It’s day 2 of Chiron’s annual English camp and things are getting even more tense. What is this plot that Timothy’s devised to prank Minerva’s employees? Does Devon have what it takes to carry it out? And won’t someone think of the children?!
The hot Japanese summer is heating up even more in Chapter 10 of Forever Foreign.
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Writing, producing – David Taylor
Sound design – David Armfield
Story Edits – Juan Olivares
Voice of Devon – David Taylor
Voice of Callum – Josh Leach
Voice of Victor – David Armfield
Voice of Timothy – Juan Olivares
Coming in a minute!
Chapter 10: English Camp, Day 2 (Transcript)
(hushed voice) It’s still Thursday night. Wait… Nevermind, it’s Friday morning. Let me do that again.
Friday, August 23rd, 2013
(soft footsteps throughout)
(still hushed voice) If it’s hard to hear me, it’s because I’m bugged. You know, like Donnie Brasco. Timothy can talk ‘till he’s blue about not wanting evidence of our practical joke, but I’m not planning on bringing this to court. I only want a little documentation for history’s sake.
The prank is about as simple as you would expect for something that was hatched on a whim. Timothy’s role is to prepare some kind of a stink bomb – don’t ask me what ingredients he’s using or why he has the knowledge necessary to concoct something like that in the first place. He just does.
Victor’s role is to get me inside since I don’t know the part of the building that Minerva’s dorms are on and Timothy is too high profile to be my guide. Apparently Chiron used those dorms last year, so Victor should be familiar with them.
My job is the toughest one. I’m supposed to work my way inside and lay the stink bomb in the hallway between bedrooms. Supposedly the reason the job was left for me is that I’m the only one who could be forgiven for being there if caught. According to Timothy, a 1 AM rendezvous with Georgia, the Minerva employee I met at lunch yesterday, is a reasonable enough excuse for slinking around in the wrong dorms at night in the middle of an English summer camp for kids.
How I hate to exploit you, Georgia. After our sweet and innocent conversation over grilled fish it seems cruel. But that’s the life of an undercover agent. Us guys are doomed to leave a trail of dames in our wake as we wade through the chaos. Don’t fool yourself into believing it’s fun, though. Sometimes we just wanna be loved. Just wanna come home at the end of a long, boring day at the office to a warm plate of pork chops and a loving embrace… Damn this cruel world!
(footsteps stop for this paragraph)
…did I take that too far? Actually, I really would feel terrible if it came down to me lying about meeting up with Georgia. Not to mention the fact that it’d be incredibly awkward since I don’t see anybody buying it. Somehow I doubt it’ll being necessary, though. We’re well into the wee hours of the night, and I’m expecting everyone to be asleep.
(footsteps start again)
Anyway, I’m almost at the cafeteria where we said we’d meet, so I’m gonna have to stop addressing you for a bit, Henrik. Enjoy the ride.
(the footsteps continue for about 5-7 seconds)
TIMOTHY: You’re late, Devon.
DEVON: HOLY shit, I didn’t see you there…
TIMOTHY: Where were you?
DEVON: Wwwhere was I? I was getting my duffel bag ready… Ya know, lining it with plastic since there’ll be a stink bomb in there.
TIMOTHY: Sounds fishy…
DEVON: Is that what they smell like? I always thought stink bombs would be more… sulphery…
TIMOTHY: That’s not what I meant. I meant it sounds fishy, as in suspicious. (sigh) You know what? Never mind. You’re here… And in a bright white t-shirt. Where are your black clothes? This is supposed to be a discrete mission.
DEVON: Sorry, Timothy. I must’ve left my secret agent gear back in Hotaru. Wouldn’t this be better anyway? If I look like a ninja, my excuse of meeting up for a romantic stroll with Georgia kinda goes out the window, doesn’t it?
TIMOTHY: Excellent point. Okay, here’s the package. All you need to do is open the zip lock bag and place it on the ground. It’s a pretty young stink bomb, but it’s humid enough in here that it should do the trick. Victor, are you ready to get him on the inside?
VICTOR: (kind of grim delivery as if he thinks he’s in an action movie) Ready as I’ll ever be.
