Five o’clock p.m. is a close, fetid time of day, when the cobbled roads steam and the concrete walls of buildings seethe with foul hot air. I’m sitting in my classroom, trying to look perky, my hair tucked wetly behind my ears, when my student walks in. Her knapsack is slumping off her shoulder, her face dejected.
“Hi Eva!” I say brightly, “how was your day?”
“Fine.” She plops into a chair beside her friend, and scoots her elbows onto the table, cupping her face between two grubby hands.
“Long school day?” I venture.
“Do you get a lot of homework?”
“Do you have any other extracurricular activities besides this class?” I always like to get a handle on the full picture of each student’s academic day.
“Oh yeah. When I get home, I have another English class and then a Spanish class with a private tutor.”
“Oh, wow, sounds busy.”
I begin class with a short speaking exercise, and then we plunge into the meat and potatoes of the present progressive tense with action and non-action verbs. The fans are whirring doggedly overhead, but still, my students are listless, slumped, their eyes glazed and bored.
I look at the clock. Half an hour to go.
“Okay, class,” I say, capping my whiteboard marker and turning from the board to face them again, “it’s time for a game.”
The reaction is immediate. They straighten, wiggle to the backs of their chairs, and look up, their eyes sparkling.
“The game is called, “Who What When Where Why,” I explain, handing out blank sheets of paper. “To start with, everybody is going to write the name of a person on the top of their page. That’s the who part. Now, fold the name under so it can’t be seen, and pass the paper to your neighbor. Got your new paper? Good. Now comes the what part. What is this person doing? Do they run, or swim, or eat a banana?”
The students are hunched over their papers now, scribbling, crossing things out, flipping papers over and snatching greedily for the next. I glance at the clock. The minute hand is speeding toward the six, toward quitting time.
We finish round one and open the papers to read the disembodied tales of ladies screaming in the park at midnight, and Shakira sneaking through supermarkets when she should be eating breakfast.
The minute hand is at the five.
“Do we have time for one more round?” I say.
“Oh yes,” Eva says, “we’ve got five minutes!”