“I warned you!” I got angry. I pulled the poison bottle off his eager little fingers. “It says in capital letters – poison! Can’t you read?”
He stared at me with big, startled eyes. With the sort of look that makes you beg forgiveness. He had fear in his eyes! Fear of me?
Suddenly I saw in the back of my head Helen scolding me for scaring her children. That used to be my greatest fear. And now I was doing it to someone else’s child.
Hardy was smart 10-year-old. Very helpful gardener. He understood fast, was curious – he would face a good future if he’d stay at school. Only, he wasn’t in school…
I put the poison bottle down and turned to my young friend.
“Hardy, which class are you in now?”
He hid his blue eyes in the given handkerchief and then turned his stare on the lilac bush, but I didn’t get any answer.
“Have you ever been to school? How far your mama says you are in school?”
That question went without answer as well. I had bad feeling about this. He was ten! It would be understandable, if we were talking about Africa, but this was Moonmace!
“Hardy Tabor, you can’t read?”
He kept his eyes away from me, but I didn’t have to see his eyes to know my question bothered him. After a while he shook his little head.
“Even a little?”
Another jolt in the neck.
My hand quickly searched for the stool I knew stood behind me, but it wasn’t there. How was it possible that in our modern day city society there was still children, who couldn’t read even on most basic level? I pressed my hands around, because I was sure I’ll be sick.
“Run inside,” my shaky voice surprised me, but I decided quickly that was the last he heard that tone and coughed, “in the living room is a basket with garden catalogs. And in the kitchen, next to the door is the wooden bench. Fetch them for me, would you?”
He was gone before I couldn’t remember the moment he left.
It had to begin from somewhere, I decided, and he liked flowers, so why not there?
I grabbed my shovel and made myself busy with flowers while he returned.
“Sit.” I showed him place next to the white table I had dragged outside for flowers. While he was preparing his place, I cut few sticks from the broken branches and knelled next to it. “So,” I started with a smile, “I can only promise it will get easier after a while.”
Few hours later he went home with paper filled with rudimental alphabet and illustrative drawings, few sticks and
It was easier on the next time. He could fairly easily recognize most of the alphabet and because he wasn’t so small, I could show him few words now.
I stretched my back while he repeated back what I had just read out to answer my trusty Hidden Number. I was about to answer it, when I heard water cluck in a bottle and saw Saul-Erik sitting on his usual place again, uncorking his water bottle. I clapped the phone shut and pressed it back in the pocket. He drank a load of it and corked it up again.
“Do you want us to stop for time being?” I asked him, worried for his headache.
“Dear, time to go home now.”
“But mama won’t be home yet!” he protested.
Saul raised his hand with his watch and showed it to me from far. I couldn’t make out exactly, but it looked like seven to me.
“By the time you’ve put things back on their place, she will be.”
He packed the book and markers in the basket, landed it on his improvised chair and went to take them away. I turned my attention back to Saul.
“Hardy can’t read.” I explained him what we were doing, hoping he wouldn’t ask about the call.
“I know.” He uncorked his bottle again, eyes fixed on my hip, but with the next question, he gazed up to me.
“And you’re ok with it?”
“I’m not ok with it! His family has been traveling for the past thirteen years.”
“They could have taught him at home!” Excuses like that were the cause of the problem. I didn’t quite see how it was a problem?
“Sylvia is working single mother, she can’t be home and teac…”
“Saul, don’t give me that crap!” I warned him.
“She can’t read either!” he burst out the real reason and I stood there, dumbfounded.
Did he want to make me believe that in Montfort county, after all the laws, there were still people, who couldn’t read not even on the most basic level?
“Most of t hem were toddlers, when they were –” he paused, before spitting it out, anger intervening with his breathing, “enlisted in the experiment.” He didn’t say anything more, only drank his painkiller juice and nodded.
“He could continue in real school in his own age group if he received intensive homeschooling for few years.” I changed the subject back to Hardy.
“I know.” He shrugged, but I knew it meant more to him.
One thing didn’t let me be.
“How many children in your community can’t read?”
He stood and corked his bottle, thinking silently. “Most of them?”
“Malek is one of them?”
He didn’t nod or shake his head, but the hostility he reacted to this question showed I’d hit the nerve.
“Malek’s dyslexic, it’s not his fault. He does well what I hired him for, so…” he paused and looked me straight in the eyes, cringing. “Look, he doesn’t…”
“I won’t ask about it again.”
He gave me a nod. “I appreciate it.”
“What’s dyslexic?” came tiny voice next to me and I watched Saul’s eyes roll before the bottle lost its cork again.
“Well,” I murmured with humor, “it’s when the letters on the paper play hide-and-seek with you and you can’t read them out well.”
“Then we should teach him, right?”
I didn’t even know how to explain why that wouldn’t change much.
Saul snorted, but second later his eyes glazed with hope I didn’t like.
“One student at a time.” I warned him. I couldn’t get more involved than I already was! “One!” I repeated to him and turned back to the child. “Ready to go?”
The gleam in his eyes didn’t disappear and I knew I had somehow solved one of his problems and probably offered myself as a solution. And no, I didn’t like it. I was not a home tutor. I was a dentist, a shop assistant, but not a tutor!
I made a mental note to talk with him about it before he screwed up my life for good.