By Andrea Irvine
I held my mom’s hand tightly as we waited in the pale grey office. A tall man with a denim vest walked in and closed the door behind him.
“How are you two today?” I turned to my mom and repeated the question in Spanish.
“I’m doing quite well,” my mom whispered to me.
“We're doing well,” I said to the tall man. My mom gave me a smile and rubbed the back of my hand with her thumb.
“That’s good to hear son,” said the tall man. “Now to get down to business. How’s her job search going?” He gestured his pencil towards my mom, but kept his gaze on me.
I repeated the man’s question to mom in Spanish, and she answered me. “She… she still hasn't found anything.” I looked at my mom and continued, “She almost got to work at that big market downtown, but they needed someone who could talk to people in English.”
“Has she considered taking a beginner’s English course?”
Without even looking back at my mom, I had an answer. “I don't wanna ask her again. It just makes her angry at me.”
“I see. Still just the two of you?”
“Ok then. It will be the normal allowance: $150 for groceries, and $100 for household goods. You know where to find everything. We'll see you again in two weeks. It would be in your best interests to make sure she finds work soon. Be sure she understands.” He gestured towards my mom, and left the room.
I looked back to my mom and she smiled.
The next morning I woke up to my mom sitting on the edge of my bed.
“Good morning my little man," she said in the sweet, comforting tone she always used with me. “Time to get ready for school.”
“Ok mom. Did you clean my baseball clothes? Tryouts are at lunch today.”
“Yes. I already folded them and put them in your backpack.”
“Awesome! I can't wait. Maybe I'll actually get to be the pitcher.”
“Maybe you will, little man. Now come on. Let’s get you dressed. Breakfast is already on the table.”
I jumped out of bed and grabbed the clothes my mom had already set out on my chair the night before. It was my favourite yellow shirt, with a green dinosaur on it, and my jean shorts.
I ran into the kitchen, sat down on the rickety wooden chair, and rested my arms on the kitchen table. Our kitchen was small; the plastic table took up most of the space. There was a small fridge in the corner and a tiny counter and stove next to it. The walls were covered in mismatched frames. Most of them were empty, since that day mom got mad and took the pictures away. I saved one and hid it under my bed. The pictures that were left were mostly of mom and me. One from when I lost my first tooth. One from Christmas last year. Another from the day I was born.
“Here you go. Eat up quickly. We have to get you to school.”
I put the first couple of bites into my mouth. “Mmm. We actually have jam for the rolls this morning?”
“I thought you could use a treat on your big day, little man. And don’t talk with your mouth full.”
I quickly ate my roll and put my plate in the sink. I ran to the door and swung my backpack over my arm.
“Come on mom. We gotta get to school.”
“All right class. Take out your math workbooks. We're covering fractions today.”
The fat man at the front of the class kept talking but I wasn't listening.
“Philip? Philip. Philip!” I looked up to see the fat man standing over my desk.
“Philip, were you listening to my lesson?”
“Umm... no sir. I’m sorry. Just excited for lunch.”
“Well, that’s going to have to wait. You're needed in the principal’s office. Grab your stuff.”
My classmates all went "ooooo" and then started giggling. It’s not like this was the first time this had happened. I picked up my backpack and left the classroom. The fat man closed the door behind me.
I got close to the principal’s office and saw my mom. When she saw me, her smile lit up. She waved me over. “Hi little man. How was your day at school?”
“It was ok. I don’t like math. But I want to stay. Please don’t tell me we’re leaving.”
She bent down to her knee and put her hand on my shoulder. “I’m afraid so. I have a meeting at the bank that I forgot about. I need you to translate.”
“Mom, not again. Please. Baseball tryouts are starting…”
“I’m sorry. But you’re going to have to be my strong little man today.”
“I don’t want to go to the bank! I want to play baseball! Why can’t you just take the English class that the tall man keeps telling you about?”
“Not this again. Come on. We are going. You can play some other time.” She grabbed my hand and led me to the car. I complained the whole way there. The rest of the kids in class got to play baseball. None of them had to spend the day in some dumb, old bank.
I strapped myself into the seat. I crossed my arms over the seat belt and pouted. I loved my mom, but I wanted to stay at school and play with my friends. Why couldn't I stay?
