From "Foot of Pride"

Chapter 7: In This World

Fretz – “Mister John” to his students -- holding a degree in literature from Wolverine State University, with a certificate on the side to teach English as a foreign language, hunches in an effluvium of garlic over a banked console of switches and lights – a modest sample of the sort of classroom gadgetry deemed essential at King Khalifa Higher College of Petrochemicals and Modern Technology, Ras al Hamara. The students are grinding out paragraphs. They have four pictures to prod them through their process descriptions on How Electricity is Made.

Picture One: Man in hardhat peers through surveyor’s instrument on tripod at man in hardhat holding long upright rod. Caption: The Site is Surveyed.

Picture Two: Men in hardhats on Caterpillars, men in hardhats pouring concrete, happy villagers looking on. Caption: A Dam Is Built.

Picture Three: Water bursting from sluice gates past turbines into the mist below.Caption: Water Turns the Turbines.

Picture Four: Power pylons stride towards a city skyline. Caption: Electricity Is Produced.

Fretz dislikes classroom teaching. He prefers his duties as sole member of the Texbook Coordination Committee, Grammar Team, KKHCPMT, Ras al Hamara. But now and then the administration takes advantage of the line in Fretz’s contract that declares he shall be available to teach as needed. He watches the students tackling their paragraphs with varying degrees of theatricality.

Al Amri is writing furiously, like some poet getting a blow job from the muse, though Fretz doubts there will be anything coherent to show for it. Mohamed Ashrour, the Jordanian, has finished early and is glaring superciliously at a point just beyond Fretz’s ear. The beetle-browed Al Qatani is biting the eraser end of his pencil.

There are seven of them in training for positions on an offshore gas project. All have been assigned titles. Khaled Al Amri: Instrumentations Engineer; Abdallah Al Qatani: Electrician….

Fretz finds the students pleasant, even charming, save for Ashrour with the chip smoldering on his shoulder. Nor does he care much for Al Sheikh, a gaunt bearded youth in the shorter than normal garb and rough sandals that serve as tokens of one who takes his religion straight, no chaser. Al Sheikh is forever twirling a cigarillo-sized twig over his teeth and gums in emulation, he is pleased to explain, of the Prophet. His eyes are glazed over with what Mike Handy describes as the cataract of dogmatism. This glazed look confers an elevated status in certain circles. But Fretz is not alone in his distaste for Al Sheikh, or Ashrour, for that matter. The other students don’t like them either.

“How are we doing?” Fretz inquires. “Just five more minutes, please.” It is in one’s interest to be, or appear to be, paternally concerned.

Mr. John returns to his seat and scribbles out a model process description, beginning with the students’ stock opener, moving from general to specific, and calling on as many passive structures and “transition words” as he can (in accordance with gospel from the class text – a thoroughly useless volume Fretz would prefer not to have had a hand in): In this world there are several kinds of power, such as electricity. Hydroelectricity is produced in the following way. First, a site is chosen and surveyed. Next, workers arrive and a dam is built. Furthermore, water runs through the dam gates and turns the turbines. Finally, electricity is produced.

Fretz reads his exemplar twice over and abruptly feels like weeping. He draws a slip of paper from a console drawer and reads it, fortune-cookie fashion: After the kingfisher’s wing has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still at the still point of the turning world.

Fretz considers that The Kingfisher’s Wing would be a classy name for a pub. Or The Still Point. His knowledge of literature has been applied largely to crossword puzzles and a mental list of pub names. The Widow’s Cat. The Moon Under Water. The Invisible Worm. He reads the words again on the slip of paper. There was a time when he was on the edge of understanding these words, really understanding them and internalizing them. Back in Ramah, drinking ambrosia in bowers of bliss. Ambrosia Bowers. Who dwelt at the still point.

“Sir?” Fretz returns to find seven offshore candidates eyeing him curiously.

“You are look very think, sir,” says Al Qatani.

“Very think?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you suppose, Mr. Al Qatani, that The Very Think would make a good name for a public house?”


“Never mind.” Relief. “I trust the paragraphs went well.”

Fretz rises from the great console and drifts from cubicle to cubicle collecting drafts. The AC units drone monotonously and loud. “We have 15 minutes left. Perhaps we will just talk.”

“No do reading, sir?"

“No, just conversation.”

The students had been assigned a text called “Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion” and were to have answered the questions at the end. Fretz can not bring himself to go over this now with the weekend just 14 minutes away. Discussing a reading that no one will have read, and going over multiple-choice questions that no one will have answered is a torment better deferred till the following week. Multiple-choice questions turned them into a pack of frantic hounds, and Fretz into a kennel master with a box of dog biscuits.

