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El alfabeto (3/25/10; WC 2943) Q

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El alfabeto

The road to happiness lies in two simple principles: find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it, put your whole soul into it -- every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have.
    -- John D. Rockefeller III

Despina's first day in her non-classroom is not among the things she counts as a success. Maybe I was a little harsh, insisting that they only enter through the "door", when there is no door, just a chalk line marking where it'll be eventually. But a school is not a school if it has no place to be. I have to admit, I expected more than a chalk line.

Apathetic and uncommunicative are generous descriptions of her slumped, vacant-eyed students. No matter how old they are, none even professes to know the alphabet, much less be able to write or read it. Rather than shame the slowest among them, all claim ignorance. She finally decides to haul some water up from the river in Baby Blue Ram and smooth out the "floor" a bit. Everybody is able to work successfully on that project. Before noon, she is in eminent danger of heat exhaustion and sends everyone home.

As she walks wearily back to the sauna-like hovel, she thinks, That Nancy is a gem. Even though the proffered desks and the blackboard have not arrived yet, I get a warm glow just thinking about them. Truth to tell, there's no ground level enough to receive them even with the hard work we did today.

After a restless night, Despina arises at five a.m. She decides to focus on Alberto, Cu's youngest, and teach him whatever the class needs to know. Nobody expects a four year old to know anything, so that should work.

And for motivation, why, nothing could possibly serve better than a trip to the local library for some hands-on excitement.

Satisfied, she sets out on her walk to the facilities at the hospital. Almost at once, she hears running feet behind her. Turning, she sees Alberto, as if the idea of deciding to focus on him has conjured him up in person. “Where did you come from?” wondering if Adriana, his caregiver, is searching for him.

"Vengo de la casa de Adriana. Quiero ir con Ud., por favor." His bright face is tipped hopefully toward her.

She offers him her hand, and they proceed together to the hospital rest rooms.

One convert to the "flush" part of the club Jacques requested, anyway.

The class is assigned to photograph/illustrate/draw/design the 30 letters of the Spanish alphabet. Nobody is very enthusiastic, but no open rebellion greets her suggestion.

She busies herself teaching them a marching song to the letters of the alphabet. She calls out the letters, which they then repeat. The tune rambles in and out of key. Well, I wasn't hired to perform a concert. Music aids memory; that's all that's important. The song slowly morphs into something resembling a tribal chant she dimly remembers hearing the night before.

The school still has no roof or walls. In an as yet furniture-less classroom, the organized marching activity works well.

Despina glances at the surrounding peaks. No pesky desks to dodge, to adopt a Pollyana viewpoint.

Part way through the morning, a group of Indian workers show up. Using the stake Cu set in the middle of her classroom, then measuring to the scuff mark that represents one side of the door jam, they start a hole. The alphabet holds little attraction compared to the antics of the workers.

Almost immediately, they hit earth too hard to jobber through.

A pickup filled with buckets of river water shows up. The hole is filled, then they focus on the other side of the door jam. They diligently measure from the center stake and start holes every eight feet around the circular chalked outlines, doggedly dodging marching students to get the post holes centered every eight feet on the proscribed line.

With the arrival of a pickup emblazoned with the logo of the local lumber yard full of huge "telephone" style poles and heavy sacks, Despina decides it is time for a nature walk. She lines up her charges in the time-honored mother duck/duckling fashion universally used in elementary schools and heads desert-ward as the men continue to jobber door jam and support post holes.

Once out of sight of the workmen, Despina spies the sideways track of a snake. "What letter does this track look like?" she asks hopefully, tracing an S-like section with the tip of one finger. "Snakes hissssss," she hints.

"Ese," shouts Alberto, jumping up and down excitedly.

"Excelente, Alberto," she praises. "Can anyone spot any other letters?"

Branches and leaves on bushes provide B, D, g, T. Rocks contribute O, C and Q. Guillermo and Miguel begin to sketch the various finds. A patch of bent over grass produces a K. Water rippling past rocks creates a W. The road's two lane track resembles both the l and the ll. A bird's print in the mud is a dotted i.

Before long, they have wandered into an area with a short waterfall, tall cliffs and a pool of water that invites hot bodies. Juan soon broaches the subject of going for a swim. Tempted, but feeling too guilty about encouraging them to play hooky to give in, she shoos everyone back to a trace they'd crossed that must serve the area as a road and home for lunch.

That afternoon, as she wearily trudges back to the oven of a hovel, Cu suddenly appears.

He walks as silently as he keeps his mouth, Despina notes.

"Después de la siesta, todos vienen a una reunión." After delivering this cryptic message, he disappears.

"What's that meeting tonight all about?" she asks Paul Peter.

"What?" Paul Peter responds, pulling his cigarette from his lips.

"La reunión."

"Oh. Every night, after sundown, the White Eyes all gather at the campfire, joined by whatever Indians feel so inclined, for a social hour. This place can get downright lively once the heat lifts." He waves his cigarette hand vaguely in the air as he talks.

