“The English Lesson” by Justin Yeung

Umbrella Movement
From a poster “KEEP CALM & STAY TOGETHER” seen in Mong Kok. Photo by Jason S Polley.

PART 1: THE HANDOVER

I never wanted to be back.

If it wasn’t for her call from last week, I wouldn’t be waiting in this crowded line to get into Iciria. I shouldn’t have left Pearl alone. I was shocked when she whispered the news to me on the phone.

“I’m Lee’s now, come back and get your things or he’ll blow them up…”

“Fine.” I sighed. “Just leave my crown and stamp collection at the door, I’ll come back for those. The newspapers, radio, and the Corgi, I’ll leave them to you.”

“Okay. But please call me when you get back,” she said defiantly. “Lee hits people really hard.”

“Okay.”

I slammed the phone on the desk.

“Dear,” said the blonde woman as she hugged me from behind and nibbled my ear, “there’s nothing to worry about. You’ve got me and I’ve got you.”

“Oh, Mary,” I said, looking into her passionate eyes. “What can I do without you? You are the love of my life.”

“Honey, let’s go to Iciria,” she said, clinging onto me like a sloth on a branch. “I would like that Pearl of yours to regret leaving you for that barbarian.”

“She never left me, Mary.” I said as I lit my pipe. “She was the prize from a fight I had with Lee a long time ago.” I puffed and continued. “But I could still remember him carrying a stick and slingshot and that over-confident face to that fight. Within minutes, I defeated him using only a pocket knife, I didn’t even need to use my gun!”

Mary laughed and urged me to tell her more about that history.

“I almost felt bad defeating a pathetic guy like that, then the funniest part began.” I shook my head as I laughed. “You should’ve seen Pearl’s face when her brother was pleading for mercy on the ground: the mixture of salt, pepper, and everything lice, all on that spotless little Icirian face.”

“That must have been devastating for her, how could you do that to a lady?” I liked her the best when she faked anger to let me demonstrate my greatness.

“So, being the good-spirited knight, I accepted his surrender and his redemption, which was Pearl, his sister.” I puffed as I gathered my pride to tell the end of the story. “Ever since then, I started living in Pearl’s large mansion, which was another prize from the fight, and got my title as ‘Master’ in the house. Although Lee kept making noises next door to annoy us, I managed to shut him up by occasionally firing my gun toward his half-broken mansion.”

She leaned on my shoulders and whispered, “my hero.”

Replaying the memories in my head was like watching a good movie and it’s my favourite pastime when I wait in line. But I should face the reality: I don’t stand a chance against Lee. I should’ve been back to stop Lee a few months ago when Pearl told me he was testing his bombs on our mansion’s walls. But it was too late now, Pearl feared him more than me, so it was obvious that I had lost the fight. And now it was time for me to go home to hand over my belongings.

As a matter of fact, I was sorely disappointed in Pearl. Ever since I moved into her mansion, I had been nothing but nice to her. I upgraded and fortified the mansion by building walls and bringing in crates of weapons from my own house. I taught the servants how to use the guns and read the instructions on the crates, so that I wouldn’t have to wake at midnight when Lee knocked his sticks and woks against my wall. I also taught them how to bandage themselves up when injured and treated them with my medicine passed down through generations. Within a month, they were healthier and smarter than the servants next door. Some of them even ran away from Lee to joined us.

And Pearl, my Pearl, did not stand up for herself against Lee. I taught her the ways to protect herself and assigned the best thugs to be by her side. I told her that she could be independent because she’s with me and not with that abusive brother anymore. She’s not anyone’s possession, but she’s freed and valued by me. All she had to do was remain loyal to me at all times and costs, so that she could enjoy her freedom and independence provided by me.

At first, she was sceptical about my ideas. She even cried because any negative thoughts toward Lee would result in treachery and torture before I had moved in.

“Lee will get you.” Her eyes were stern. “Lee will get me.”

But seeing how Lee had failed to besiege the mansion on so many occasions, her attitude began to change. However, it wasn’t fear that I anticipated most from her because I deserved more than that, I deserved admiration and love from my women.

“Dear,” said Mary, clinging onto my arms, “don’t worry about it, you’ll always be my hero.”

“I know.” I held my head up high as the crowd inched forward.

“Next,” the loudspeakers announced.

I stepped forward to the border control post and slipped my passport and identity card under the glass. The inspector raised his spectacles and checked my documents carefully. The process took an eternity as almost 100 people passed by me, and I had time to count them all.

Finally, the inspector, lowering his spectacles to scan my face, inquired “Are you Chris Rochester?”

“Yes?”

“Please wait.” He wrote something on my passport.

“Excuse me, I…”

“Please cooperate.”

“Sir, please come with us.” There was a tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw two armed officials: the one in front, who tapped me, and the one at the back whose fingers were on the trigger of his rifle.