“Okay, then, class, what about question #3: Kepler’s 2ndLaw of Planetary Motion says…?” What yapping and baying, five hands in the air wagging vigorously.

“A, sir A!”


“B? B! B sir?”

“Mmmm. Keep trying.”

“C, sir, C!”

“That’s right. Khaled, would you read answer C, and tell us why you chose it?” Tossing out Very Goods or Well Dones like doggie treats… Again, his reverie is interrupted.

“Are you mean we do oral sir?”

“Yes, do oral.”

“Very good sir,” they say approvingly. Fretz knows that to the students “conversation” sounds non-utilitarian and slightly dangerous. “Doing oral,” on the other hand, has a practical ring to it. “Doing oral” can help them pass the test.

“Do any of you have anything you’d like to discuss? Some questions perhaps?”

Al Qatani’s hand is first up.


“How many absences, sir?”

Fretz would have wagered his life savings that this would be the question. “Sorry,” he says. “This is not the time to discuss absences. We are here to work on our English. It is very important that we use our time to improve our English."

Al Gosaibi’s hand is up.


“Why we are no do reading today?”

“I think I explained that already, Hamed. We now have…” He looks regretfully at his watch, “…just eight minutes left in which to practice our oral capabilities. Don’t you have anything to talk about? Anyone going home this weekend?”

Al Gosaibi brightens. “Yes, sir.”

“And will you see your family?”


“How long has it been?”

“Yes, very good, sir, thanks God.”

“What about you, Al Amri? Going home for the weekend?”

“Going Thailand, sir.”

Fretz smiles pleasantly. “Ah, Thailand. Well, I hope you have a nice time there, Mr. Al Amri.”

Al Sheikh’s face has clouded over. Al Sheikh knows as well as the rest of them that Al Amri is going to Thailand expressly to get drunk and find an outlet for sexual exigencies that have been groaning (in spite of however many manually induced reprieves) since his last visit to Thailand. Al Sheikh rakes a hand through the wispy ends of his long beard and mutters.

“Mr. Al Sheikh? Do you have something to add?”


“Why we all fail listening quiz?” says Ahmed Al Saadi.

“Good question. It’s true that you did poorly on the listening quiz considering the fact that I gave you the answers to two of the questions. What do you think it tells me when I give you the answers to two true-false questions? I even wrote them on the board, if you remember, and still 50% of you got them wrong, just like 50% of you got the other eight wrong. What does this tell us?”

Ashrour’s sullen hand is up. “It tells us you are very bad teacher,” he intones. The class is silent, testing. Here’s where it pays to be “patient and understanding, yet firm,” according to the KKHCPMT Teachers’ Guide.

“Well,” Fretz says, with a touch of longsuffering. “That would be one way to look at it.” Already he can sense he is passing this little trial. “On the other hand, maybe it tells us that you are not listening as well as you might. Hmmm?” Ashrour shrugs. Fretz smiles patiently and understandingly, yet firmly into the scowling face. Then he looks at his watch.

“Have an excellent weekend,” he says. “And mind your manners, Mr. Al Amri.”

Everyone smiles happily, save the pair prematurely wrinkled by politics and religion. One by one they slip into the blast furnace beyond the doorway and are consumed. Fretz arms himself with a red pen and begins a swift assault on the paragraphs.

Al Gosaibi’s reads: In this world there many imbortant dam for how electricity is made. First the site is survey. Furthermore, a dam is build by engineering. On the other hand, water came through pipe and is turns the turbines. Finally, electricity is produce.

Fretz thrusts and parries, scribbles: “OK. Watch Verb Tense,” fully aware that if he wrote, “OK. The Sky is Falling,” the effect on Al Gosaibi and his paragraphs would be precisely the same.

Fretz slashes his way through the remaining six and slides them into a drawer lined with slips of paper and other odds and ends, like the lair of a desert rat. He paws around till he turns up the slip he had in mind.In this world there are only two tragedies: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.Oscar Wilde’s opening line to a process description on life.

Mr. John locks up and leaves, letting the AC units roar so the console won’t melt over the weekend.

The sun, a red yolk still at the still point of the turning world, flattens and breaks open on the horizon, bleeding away into the sand.

About the Author

John Liechty

John Liechty grew up in northwest Ohio, graduated from Goshen College and attended Indiana University. Over the next 25 years he taught in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Azerbaijan and Oman, living most of the time in Morocco. He currently lives in Colorado with his family, where he does some teaching and volunteering. He travels less than in the past and shows occasional signs of settling down. The CMW journal published an early contribution by John in the New Fiction issue for January 2010.