TIMOTHY: Are you ready or not, Victor? It’s a simple question.
VICTOR: Yeah, I’m ready.
(4-5 seconds of footsteps and then quiet)
TIMOTHY: This is as far as I go. Good luck, boys. Chiron will be forever grateful. Oh, and… remember that if you’re caught you’re not to mention my name. This was all your idea.
(3 seconds or so of footsteps fading away)
DEVON: All our idea?
VICTOR: Stop being a pussy, we’re not gonna get caught. Come on.
(footsteps in the background throughout next bit)
DEVON: Don’t you think this is all a little ridiculous?
VICTOR: What’s ridiculous about it? We’re just playing a harmless practical joke. All in good fun, right?
DEVON: I guess… Still feels a little petty to me.
VICTOR: If it feels so petty to you why are you going along with it?
DEVON: Timothy is my boss! I can’t just say no to him. Besides, it feels like the guy really needs this for whatever reason. He was like a poster child for anger management issues all day. I worry for him!
VICTOR: Sure ya do…
(footsteps continue but the dialogue stops for a little bit as they walk in silence)
VICTOR: How was lunch with that Minerva girl anyway? Georgia was it? I’ll bet you got her number, didn’t you, you little playboy.
DEVON: No, I didn’t. You really think I’m gonna hit on someone in front of a bunch of students?
VICTOR: I would’ve found a way. She was actually kinda cute.
DEVON: Do you believe what Timothy said? About Minerva sending her to eat with me on purpose as a spy or whatever.
VICTOR: I wouldn’t put it past them. They’re garbage, man. Cockroaches. Nothing better than dingleberries clinging to the ass hairs of society.
VICTOR: You know when you wipe after dropping a deuce and you thought you got it all, but—
DEVON: I get it. I get it.
VICTOR: Hey. You asked.
DEVON: One of these days you’re gonna have to sit down with me and explain exactly what it is that Minerva did to you. The way you, Timothy, and Kaori act makes absolutely no sense.
VICTOR: One day. Oh. (hushed voice from here on) We’re almost there. Quiet down.
(5 seconds of steps)
VICTOR: Go up these steps and you’ll be right in the common room. There are only two hallways that lead away from there. One of them goes to the bathroom. I’m sure if you step in there you’ll find a few Minerva employees floating in the toilet.
DEVON: Okay, Victor. I’m guessing I want the other hall?
VICTOR: That’s right. It’s the one that leads to all of the rooms.
DEVON: Got it.
VICTOR: You remember the call if there are any problems, right?
DEVON: Call? What call? I didn’t know there was a call!
VICTOR: You know. The cry of the red-faced baboon.
DEVON: Red-faced baboon?! I don’t know how to—
VICTOR: Relax buddy. I’m fuckin with you. I’ll be right down here if anything happens. But, ya know… If anything happens just run.
DEVON: Okay. See you on the other side.
(Careful creaking steps going up stairs)
DEVON: (whisper) Henrik, it’s time for a little mischief.
(Devon whistling throughout the next little bit)
(Duffel bag dropping on a table. Zipper opening. Ziploc bag crinkling, contents dumped into the sink, water running, bag being dropped in the trash. FINALLY, a door creaking kinda far off)
DEVON: Crap. I’m made!
(rushing around, chair scraping back as Devon hides under a table. Footsteps are approaching throughout)
FEMALE STUDENT: Kussssa. Nani kono nioi??
(footsteps fade away as the kid goes to the bathroom)
DEVON: Shit, I think I have the wrong set of rooms. Where’s the teacher’s dorm?
(grabs bag and quickly jogs off down the stairs)
VICTOR: Finished already??
DEVON: (a little breathless) Please tell me that was an accident.
VICTOR: What do you mean?
DEVON: You just sent me to the students’ dorm.
VICTOR: (laughter) No way. Guess the MiNERDS gave the better beds to the students… Follow me.
(footsteps for 4 seconds before stopping)
VICTOR: The common room is at the end of this hall. I’ll be out here.
DEVON: Are you positive I’m not about to gas out a bunch of 13-year olds again?
VICTOR: Just go.
