Friday, April 13, 2012

Ficition exerpt: The Never Ending Summer

Until that famous summer when banks collapsed by their own doing, pretending they needed to be rescued, Antonio Carrinian had an easy life. He actually had two lives he never mixed: one as a teacher, and one as an epicurean lover. He taught mathematics, and tutored those who needed extra help making himself available until about eight o’clock in the evening. Then, he went out for dinner and charmed his way to a date or went dancing which often ended with the same result. I am Serena Maltez, a colleague.

Antonio failed mercilessly any student who attempted to pass exams using memorization only. He warned them. He told them he did not believe people could not do math; he believed there were those who were scared of math and those who were not. He told them that if they thought they could not do math, they needed to ask for his help. He always made time for his students. Until eight o’clock that is. They would meet in his office or at a cafĂ©. He never let anyone down. Those who took his challenge passed. No exceptions. And not because he was easier on them: they actually learned the material, to their own surprise.

At night, after his last student left, he went to a bistro. He was an affable and handsome man and shared his table freely with people. That is also how he met women. They noticed right away he did not wear a wedding ring. Inevitably they asked if he had ever been married. He cleared any doubts by letting them know he had no interest in a relationship. His love was for mathematics and for teaching it. Some women excused themselves then, if they were looking for a long term relationship, but first waited for a response, hoping he would change his mind. He never strayed from his principles. He never fell under the spell of seduction, which turned him off. If women were intrigued and did not ask for a long term relationship, he was more then happy to prolong the night. He did not get attached and, yet, never left a woman without a gallant goodbye kiss. If a woman asked if they could meet again, he always said: “God willing!” He smiled, and walked away without leaving his phone number or his address, and without asking for hers.

That summer, when banks collapsed, everything changed. His students were agitated and withdrawn; he could not hold their interest. It affected him. He skipped meals. He stopped listening to music. He did not seek dates. He became a recluse. He spent all his time with his students or thinking about how to get their attention so he could teach them. He had always been able to help those who wanted it. But no longer. That summer the proportion of students seeking his help was higher than normal but few showed any progress. After 20 years of successfully teaching students other math teachers had given up on, Antonio was facing failure for the first time.

He was walking aimlessly, distracted, after school one night, when he heard a familiar voice that drew him back to the outside world. It was Jenna, one of his current students.

“Mr. Carrinian?” she said.

“Yes,” Antonio answered. He stopped to look at her. She was dressed in blue jeans that were falling apart, showing holes and threads. She had a light blouse on, not ironed. She was one of the students he’d been unable to help so far. He was embarrassed. He feared he’d lost his magic. He had little confidence left. It felt like death.

“Hi!” she said, shyly.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Nowhere,” she said. “There’s nowhere to go.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you know?”

“No, I’m sorry ...”

“It’s just that thing that’s on everybody’s mind, sir.”

“What thing?”

“There’s no money, no food to eat, my parents are either angry or depressed. We’re going to lose our house to foreclosure. We have nowhere to go. I don’t know if you know what students are saying about you?”

“Please, Jenna, tell me …”

“You’ve been the best teacher anyone has ever had. But now they say you only care about math, it never was us you cared about.”

“Oh!” Antonio said. “May I invite you to dinner?”

“It’s not just me, sir. It’s about half the students in our class.”

“Yes, you’re right, I could not feed everybody. But, can I offer you dinner this time so you can help me see how things really are for you?”

Jenna accepted her teacher’s invitation.

(soon to be published in a collection of shorts called CONSTELLATIONS)