For the first time in my life, I was detained in my own country, my home, in my own backyard. I was the master in my own mansion, I was the hero of a woman, and I was the man of fate, yet I was helpless. I didn’t know what I should feel or how I should feel, anger or fear? Should I confess to everything, like that protagonist in that book I read during a flight, to avoid pain and torture? But I had nothing to confess, for I had done no wrong to anybody. In fact, I was the most righteous person there was, according to Mary and Pearl and my servants. Maybe, I had to confess, maybe, I would later get a plaque in my honour, maybe…

“Sir,” the officer at the front warned as the one at the back inched closer. “Please follow us.”

“Okay.” I hoped there would be a plaque given to me after this.

I was ushered into a room at the corner of the gate. They seated me in front of a table with a large lamp attached to it. That’s the moment I realised everything was going to get ugly. I could not move. Though I was not tied to the chair, I did not dare move an eyebrow. Then, a tall officer marched into the room as he scanned me like an eagle eager for its prey and he sat at the far end of the table. I had the urge to ask him “What’s happening?”, “Why am I being detained?” and “How am I going to get out?” but I swallowed them all because I knew I would soon get the answers.

“You are Chris Rochester.” The officer did not seem to be asking a question, but reading the information from his folder in his hands.

“Yes?” I frowned.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Come on! Of course! If I die today, I want to go with reasons!” I wanted to burst, but I managed to remain vigilant. So, I muttered, “No, sir.”

“Read this.” The officer extracted a poem from his file. It was titled “My love for Yellow”. Then, it all came back to me. During my years in the university, I had published lots of poems and stories on different forums, and “My love for Yellow” was one of them. However, it was among the least recognised works. I never thought I would read this again, let alone in front of an official.

Reluctantly but obediently, I read:

Of all the colours of the rainbow,
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Indigo,
Of course, there’s violet,
How could I forget the colour of my mother’s amulet? 

But I like the colour yellow,
like a sunshine’s mellow.
So the ladies don’t need an umbrella
to sing the acapella. 

All in all, colour yellow,
soft like a marshmallow,
strong like the will of fire
to fill every man’s veil of desire.

I put down the paper and looked at the officer, who took another piece of paper from his folder. “You really don’t know why you’re in here?” He knocked on the desk like Death knocking on an old man’s door.

I looked at the new piece of paper titled ‘New Colour Spectrum’ and finally understood how severe my crime was.

“I’m ready for my sentence,” I said defiantly.

“Sentence?” The officer laughed. “I’d rather shoot a cockroach.”

“I won’t die, then?” For one moment, I really thought I could get away with this.

“No,” he said, as he managed to recover from his laughter as he put the components back into the folder. “Leave this country. You will receive a new passport and identity card from our officers. Good luck finding inspiration in Flaria, forever.”

“Oh, and one more thing,” he stood up with the neatly sealed folder “You’ll never get your crown and stamp collections back and Lee is going to hit your precious Pearl every night.”

“Good day to you, sir,” he lifted his army cap, “and goodbye.”

divider

PART 2: THE ENGLISH LESSON

I didn’t want to be here.

Everyone kept telling me the benefits of being an English teacher. For example, the extravagant income. They even told me there would be packets in red slipped under my pillow every night if I managed to educate an upright person for Iciria. I didn’t care much about the money, as though it was extravagant, I was doing this for the kids, at least that’s what I told myself every day.

Nonetheless, my job was very difficult because the Icirian Government constantly altered—updated, to be precise—the syllabus, due to the new laws and taboos. This led to constant modifications in the Icirian English Dictionary. Last week, they modified the colour spectrum of the rainbow and rain gears due to the recent protests and movements in the country.

Thus, the new rules were:

Justin Yeung_Icirian English 

I walked toward the colosseum-shaped institution of education, hoping not to be consumed by my students today. They had only two expressions on their faces: Icirian face and expressionless. The former appeared only when they were singing the Icirian anthem: Glory Trail of Red, where they had to be touched by the spirits of their ancestors who fought the Great War for Iciria in the past. “Tears should flow and you’re on the right track,” as the saying went.

The latter expression was shown at other times. During the assembly, the lessons, even going to the restroom, they showed nothing but blankness on their faces. “Children are blank sheets of paper,” a Professor of Education Psychology in university once told me, and I had to agree with him. I never knew what those devious brats were up to, and I might never know.

I walked through the great doors of the colosseum that hung a large banner which announced:

EQUALITY IS HIERARCHY

HIERARCHY IS EQUALITY

This was the most interesting fact about the institution. Every student had the power to “vote out” a teacher of bad conduct. They had a red button at the corner of their desks and they would push it when the teacher misbehaved or didn’t satisfy their needs during the lesson. When half or more of the buttons were pressed, staff from the Justice Department would apprehend the teacher on the spot and put them in Compensatory Class, where the teacher would receive re-education from the Justice Department.