(footsteps for 5 seconds)
(rummaging in a cupboard, vase being taken out, tap water filling the vase, placing vase on the table, crinkling of chocolate bar wrappers. Hands brushing against each other to signal end of a job)
DEVON: (whispering) I know you can’t see this, Henrik, but it’s beautiful. So beautiful. I may have potential as a home decorator!
(picking up bag, footsteps for 5 seconds)
VICTOR: (whispering) Any problems this time?
DEVON: (whispering) I hope not.
(more steps, bag shuffling, tape recorder click, silence for several seconds before fading into the sounds from inside a train car)
It’s still Friday, so I’m just gonna pick up where I left off. If you think you can hear the sounds of a train in the background, you’re not going crazy. That’s where I’m recording right now.
Victor didn’t make the trip back with us, and with the girls in a different part of the train and Callum fast asleep next to me it seemed like now was as good a time as any to get the day’s events in order. Hopefully I can edit most of the extra sound out.
(train sound slowly fades out)
After I turned off the recording, Victor and I made it back to our end of the campus. For I guess about the third time that night Timothy scared the crap out of me, calling to the two of us from a darkened corner of our common room just as we were about to slink into bed.
Shadow covered one half of his face while moonlight creeping in through the window played across the other. He had to have set it up that way. It was just too perfect. I can picture him adjusting his seat by inches as he waited for us to return so that he would have the most diabolical look possible. The only thing missing was a creepy laugh and maybe an exotic animal in his lap for him to run his fingers over.
“I trust everything went according to plan?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “It was as easy as you said it would be.”
“Excellent. Now we wait.”
“Timothy, are you okay?” I asked. “I mean, is everything okay?
“Everything will be okay in the morning,” he said. Then he stood up and stalked down the dormitory hallway without even glancing in our direction. As he was almost out of earshot I barely heard him repeat it, just to himself. “Eeeverything will be okay in the morning.”
I shot a concerned look at Victor who shrugged while yawning just before walking down the hall and to his own bed. Alone in the common room, I muttered to myself, “What did I get myself caught up in?”
“What did you get yourself caught up in?”
My ears twitched and my eyes opened wide at the sound of the voice. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from until a willowy figure stepped out of one of the all-female rooms and into the dark hallway.
“Who’s that? Mio?”
Of course it was Bree. If anyone was going to play Hermione to our Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, it would be her. Early book 1, of course. I can only hope that Bree’s character arc will develop past that point, but we’re certainly not there yet.
The slim silhouette leaned against the door frame with her arms folded across her chest. I couldn’t quite understand what she had to be disapproving of. After all, the only person in camp that she might tattle to would be one of my co-conspirators.
“What do you want, Bree?” I asked. “I need to go to bed.”
“I’ll say you do. Where have you been? You smell like a landfill.”
“You’ll find out in the morning,” I said. “Have a little faith in me until then. Okay?”
“Like hell I will.”
I paused for some time, looking her up and down. She was in her bare feet and wearing a pair of gray cotton shorts that hung loose around her knees and an equally baggy black t-shirt. Her hair was in the same ponytail that it always was, totally unruffled.
“You need to go to bed as much as me,” I said. “Looks like you haven’t even put your head on the pillow tonight.”
“Tell me what you were doing and I will.”
(sigh) “Like I said, Bree: You’ll find out in the morning when everyone else does. I’m willing to bet that you’re gonna like it.”
I thought about walking past, but this felt like a rare opportunity to learn what her problem with me was. So I asked.
“I don’t have a problem with you,” is what she said in response.
“Oh, that’s a relief,” I said. “Here I was thinking that you going out of your way to bite my head off at every opportunity had something to do with you not liking me. How silly of me.”
I tried smiling at her to take a little of the weight out of the words. It wasn’t very effective. Actually, if anything it made her hands ball up even harder at her sides and ended with her staring at the ground.
“Well, if there’s no problem I’m just gonna go to bed,” I said. “Good night, Bree.”
I walked past, and she didn’t try to stop me. Inside my room, Victor was already fast asleep on the tatami floor, one member of a chorus of snores and soft breathing. I joined them as well, slipping into my bottom bunk with Callum above.
