My resentment of the Literacy Ladies began to wane fairly early in the game. Turns out, they only met twice a week for one hour sessions. I had a large group of boisterous, demanding adult learners to contend with, so the moat in my eye, the competition for operating space, quickly shrunk to a speck. Coexistence went from impossible to inevitable.
However, the ice between Afro lady and me melted only incrementally over those first few weeks. It was all in the greetings, perfunctory. And the smiles. Mine were condescending, hers enigmatic. As far as I could tell, the only thing that was changing was my attention to detail. I was noticing things like her height, slightly greater than mine, her carriage, bordering on regal, and her figure, slightly less than Greek. But less in all the right places.
There was one other thing. On those rare occasions that we made eye contact I found myself lingering on her face, imperceptibly at first, but longer each time. I was aware of searching for something. A look that would tell me what she really thought about me.
Conversations broke out:
Garry: So how did you get involved with Literacy Volunteers?
Bernice: My sister talked me into it. She’s been doing it for a long time. So I went to training and they sent me here to work with Margaret.
Garry: Why here?
Bernice: I requested a site on the East Side, fairly close to my job.
Garry: So how is Margaret doing?
Bernice: It’s hard to tell. She’s calmed down some. She doesn’t get quite as frustrated as she did. But she isn’t reading any better. She’s been pretty busy, helping her daughter move. I don’t think she has been doing any reading outside of class.
Situations arose. I can be punctual to a fault, but shit happens and cell phones are still big bricks. I arrive thirty minutes late one evening, bustle in and notice that my students are quietly working from their books. I catch Bernice out of the corner of my eye. She gives me a come hither wave. I suppress a smile and try to ignore my raised heartbeat.
“I asked the librarian to open your book closet. She let the students get their books and locked it back up. And you have a message from your supervisor. She wants you to call. I wrote the number down. Do you need it?” Unconscious professionalism, or conscious support?
Then a week later, the tables turn. The helpful librarian catches me on the way in and gives me a note:
Stopped by earlier to leave note. On my way home. My basement flooded and I have to be there when the plumber comes. Couldn’t get hold of Margaret. Can you work with her? Just listen to what she has been practicing.
So now we are co-workers? Where will it end?