34. “Excuse me, but I’ll be speaking Hungarian now”

Jake wasn’t there when I arrived at the DOME project, so I sat down at a desk in the middle of the room and cautiously greeted Marisol from there.

My boss had thrown in the towel on the project that day, heartbroken but convinced that she would never be able to make a difference in the life of her student. Buoyed by my positive interactions with Jake, I had made my way uptown again in hopes of getting his grades ready for lacrosse season.

Those hopes were dwindling, though, as he seemed increasingly unlikely to appear. The study hall monitor cleared his throat and asked if I would mind working with another student. With trepidation, I said yes.

A petite little boy named Lorne stepped forward. His manner was so solemn, I instinctively extended my hand for a handshake.

We sat down together and pulled out his homework assignment. Miraculously, all but the reading had been completed, so Lorne read aloud to me from a book on superheroes. Many of the names in the book came from Greek mythology, and as I scanned ahead, I wondered if we were in for a tough time. When he reached the first name, after a faint hesitation, it spilled forth flawlessly: Kronos. We sped through the chapter with interjections only for the smallest of corrections.

At that point, we still had nearly an hour left, so Lorne suggested playing math games. I found one in his book that didn’t require much special equipment, and I was excited to see that I didn’t have to purposely slow myself down that much for him to feel like a competitor. We played two games, each winning one, when I noticed that the room had entirely cleared out. The clock on my phone showed nearly 8 o’clock, so I suggested Lorne call his parents.

He pulled a cell phone out of his backpack and turned his back to me as he dialed. Then, remembering his manners, he turned around, covered the mouthpiece with his hand, and said politely, “Excuse me, but I’ll be speaking Hungarian now.”

I raised my eyebrows at the adviser, impressed, and he nodded in agreement. What was this kid doing in tutoring?

His mother appeared in the doorway minutes later, an apologetic smile on her face. She bobbed her head at me, and Lorne explained that she spoke very little English.

She produced a slightly crumpled permission slip and looked at me inquisitively. I scanned the paper, then slowly began my explanation, using the most basic words I could. Lorne cleared his throat, and I realized that I was supposed to be reading to the older boy standing in the doorway.

“Don’t make rude jokes about the Civil War,” I told him.

The mother bobbed her head again in thanks, and I waved my goodbyes to them all, envisioning Lorne as he gave his valedictory address at MIT.

“What’s to be done about Marisol?,” I asked, turning to the adviser waiting to lock up.

He shook his head slowly. I really have no idea, he said.

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