Being just a thin futon mattress on a plank of wood, the ‘bed’ – if you wanna call it that – was hard. The pillow wasn’t much softer, being full of buckwheat. I guess they’re pretty common in Japan. I thought it might keep me from sleep, but actually my head felt great as it plunked into the stiff sack of grain.
Closing my eyes, I made a point of not thinking about Bree and whatever her opinion of me may or may not be. As Grandpa Glendenning liked to say, “There’s no controlling what other people think of you.” So I thought about the midnight caper instead, and a smile bloomed on my face as I pictured Minerva employees waking up to my little surprise.
The dorm rooms came to life before 7 after being awoken by the obnoxious alarm on Timothy’s phone. After our nighttime shenanigans I only got about five hours of sleep, but the only thing I was worried about was being the first one to breakfast where the two warring English teaching companies would butt heads.
Timothy and Victor were on the same page, and after slipping into our bright yellow camp t-shirts, the three of us walked briskly down the wooden hallways of the school toward the cafeteria. The rest of our crew and students weren’t far behind.
We sat down at one of the long tables near the center of the room with a good view of the doors. I put a little distance between myself and my boss, taking a seat across the table so that I’d have as good a view of his reaction as I would of the Minerva trainers. Callum was the next person in the hall, and he plopped down beside me.
“You didn’t really go through with it, did you?” he asked.
“Keep your voice down,” Victor said. “Of course we went through with it.”
“I have to say, Devon, I wasn’t expecting this from you.”
“Are you disappointed?” I asked.
“Can’t say I care either way,” he said. “I’m just surprised that you can be so nasty.”
Henrik, some people might call that a compliment, Callum thinking highly enough of me that he couldn’t imagine me being a jerk. But as we watched the others file in I couldn’t help but feel like I’d let someone down, even if there was no reason to.
We’d probably only been waiting for two or three minutes, but it felt like forever. My stomach was in knots as I thought for the first time about the repercussions of the stunt. Personally taking responsibility hadn’t occurred to me until then, but as I looked at Timothy I suddenly had the feeling that it might come to that. The pudgy man licking his lips across from me certainly would have no problem throwing me under the bus.
He was playing it cool – or as cool as he could manage – only checking the entrance of the cafeteria EVERY TIME he heard one of his own English teachers walking in. Sometimes he even looked when there was no sound at all. When the Minerva employees did start filing in he jumped in his seat, leaning forward to revel in their misery.
After setting a putrid trap that should’ve induced gags from a slaughterhouse worker, Timothy was clearly hoping to see a group of green-faced zombies walking in. Maybe some vomit dribbling from chins or down shirts. But in place of tormented souls, what he got was a steady stream of his hated rivals walking directly to his table, grinning broadly. Some actually skipped over, saying things like, “Thank you so much, Timothy,” and “You made my day.”
Each and every one was like a ray of sunshine, beaming down on the thundercloud that was my head teacher. Timothy, of course, was completely puzzled, and couldn’t even collect himself enough to offer a response. He looked at Victor first, and then me. Both of us simply shrugged, and his puzzled look became mixed up with grief. It was ALMOST enough to make me feel bad for the guy. Almost.
At some point, Timothy couldn’t avoid replying to them any longer, so he started saying, “You’re welcome.” It was clear to me, at least, that he had no clue what he was welcoming them to.
The last person to pile on the line of gratitude was Peter, the head trainer of Minerva’s group of Assistant Language Teachers.
“Good morning, Tim,” he said. “I just wanted to say thanks for the bouquet of flowers and chocolates you left for us. What a surprise!”
“Flowers and chocolates,” Timothy managed to say.
“Silly me,” Peter continued. “Not just any chocolates. One of my ALTs tells me that Coffee Crisps are Canada-exclusive. I have no idea how you got your hands on them in Japan, but it must’ve been a heck of an ordeal.”
Timothy sat with his mouth hanging open before his eyes shot in my direction.
“Oh, I’m forgetting the note!” Peter touched one of the pockets of his track pants. “I didn’t mean to glaze over those beautiful words, Tim. I should say there’s nothing to be sorry for, but I know you don’t want to hear that, so I’ll just say that I accept your apology. And you’re so right about the kids.”
