Desire in Any Language

By: Anastasia Vitsky

Desire Discovered

Flushed with the exertion of climbing three flights of stairs in the post-summer heat, I peek into the office she shares with several colleagues. I’m nearly thirty minutes late, a good twenty minutes later than the oh-so-casual ten-minute-late arrival I’d originally intended. Last week I was a good five minutes early, hiding myself behind pretend homework to avert the glances of her colleagues apologizing to me for her lateness. Today I’ve already sent an apology text message to her cell phone, but as I slip into the room the apologies are still bursting forth.

“I’m sorry, the bus was late and it was raining so it was slippery and I couldn’t find my umbrella and anyway I spent the entire time on the bus studying...”

She just smiles and points me to the empty chair of the desk next to her. She offers me something to drink which I refuse politely. She insists politely, and I refuse again. It’s our custom, sometimes waived by her finally setting a cup of tea in front of me and my drinking it half out of desire and half from politeness. In the past few months I have become more and more comfortable with her each week, but I still cling to our little tea ritual. Imitating a proper girl.

Today as she uncaps her red pen and bends her head over my notebook, I find myself holding my breath. “Did you do this on the bus ride here?” she teases.

Mustering my best attempt at indignation, I shake my head. “Of course not!” In the coffee shop the hour before I boarded the bus, I silently add in my head. No need to give more information than is required.

“I’m impressed,” she says warmly even as the ink flows in dark bloodstains on my paper. I wrinkle my nose at all of her corrections. No matter how hard I try to write my compositions accurately, I always mess up a conjugation or idiom or how to use an article. “Don’t be discouraged,” she says, without even looking up from the paper. “It always takes time to be able to write in a foreign language. You’re doing really quite well.”

I decide that this isn’t an invitation for complaints about the difficulty of study abroad, and I merely make a non-committal shake of the head. She turns the page, and I hear a quick intake of breath. Her voice is puzzled.

“I think you lost a page from your notebook.”

“I-um...not exactly...” I blush. I’m glad that we’re talking in English so that the other teachers in her office can’t understand us, but I lower my voice anyway. “I meant to finish the essay but I was a little sick yesterday and the day before that I got a phone call from a friend back home...”

She nods her head thoughtfully. I squirm. She’s not one for interrogation, but sometimes the earnest silence is just as effective.

“I’m sorry,” I finish lamely.

The silence dangles between us like a screen gradually descending, and her unsaid thoughts flicker toward me. Her busy schedule teaching full-time and helping to take care of her ailing father. Her dedication to her work and spontaneous offer to meet with me during her precious one free night of the week. Her reassurances, at my expressions of doubt and guilt at taking her time, that she loved tutoring and her reward would be to see my progress. She takes off her glasses, rubs at the small hollow between her eyes where the pads left red indentations, and sighs. For a moment I wonder if I’m about to receive my first lecture ever. She’s not one to scold, and at only four years older she’s been low-key about her position of authority. I want to apologize, but at this point words seem rather meaningless.

After a moment, she begins in quite a different tone. “I think it’s been a long week for both of us. Why don’t we stop here?”

“I’m sorry…” It comes out involuntarily, but she shakes her head.

“It’s all right. We’ll try again next week.” She pats me on the arm, and for a moment I want to lean into her touch.

Don’t leave, I think, and push away the unbidden thought. I imagine myself bringing in a glorious composition and seeing her pride and satisfaction. I think back to my time frittered away on trashy television and hideously expensive trans-Pacific phone calls, and I wish desperately I could go back a few days in time to prepare the most magnificent essay possible. Instead, she smiles again in what I know is my cue to leave.