Beijing is a beehive in a dirt storm.
I follow my recruiter into the officetel. She calls herself Jennifer. I don’t know her real name. She wears classes. Her English is poor.
“You will interview.”
“This is good company.”
In the elevator, she stares at her phone. She turns it to me.
“Who is this?”
I look at the picture. It is her, in a hat.
“You?” I say.
She makes a pouty face. She puts her phone away. She doesn’t speak to me until we arrive at the door.
I wait. She goes in. I look out the window at a wall of gray smog and question my life choices. The door opens. I am led in. Jennifer leaves.
A Chinese man sits smoking a cigarette. A Nepalese man smiles at me. He holds out his hand.
“You are American?”
“Have you been a teacher before?”
I haven’t, so, I lie. “In college. I worked at a school.”
“Good. With small children?”
“Yes,” I lie again.
“Do you know children’s songs?”
“Can you sing one for us?” The Nepalese man smiles. The Chinese man lights another cigarette. I nod.
“Like Old McDonald had a farm?”
“That will do fine.”
I take a breath.
“Old McDonald had a farm,” I try to sing, “e-i-e-o…”
The Nepalese man smiles encouragingly. He even bobs his head a little.
“…and on his farm, he had a cow. And the cow goes moo…moo…moo…”
I suddenly realize, I don’t know what comes next.
So, I just keeping mooing.
Holy shit…did I just forget the words to Old McDonald had a farm? I think. The Chinese man snuffs out his cigarette. The Nepalese Man’s smile begins to slip.
I keep mooing. I try to buy myself time. Try to think of something to say.
The longer I moo the less options I find myself with.
I can see the realization pass over both their faces. Holy shit…did he just forget the words to Old McDonald had a farm?
I finally stop mooing. We sit in silence. The Chinese man lights another cigarette.
“Well.” The Nepalese man says, fixing his smile.
I look around the room to avoid eye contact. It stinks of shame.
“I could sing a different song?” I venture. The Nepalese man just looks at me for a moment. His face doesn’t move. Like stone.
“Uh, no that is fine. We’ll talk to your recruiter now.” He manages. He holds out a hand. I grasp it. It’s a wet handshake.
I sigh as I wait. I stare at the slate of gray poison pressing against the window.
Jennifer comes out. She smiles.
“They were impressed. You start Monday.”
She walks toward the elevator. I follow, frown first.
In the elevator, she looks at her phone. She holds it up to me.
“Who is this?”
It is the same picture of her in a hat.
I shrug. “Not you?”
She beams at me. She places her phone in her pocket.
We descend in silence.