Nonfiction — “Geography and Centipedes”

Today, I had a rather innocent and ill-informed student inspect an atlas on the wall (one with only the boundaries of countries but no printed names), point to Cambodia, and say, “I think that’s South Koran.”

He meant Korea.

I asked him if he was 100% sure and he said, “Well, no, because I thought Korea was near the Middle East.”

“No,” I said, pointing to Africa, “It’s closer to East America, although Middle-Earth is between them.”

“Oh! I should have known that.”

“And across the ocean is the United States,” I said, pointing at Greenland.

“Next to Russia,” I pointed at Canada. The student screwed up his face in confusion (was something finally getting through?), and I added that “the map’s upside down.”

We had fun, I corrected the mistakes, and we moved on.

Later, someone made a disgusted snort at a mention of The Human Centipede (I didn’t bring it up, someone else did). My student, perceiving injustice, protested. “Human centipedes are cute, too! All bugs are, even if you don’t like how they look.”

We (that is, the class) quickly surmised that he didn’t know what we were referring to, and so we stalled at a certain crossroads. We wanted to reveal to him his ignorance on the subject, to enlighten the little fellow, but we didn’t want to corrode his innocence. The human centipede is a concept contrary to decency and goodness. It embroils oppression and futility and the depravity of man’s imagination into a singular, iconic combustion.

Instead, we tiptoed.

“We’re not talking about a bug, exactly.”

“It’s a way… for people to get together.”

“It’s like a team building exercise.”

“It’s not a sexual thing,” someone assured him.

“Is it hard to do?” he asked.

“Not if you have the right attitude.”

“It’s exhausting.”

“Is there also a human caterpillar?” he asked.

“No, no, no.”

A human caterpillar made me think of a human cocoon, and I shuddered at the image of a wet sack of living, struggling flesh. For a moment I envied the know-nothings and little-minds, only to think that really, the degree of distinction between myself and this student was relatively minor, only I’d been shielded from the world’s true evils by Rated R movies and shadow-images, cloistered in a school that looked like a prison, secreted into a suburbs with invisible but tangible walls, as ignorant of greater powers and principalities as a centipede, its face turned ever-downward in its small, contained clamor.