Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Chapter 2

"What are you doing?"

Seamus turned around to see a little Hispanic girl behind him, looking at him with curiosity. She looked about 8 years old, slightly pudgy, with a round, snub nosed face and a cute, awkward smile.

"I'm checking my email. What are you doing?"

"I'm doing my homework. But I can do email too! You type in your email name up there in the box, and then you see web pages."

"Um. Yeah. That's very good." Seamus liked children well enough, though he didn't always know how best to interact with them.

There was a voice from the doorway. "Gabriela! Are you bothering someone?"

"No! I'm not bothering him! Am I?"

"No – no, not at all. It's alright." Seamus turned around to see a short, cheerful looking lady, clearly the young girl's mother. "Do you work here? I was just borrowing a computer to check my email. Is that okay?"

"Oh yes, that's fine. The computers here are for our students. They can use the programs to practice their English when they aren't meeting with their tutors. But you can see it is very empty at some times of the day."

She had a distinct accent, but spoke with the clear precision of someone who had practiced enthusiastically for a number of years. She introduced herself as Maria, Gabriela's mother, and she worked in Project Read, whose office was attached to the computer lab. They chatted a little bit until she found out that Seamus was a "computer guy" and asked him to take a look at a computer with a CD stuck in it.

He took a look at it, and it was a pretty simple fix, but it won him a quick reputation as a friendly expert. After that, Maria would catch him whenever she saw him visiting the library, and get him to fix the latest computer problem they had, since neither she nor the other lady who worked in Project Read had a clue about anything computer related. (The adult students, of course, were mostly focusing on just learning to read, and weren't much help when it came to computer issues.) Maria had a infectiously friendly personality, and an endearing way of drawing herself up to her full five feet zero inches , looking up and calling him "Shorty," which made her difficult to refuse.

Seamus met Deborah, the director of Project Read, as well, and was eventually convinced to go through the tutor training program. He was leery about actually becoming a tutor, though. With the uncertainty of his temping schedule, he said, he didn't want to commit to anything he might not be able to keep up reliably. There was more to it than that, though. Really, he felt nervous about teaching, and what it might require of him, and he didn't know if he could do it. So he compromised, and agreed to come in once a week and spend a couple solid hours in the computer lab, answering questions people might have, and generally keeping the machines working smoothly. So it was more or less what he was doing already, but with more time dedicated to it.

So Seamus spent his Wednesday evenings for a few months in Project Read, frequently with Gabriela tagging along and trying to avoid her homework. Seamus would often help her work on her spelling or math when it was a quiet evening in the computer lab, but just as often ended up drawing pictures with her or spinning her on one of the rolling chairs.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" he asked once.

"I'm going to be a doctor, a dentist, a teacher AND a cheerleader!" Gabriela replied enthusiastically.

Isn't life simple when you're eight, Seamus thought. Anything's possible. It's like you can just throw yourself at life and it will all work out somehow. He kind of regretted asking her, since it only reminded him of how he had 15 years on her but still wondered what he would be when he grew up. Pity he didn't have her kind of enthusiasm for something, anything, that would give him a direction. Career temp worker, then. Whoopee. Oh well.

He looked up. Gabriela had her head cocked at him and was starting to tug on his arm. "I said: Spin me again! Spin me! Spin me!"

A quick glance around – Maria was back in the office, and the two students in the lab had just left. So around went the chair again, accelerating with Gabriela's giggles, until she tottered off, slightly green and dizzy, but happy.


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