The Boy Who Cries “Fire”

Alia only wanted to make things a little bit fun and less didactic. However once she unplugged the fun bottle, things started to get weird. This morning, she found a little piece of paper on her desk, saying “I don’t know how to spell because I am not a witch.” Anybody could have entered her office and put the little note there. She never uses the little padlock to symbolically lock the door. What’s the point? She calls it her office, but it’s rather just a little shack on the side of the school’s academic building. All the offices are occupied and as the newest employee, she has to take this shack and wait for an office vacancy.

She could have stayed in the capital city of Xenasia, a Pacific island nation of 30 atolls. There she has all her relatives and friends; there the modern amenities and comforts are everywhere. But the financial incentives of coming here are huge. If she could stay on this little island–the Kuku island–to teach for one year, she would be on the fast track for future promotion, and receive assistance in her future mortgage. If she stays two or three years, the reward is even bigger. As a recent college graduate, she thinks she can afford to lose one to three years of her life in this economic and political backwater for future benefits.

Alia is assigned to be an English teacher. Xenasia was a former British colony and English has been one of the official languages since independence. Some Xenasia nationalists tried to start a referendum to abolish English ten years prior, but the tourism industry, which accounts for 30% of the economy, is too important to be sacrificed for national pride and English has to stay.

Alia’s job is the easiest of all. Just ask her students to memorize the grammar rules and new words. Then tell them that words stringed together by grammars are called a language. Whether they learn or not learn, it’s up to them.

Her job is the most difficult since her students have no interest in learning a language that they don’t use in their daily life. They are only interested in quick memories for exam’s sake, and nothing else.

Alia wanted to try something new. She tried to ask her students to use English words to describe people they know in their life–at least this is a way to use the language. Her students took her initiative enthusiastically, probably too enthusiastically. Pretty soon, people started to use “morbid”, “macabre”, and many curse words that Alia is now too ashamed to describe. It only took about a month to reach the principal’s ears. One of the students called the principal a fraud. When questioned, the student confessed that he’s merely practicing his language skills according to Alia’s instruction. So this idea of hers has not gone very well.

Alia’s second idea is about puns. When she first introduced the idea, it was very successful. Her students started to list words with two or three meanings, and proceeded to create new puns. One of the students, who’s a computer nerd, even made an impromptu announcement that he realized that all computer vocabularies are puns. This set off a frenzy of searching and making computer puns.

Then things took a bad turn, which is manifested in the note she holds in her hand, calling her a witch with a spell. Coincidentally, Alia was very interested in witches in college and she even wrote one of her papers on witch and witchcraft. However she only enjoys witches when she could scrutinize them from the safe distance of a different continent and a different century.

She asks the person who wrote the witch note to come to see her in the office. Kai shows up and just stands there, answering her question with a nod or a shake of his big head. He has a lot of hair which makes his head look unusually big. After about five minutes or so, Alia suddenly realizes that she has demanded that everybody communicates in English with her. No exception. This is why Kai is not saying anything. Kai is so unmotivated that he hardly ever hand in homework. His parents run a little business on the beach and Kai is the little slave worker for the family.

She looks at Kai and sighs. What can she do with him? Or with the class? All her plans have ended up in failure. None of them works. So she asks him to leave, but Kai just stands there, not moving.

Finally, Alia lost her patience. “What’s wrong, Kai? OK, you don’t need to speak English with me. Just tell me what’s on your mind.”

Kai is so relieved and he starts to talk right away, “I heard my parents talking with their friends last night that they are going to come to the school and burn down your shack, or no, your office, because you have been corrupting the students. They say you are a witch who put spell on students.”

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