It was pouring rain as the eight-year-old moved uncertainly toward the back of the bus. He and his mom had boarded partway into this hour-long trip, and there weren’t many seats left.
“Grab that one!” she said, pointing to the seat next to me near the back of the bus. He hesitated. “Just sit! You sit there and I’ll sit here!” she said and settled into the seat across the aisle.
She seemed slightly annoyed with him and I could tell he didn’t want to annoy her more.
In the seat beside me, he shrugged his way out of his backpack, which seemed much too large for his narrow shoulders. Then he looked quickly over at me and away again.
“Hi!” I whispered, inclining my head slightly toward him.
“Hi,” he whispered back.
Then I turned back to what I had been doing before the pair boarded, namely toting up a column of figures to see if I could afford new letterhead.
“Are you a Math teacher?” he asked, studying my paper.
“Nope,” I smiled. “I’m just somebody trying to remember where the decimal point goes!”
“I think it goes right…. THERE,” he said, pointing to my bottom line.
I didn’t want him to feel he had to make small talk, so once I got done with my calculations; I tucked the paper into my own backpack and pulled out the column I was working on for the following week.
I find I can never tell where I’ve gone wrong in my writing just by looking at it on the screen. I have to print it out, and then come back to it later.
They call this process ‘letting the manuscript cool’, and it’s an important step. Why? Because if, having let something ‘cool’ in this way, you then come back to it and find that even after reading several of its beginning sentences you have no clue where you were going with it, you have to begin again. Because really if you yourself can’t tell what you’re trying to say, how can anyone NOT living inside your little diving-bell of a head possibly figure that out?
I was on Paragraph One of the manuscript and already I had altered three words and chopped a phrase.
“Is that your homework?” the boy then asked.
“In a way,” I said.
“Uh huh,” he replied, and looked longingly over at his mother who was fixedly studying the screen of her smartphone.
His shoulders sank a little and it came to me that sitting next to a stranger on a long bus ride probably wasn’t what he had hoped to be doing on this day.
I leaned across to his mum. “Can he play Ninja Fishing on my phone?” I asked, showing her the app. “Sure,” she shrugged and went back to her own screen.
The boy played expertly for a few minutes.
But Ninja Fishing is pretty old news, even for an 8-year-old, and he soon handed me back my device. Then he sighed a small sigh, pulled what looked like a spelling paper out of his backpack and got busy on his own assignment.
I hope he was happy enough to be doing his own work in the world on this stormy afternoon. I hoped so. I really did. Because in that moment as I watched the rain streaming down the bus windows I know how happy I was to be doing mine.