"Did they do a chant type song last night?"

"A? Try an hours' worth. It was a regular sing along." Leaning his head back, he creates a nearly perfect "o" of smoke, smirking in satisfaction, then slanting his eyes toward Despina to see if she noticed.

"And I am expected to put in an appearance, even if I can't hold up my head?"

"Well, your absence was commented upon the last two nights. Everyone stopped in for a spell to meet you, only the guest of honor never showed up." He crushes his butt into the ground with a vicious twist of his boot.

"Since nobody bothered to inform me of this custom, you can hardly use THAT tone." Exasperated, Despina blows her bangs up in the air with a puff from her lips, which purses them provocatively, but unintentionally.

"If anyone had seen you Sunday evening, or yesterday any time after noon, they would have. You just disappeared.” His hands make a vague poof motion. “Until about 5 a.m. this morning, according to my information."

"Now I know how a fish in an aquarium must feel. Where is this marvelous campground?"

"Just stand on the road and look toward the mountains, then walk toward the fire." More vague hand waving accompanies his non-description.

Squinting her eyes at him, Despina says, "Good directions. I know just what mountains you mean; the ones on the north, no, the west, or is it the south?" She wriggles her nose. "Never mind. I bet Alberto can show me the exact spot and find a few letters en route." She turns away.

"Letters?” Paul Peter’s forehead creases. “Nobody writes letters around here much, nor would they strew them like a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest. Wrong legends." He nods his head decisively.

"Letters of the alphabet. We found them on a nature hike today. He's very good at it. The waterfall has a protruding rock part way up, making the water look like an upside down 'Y'." She illustrates with the fingers of her left hand.

"Sounds like playing hooky to me. Swimming on school time."

"I did NOT let them swim," she responds with considerable heat.

"Bad move, Teach. Heat stroke, and all, you know," he quips, moving off to collect his smokes, laughing gleefully.

How could I ever have found him fascinating enough to date for even a little while? For Pete's sake, indeed! She enters her hovel in a huff, grabs her journal, intending to write a bit, but instead, is caught up reading her January 1, 2001 entry:

    New Year's Day -- Despina's Infamous Green Journal

    Well, so much for keeping my New Year's Resolution not to let my recurring nightmare terrorize me! Dad was SO SMUG when he suggested I overcome it by the power of positive thinking!

    I AM a positive person, and I positively WILL NOT give my life over to sleeplessness caused by events of unknown origin.

Despina looks up, thinking, If I did not think positively, when I saw that my boss was the very man I’d dreamed up, I’d have returned to Iowa on the run immediately, no matter how much trouble they had replacing me… She picks up the journal again and resumes reading:

    If I am having a portend of things to come, my life is going to have to go in dramatically different directions.

Despina emits a delighted laugh. Check, she thinks, making a finger mark in the air… I’ve got that one in motion, with a vengeance, she thinks, glancing at the hovel surrounding her. She returns to the journal:

    For one, I DO NOT hold a candle to the woman in the "beautiful couple happily ever after" scenario.

    When I invented Cu, the huge handsome Indian, he was SUPPOSED to be my fantasy lover, but he quickly married himself off to a brilliant, lovely young woman, then began to produce children and live a full life.

    Last night, her parents kept the two children while they went off to a convention somewhere in California. I mean, I could SEE them sitting, holding hands, for goodness sake, in chairs in a fancy conference room that must double as a ballroom, as it had a huge crystal chandelier.
    Between speakers, they decide to go outside and walk around a bit. He sees his boss, who seems to be acting quite strangely. As Cu starts toward him, his boss pulls a pistol out and points it at him. His mind sort of stalls, but hers does not.

    Her long auburn hair swirls around her as she dashes to her husband's side, knocking him sideways.

    Reflexively, he grabs her as he falls. She lands on top of him.

    The gunshot echoes above the traffic noise on the busy street.

    He feels her body shudder from the impact. Her blood splatters him.

    Other agents start toward the lone gunman, guns out.

    Rolling over, he flees for his life.

Flipping forward to January fifth, she reads an alternate version:

    Cu’s Escape

    This time, when they get to the part where they decide to take a walk outside the hotel, his wife slips off to powder her nose, so she arrives outside later than he and dashes from the door to knock him down. When he runs off, he sees his former partner in a window opposite the hotel entrance, rifle trained on him, but the man does not fire, even though no bystanders are close to Cu to have hindered his shot.

    As more and more agents congregate at the front, Cu circles around, sneaking up the back stairs to his room, quickly shucking his blood splattered shirt, suit coat and tie in exchange for a green tee shirt. Hearing the ding of the elevator through his open door, he zips the bag shut and exits, again taking the stairs. As the stairwell door closes, he hears the thudding of at least two agent's feet pounding down the hall. A suitcase and his wife's purse in one hand and the carryall in the other, he struggles with the door handle to the parking lot.

