“Quietness, at what cost?” Reid said as he swung in his hammock on Burnaby Mountain. He pushed his legs over the edge of the canvas. Then he put his legs back into the hammock. He wanted to live in the wild, to make a new start away from the city noise. “I’ll call for that teaching position at Pinantan Narrows reservation,” he decided.
Chief Don picked up right away. He said he liked Reid’s patience. “I’m fond of your soft tone” he said. They talked twenty minutes. The Chief invited Reid up to Saskatoon for an interview. “The Cree people like a calm way.”
Reid had little money, except what he acquired at casual labour jobs. Three months before, he’d earned a teaching degree from Simon Fraser University, a campus located at the very top of the mountain where he camped in his hammock. He lived on the mountain and in his car, using three lockers near the University pool for his books and possessions.
“The government will pay for your flight,” said Chief Don. “It’s hard to find teachers who’ll go to Pinantan Narrows.”
Reid filled out the faxed application. Within a week, he flew above the prairies. He looked down on the swamps and farms. Pretty silent down there, until he landed. Then the usual cacophony. Cars, busses, trucks and people always talking talking talking.
Reid sat in a musty two room Saskatoon West motel with the Chief, two young native women, and the interviewers, a stout lady with a bird’s nest hairdo, wide thighs and very red lips, and a slick haired school principal with thick, calloused ears. The interviewers fired questions across the kitchen table.
“How will you control the class?” the lip lady asked. “Discipline is a very important aspect at Pinantan Narrows.”
“Uh, well, basically the students will control themselves with the right encouragement and planning,” Reid began vaguely. He looked at the ceiling. He recognized the tell tale look of bubble drywall. He knew this from his last job, toxic waste removal. Bubble drywall meant there was asbestos up there. He glanced down, tried not to look into the interviewer’s eyes.
“You need to create individualized education plans targeted to each student’s needs.” Reid continued. “You need to target the strengths of the student, and not worry too much about the weaknesses.”
A scream shattered his monologue.
A small Cree girl’s thin face pushed up against the outside window pane. She inhaled, then gave another long quavering wail. Then she stopped. Everyone sat there.
“How will you maintain discipline?” the messy haired lady asked.
“Discipline?” Reid said.
“You move your hands around a lot when you talk. The students will make fun of you.” The lady demonstrated Reid’s moving hands.
The little girl screamed again. Reid looked at her. She stopped the noise, but her mouth remained wide open, eyes all scrunched up, her face tiny and, Reid thought, confused, just like he was by the interviewer’s last statement.
“Everyone’s got their personal mannerisms,” he said. “We all communicate in unique ways.”
He looked again at the screaming girl. Why was she yelling like that? She stopped again. Reid waved at her. She stared back. Did she want him to come out there?
The interviewers wrote in their notebooks. The Chief sat quietly in the dark. One of the two native ladies looked at the kid’s distorted face. She glanced over at Reid. The kid began banging her hand against the window. Reid looked at the Chief. He stared at the girl, too. When the Chief noticed Reid looking at him, he fell back in his chair again, like he’d been pushed.
“The kids in my practicum liked me,” Reid gabbed on. “You have to let kids find their own limits.”
“Find their own limits? They’ll walk all over you.” The principal replied. He glanced out towards the window.
The little girl inhaled again. Reid knew she was gearing up for a big one. He jumped up and bolted to the door, unlocked it and looked down at the girl’s dirty face. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
He squatted in front of her. “You seem upset.” The girl looked him in the eye. Reid saw her tight mouth and a big cut on her lower lip.
“Fuck off,” she told him, and ran. As she dashed by, she hit him with her open hand. Reid stood up slowly. He rubbed his face, stepped back through the door, and sat in the interview chair. One of the women observers, a slim black haired girl, stood up quickly and ran out.
The principal went on as if nothing had happened. “The Chief here says you’re patient. But we need more than patience at Pinantan Narrows. You’re going to be working with Grade 8 boys.”
“How will you handle them?” asked the big thighed lady.
Reid said something about not wanting to work in a prison system.
“Your voice is too gentle,” said the principal. “We can barely hear you.”
“I don’t want to work in a goddamn prison system,” said Reid.
“I see,” said the bird’s nest lady.
Both interviewers wrote in their notebooks.
Then the principal leaned forward. “We’re not angry here,” he said. “We’re merely tired.”
His eyes, indeed, appeared red rimmed and wrinkly. “That’s why we challenge you. We want a calm person. You seem very emotional.”
“I have emotions,” said Reid. He waved at the Chief, who smiled, but didn’t wave back.
Reid walked outside. Round the corner the young black haired woman who left the interview room stood shaking the little girl’s arm. “Don’t do that, don’t do that,” she said.
“Hey!” said Reid. “It’s okay. She didn’t mean anything. Maybe she got out the wrong side of bed.”
The young woman looked at him. “You’re not a bad guy,” she said. “But you’re weak.”
The woman let the little girl’s arm go. The kid stood there looking at Reid. Then she stuck her arm up, waved her middle finger in the air, and ran off around the corner.
Reid sighed. “You could be correct,” he said. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Her Mom drank too much when she was pregnant,” the woman said. “You know, we go through a lot of teachers.”
“I can see that,” said Reid. “It looks like a darn tough job.”
“Everybody up here is so goddamn tough,” she replied.
“It certainly seems so,” said Reid.
On the plane ride back, Reid kept hearing the little girl’s scream. Reid rarely screamed himself, at least, not since his last road rage incident. Maybe that’s what being a child at Pinantan Narrows was like… unpredictable. This thought kept circling in his mind.
Later, he lay in his hammock, staring at the stars. The trees moved slightly above his head. It was the longest day of the year, and light faded in the west as he turned his head to look towards the sea below the mountain.
“Such quietness,” he whispered. This mountain camp was one of the first places he’d felt such silence.
He wanted to bring more of that quietness into the world and into himself. “Is there a method?” he wondered.
He picked up his phone and dialled the Chief’s number again. The Chief began to laugh when he found out who it was. “I thought you were a patient person,” he said. “You’re supposed to wait for our call.”
“I was thinking of the little girl,” Reid said.
“Yes,” said the Chief. “She’s can be a bit of a problem.”
“I don’t think she’s the problem,” said Reid.
The Chief chuckled. “What’s your weather like down there?” he asked.
“It’s nice,” said Reid. “Where does your personal patience come from?”
“That’s a long story,” the Chief replied in his deep, slow voice. “I’m a survivor, I guess.”
Reid told the Chief he wished to work at Pinantan Narrows. Anything would do. Things might become noisy and wild, but he needed to learn.
“That sounds like a good plan,” said the Chief. “Most people just want to teach.” He chuckled. “I liked your spunky attitude in that interview.”
“Thanks for listening to me,” said Reid. “I’ll call again.”
“I’ll be waiting,” laughed the Chief.
“Learning is the main thing,” Reid told himself, as he lay broke and alone, swinging in his hammock under the summer stars.