However, there’s a loophole in the system. Teachers from the Justice Department, or who had served it in the past, had the authority to override the students’ votes. Even if their colleagues caught them in the act, they would not (and could not) enforce the rules because they deemed everyone in that department as “Justified” and “Upright”. “If one’s proved upright, there would be no need of re-education,” as the slogan went. Instead, the students would be put into detention for their lack of judgement, some even had to do community service if they picked on the wrong teacher.

I could not really adapt to the new syllabus, and worst of all, I was not from the Justice Department. Every time they altered the Icirian Dictionary, I had to spend hours memorising new vocabulary, so that I would not get “voted out” by those expressionless creatures. As though they were children, they acquired new information quickly. They could memorise the new alternations in the Dictionary with one glance. So, they were exceptionally sensitive to teachers’ mistakes.

The facility was built with transparent-glass classrooms surrounding a tower in the middle. The tower was four storeys high. The ground floor was the General Office, the first floor and second floor were the staff rooms for teachers and staff of the Justice Department, and the third floor was the headmaster’s office. The whole tower was covered with Contravision material, so that the staff could monitor the classrooms any time, whereas students and teachers would never know when they were being monitored. So, we were very cautious with our jobs as we might be apprehended all of a sudden.

After punching in at the General Office, I reluctantly walked toward my classroom. “Here goes nothing.” I took a deep breath and marched in, saying “good morning class.”

“That’s the updated colour spectrum. Are there any questions?”

Their eyes were hollow as the abyss. Everyone was expressionless, tall, little, big, small, fat, thin, boys and girls, all of them had the same look, like brothers and sisters in a large cult group.

“Great! We shall talk about rain gears tomorrow…” I was interrupted by a raised hand from the back of the classroom.

“Yes?” I forged a smile. “Just get this over with,” I urged myself.

“Sir, what are rain gears?”

“Oh,” the tension disappeared as this was an easy question. “Rain gears are things you bring outside when it’s raining. Such as, rain-jackets, rain-shoes, rain-boots and umbrellas.

“Also, we can combine the words learnt from today to make phrases like: Great-red rain-shoes, After-green rain-jackets, and yellow umbrellas…” I was too excited to notice the alarm going off in my classroom.

When I realised what I had done, the Head of the Justice Department and two of her colleagues were carrying me out of the room. I tried kneeling down to apologise but I was already being dragged halfway across the corridor.

“You’re in good hands now,” the Head whispered into my ears. Then, the world started spinning around me. But I could never forget their smiles of satisfaction on their expressionless faces for the first and last time.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Yes”

“Good.”

“I am ready for my sentence.”

“Heavens no,” the Head slapped her ruler on the desk. “You are going to be cured.” She extracted the piece of ‘colour spectrum’ from her folder and continued. “Mr Wong, I would like you to tell me the names of the colours you see here.”

“Gr-“

“I want to know what you really see, not what you’re taught.” She pointed her ruler into my face. “Now continue.”

“Great-Red, Red, Ye-… After-red… Arghhh.” She trenched me with her long ruler.

“I said,” her infuriated pupils demanded. “The truth.”

“Okay…”

“Begin.”

“Great-red, Red, After-re… Ouch” another slap from her ruler. “WHAT do you want from me?” I screamed.

“The truth.”

“Fine!” I snapped. “Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Indigo, Blue, and Violet.”

“Good.” I was relieved that the beatings stopped.

She caressed my forehead as she whispered, “Mr Wong, as teachers, we know cramming is not a useful way to memorise new words because they do not go into our long-term memory. And that’s why you need our help.” She put a tape into the VHS player and continued “Haven’t you learnt anything from Education Psychology? Music helps facilitate memory. So, here’s last night’s advertisement on Channel 1, just in case you’ve missed it.”

There was no point resisting. Even though I was not tied to the chair, I could never escape reality. It was sentence, jail, or re-education, and fate had made the best decision for me. Unlike that poet Rochester who was detained and deported from Iciria last week, all I needed was to sit back and listen to the song. After all, my piggy bank was still going to be stuffed by the end of the month. I could quit when I had enough, it would never be too late.

The song was terribly written as the notes and rhythm were out of place, but the melody was very catchy. After looping it two or three times, I could recite the new colour spectrum backwards. Witnessing my wonderful improvement, Miss Anderson handed me her ruler and asked “Mr Wong, you’re an upright person. How would you like to reinforce Justice with us in school?” She thrusted out her hand. “Of course, we won’t miss your pillow-salary.”

I received her ruler and shook her hand firmly.

“Remember, Mr. Wong,” she tapped my shoulders. “Equality is Hierarchy; Hierarchy is Equality.”

I looked forward to working tomorrow.

:::::

Justin.jpgYeung Kwan Nok Justin is an agitated English & Education student passionate about writing for teaching and expression. [Read all entries by Justin.]

 

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