An English Lesson

He’s exhausted. I’m exhausted too.

I half consciously absorb the red yellow and green electronic words running down the sign outside. I imagine the frustration of the cars lined up on the adjacent street below.

“So how…” I test the efficacy of the markers. It looks like I’ll be using red today. “…can you ask your question using this structure?”

“Yes!” He’s smiling stupidly. He grabs the marker and writes it on the board, putting his face much closer than necessary. He scribbles it and then spins halfway around to look at me. Now his smile is really stupid.

“Verrrryyyy goood.” He puts the marker down and then sits down.

“Stone.” He’s pointing at me. The stupid smile is in full force now.

“Stone?”

“Why do you say your own name?”

“What?”

“You say your own name.” He uses his forefinger to adjust his glasses.

“My name is John.”

“Stone!”

“…..”

“Your name is stone, because your brain is a stone.” He chuckles with his mouth open wide.

I sigh. Loudly. For effect. I pace to the other end of the room. I tell him to write more. He does it. Correctly. There are too many desks cluttering the room. I sit down and open the folder.

“So, tell me [name redacted], what’s the point of life?” This is how tired I am. He’s standing by the door.

“To…” he puts his finger on his chin and looks up to imitate thinking. “…make more people!”

“And what’s the point of making more people?”

“To…make more people!” There’s that stupid smile.

“So the whole point of life is just to make more people?”

“Yes!” He laughs with his eyes also wide open.

“But what if there are too many people?” He stops and does the thinking-thing again.

“That’s okay!” He says. All his words are rushed.

“But what if people in other parts of the world are already making too many people? Do you still make more people? Do you still have more babies?” He makes the thinking motion again. He’s not smiling.

“No, it’s okay.”

“So…what if there are no more people here, but there are lots of people in other countries? What if you die off because there are too many people in other parts of the world?”

“It’s ok, that doesn’t matter.”

“Really? You really think it doesn’t matter who has children as long as there are people in the world? Doesn’t that make your entire life kind of pointless if other people are fulfilling the objective point of life?”

“No” he shakes his head. I sigh. Why can’t it be ‘go-home-time’? I open the folder and scan an article for the list of words I’ll assign him for homework. I’m still haunted by the words outside. The cars in their lanes. All trying to get somewhere quickly. But what will they do when they get there? My student sits down next to me. The smile is gone.

“So…” he hesitates. “What do you think is the point of life?” He’s fourteen, almost fifteen. He’s looking at me through those glasses. Brown eyes and spotty skin. I’m looking down, scanning an article I’ve printed about ancient India. Brahmin is hardly a word I can assign him. I keep looking through the article. I turn the page. I find a few long words, but nothing suitable. I’m searching for an answer. Time’s up. Why can’t I find it?

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