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“I’m okay mother.” The young woman opened the phone conversation after the other line picked up and waited while the electronic stream bounced up to a satellite and returned from orbit to station to feed into her mother’s archaic landline on the other side of the planet.
“Why on Earth wouldn’ t you be?”
“The monsoon. geez, don’t tell me American news didn’t cover it.” She raised her galoshes-covered feet to rest on the red plastic chair and laid an arm over her knee, then answered herself. “Of course not, it wasn’t like it was a big–”
Her mother interrupted, or more accurately, the stun of her child being in danger and the time delay caught up. “Monsoon! Dolores, I told you that foreign job was no good. If you stayed here you could have married that nice boy from college…”
Whom you never bothered to learn the name of because he was totally forgettable, and a drunk … but I didn’t bring up that part of his sparkling personality with you. You did not need to know everything I got into while in college. His frat did throw the best parties.
“…and have you met any rescue workers. They do have rescue workers there? And food drops like you used to help with. Oh, do I need to send anything to you?” Her mother asked finally winding down.
“No mom. We are set up for this weather. My house is on stilts and everything.” Dolores closed her eyes and crossed her fingers for a small white lie. “I’m totally dry.”
“So no cute rescue workers?”
“No, mom, no cute rescue workers.”
Someone laughed. Dolores eyes popped open. Florescent orange waders rose out of the floodwaters, followed by a dark blue t-shirt with a logo related to some construction sites she had seen around, and topped by a very cute face of the male persuasion. “Got to go mom, the inspector is here.”
Doing the small hand twist which locally translated to the American equivalent of holding up a finger for ‘wait a second,’ Dolores waited for her mother’s response. “Inspector? I knew something was wrong.”
“No, nothing is wrong. Just got to officially get the house looked at. Happens after every monsoon. And no, before you ask, this is my first inspection; my work just told me to expect it. I love you.”
The man face arranged in a pleasant waiting expression. Nothing like the rush-rush the Western world, but also lacking the ever-present fake smiles she would have seen back home too.
“I love you, too. Send me an email when you can.”
“Will do. Good-bye.” Dolores clicked off her phone. Taking a second to change her thinking patterns to Burmese, she stood, putting her phone back into its waterproof sling. “Thank you.”
“To support mother and father, this is the good luck.” The man responded in Burmese, before switching to her native tongue more quickly than she was capable of. “Would you be more comfortable in English?”
“If it is not too much trouble.” She smiled, then bit her lip. Smiling wasn’t always good here. She didn’t make that mistake in Burmese mode. “The last couple of days have been a strain.”
“Mynmarr sends me the foreign housing since I speak languages. My name is Salim.”
“My name is Dolores.” She dragged the plastic chair over to a stilt and bungeed it to the house. “I speak several myself, but the weather took a lot out of me. I’m surprised to see you so soon.”
“High ground this is, houses well built. First inspections always here.”
Ah, Salim has some constant phrases well memorized, like she could ask “Where is the bathroom?” in a dozen languages, but new sentence construction was based on his primary tongue’s structure of subject, object, and verb. When her brain was translating instead of straight hearing, everyone sounded like Yoda. Well, he talked faster even with that then she could translate or hear Burmese right now. She felt mostly okay, but her inner self was curled in a ball shaking from living through a natural disaster. In her life, she had always been part of the rescuing, not one of the rescuee. “Yes, the company told me they put these houses in well. Drilled down into the bedrock to drop the stilts.”
“Good company. They bring lots of jobs. You agriculture instructor?” From one of his many pockets of his mid-chest waders, Salim pulled out a telescoping metal prod and started pushing the foundations around each of the stilts.
“No, I am system admin.” She switched languages. “Computers I work and fix.”
“Smart girl.” He moved to another stilt. “You speak Burmese well. Where did you learn?”
“I picked it up while in India on summer work-studies. Along with Hindi and a few other languages.” She double-checked the sling; she didn’t want to loose the satellite phone. “Where did you learn English?”
“We are taught English in school, then I went to Memphis University on an exchange program for a year. Okay to climb?” He motioned to the ladder leading up to her house. “Need to check floor…” The inspector mimed sliding sideways, his sun-darkened face animating surprise while his black eyes sparkled.
“Pitch of the floor.” Dolores translated. “Slant.”
“Yes, yes, slant.” He motioned at the ladder again. “Climb okay?”
“Please do. Do you want me to come up with you?”
“Yes, good would be.”
Dolores waited until he got to the top before following to avoid the drips from his waders then climbed quickly up the wooden planks. “The front door is unlocked.” The twenty-something inspector did not move until she opened the door for him. She could see everything in her one-room house from the door, so she did not follow him in as he poked around and hopped up and down along the various walls.
“Roof good, no leaks. You no lie to mother about dry.”
A light blush rose in Dolores’ cheeks. “She worries.” In his world, this dry would count since half the people around regularly have their houses flood. Her mom would have problems with water being as far as the eyes could see.
“Mothers worry.” Salim walked over pulling a green card out with numbers in a big block font. “I will put this outside to indicate the house has been inspected.”
Dolores watched as he tucked it into a small plastic square outside her door. She had never figured out what it was for since her house wasn’t numbered and all mail went to her work. “Do I owe you anything?”
“No, no payment needed. Your company pays for the inspections.”
That answer was firm and clearly rote. So the normal additional gifts she had come to expect with all government dealings would actually get him into trouble. Maybe she should offer some simple hospitality. “Would you like anything to drink?”
The man tilted his head considering. “I houses inspect. Three. Can I come back in an hour?”
“Yes you can.” Dolores let a full American smile light her face. “Would you like something to eat as well?”
Salim smiled back. “Yes, I would.”
(words 1,192 – first publication 1/24/2016)