The pleasure that John felt when he worked with Tamika’s children was obvious. He listened carefully to the twin’s disjointed account of their Inaugural Gulf Port Cousins’ Week Adventure (the title they eventually selected after John explained that “first annual” was grotesque butchering of the English language) and only made suggestions about how to organize and prioritize the narrative they developed.
The bus was exiting I 55 before John realized how long he’d been huddled with the ten-year-old twins. Even though the sun had been setting when their collaborative effort in story writing began he was still a bit surprised to see just how dark it was outside. The quarter moon provided some illumination but from inside the bus the city’s bright lights completely blotted out the stars.
“Boys? You need to wrap that up,” Tamika declared. “I don’t want to sit on this daggone bus any longer than we have to and I know your daddy has better things to do than waiting for us. Man’s got to get up early tomorrow.”
“Daddy? Will he be there already?” Arsu asked.
“Well, he should. I texted him about the time you three started that story and told him that it looked like we should be in Memphis on time and would he pretty please with sugar on top be here waiting for us at seven. He should be there by now. Hang on, I’ll text him one more time.
“Just getting off the highway, should be at the station right on time. Miss you, Big Baloo,” she said as she typed. “There, that’ll reassure him. Poor man won’t be in bed until after nine.”
Surprised, John asked, “Is that late for him?”
“Oh, not too bad. He has to be to work by five so he likes to be sleeping by nine. He may want to stay up just a little later than usual tonight though,” She added, winking her eye, biting her lower lip and quickly raising and then lowering her eyebrows. “What time are you getting to Chicago?”
“If the roads are clear I’m supposed to arrive a little after Herman shows up to work; 5:30.”
“Ohh. I hate sleeping on a bus,” she said. “You are going to shave before you get there; right?” she asked, turning her head to the side and again raising her eyebrows.
John laughed and shook his head. “Yes, smother. I’ll make myself presentable before I see Joni.”
“Good. No offense, but my guess is that in your current bedraggled state you are not the picture she holds of you in her mind.
“Hey!” She added, “Have you thought about working in the schools up there in Chicago? Or in a rec center? I tell you, you have a great way about you with children.”
“Huh? Well, thanks, but no. I don’t have any background in education.”
“Oh, please! That hardly matters! In Jackson we’ve got para-educators who barely finished high school. I’m sure you could get a job like that!”
“Are you implying that I didn’t finish high school?” he asked with a half-smile and his eyebrows raised.
“Oh, hush! You know exactly what I’m saying. You should look into it.”
“I do,” he replied, giving her a smile. “And thank you. I doubt Illinois has the same requirements for, what did you call them? ‘Para-educators?’ as Tennessee but I might look into it.”
Tamika smiled and asked, “Was that a crack, Mr. high-and-mighty northerner?”
“Wasn’t meant to be.”
“Good. But I’m serious. You’ve been great with these boys. Tell me you’ll at least look into it,” she insisted, tilting her head down and looking at him from the tops of her eye sockets
John scratched his head. “I might, if I qualify.”
“You won’t know if you qualify unless you look into it. Now say yes and we can get about our business.”
John shook his head and laughed again. “Does Herman get any peace with you? Yes, I’ll look into it.”
“Scout’s honor,” he replied, holding up his right hand like a boy Scout.
“Good. And Herman may not get any peace from me but he gets a piece of me, if you know what I mean.”
“TMI,” He replied, shaking his head, “TMI!”