“Could I uh… Could I take a look at that for one second?” Timothy said. “I just want to make sure I said it all.”
Peter took out a small piece of folded paper from his pocket and handed it over. Timothy never read the thing aloud, but I can tell you what it said, Henrik. I can tell you, because as I’m sure you’ve realized by now… I WROTE IT! Yes, I. Devious, dastardly Devon. Puller of practical jokes. Spreader of cheer, not stink.
Maybe you never doubted me all along, Henrik. If that’s the case, I thank you. There’s just no way I could’ve laid a stink bomb outside the bedroom of a group of humans as lovely as Minerva’s team and gone to sleep that night. Especially not after becoming friends with one of them. So I dumped it all in the sink. Sadly, that one student I came across still got a whiff of it as it was going down the drain, but it could’ve been worse.
Anyway, the note said, “Dear Peter and all of the Minerva staff. I’m sorry for being a little cranky for most of yesterday. There were a few moments where I lost sight of what this English camp was supposed to be about. Let’s all have a wonderful day today. For the kids. Love, Timothy.”
I also drew a bunch of hearts, shooting stars, and underneath it all a picture of Timothy and Peter hugging. It may have been a tad heavy-handed, but I couldn’t resist.
I guess Timothy probably saw that before anything else because his face went white the moment his eyes hit the page. The color didn’t really return all day, and whatever life drained from Timothy was given directly to Peter. The man was bouncing as he asked to sit together. I took the lead then, offering up my stool.
Callum got up with me, and as I walked away from the table I could feel a pair of eyes burning a hole in my back. There were also a pair burning a hole in my front. Bree had been watching the whole thing from another table, you see. The moment I caught her looking at me I gave her a wink and she rolled her eyes before turning away.
If that withdrawal wasn’t out of remorse for wrongfully judging me, I just don’t know what to do with the girl. It feels as though she’s actually targeting me at this point and I don’t think I’ve done anything to deserve it. Unless maybe you count trying to be her friend.
The students had started pouring into the hall by then, so Callum and I tracked down the ones partnered with us and grabbed trays full of food together. Breakfast was almost the exact same as lunch the day before. It consisted of grilled fish, rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables. The only change came in the form of a cup of yogurt and a bit of fruit.
My student, Airi, didn’t bat an eye at the tray she was given, so I asked her if it was normal for her.
“I often eat fish and rice for breakfast,” she said. “Sometimes I eat sausage and eggs. My favorite is Pork Beats.”
I nearly shot yogurt out of my nose. Pork Beats, you’ll remember, are the same brand of sausage that Victor compared my nether regions to last night. Of course, I didn’t tell Airi that.
Turning to Callum’s male student I asked, “What about you?”
“I don’t like breakfast,” he said. A simple man.
Airi returned the question to me, so I gave her the facts. Back in Canada I ate whatever cereal was in the cupboard that had the highest sugar content and the most entertaining box. Fruit Loops were up there for me. I’d never given it much thought, but after seeing what passed for normal over here it’s hard to call what I ate for breakfast back home anything other than junk food. God, I miss my Fruit Loops…
After filling our bellies we went to the gym for some English fun. I did my best to steer clear of Timothy, and even Victor to a lesser extent. The one time I’d rubbed shoulders with my senpai was during a game that Timothy had created involving balls, hoops, and lots of English.
I won’t bore you with any of the rules except one, Henrik; the game was supposed to be non-contact. I say supposed to be because Victor sent me flying with a hip check that would’ve looked good in the National Hockey League. He did it as I was helping one of the students answer a question in English so that he could shoot the ball and earn our team a point. Victor was all smiles and apologies, but when he got closer to give me a hand up all he said was, “Snitches get stitches.”
I guess maybe I deserved it a little bit? I dunno. The truth is that I thought a bit of gratitude might’ve been in order. After all, the only thing I did was put smiles on people’s faces, but he and Timothy obviously hadn’t seen it that way. Whatever the case, I took my lump and Victor seemed satisfied with his pound of flesh. He was mostly back to normal after that.
