Wyoming at Home
I held the mirror up while Cuba adjusted his lipstick. Without looking away from his reflection, he said, "I heard that Americans like beef steak and big breakfasts."
He leaned back and shifted his boobs, pouting at the other him in the mirror. He looked up at me, lashes thick with black mascara. "Is that true?"
I handed him the mirror. "It's true," I said. "Sometimes, we like beef steak for breakfast."
Later, when I was sitting outside with Portugal, he told me that Cuba was a "real man". I looked over at Cuba, his silk scarf tied around his neck, eyes hidden behind his Audrey Hepburn shades.
"That's a man with courage," Portugal said. "I try to look like a man, to be a man. He is more of a man than me."
"That's funny," I said, "because he's definitely more of a woman than me. Prettier, too."
"Yes." Portugal nodded. "He is."
"You are more of a man than me, too."
It's easier to remember the country where everyone comes from. Names are difficult to recall. Even harder to pronounce. We all have a folded piece of paper with our names written on it at our desks that we prop up. Outside of the classroom, no one remembers what's on that paper. Outside of the classroom, I'm Wyoming. Most people here don't know where that is, but referring to me as "U.S.A." might cause someone to confuse me with North Carolina, who sits in the corner near the wall and never speaks to anyone. I have to draw a map and point to the place they've named me after.
Indonesia asks why I smoke so many cigarettes. "I started young," I say. I tell her I smoked in high school. We had an outdoor smoking section. "We could do that. It was the late '80's," I say with a laugh.
Indonesia laughs, too. She shrugs her shoulders and says, "Well, that's life in a free country, I guess."
I light another cigarette to keep myself from talking anymore.
The teacher puts a piece of paper on the table in front of me. It's a picture of a cartoon man raking leaves.
The teacher, he's looking down at me, smiling. He wants me to tell him what's happening in this picture.
I know what's happening, though I can't explain it to anyone. I can't remember the French word for "rake".
I've forgotten how to say "leaves".
"It's a man," I say. "He work in the yard."
"And this?" the teacher, he's pointing at the rake.
"And these?" he's pointing at the leaves.
"It's a thingy," I say. "For pushing these smaller thingys."
After the teacher moves on to the next student, Brazil leans over and whispers to me, "Sometimes, I cry because I don't know how to live here yet."
I tell him that it doesn't bother me, but neither one of us really believes that I am that cool.
In a restaurant after class, South Africa asks how I got into this mess.
"This mess," he says. "In a foreign country, where you don't speak the language and you don't know anyone, except for the rest of us that are in it with you. So… you running to, or from?"
"I don't know," I say. "I was hoping that I wouldn't have to run."
"So," Scotland says. "You came all this way from that big country of yours, just to sit still? Seems you could have just done that at home, eh?"
"Change of scenery," I say. "I was running out of things to write about."
"Oh, Lordie," says South Africa. "The American writer in Paris. I thought the 'Lost Generation' was over."
"Yeah," I say. "I guess everyone wants to be some kind of a cliché."
"Aye, that's truth," says Scotland, exaggerating his accent and laughing. "I fucking love haggis."
Yugoslavia asks me what I think of the Champs Élysées.
"It's shiny," I say. He looks puzzled for a moment, and then he smiles. Then he laughs. "I'm going to the U.S. next year," he says. "Universal Studios! Back to the Future. Terminator. I love these films." He pauses. He smiles again. "I think it will be shiny."
The teacher is explaining how we go about finding an apartment in the city. I don't bother mentioning to anyone that I managed to find one already. Neither do Argentina or Japan.
The truth is, my apartment, it's just a box. Bed, kitchen, shower, all in one room. Outside the door is a spiral staircase. One flight down is the toilet I share with the boxes above and below mine.
When I get the urge at three o' clock in the morning, I lie awake in my little bed and think that Bukowski had it right. Sometimes, you just have to pee in the sink.
Mexico wears a leather jacket with the collar up. The cuffs of his jeans are rolled up. His cowboy boots are black like his hair like his eyes like his jacket. He always sits in the back row with Italy, who has a voice like rust-colored velvet and a laugh that makes me want to eat gnocchis and drink red wine.
Neither of them speaks English. They don't speak any French. No one seems to mind as long as they keep smiling, laughing and being sexy.
I don't know how they speak to one another without a common language. But, they do. I envy them.
"Last night I went to meet my girlfriend's grandparents," Germany told me. "Old French people from the countryside. I may as well have been wearing an SS uniform. I'm thirty-two years old. I wasn't there. My parents weren't even there."
Sri Lanka says nothing. Columbia looks at Germany and me, then she looks away before I can figure out if what's in her eyes is apprehension, or disdain.
Poland has a big poof of silver hair on her head and likes to read tabloid magazines full of glossy pages with celebrities in colorful, sparkling clothes. When she speaks, she smiles a grandma smile made of pure goodness that glows with expertly applied makeup.
"There are many groups for Americans in Paris," she tells me. "People like you from the states, they get together to make friends. Do you know of these groups?"
I do know, but I didn't leave home to spend time with a bunch of people like me, who are really nothing like me.
"Oh," I say. "I don't know if that's for me."
Cambodia arrives and sits with us. She hands each of us a cake made from sticky rice. "Try. I make these at home last night for the class."
Eating a sticky rice snack that I didn't know the name of, I look around and wonder why Americans would come to a new country just to sit around with each other.
Egypt asked me if I had any plans to return home.
"Indeed," he said, nodding. "To your Wyoming."
"Oh. Maybe some day. I'm in no hurry."
"You do not miss life in the U.S., then?"
"Sure I do," I said. "But, I don't know if it's home. I can go just about anywhere for that, I suppose."
"I don't understand," he said.
I heard a rattling sound and looked over to see Cuba, on the other side of the room, shaking a bottle of nail polish. I wondered how many of these people could never go home again, or why they didn't if they could.
"Well," I said, turning back to Egypt. "As long as I'm in a country that has beef steak, I'm pretty happy."