    Hiding behind the raised trunk lid, he scans the area. His benumbed brain is finally kicking in. He thinks of the frivolity of going back for their things, even though he knew they were all packed up and ready to take down at the last break before lunch. Catching sight of his boss's face in his former room's window, he decides it is too dangerous to take his own car, which is known. As the face disappears, he removes their traveler's checks from her purse, slams the lid, and leaves via the street exit, again on foot.

    His mind starts investigating motives. As he reaches the corner, a trolly car passes, and he hops on. Once seated, he checks the other passengers by force of habit. Relieved when he doesn't see anyone not pretty obviously a tourist, he decides that no matter how much his boss discriminates against Indians, or how much trouble he has giving Cu credit for his good work or good ideas, that is nothing that could possibly result in cold blooded murder.

    Cases. Anything there that is incriminating? Anything he might be afraid I will find or already have found? Cu thinks. Suddenly, the Webber file pops into his head. Spying a computer store, he disembarks, crossing the street to the entrance, and again scanning the area for agents, enters and catches the eye of a salesman.

    "Show me your most powerful laptop, please."

    After impatiently listening to the sales spiel, he breaks in to see if it can interface with the Internet. The salesman sits him at a desk by an "airport hub" and shows him how. As another customer enters, he begs some time to explore and play, and the salesman leaves.
    Quickly he accesses his on-line files, easily navigating the passwords, relieved that they have not shut him out. Moving the file to his private web space, erasing the history in the computer, and shutting down by pulling the plug, he leaves by the back exit, trying to think now how to get the material he has learned to someone who will 1) believe him and 2) have the power necessary to override his boss.

Staring at a bug running up the hovel wall, Despina twirls a strand of hair around her finger. Finally flipping to the last page she’d written on, she begins her entry for the day.

That evening, she finds Alberto, who takes her hand without prompting and leads the way to the campfire.

Look for the fire, indeed! All that's here is a ring of fire-blackened rocks. They'd show up well after dark, I'm sure.

A pile of dried sagebrush soon appears, and a roaring fire springs to life as the natural light dies. People drift by in groups of two or three, chatting animatedly in Spanish or Náhuatl, an ancient Aztec tongue whose roots are in central México, according to Jacques.

She meets the two German engineers, taking an instant liking to Bruno, the older, quite dignified gentleman who teaches science, and just as instant a dislike to Horst, the younger one who teaches the math classes. A well-formed blue-eyed blond Hitler would have been proud of, his genial smile is marred by his words. Shortly after talking about their wives in Germany, he invites Despina to warm his bed during the cold desert nights rather than doing something as distasteful as consorting with the "Indians".

After she explains about Miguel drawing the letters they'd found, she continues, "Each student is supposed to find two examples of letters that they can bring back to the school."

"Where will you display them?" pipes up Paul Peter. "Have you given any thought at all to the storage problem? When it rains, adobe gets pretty soggy. Maybe you could store them in that cave we visited on the way out."

Ignoring him, she turns toward Bruno, who had been cut off by Paul Peter.

Bruno slowly strokes his goatee three times, then offers the use of his digital camera to capture the various naturally occurring phenomenon without disturbing them, in keeping with Indian philosophy. Biology is his specialty, and he really warms to her project.

Delighted, she takes him up on the use of the camera, hands waving energetically while her mind frantically searches for a solution to the very real problem Paul Peter has raised.

Necessity, the mother of invention. "I thought about going to the hardware store in town once I get the rest of my stuff out of the back of Baby Blue Ram and begging some of those discarded refrigerators we saw. I want to make a trip to the library to get some real books into their hands, and we can keep them on the shelves."

"Rusty refrigerators. Just what every school needs." Paul Peter’s eyes remain closed, neck propped on his customary log, body lolling in the sand.

"We can sand and paint them, too," she ad libs hastily.

It is soon settled. The English class will load derelict refrigerators with intact doors into tribal pickups while the elementary roam through the local library. One benefit is that it absents the children while the rest of the posts get set, effectively removing the temptation of wet cement.


Last updated 3/25/10 Changed For Pete's sake to goodness in the journal entry. Had Despina re-read some important journal comments and think about them. Strengthened her as a positive thinker and revealed more of Cu’s backstory as dreamed by Despina… 2/20/10 Changed oven-likee to sauna-like; it’s time to it is time because it is not in conversation. 2/2/10 Added “Where did you come from?” wondering if Adriana, his caregiver, is searching for him.

"Vengo de la casa de Adriana.
(Where’sMeKilt) 1/28/10 Added fascinating enough to date for even a little while? in response to Where’sMeKilt. 12/27/08 changed fine to find --12/6/08 - Moved ancient in the phrase an ancient Aztec tongue whose roots; changed jobbering to to jobber; dropped the ly on instantly; changed her to Despina in the phrase he invites Despina to warm; (6/11/08 changed Miquel to Miguel; 8/9/04- 6/24/03.)

Word Count: 2943

Sunday, October 28th, 2001 12:38 am (pandemo)
Tags: sotfw -- sc

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