When we broke for lunch, I was assuming there would be more fish and was thrilled to have those expectations subverted. We were each given deep dishes in the cafeteria and had generous helpings of Japanese curry filled with hunks of potato, carrots, and shaved beef served over rice. I was so excited that I did a little curry dance in the line. When I tried to get Airi to join me she let out a shriek that was a healthy mixture of laughter and embarrassment.
I should mention that the curry was amazing – so far Japanese curry has always been amazing – but combined with the heat and humidity it turned all of us into a bunch of slugs. Luckily Timothy had something up his sleeve.
Back in the gym, our fearless leader broke us up into groups. Next, he handed over large sheets of white poster paper, markers, and a few other doodads for crafts. The majority of the afternoon was then spent designing flags and slogans for what was meant to be our group’s special country.
Going over the details would be a chore for both you and me, Henrik, so if you don’t mind I’ll gloss over it. My group consisted of myself, Alyssa, Callum, and another pair of second or third year ALTs. Of course, our students also joined us. Altogether there were 6 groups of about a dozen people each.
The veteran teachers of our group took the reins at first, but it wasn’t long before they were handing them over to us Hotaru teachers. Callum was totally right about himself; as long as he’s not being evaluated he really is an incredible teacher. And Alyssa? I think she’d be on fire no matter what she was doing. She just oozes confidence.
With the two of them there I was able to sort of sit back and be the class clown. It felt like someone needed to lighten things up, and the students certainly weren’t taking the reins on that front.
Timothy and Kaori made the rounds a few times, and whenever they showed up they would tell everyone what a great job they were doing. Everyone except for me, that is. He never went so far as to put his displeasure into words in front of the kids, but Timothy’s silence spoke volumes. His eyes never went anywhere near mine, either, and the one time I tried to get his attention he did a great impression of someone in a room with a ghost, claiming that he could hear spooky sounds but couldn’t make out the words. The kids laughed – thank god – but I don’t think they picked up on what was happening between us. Probably for the best.
While TIMOTHY chose passive aggressiveness, KAORI took a more direct route. She put her hand on my shoulder and leaned in ever so gently to whisper something. I can still feel the ends of her black hair brushing against my neck and her breath tickling my ear. It was a touch just light enough to… well, I’ll just say it; my Pork Beat was on the verge of becoming a Pork Bratwurst if ya know what I mean… Maybe I’ve been around Victor too much in 4 days.
Anyway, whatever rerouting of blood that occurred was strictly against my will. Especially given what Kaori said next.
“Don’t mistake my professionalism for a love of Minerva,” she said. “What you did was unforgiveable and you should be ashamed.”
She walked away, hand sliding sensuously across my shoulder. It happened in a flash, and I’m not sure whether anyone else noticed.
It was hard to go back to teaching after that, but somehow I did. In total, our group used the better part of an hour to make the flag, and after some exciting twists and turns of conversation a country called “Happy Land” was born. I guess I should take some ownership. I pushed pretty hard for it when it looked like we were heading in that direction.
The slogan for Happy Land was “Life is better when everyone is happy”. Pretty good for a bunch of adolescent second language learners!
As for the flag itself, I won’t claim that it was any kind of masterpiece. It was hard enough to pry the name of the country and slogan out of the kids, so with only a few minutes left on the clock we basically let them at it. By the end there was a mess of colors, shiny hearts and stars cut out from special paper, and of course, lots of smiles.
When we gave our presentation, Airi explained that our country’s official language was English. Others talked about the animals and landmarks in our fictional nation, and finally Callum’s protégé announced that we had the right to be happy. The whole thing wrapped up with a choreographed cheer that ended in each of us pointing to smiling faces.
Henrik, it was a beautiful message. Nothing more. I definitely wasn’t trying to get in any more digs at Timothy’s expense. But if I didn’t know better I’d say that he looked like he was taking the children’s happiness personally as he watched from the back of the audience. Or maybe my face was just reminding him of Minerva. Hard to say, really. What I knew for sure was that he seemed much happier with countries like ‘Unicornistan’ and ‘Strawberria’.
With all of the presentations finished, we gave the students exit surveys to fill out. There was a section for the kids to write about the ALTs they were paired with, and in it Airi wrote, “Devon was strange, but very fun.” I don’t think I could’ve written a better evaluation myself.
