My cigarette breaks are sacred.
In them I reflect. I organize, and I plan.
You see, I do not think it is the need for nicotine that drives me, but the need to escape.
In the rush of the day and the multitudes of people, you hardly have the time to be on your own, let alone think ahead.
So I run to my cigarette and dive into my own thoughts.
I am pulled back to the surface by a comment on the weather by a familiar voice.
I turn and watch the depressed face of a colleague whose cigarette is another form of escape.
“ya zalame shob liom.”
I bite my tongue as it urges to say that it’s been like that for the past five months.
“Only one month and twenty days away…”
He looks at me, puzzled. Then he looks away and smiles. His eyes are dreamy and for once, they gleam.
“the next vacation.”
“Oh… yeah right. Anything planned?”
“No. But at least I won’t have to come to work.” He laughs. He is finally a happy man. The mere prospect of sleeping a few extra hours in the morning is enough drive to get him through the daily grind of kids talking, yelling, and asking so many damn questions!
“these kids are so stupid. Man, they never understand a thing. I keep telling them the same thing over and over again, and they just don’t get it.”
“Well every kid has his own way… just try different things.”
He is offended. He takes on the defensive.
“Oh believe me, I tried. I write his name on the discipline sheet, I yell at him, I send him to the principal! I gave one ten infractions just last week! But I’m telling you these kids are stupid.”
“Did you try talking to them?”
“I told you! I yelled at them so many times!”
“I mean, talking to them during recess trying to figure out what the problem might be?”
“I have six teaching periods every day! I don’t have time man. My schedule is the worst!”
He forgets about the stupid kids. He goes on complaining about the administration and the lack of its humanity. He complains about the salaries and trainings. By then I zone out, occasionally nodding and casually agreeing. Because one simply does not disagree! Disagreeing is saying you’re different. So you nod. You nod some more. Damn it, I really wanted to smoke another cigarette.
I put off this one with the sole of my shoe then throw it in the bin. He throws his on the floor, and we walk together in silence. I, shaking off the negativity, whistle my way into the washroom, and I wash my hands and face. He, sinking deeper into his misery, climbs toward the staff room, head downcast and shoulders loose. I dab on my perfume and pick up my tablet and my markers with one minute to plan my lesson. That same colleague rejoins and walks me to my class complaining about the next lesson he is to give. My minute is gone. He leaves me with a sad smile as though a fifty-minutes sentence of hard labor had befallen him. I turn to my class, and I see bright faces. Faces that want to smile so much but find no reason. Faces that have not yet given up. My heart pulses with joy and excitement.
I must to be that reason. I must not let them give up.
I smile. They smile.
I close the door, let their faces guide the lesson, and have the best fifty minutes of my life…
Until the next lesson arrives.