Tag Archives: calling

I Choose to be a Teacher

[a short story by Sha’Tara]

No answer.
“Yes ma…”
“What are you doing up there, sleeping?”
“Finishing the boys’ room ma.”
“Leave that, come down. I need you to go to the Bellamy’s and get me fresh produce. We’ll have payin’ guests tonight.”
A pretty young woman of about fifteen, with thick auburn hair adorned with a couple of ribbons, comes down. Her heavy footsteps indicate how reluctant she is to obey her mother.
“Mom, can’t you send Petee?”
“Pete’s in the lower meadow with your pa, he’s working. What’s wrong with you?”
“I hate the Bellamy’s mom. Joram is always shoving his hands into my dress, feeling me. I hate him. I hate what he does. And he smells like something dead.”
“Well, look who’s so high ‘n mighty now! You’re a woman now an’ Joram, he’s grown into a fine young man and he fancies you! Do you have any idea how much land the Bellamy’s own, or lease?”
“That’s not the point, mom. I don’t like him and I don’t want him. I hate it when he touches me and breathes on me.”
“That may be girl, but it’s time you learned some facts of life. How do you think I fed you and your oldest brother when your pa was in the Lord’s wars?”
“They did that to you?”
“Well, Mr. Bellamy did. He was a fine looking young man then, exempt from the war, and for convenience sake I was called the widow Lacey. I was still beautiful then too.”
“You’re still beautiful, ma! But that’s not right, what they do, is it? I read in a book at the butcher’s last week that it’s wrong. The book was on the corner table and I was waiting for my cut. It was called a “digest” and had many stories in it. This one was by a woman. She wrote that we shouldn’t be “sexually molested” she called it, and we should be able to vote.”
“You read that did you? I warned your pa not to teach you to read, that it would only cause us all trouble, and here we go. You read what other people think. Can’t you think for yourself? Joram Bellamy is sweet on you and he makes sure you always get the freshest produce, and he gives you more than we pay for. Last Fall they sold us their best pig, no extra charge. Don’t you understand anything?”
She points to her breasts: “It’s time you realized the value of these in a man’s world, Anee. And the lower part of you as well. We have a certain value and there is an exchange. It’s been that way forever, don’t you go questioning it and upsetting things for us. The Bellamy’s are much richer than us; they’re our neighbours and it’s you and I that keep things good between us. Your pa doesn’t question my loyalty to him, but he well knows how I kept our small farm and fed my children during those years he was gone. I started to talk about it once, long ago. He put his hand over my mouth, then took it off and kissed me, long and sweetly, and he thanked me. That is the kind of man your pa is.”
“I know pa is good, ma. But this is about me. I don’t want to settle with Joram. I don’t like him at all and certainly not that way.”
“He’s young, what, seventeen? He’ll grow up, mature, be more like his dad.”
“Well that settles it then: I don’t like his dad either. He’s done it to me too, you know. And he smells bad too!”
“Yeah, I know how he smells. But some of it is the smell of success and money. We’re lucky some of that smell has rubbed off on us, girl. Don’t be so particular. One would think you were born in the Lord’s castle with a silver spoon in your hand.”
“You don’t care do you! I want an education and I want to become a teacher, see? I can’t have a man if I’m to be a school teacher.”
“Oh, a teacher is it? Listen to the professor. Miss Radick has a lot of years in her yet, there won’t be any need for a new teacher in these parts for many years, girl.”
“I don’t mean around here, mom. I mean to go and teach in the coal mining country. They can’t get, or keep, teachers up there. I’ll be needed, for sure.”
“The coal country? God help us! You’ve taken leave of your senses, girl. Half the people there don’t even attend services. Men are drunkards and beat their wives. The children are half naked and starving most of the time. And the dirt, it’s in everything there. What an idea Anee.”
“I read about that too, ma. They need teachers like myself, girls with farming and gardening experience. I can teach them to grow food and I can explain about basic hygiene.”
“What are you talking about! Who is Basic Hy-Gene? Is that somebody you met at the butcher’s also?”
“Ma, hygiene means cleanliness. Basic means plain. Plain cleanliness. It’s not just the job, ma, it’s something I’ve known for sometime that I want to do. I need to do it. It’s a calling, see? Like a vocation? Do you understand that?”
The mother stopped, turned to face her daughter – they were the same height and their eyes met. There were tears in her mother’s face. Then she reached for her daughter and embraced her.
“Oh Anee! Of course I understand that part. I was there too, and I turned away to marry your pa. He was so good to me, and I knew I would be forever safe with him. But I was afraid also; afraid to learn how to read n’ do numbers; afraid it would change everythin’ for me. I hid from my calling in my family. I wanted security, not adventure.
I suffered a long time over my choice and now it’s come back to me in you. I suppose that’s fair enough; that God would give me you so you could go and do what I chose not to.
I will go with you to Bellamy’s and if Joram is there I will explain your choice to him. It doesn’t matter what he says, you will be a teacher, Anee. Your pa will be so proud, I can’t wait to see his face when you tell him.”

They both put on their long grey coats and boots to ward off the damp air and residual dew of a sunless day and walked silently, hand in hand, to their rich neighbour’s farm. A keen observer would have noticed there was a certain lightness to their steps.