After packing up and saying goodbye to the school that had been our home for two days and one thrilling evening it was off to the busses. They were parked in the gravel lot, one for our group and one for Minerva. We all stowed our bags and were about to board when Timothy told us to gather round for a group picture.
Kaori said that she would take the picture so that we could all be in the photo, but Timothy insisted that she be in it too, so he nervously approached our driver. The old grump didn’t seem happy – in fact, I distinctly recall some aggressive hand gestures – but he did it.
A sweatier-than-before Timothy jogged back and ordered us to set up in front of the entrance of the school. It took a good deal of direction to get us all into the frame, but somehow we managed. When we were ready, the driver called out, “Cheeezu!” – that’s Japanese for cheese. I know. It’s hard to keep up with the language.
Just as he was snapping the third picture, I could hear Peter calling to us from inside the school. “Let’s take a picture together!”
There’s no way that Timothy didn’t hear him – everybody heard him – but he pretended that he hadn’t and ordered us to hurry toward the bus. Peter must’ve finally taken the hint, because we didn’t hear from him again. That is, other than a chipper, “See you next time!”
I was about to get in line to board the bus myself when Timothy pulled me aside. I thought I was about to get whacked and thrown in the bushes, but the guy seemed relaxed. Even a little happy.
“I got your message,” he said. “You were right. I was too wrapped up in thinking about those pieces of sh— Anyway, you were right. It’s about the kids and I’m glad you helped me to see that.”
I was stunned to silence.
“Well don’t just stand there. Rub it in my face,” Timothy said.
“I don’t know what to say, Timothy. I’m really happy you took it the right way!”
“It’s all thanks to you, Devon.”
He clapped me on the back before gesturing toward the bus, and I practically danced up the stairs in spite of my fatigue.
I hadn’t expected my supervisor to take the high road. If anything I thought I would be sleeping with one eye open on the ride home, if at all.
Judging by the weary faces of the other passengers, I wasn’t the only one who was looking forward to a quick nap at that point, either. The only audible sounds on the bus came from the rumble of the engine and two or three muted conversations. Next to me Airi already had her eyes closed, and I thought I might join her. I was running on 4 or 5 hours of sleep, after all.
Snoozing on busses has never been much trouble for me, no matter how many times they stop and start. So I pulled the lever next to my seat and reclined back. As I closed my eyes I could feel the curtain of consciousness already closing, so when I saw Timothy’s face leaning over me I knew it had to be a dream. Or maybe a nightmare.
“What are you doing, Devon?”
I didn’t respond.
“You know, you were so wonderful during English camp that I’ve chosen you as MVT – Most Valuable Teacher. Being the MVT comes with responsibility, so get up. Rise and shine. It’s time for you to bring the camp home.”
I wiggled in my chair and shut my eyes tight, hoping the dream roulette wheel would change to something else.
“Wake up, Devon.” His voice was harsher this time and he shook my shoulders.
“Wake up. You think you can pull that little stunt from last night and drift on cloud nine all the way home?”
I knew I was awake when he jammed a piece of paper into my hands and stood up. In a clear, booming voice he announced to the rest of the bus that I wanted to take the kids through a rendition of Country Roads by John Denver. He said, and I quote, “I know you all must be sleepy, but Devon sensei really wanted this.”
I whispered to Timothy, “I thought we were cool, man!”
He gave me a sly smile before pulling me up and handing over the controller for the bus’s sound system, telling me that I could hit play and the song would start. Looking around the bus, I saw 70 faces ranging from confused to irritated to downright irate. I mouthed an apology, but it was useless.
What happened next was one for the history books. Without further ado I pressed play, and when ‘ol Johnny started singing I started dancing. I came up with a routine on the spot, finding beauty in simple turns and hand movements. Really, it was a work of art.
The whole bus was like putty in my hands as I got them to do a total 180 from miserable, sour grapes to fine aged wine. When it came time to perform the song from the top we nailed it for a perfect Hollywood ending. People cheered my name. They said that it was the best bus ride home they’d ever had. When we got back to the station they lifted me on their shoulders and joined in a chant of “In your face” as we pointed and laughed at Timothy. (train sounds from beginning of episode start to fade back in) It was the best day of my life. It was—
CALLUM: Okay. You need to stop.