Mom stayed quiet in the car. She must have been angry with me. She always got quiet when she was angry with me. But it was better than when she was angry with other people.
My mom and I sat in the uncomfortable chairs outside the bank man’s office. I slouched back in my chair and played drums on the arms of the chair.
“Please don't slouch. You'll hurt your back.”
“Why is this taking so long?”
“It will just be a few more minutes.” She took my hand and rubbed the back of it with her thumb. She looked up when a blonde woman started waving at us. “Okay, time to go in, little man.”
We walked into the office and sat in chairs that were even more uncomfortable than the other ones. One of the walls had a poster with a funny cartoon cat.
“Thank you for meeting me today,” said the bald man behind the desk. He wasn't the man we usually talked to. He was scarier. I translated what he said to mom.
“I'm sorry, what’s going on here?” asked the bald man.
I sighed. I hated having to explain things to adults. “My mom doesn't speak English. I have to translate for her. That’s why I'm here and not playing baseball.”
“Then how did you learn English?”
“My mom tells me that my dad taught me when I was really little. He knew both, but he only talked to my mom in Spanish. She didn't like him teaching me English. I don't remember him much.”
My mother tapped me on the shoulder. “What is he asking?”
“I’m just telling him that you don’t speak English.”
“Are you sure that your mother wouldn't prefer a professional translation?” asked the bald man. "This is a complicated issue." I translated the question back to mom.
“It’s ok. She’s more comfortable with me doing it.”
“Well then.” The bald man went through his papers and laid them out on his desk. “I do have some serious business to discuss today. I've been reviewing your loans and it appears that you owe the bank a few thousand dollars.”
“And you missed the last few payments. I’m sorry, but if you don't pay at least 12 percent of the total loan by the end of the month, we are going to have to foreclose on your home.”
I had no idea what most of the words I was saying meant, but they didn't sound good.
“But I'm not working right now,” said my mom. “How will I get that much money together?”
I translated back to the bald man.
“I can't help you there. Now, I have another appointment coming in. If you have any more questions, please feel free to give me a call.” He handed me a white card. I gave it to my mom, and told her what he said.
“No. I want my questions answered now.” Her face was growing red.
“Please mom. Can we just go? Please?” I pulled at her arm. I didn't like it when mom got angry. Last time she got angry like this, she took away the pictures in the kitchen.
“Fine.” She stormed out, leaving the bald man with a confused look on his face. I didn't know what to say, so I left in silence, and followed mom to the car.
“Mom, why were you so angry?”
“Oh, don't worry about it, little man. You shouldn't have to worry about that. Come on. Let’s just go home. I’ll make you some gazpacho when we get there.”
We rode home in silence. I wasn't even thinking about baseball, or the fact that mom didn't seem to care about it. All I cared about was the tear on mom’s cheek that I could see in the mirror.
“I’m going to start dinner. Why don't you put your backpack in your room and get started on your homework.”
I did exactly what she said. I knew what mom was like when she had just gotten angry. I knew not to question her. I went into my bedroom and dropped my bag. Something was on my bed. It was wrapped in blue paper with a big red bow on it. I sat on my bed and pushed the present to the side. I didn't want it. I wanted to play baseball.
I got up to take my homework out of my bag. Then I looked back at the bed. I really did like presents, even if I didn't get them very often. I grabbed the package. I opened it and found an old baseball glove. There was a note on it that read, “To my little pitcher.” I smiled. Mom must have put this on my bed after I left for school.
I thought I had seen it somewhere before, then remembered it from the picture under my bed. It was a photo of my family at the baseball field. My dad had taken us to a game and he caught me a home-run ball with that glove. It must have been his.
I ran out of my room and hugged mom tight. She rubbed my back gently and kissed me on the forehead.
The next two weeks were weird. I went to school all day, every day. My mom never showed up to take me to the bank, or the grocery store, or the car place. I only saw my mom for a few hours every night. We would sit and have dinner. She would ask about my day. I would do my homework. I would go to sleep. I never thought I would miss my mom, even though I was seeing her every day.
Two weeks later, we were back in the pale grey office. I held my mother’s hand tightly. A tall man with a corduroy vest walked in and closed the door behind him.
“How are you two today?”
As I was about to answer the question, I heard a small squeak from my mother: