birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Lost in Translation

He was telling me about his garden and his dog, but I was having a hard time understanding him. His accent was one impediment--just strong enough that my unaccustomed ear didn't fully comprehend many of his words--but the other impediment was the fact that his willowy frame and punk-pink highlighted head of hair were bent over my feet. Every other word he spoke seemed to be sucked into the roiling water of the pedicure basin rather than floating up to my ears. The piped-in elevator music didn't help either. Still I was trying very hard to carry on a conversation with him because he was actually talking back to me and sharing a glimpse of his life, or so I thought.

I've been trying for years to establish a rapport with the folks who work in my local nail salon and, while we often have pleasant exchanges, it's pretty rare that I find a technician who really seems to want to talk to me. Sure, we exchange a few pleasantries like "How are you?" or "Have you been busy?" or we exchange necessary facts like "Is this your color?" or "Do you want your nails cut down?" But I've found that if I start to ask too many personal questions the technicians often become uncomfortable or I begin to feel like I am being patronizing or nosey.

So when this teenage boy actually began to ask me where I worked and if I had children and what I liked to do as a hobby, I was all over the opportunity and I began to ask him questions back. That's when he told me about his garden and his dog and his younger cousins who liked to play with his dog. He rattled on about all of these things and others and, despite the language barrier, I thought I was getting it--and he was getting me, too.

As he slipped my freshly painted toes into my flip-flops and helped me from the still vibrating salon chair, I asked "what's your dog's name?"

"Sprout," I think he said. "But I don't have him anymore."

"Ohhhh, what happened to him," I asked, prepared to be sympathetic.

"We ate him," the young man replied as he led me to the drying table and sat me down. I'm pretty sure my mouth was agape. I know I stopped asking questions. I gave him my debit card, tipped him well, and sat there letting my polish harden wondering if I had heard him correctly...and wondering if I should ask him if he really ate the dog...

As I stood up to leave I was still agonizing about the conversation. Then I looked up and caught his eye. He gave me a conspiratorial or maybe mischievous wink and I suddenly got it. The real translation was not longer lost on me: "Hey nosey white lady, you walked right into that one."

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