DEVON: Uhhhh, how long have you been awake, Callum?
CALLUM: (yawn) Haven’t slept a wink. How could I? Why don’t you tell Henrik what really happened on the bus ride home. That’s his name right? Henrik?
DEVON: What really happened? I’m not sure what you mean!
(some shuffling as Devon moves to turn off recording device)
CALLUM: Don’t turn off the recorder now.
DEVON: Do I have to talk about it?
CALLUM: What’s the point in a diary if you only tell the truth when it sounds good? Besides, people failing is the best. Just ask YouTube.
DEVON: But in my version, someone is failing. Timothy is failing at humiliating me.
CALLUM: Come on, mate. You’re better than that.
DEVON: Ugh, alright. Here goes.
(sigh) Talking about what happened next is the last thing I want to do, but some people are hell bent on honesty.
As I stood at the front of the bus my knees started to shake. My palms got unbelievably sweaty. There was no mom’s spaghetti vomit on my sweater or on my camp Chiron t-shirt, for that matter, but damn it if I wasn’t just about nervous enough to make a little curry and rice come up.
In fact, I was so nervous that I forgot all about the controller for the music. So instead of listening to the song and coming up with simple dance moves for it I opened my mouth, and with a shaky voice sang, “Almost heaven. West Virginia.”
The smart move would’ve been to only include dance moves for the chorus, but I wasn’t thinking straight. For ‘almost heaven’ I waved my arms above my head while looking to the ceiling. For ‘West Virginia’ I did my best at drawing an imaginary state border in the air. The kids tried to follow along, but we were fighting a losing battle between lyrics and dance moves. I don’t think I was even at the first chorus when the kids started laughing at me.
I tried to sit down, but Timothy wouldn’t allow it. So I was stuck at the front of the bus with dozens of heckling kids led by overenthusiastic adults. There, Callum. Are ya happy?
CALLUM: Go on then!
DEVON: What are you talking about? You want me to recount all 5 minutes of torture?
CALLUM: Now you’re being too hard on yourself. Let me explain it to Henrik for you.
Okay, first off Devon took the taunting as well as could be expected. Put me up there and I would’ve been back in my seat in seconds, no matter what Tim said.
DEVON: Ahh you shouldn’t call him Tim, man! He could be on this train for all we know…
CALLUM: Come off it, mate. He can’t hurt you now. Can I continue?
Part way through Devon’s embarrassing performance he did something special. Something that everyone should do but can’t; he let go of his ego and joined in on the laughter. I don’t think you ever saw the look on TIM’s face, Devon, but the man was more furious than I’d seen him all day.
When you think about it, everybody on that bus was failing, really. You had the most obvious and public failure, but everyone laughing also failed in their own way. None of them were able to make you appear less. And of course, Tim failed in his attempt to bring you down a notch. If anything he made you look fantastic.
DEVON: You really think so?
CALLUM: Wouldn’t bother saying it if I didn’t, would I?
DEVON: That makes me feel a lot better, actually. Thanks, mate! It sounds weird when I say mate, doesn’t it?
CALLUM: A bit. But I’m sure you’ll get the hang of that too.
DEVON: What a guy you are, Callum. You know, I’m just about on top of the world right now. What a reversal!
CALLUM: I wouldn’t get too carried away. You’ve still done a lot to antagonize Tim. Who knows, the guy might find a way to kick you out of your job and your apartment. You think the Gulag is bad? Try begging for a capsule hotel on the streets of Tokyo.
DEVON: Capsule hotel?
CALLUM: They’re basically hostel dorms, but the beds are actual self-contained boxes. A little rectangular box just big enough to fit a person inside.
DEVON: Sounds like a claustrophobic nightmare.
CALLUM: They’re amazing, you’ll see. I stayed at one in Kyoto that I’ll take you to. It was just down the road from—
DEVON: Hold on, let me shut this off. Talk to you later, Henrik!
(train sounds fade out)