CARLOS: Bitch Imma punch you in the face! Whatcha gonna do?
ROB: Umm…I don’t know. Why don’t you try and see what happens?
Carlos was thrown off. No one has reacted like that to his threats before. He scanned his teacher's face in search of weaknesses. Rob smiled. His mouth grinned but his grey eyes did not squint. Patient and impassive, they locked on Carlos’ doubts like a boa around its prey. The teenager stepped back.
Rob was a new hire at Gordon High, a bad high school in a worse neighborhood. The two teachers before him did not last a semester. So, when Rob applied without previous teaching experience, he got the job. A thug in his teens, Rob identified with the kids. He knew the game and they felt it. He also cared about them. Bit by bit, the kids opened to him. They shared their stories, and Rob shared part of his. He told them about his divorce, his previous job, and his hobbies. Before Gordon High, Rob sold life insurance. He hated the job but did it to pay the alimony. “It could be a lot worse”, he repeated. “No matter where you’re at, remember that it could be a lot worse. Just look at me!”. The kids laughed.
Rob became a teacher to enjoy the time off. Two months in the summer, two weeks at Christmas, a few days in Easter and Thanksgiving, etc. Before, he only escaped the rat race between jobs. A dirtbag at heart, Rob lived in a hammock for months at a time. He surfed, spearfished, and traded with the locals in the Caribbeans. His students, skeptical at first, started loving his stories. Carlos was skeptical. He thought his teacher was full of shit, until the day Rob told them about his encounter with the Mara Salvatrucha in El Salvador, Carlos’ home country. The tough boys respected him since. Rob was an outcast among outcasts, the first teacher to treat them not as troublesome kids, but as equals. By the end of the semester, he became—almost—one of them.
It was a hot Friday in Miami, and a bad day for Rob. Carlos came to class with a black eye after falling down the stairs. It was the second time this month. Rob tried to talk to him, but Carlos pushed him off and so did Rob. Pissed, Rob jumped in his Honda Accord and drove into the afterwork traffic. Thousands of people waited helplessly on the bridge, inhaling exhaust gas with stoical patience. From above, the cars looked like colorful dots on a long grey line across turquoise waters. Occasionally, the dots moved.
Rob replayed the argument with Carlos as he waited. He was angry at himself for losing his cool. The cars moved, but the one in front of him did not. Rob honked. The guy in front looked in the mirror and gave him the finger. Rob honked again, longer this time. The guy thrusted his arm out the window and graced him with a loud "fuck you!". Rob flashed his lights and pressed on the honk non-stop, gesturing for the guy to try him. The man in front stepped out of his car and walked towards Rob, fuming with rage. Rob unfastened his seatbelt and as the man reached through the window, Rob pulled his arm in and grabbed the back of his head. In four vicious bursts, Rob slammed his head against the steering wheel. Blood spurt out of the man's face. He fell to the ground, knocked out.
The scene attracted people. Rob opened his door, stepped over the man’s body, and lit up a cigarette. He knew the drill. If the guy pressed charges, he would have a criminal file for the rest of his life, no more travels. An ambulance arrived, followed by the cops. They handcuffed and pushed him in the back of the police car, to the jailhouse. Rob remained silent.
The cell was a large room full of inmates waiting for their hearing. All criminals locked up in a maximum-security jailhouse. Across the room, a black man with dreadlocks, a white tank top, and huge tattooed arms, was staring at Rob. He looked up and met his eyes. The black man pointed a finger at him and whirled it. Rob stood up and walked up to the black man. His knees were weak, arms heavy. He stiffened.
BLACK MAN: What’s your name?
ROB: Rob... Rob Liams.
BLACK MAN: Do you have a job, Rob Liams?
ROB: Yes, I’m a teacher.
BLACK MAN: Where?
ROB: Gordon High...in Opa-locka.
BLACK MAN: NO FUCKING WAY!!! It's really you hahaha! Come sit here my man. My sister speaks highly of you.
Rob hung out with the man and his crew for the whole weekend. He was released on Sunday evening and went back to work the next morning. The principal stood by the door. Shit…this is it, he thought. As he walked in, his class, full, gave him a standing ovation. The principal shook his hands and handed him the “Teacher of the month” certificate. Rob broke down.
It could be a lot worse.