“Yes.” I didn’t know what to say exactly, but to agree with him.
“I like books. Don’t you read?”
“Yes, I can read!” His soft voice was angry, and his eyes flashed. “You think because I’m Navajo that I’m stupid?”
I stammered in my defense, my cheeks flushing at his perception of my words. “That’s not what I meant! I don’t think that! I just meant don’t you like to read?”
When he didn’t answer and resumed looking out the window, I tried to read again. But my thoughts swam wildly in my head, and I stared blankly at the page. I felt despondent that I had wounded someone who had so recently come to my rescue. I tried again.
“I’m sorry Samuel,” I said awkwardly. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
He snorted and looked at me, raising one eyebrow. “I’m not a little girl. I don’t get my feelings hurt.” His voice was slightly mocking. He took the book from my hands and began to read from the page.
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever.”
Samuel’s intent had been to prove his reading skill, but he stopped suddenly, embarrassed by the deeply romantic missive from Captain Wentworth to Anne. We both sat unmoving, staring down at the book. I couldn’t help myself. I started to laugh. Samuel scowled for a minute. Then his lips twitched and he seemed to exhale his discomfort.
“How old are you?” he questioned, his eyebrows slightly raised.
“Thirteen,” I replied defensively. I always felt defensive about my age. I didn’t feel thirteen and I didn’t look thirteen, so I hated being thirteen.
Samuel’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Thirteen?” It didn’t sound like a question, but more like a doubtful exclamation. “So, you’re what, in seventh grade?” He said this in the same flat, yet incredulous, voice.
I pushed my glasses up on my nose and sighed. “That’s right.” I took my book out of his hands and prepared to tune him out.
“Isn’t that book a little . . . grown-up for a seventh grader?” he argued. He pulled the book out of my hands again and read on, this time silently. “I don’t understand what most of these words mean. It’s like a different language!”
“That’s why I read with a dictionary . . . although I don’t bring it to school with me. It’s way too heavy.” I looked down at the book again, feeling shy. “In some ways it is a different language. My teacher, Mrs. Grimaldi, says our language is disintegrating.”
Samuel just looked at me, his expression incredulous.
“I’m sure it’s not as different as Navajo is from English, though,” I continued, trying to draw him into further conversation, surprised he was speaking to me at all, especially now that he knew I was just a lowly seventh grader.
“Yeah, Navajo is very different.” Something shuttered over his eyes, and he turned away from me, looking out the window again, ending our brief exchange.