There we stood in the side yard in the blazing heat, staring up at the unfinished side of our house.
“Michael, would you like to go through your list with Humberto?” Jane prompted.
“Sure,” Michael grumbled, looking none too pleased by Jane’s heavy-handed orchestration of our meeting.
“So here’s how it’ll work,” Jane continued like a school marm on amphetamines.
“Michael, please speak slowly, in English of course, and then pause while Roberto translates. Once he’s done, you can say the next sentence.”
It was a slow and awkward process. Michael would say something like, “We’d like you to plaster under and around the pipes…” only to be interrupted by Jane before he could complete his sentence.
“Stop there!” she said. “If you say too much he’ll get lost.”
Dramatic pause. “Roberto?” And Roberto, looking slightly miffed (possibly at having his powers of recall so underestimated), would translate the phrase into Spanish.
Then Michael, struggling to recall where he had left off, would continue with the disembodied conclusion of his thought: “…so they can be easily repaired or replaced,” which Roberto would duly repeat to his cousin in their native tongue.
This went on for some time.
It was like a special session of the U.N. General Assembly where the diplomats, having ingested massive amounts of tranquilizers, embark on an exhaustive discourse on the plumbing of the U.N. building instead of striving for world peace.
Humberto, for his part, appeared to be following along just fine. He continued to smile gamely, nodding his head with such energy I feared concussion.
Finally, with a look of intense relief, Michael completed his list. “That’s it,” he said.
“Todo,” said Roberto.
We all assumed expressions of extreme satisfaction, as if we’d formulated an obscure mathematical equation or Mastered the Art of French Cooking. Jane even patted me on the back, presumably for managing to keep quiet for ten whole minutes.
There was a general movement toward the lower veranda. It had been intensely hot standing in the side yard in the mid-day sun. Maybe I’d brew up some iced tea to cool everyone down.
That’s when we noticed that Humberto hadn’t budged.
When we looked back we saw that he was standing exactly where he’d been standing the whole time, staring intently at the side of the house, sweat streaming down his face.
Without a word, Jane doubled back to his side, smiled beatifically, and said with a flirtatious toss of her head, “Vamanos!”
His expression never changed. “How about the windows?” he said in perfect English.
Oh god, I thought (while some other lobe of my brain screamed: he speaks English!)
To her credit, Jane didn’t miss a beat. “Hey, amigo, we already discussed the windows. That’s not going to happen.” Like him, she appeared to have forgotten that he wasn’t an English-speaker.
Humberto cocked his head slightly, expelling air through his teeth.
Michael and I looked at each other.
What was coming?