Amir is tiny, barely over four feet, with the bone structure of a child.
He works a room like a relic of Arab vaudeville.
"Hooo boy!" he exclaims, then to a wolf whistle, a "Hot dog!" and a loud clap of his hands. He makes his bushy black eyebrows dance around his face, arching one impressively high when he's about to win at cards, or crashing both caterpillars downwards when telling you about his fear of clowns. I could see him on the cover of the Mastermind game, fingers smugly steepled because he knows he has you, completely indifferent to the sexy Filipino lady standing nearby.
"Knock knock," he says, as we wait for the city bus on a cold October morning.
No one is taking the bait. After a minute of him looking around, face all hopeful, I cave.
Amir lets out a low whistle through his teeth.
"That's a hard one," he mutters, wandering off. He genuinely doesn't know who is there.
After a minute, he comes back, his arms held up before him and his long teeth bared beneath his moustache.
"I'm a vampire. For Halloween." His arms droop.
"No, I'm a ghost. A gorilla." He stands by me. If I bend my arm at the elbow, I can rest it comfortably on the top of his head.
"I love Halloween," he sighs.
Many of Amir's cousins go to college here, and he is intent on marrying them off.
He'll drag a handful of head-scarved young Muslim girls over to me, not even making introductions, just parading them there while I eat my three inch high salami and cheese sandwich, the crumbs from my extra dry Ezekiel bread covering me like an apron.
Amir swings his upturned offering hands from them to me and back again, saying only "Eh?Eh?Eh?"
One girl blushes and recedes into her hijab, more from the spectacle of me lunching then from any real embarrassment.
When he finally lets them leave, giving hugs on tiptoe, I break the news to him.
"You know I'm already married, right?"
"Huh?" he barks, cupping a hand to his good ear. The other one looks like a flattened toadstool and has been useless from birth.
"You ready?" he asks, already shuffling his deck of cards.
More Go Fish.
He and Najib play Go Fish endlessly, though they spend as much time accusing each other of cheating as they do matching cards.
Amir's trach tube muffles his enunciation. His words sound like growls from the back of his throat, and doubled consonants tend to not make it out at all.
"Heater! Heater!" he exclaims.
"I did not cheat," Najib says, laughing. "I did not. It's you who cheat."
"Bah". Amir waves him off.
The game continues.
While I chop cheese sticks into corpse fingers with green pepper nails, they take turns picking music on the computer.
We are alone in the classroom, getting ready for the big Halloween party on Friday. I had forgotten how liberating it is to be at this job with no other staff around. An oppressive, Ms. Pam-shaped weight is temporarily lifted.
I can sing, shimmy, be ridiculous.
These two might shake their heads, call me "seely" or "crahy", but there's no real judgment there. Since I can reach things that they cannot, they at least see me as a useful idiot.
They settle on Katy Perry, and Najib sings along, quietly. "Last Friday night..dipping in the dark....menage a trois.."
"What did she just say?" I ask.
They switch to Taylor Swift and Amir lurches about, once again imitating the ghost of a gorilla or whatever it was; Najib drives around him in slow, mechanically perfect circles. It is the closest to dancing his body allows him.
Amir, too, has some godawful and rare disease that should have killed him long ago. I am stringing pumpkin lights and an inconveniently lengthy orange and black paper chain with two young men who statistically should be dead.
I am too focused on my own dread to think about it closely.
have been drafted to host the "Scary Classroom," one of several
attractions at the upcoming party. The other ones are listed on the board as "Dance,"
"Food," and "Movie."
Ms. Pam told me I was volunteering to be this entity, this host they
spoke of, I felt the same shattered resignation a Union soldier endures
when the sawbones tell him they have to take the leg. Listen, it's rotting, it's gotta come off, and we're expecting two hundred people.
The woman who used to run the "Scary Classroom" was beloved by all. She put on her witch costume and made elaborate stories up about every battery operated rat and epileptic ghoul scattered around the room.
As far back as September, people have seen me on the
street or passed me on the city bus and asked, "Are you guys going to do
your Halloween party this year? How can you possibly be successful at
it without Marsha to dress up as a witch and run the Scary Classroom?
How could it possibly be any good? Do you even know what a Scary
Classroom is supposed to be?!? Why would you even try?!?!" I pull the bus schedule tighter across my face so they cannot see my tears.
The party has arrived, and I am slumped in a corner against a large metal cabinet, my long black wig strung across the bloody neon Frankenstein mask on my face. When no one is looking, I break character to adjust my empire-waisted, cheery green matron's dress.
I like it here, in the dark, my only companions are sagging decorative clings of spooky eyes and a tombstone that pops up from time to time and plays "The Monster Mash."
Everyone who comes in passes me over as just another decoration, and that is when I strike.
I've always thought I would make for a good actor; my attachment to my own self is so frail that all it would take is a toga and a paycheck and I would literally become Roman Senator #2 until someone begged me to stop.
It's why I can't even play around with fake British or Southern accents; I lose myself in that shit.
When I strike these people who wander into the "Scary Classroom", I mean I really give it everything. Lurching, twisting, growling, shrieking; most of them don't see me coming until I am right on them. Small crowds of developmentally disabled young people are falling over themselves and trampling their accompanying staff in their frenzied attempts to get away from me.
The only glitch in my performance comes when a teacher, wondering aloud whether or not I am real, pushes on my arm.
In my attempt to emulate the properties of an inanimate decoration, I sag to the side, forgetting that my perch was a chair of the wheeled variety.
The chair shoots away from me, my legs fly in the air, and I smack to the ground in a tangle of dress and wig. Thankfully, a good actor knows how and when to improvise; I thrash around on the floor and evil crawl my way towards their feet, one hand stretching far ahead and pulling my body along by the fingernails.
"This is too weird," I hear a teacher say. She ushers her students out.
Amir comes in, dressed as the Scream ghost. I try my act on him but all I get in return is some maniacal giggling from beneath his mask and a hug.
Right before quitting time, Najib roles in, costumeless, a pretty young Pakistani girl with him. I wait till they are nice and close, and then I leap from my corner and give it all I have. He interrupts my Satanic whispering and The Ring-style herky jerky movements to calmly introduce his sister to me.
"What? You weren't even scared? You knew it was me??"
I lift my mask from my face and look around. The party is over.
"You're very sweaty," Najib says.
His sister takes my picture with her Iphone and they leave.