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I was young enough not to realise what I was letting myself in for, and young

enough that if I had known I would not have cared. I walked into the courtyard

in shorts and a crumpled shirt open almost to the waist, a battered rucksack

on my shoulders. My Portuguese was rudimentary and heavily influenced by

Spanish; it took time for the two young nuns I met to understand why I wanted

to see the Mother Superior. I was finally shown into a cool dark room lined with

dusty books and old icons, where I waited for quarter of an hour, doubting the

wisdom of my decision. A short elderly woman entered and addressed me in a

French whose accent I found difficult to follow. Slowly, we managed to

communicate. I had heard she might need an English teacher; perhaps I could

take the job.



She looked at me warily, asked questions and listened sceptically to my

answers. My qualifications were poor, she pointed out. Speaking a language

was not the same as teaching it; grammar had to be explained and curricula

followed. The pupils came from deprived backgrounds; some were deficient in

their native tongue. Nor was she sure about a young man teaching adolescent

girls. If she was to take me on, the timetable would have to be changed, which

she did not want to do if I were to leave after a week. I only half-heard these

objections. The longer I sat in that old-fashioned office, aware of the heat, the

dust, distant voices, the more I wanted to stay. There would be no salary, the

Mother Superior added, her final defence, only room and board, although I

might earn money by giving tuition in town. Fine, I said, determined to stay, and

she nodded her reluctant agreement.


The Butterfly's Wing


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