“Uh, well, thank you,” John said in return to the young woman’s unsolicited praise. “I’m glad you enjoyed the story.”
“Enjoyed it? I loved it! Where did you learn to read like that?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I did some acting in high school and was on the debate team. Maybe there? Uh, you have me at a disadvantage,” he added. “You know my name but I don’t know yours.”
“Oh, sorry! I wasn’t trying to listen, it’s just that my battery died so I couldn’t watch anymore videos,” she said, holding up her phone. “Free Wi-Fi is great but it doesn’t help if your phone dies. I’m down to like 10% so I turned it off until I can recharge. You can call me Loki.”
“Nice to meet you, Low Key,” John answered, nodding in her direction.
“What’d you think, boys?” he asked, again directing his attention to Aziz and Arsu. “Good story?”
Azis’ face broke into a big grin. “Good? That was the bomb! I want to be like Red Chief!”
“Oh, Lord! John, what have you done?” Tamika asked, shaking her head.
“Hey! Don’t blame me! I think it’s O. Henry’s fault. I’m glad you liked it. What’d you think Arsu? Pretty good, huh?”
“I really liked how you read it. You know, them voices and things? That’s what really made it come alive like.”
“Yeah, presentation can really help. I know sometimes when I read a story with words I don’t know sometimes I get bogged down on a word but when somebody reads to me out loud then I can usually figure out what’s going on by context.”
“Yeah, that story had words I didn’t know in it,” Loki offered. “But with you reading it like that it didn’t get in the way of my understanding and enjoying it. Thanks, John.”
“Yes, thank you, John. I really enjoyed the story too,” Tamika said. “Did you boys catch the father’s name? Ebenezer? Have we ever heard that name before?”
Aziz and Arsu looked at one another for a second and Arsu blurted out, “Scrooge! He has the same name as Ebenezer Scrooge!”
“Do you think that was on purpose, Mr. John or was Ebenezer a popular name a hundred years ago?” Tamika asked.
“I don’t know,” John replied. “I guess we could Google it but I’ll have to wait until I get to a library.”
“A library? Ain’t you got a phone, Mr. John?” Aziz asked in disbelief. “We got free Wi-Fi, remember?”
John smiled. “I have a phone but it doesn’t do that sort of thing. I can call with it, or text, but that’s all.”
“How come?” Aziz persisted.
“Aziz,” Tamika interrupted, ”we can talk about this later. Okay?” she asked, heavily emphasizing the final word.
“Oh. Okay. I mean, yes, Mama.”
“It’s okay, Tamika,” John interjected. “I only have a basic phone, Aziz. I really have to watch what I spend and this is one way that I do it, that’s all.
“Hey, Low Key,” John added, turning his head toward the rear of the bus, “did you want to borrow my O. Henry book? There’s a ton of good stories in there.”
“Hmmm. Yeah? I mean, thanks, but I don’t read much. Thanks though.”
“Sure. If you change your mind just let me know.”
“Okay,” she replied. “Hey, are the other stories that good? Would you mind reading another one?”
“Some are definitely better than others. I picked that one because I figured the boys would like it. I like one about a cowboy who tries to woo a girl but another guy tricks him with pancakes. I could probably figure out which one it is using the table of contents but it doesn’t really matter. I think I know one more that the boys would like. You guys want to hear one more or do you want to play on your mother’s phone?”
“Well,” Aziz said. “I’d like to hear one more, if we still get to use the phone when he’s done?”
Tamika laughed. “You strike a hard bargain but I guess so. What you going to read, John?”
“Hang on a minute. I know what it is but I don’t know the name,” he added, swiping his finger along the table of contents. “That pancake story is called, ‘The Pimienta Pancakes’ by the way.” Fifteen seconds later he nodded, turned to a page and said, “Here it is, ‘The Cop and the Anthem,’ I think you’ll like this one. Okay?”
“Yes please,” Aziz answered.
“John? Do you mind if I sit next to you for this one? It’d be easier to hear you,” Loki asked.
“No, I don’t mind. Come on up.”