his first pass, the pass that he said he never made and still hasn’t made? The seventeen-year-old worked at a convenience store with a living room in the back. On one of her hours off, did he go back there and give her an “English lesson”? What words was he teaching? Maybe he said “kiss” and then combined it with “I would like.” Or “touch.” Or “been in love.” Or “make love.”
Maybe he was really in love with her. Maybe that’s just where some people belong.
The inexperienced aren’t that good. I know that. I couldn’t even enjoy it because her tongue would be everywhere.
She says, “I like men green eyes big nose brown hair.” I have green eyes. I have brown hair.
And then she’s on top of me, we’re horizontal on my futon, she’s smothering my body in kisses, my penis is already inside of her, you can’t stop us now, my mouth swims in her breasts—
Or it would be. But it’s not. She is looking at me, on my right, still waiting for my answer.
“I like men with green eyes and brown hair,” I say.
I stand up. Was I waiting for this? Was some part of me thinking, “If only we could get our moment alone?”
Don’t look at me.
What if she stood up too? Stop. What if she started taking off her clothes? Stop.
They won’t stop.
“Lesson finished,” I say in Nogonian.
She won’t stand up. I pull her up by her arm and push her toward the door. “See you Monday,” I say, and our Seven Minutes in Heaven are over.
I won’t sit down. What if she walks back in? No, I won’t sit down for a long time.
Sometimes you send your body signals, but your body won’t do a damn thing.
She is everywhere I go now, a ghost I can touch but never do.
She raises her hand in class to ask for help on the activity. There is Sodmod in the back. If he fondles you I will beat the hell out of him. You will absolutely not be his.
She has the pantsuit. The cheeks. The Hillary Clinton. Her arm is erect.
Can’t you change your clothes to something more conservative? Unblush in order to push me away? Mumble more, lose your posture? I could shake you. Do you deny that nothing happened, even though nothing did?
The war between the primal and the rational. Maybe those little antlered demon bugs are real. Where in hell do they come from? Did you know that I once fantasized that my mother would be murdered so that I could receive five hundred thousand dollars on her life-insurance policy? It was a distant thought, but Jesus Christ.
I lean over her to read her notebook. Her breast on my arm.
Human skin. It’s like thousands of the demon bugs escape whenever it graces me. If we were all naked, if we were all atheists, the world would be a better place. If only you were calculatedly acceptable. Why aren’t you twenty-two? Why am I not seventeen? Why don’t you speak English? Why can’t I change the time and place in which my parents conceived me?
Just don’t move your breast. I won’t move my arm. Your breath is warm on my cheek. And we’ll stay just like this, just touching.