“On the bus” are the three words on my mind this morning.
At ESL class, the topic is emotions.
The exercise is this:
I feel ________ when ______.
I feel happy when ______.
I feel sad when ______.
I feel proud when ______.
When I ask a refugee, “When do you feel angry?”
and she starts to respond, “On the bus…,”
reminding her of the sentence we are practicing.
“I feel angry when….”
She nods, starts over,
but goes a different way.
“I feel angry when…(pause)…my brother poke me.”
Her new response surprises me, but I go with it.
“Oh?” I say,
“Your brother is here in the United States, too?”
“No, no, teacher. I make example.
From when I am girl,
in Congo, and my brother
all the time, poke my arm.
I say ‘don’t do that’
but he doesn’t listen.”
Ah, yes. I had two brothers myself. And sisters.
We are about to move on,
but it comes back to me,
what she started to say.
“What about on the bus?” I ask.
“Yes. You started to say ‘On the bus. . .’
Did something happen
on the bus
that made you angry?”
“Ah, okay,” she says,
and stops to gather her words.
“Man…white skin…touch me.”
She rubs the top of her knee.
I tell him ‘don’t touch me,’
but what can I do?
My English not good.”
But I think “Don’t touch me” is plenty good English, don’t you?
She is 23, traveling
to and from class
with her little girl, who,
the white-skinned man says,
is “beautiful like her mother.”
And now we are having a different conversation.
How often I leave the house in the morning, thinking I know what my day will be about, only to discover I’m wrong.
Postscript: I reported this exchange in the proper place. “They are so vulnerable,” the head teacher says. Yes, that is the word alright.