by Gina Dettmar
Xavier is one of my favorite adult English students, always hungry to learn, always wanting a more difficult verb to conjugate or more complex sentence to unpack.
“This class was very hard,” he says and his eyes smile. “Very hard is very good.”
We are sitting on the steps outside of the office in the cool night air, notebooks open, a pale blue beach cruiser toppled on the stairs beside us. Xavier lives in Surfside with his daughters and rides his bike both to work and to English class.
“Four-thirty,” he tells me. “Every day I wake up at four-thirty to go to work. I finish at six in the evening.” So it’s dark both ways, and I know the streets aren’t lit.
“Isn’t it dangerous?” I ask as a car screams past, flinging dust and gravel in its hurry to get who knows where. Between the beach cruiser and the suburban, I’d have to bet on the latter. “Nah,” he replies. “The thing that is dangerous is not knowing English. Then you get stuck operating a car gate twelve hours a day like me.” He shakes his head. “Better to learn English.”
Xavier is bright, really bright. He understands the grammatical structures of English and needs only be shown a new word once. Perhaps he practices at work, muttering prepositional phrases to himself as he watches the cars come and go. Downhearted, I muse how little time he must have to spend with his family, with his daughters.
“Ah,” he replies, and he is smiling again. “No problem.”
They are his hope, I can see, just like English is his hope, and for them he seems willing to do anything—work twelve hours a day, every day; bike to Potrero after work for classes on the office steps.