The Cursed Year, the Year of Bliss

[short story, by Sha’Tara –  part 4]

“The City in the East”

I had to get off here, I had no more money.  This is Montreal, so it is called, but you know?  It’s “The City” because no matter where I go, it’s always the same City.  There’s no escape from the City.  It’s where you go to earn a living and to get beaten into the ground by the Patriarchy.  There is no other place because every other place is an adjunct of the City.  Without the City all the outlying human settlements crumble into dust because the money that sustains the world comes from “The City.” 

This eastern City speaks two languages.  That’s fine, they happen to be the two languages I speak. 

“Pardonnez-moi madame, je cherche un apartement à louer.  Pouvez-vous m’aider?” 

“Mais oui ma chère.  On descends cette rue et voila: les apartements Fontainebleu.  Ils sont bien, et pas trop coûteux”
“Ah, merci bien.” 
“De rien, chérie.  Mon plaisir.”
(“Excuse me ma’am, I’m looking for a rental apartment.  Can you help me?”  
“But of course my dear.  We go down this street and there you are: the Fontainebleu apartments.  They’re nice and not so expensive.”
“Ah, thank you so much.”
“It’s nothing honey.  My pleasure.”)

Easy.  I find an apartment I like and leave without committing to anything.  I need to find a job now.  I need money.

As I thought it wasn’t hard to find a position with a newspaper.  Just enough money to pay rent and bus fare to work and back.  A beginning.  No, I mean another beginning.  And life resumes “this petty pace from day to day to the last syllables of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”  (McBeth – Shakespeare)

I feel weighted down with my own thoughts; thoughts of death.  I feel a cold that doesn’t come from outside and I’m alone and so terribly lonely.  It’s as if my life has been taken and placed on a sacrificial altar.  And little wonder: I’m a proof reader and the news I read over are enough to crush the toughest boulder.  How can they stand it?  How can they do these things; how can they write these things?  How can they read these things?

And then, after shutting off the TV and turning off the lights, as I get ready for sleep in my “new” apartment, in my little single bed with the bad and noisy springs, I begin to relive some of my own experiences.  How can they?  They can because they can’t humanely relate to the stories they observe, write up and read.  They have no empathy, even less compassion.  Horror and terror; torture and death: they enjoy it.  They like it.  Icing on the daily grind cake.  And there’s money in it, lots of money.  Death and destruction are always profitable.   

Letters to the editor, some comments I run across make my blood run cold.

“It’s happening to them, not to me: why? Because they deserve it. 
“It’s OK, they’re used to that way of life; you can’t help them.
“Why do they keep having so many kids they can’t feed anyway? 
“They’re lazy, that’s why they live in squalor. 
“They don’t care about their kids; they sell them as slave labour or prostitutes for cash or cows. 
“The world’s better off without them. 
“They could have a democracy if they wanted it.
“They don’t want to understand the values that make us great.
“They’re all guerrillas and terrorists and they’ll just as soon kill you as look at you.  If it were up to me I’d nuke ‘em all.”

And I ask myself, here in the dark with a weak street lamp testing my threadbare curtain: who are the real terrorists?  The question grinds away in my brain and I can’t sleep.  Finally it hit me: I have a calling.  And, I need to find another job, as a reporter.  I need to write my own stories again.  I need to gather material, evidence, facts.  Impulsively and agitatedly I get up, get dressed for the bitter cold of a night in a windy city, and I step outside in the misty yellow haloes of street lights.  No wind tonight.  I start walking, down towards the docks, the forbidden territories of gangs and derelicts. 

I feel the call and I’m no longer scared of being grabbed and raped, beaten and killed, or left for dead.  Suddenly I’m immune; Wonder Woman; all powerful.  But my inner strength doesn’t come from the illegal switchblade I’m holding tightly in my coat pocket – it’s from realising that my personal life isn’t what’s worth defending now: it’s “their” life that demands it of me.  It’s “them” who are waiting for me to speak up for justice, to expose the major sins of the City.  And in my head I’m writing again.  Story after story pile on and in my head I’m sitting at my small table, with my small typewriter and on my cheap yellow paper I’m writing my very large story for a very large audience.

Let the games begin I think to myself as my footsteps on the uneven sidewalks echo against the dark facades of derelict tenements abandoned by the City fathers, the banks, construction companies and their surroundings no longer in the care of the City’s maintenance crews; forgotten in fact by everybody except those who hide inside their depleted shells.  The old, the unemployed, the sick, the addicts, the wanted and the unwanted; the prostitutes now out plying their ubiquitous trade somewhere in more prosperous and better lighted sectors of the City. 

I think, this is going to be my world from now on until I’ve understood it and written my stories describing its sins and exposing its stinking underbelly. And I can just imagine, if I had any friends, or family in this City, what they would think, and say, about my wanderings tonight.  I admit to myself, I’m certifiable for coming down here alone in the night.  But I remember that Eureka moment some moments ago and some things just cannot be explained.  Some things are bigger than us yet insist on being borne by our weak flesh.  I’m pregnant with purpose; I’ve engendered a story.  Nothing can stop me except my own cowardice.  

[end of part 4 – the city in the east]