He was looking up and down the street, moving back and forth on his heels, as though a tune was beating in his limbs. I offered him a ride. His trousers and bag were wet, and he smelled of sea-foam and wet sand. He substituted for the teacher next door to me. I knew him well enough to drive him home.
I dropped him off at the corner of Ventura, a short walk to his place. Two days later, my daughter shouted for me to hurry to the phone just as I was getting in the tub.
“Mom, phone for you.” Carlie had hung up the phone before I got to her.
“Was it Dad? Carlie? Who was that?”
“ I don’t know.” My eight year old said calmly, already sitting in front of her television show. I waited for the phone to ring again.
“Hi. I’m Ron, the substitute for Mrs. Pierce? You gave me a ride last week?
“What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if I could impose on you again.”
“Your car isn't ready?”
“Yes. No. I’m trying to get enough money to buy a new one, actually. The other one isn’t working out. I thought you wouldn’t mind. I’ll pay for the gas.”
“O.k. Be prompt. I'll pick you up at Ventura and Topanga at six-thirty.”
“Great. Thanks again. I usually don’t get assignments so far from home; it’s a favor for Helen, actually.”
“Oh? Mrs. Pierce requested you?”
“She asked me even before she had surgery. We are good friends.”
I said yes, before I thought about the commitment I was making. I didn’t need another irritant in my life. But, I couldn’t very well refuse.
Our school in East Los Angeles was poor, angry, and full of children whose families did not speak English. The substitute had noticed something I hadn’t. These children, he had said, all love to draw and paint. They can’t get enough of it. If I included drawings and paintings with my lessons, they would love it, he said. What did he know? A week, and now he's an expert with these children. He'd change his mind in a couple of weeks.
(To be continued: Part one of six.)