All I could see was black as I spun around once, twice, three times. I could hear Spanish music blaring through the speakers to my right. I could smell empanadas and quesadillas behind me. I could feel all eyes on me, in the centre of the room. I gripped the broom stick firmly between my two hands, knowing what I had to do next. Trying to act naturally, I pulled back and took a swing, stumbling forward as I missed my target. The room erupted with squeals of laughter as someone gently grabbed my wrists and redirected my aim. I tried again. Thwack! I made contact! I smiled victoriously as the room filled with cheering, giggling and a few gasps. This felt so good. It’d been almost two decades since I’d done this. Thwack! I hit it more confidently on my last try.
My Chilean student, Maira removed the silk blindfold from around my face, and I realized a line-up of students had formed behind me. The room was packed with more students than I had ever seen in one class before and a few teachers too. Students from Japan and Korea to Brazil, Saudi Arabia and everywhere in between were reading our posters and admiring our carefully crafted decorations. Maira secured the blindfold around a Russian student’s head who explained through nervous excitement that he had never hit a piñata before. Man, I loved my job.
Of course, not every day as an English as a Second Language Teacher at Canada’s English School, CES, was like this. Today was a special cultural celebration. All week, our international students had been grouped according to their home country and assigned a teacher. The students and teachers were tasked with transforming their classroom into a cultural exhibition. On the Friday of that week, students explored each other’s rooms immersing themselves in the language, music, food and activities of their classmates’ countries. It was a yearly celebration that the students, and myself as a teacher, absolutely adored.
This celebration, Ticket Around the Globe, was also a competition, and I was the reigning champ. My first year at CES I had effortlessly won representing Team Brazil. I must have eaten about a hundred pounds brigadeiro that day. The next year, I lead Team Japan to victory, accepting the award in full kabuki makeup. This year I had been assigned students from Chile, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia, because there weren’t enough students from each country individually to have their own room. We decided to theme our room as a Latin Fusion party which coincided with my own Latin fused blood. I was a shoo-in for the win this year too, this room was perfect.
I leaned against the back door of the classroom to get some air, wondering if I’d missed my calling as a party planner. No other room in the school even came close to ours. As I poked my head down the hallway, I saw my boss Percy walking down the hall with Marsha, the director of the English for Academic Purposes department of the school. I smiled at them politely as they approached.
CRAAACK! Suddenly, the room was showered with colourful candy flying in all directions. Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself on my knees grabbing handfuls of candy. I don’t even like candy all that much, it was just instinct. A piñata explodes, you dive. Muscle memory. I crawled around the floor with students, claiming our treasures, giggling and having a great a time. It felt like one of my childhood birthday parties, but now I was sharing my memories with international students, helping them to create their own.
I stood up triumphantly, both hands filled with candy, when I noticed Percy and Marsha were still standing at the class’ back door. They were watching me carefully, and I realized quickly that they were waiting for me. They had been coming down the hallway to talk to me, and I’d jumped away to get candy. Whoops. I thought they were just exploring the classes. Percy smiled lovingly, while Marsha wore more of a cross between confusion and disapproval on her face. What was she even doing in this section of the school? Wasn’t she too academic for us?
I walked over bravely and greeted them, “welcome to our Latin Fusion party!”
Percy grinned brightly and said, “this room is absolutely amazing, Alexis. You’ve outdone yourself!”
“Thank you.” I beamed. It was wonderful to have such a supportive boss.
“Alexis, Marsha would like to speak to you for a second,” Percy said, in an unexpectedly more serious voice.
My heart dropped. Marsha managed a half smile. I forced myself to speak, “sure.”
Marsha led me down the hall, but Percy went in the other direction. I wanted to ask him to stay. I needed him. I was anxious and shy and this woman was unreasonably intimidating. I had heard some shocking stories about her and her staff. I had only spoken to her once before, three years ago, when I naively tried to introduce myself to her in the photocopy room. She had shaken my hand stiffly, unimpressed, and I decided I would never speak to her again. I never had to, until now.
I wondered if I was in trouble. My mind raced with all of the things I could have possibly done wrong, to upset Marsha. It felt like an extremely long list. Shit. I realized in dismay, that a new teacher, Anthony, was sitting in the office right now, having an allergic reaction. He had eaten my student’s Mexican mole sauce in my room earlier. Marsha was the head of the Health and Safety committee! Was I going to get fired for allowing my students to bring in food without appropriately warning people about allergies? Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no.
“Alexis, Percy has told me some really positive things about you.” Marsha began, her face stone cold, suggesting that she didn’t necessarily share in those sentiments.
I nodded, wondering when I was going to get fired.
“We have an opening in the EAP department,” Marsha finally explained. “I was wondering if you would like to come and work for me.”
My jaw dropped. Oh my God. She was offering me a job! Working for the EAP department was quite a privileged position at CES. In the past, teachers had applied, and Marsha had observed them before she chose who she wanted to work for her. It was unbelievable that she was just offering me this opportunity like this. Percy must have said some really good things. Having EAP experience on your resume was like a ticket into the college and university sector. I stammered, remembering I was expected to respond. “Th-thank you. W-wow. I mean, thank you so much. That means a lot to me.”
“That’s okay.” She replied dryly.
I was suddenly overly aware of how I must have looked at exactly that moment. I had my grandfather’s Uruguayan baseball cap, on backwards, over a messy Mexcian style side braid. I had on my father’s oversized Argentinian jersey over a pair of old black tights. I had a Uruguay and Argentina flag sticker on either arm. And I was holding two fistfulls of candy. I thought out loud, “I feel so unprofessional.”
“That’s fine,” Marsha smiled slightly. Maybe she wasn’t so bad.
“Would you like some candy?” I asked stupidly, holding out my hand. Why hadn’t I put my candy down before coming to receive my job offer? I couldn’t just drop it now.
“Umm.. no.” Marsha disgustedly declined. “You don’t have to decide right away, but please let me know soon.”