Speaking in Tongues 4

Claire smiled with a satisfaction that only grew with the faint look of horror she saw on the cashier’s face as she finally asked her question. An embarrassed response later, Claire ordered her usual breakfast sandwich, and left the food court minutes later.

Waiting for the traffic light to grant permission for her to cross the street, Claire finally began to appreciate the miraculous gift she’d been given, this sudden ability to understand any language, instinctively know each person’s native language, and then speak it fluently. How convenient this ability would have been decades earlier, as a young girl raised in an ethnically diverse urban neighborhood. She’d always been somewhat embarrassed by her family’s linguistic limitation, the only family on her street that didn’t speak another language, whether it be Spanish, Russian, Korean, Hindi, anything other than English. The traffic light changed, and Claire proceeded across the white cross-walk; her family’s monolinguism made her feel like a stranger in their neighborhood, which, considering they had moved from a horribly bigoted environment when she was six, seemed highly ironic to her.

She glanced at her phone as she waited for the elevator. 8:53 — she’d even be logged in on time. The chime above the gray metal doors sounded, and a moment later she had turned in the elevator, pressing the button for the third floors.

“Hold please.” Claire looked up, and smiled. Two contractors, Purva and Kranti, hustled toward the doors. Claire had often told them that their English was better than her own, and they’d responded by teaching her words from their native language. How surprised they’d be know if she were just to speak a relatively complex sentence — weather sure is nice this morning, I hope there’s no rain this afternoon — but the words were held back by a cautionary thought. Did she really want this new ability of hers to be public knowledge?

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