When the Old Man Speaks

His presentation was over. James quietly walked to his seat satisfied.

On the way, he exchanged an exploding fist bump with Clive. Bob, one row down, gave him a high five. Little J, two rows down, just pointed a congratulatory index finger.

Mrs Thompson, the middle-aged teacher watched them from her seat in the corner of the class. Before today, she was quite sure she had seen everything that could occur in classroom. She couldn’t hide her surprise.

“James, Bob, Did your parents help you?” She asked raising up.

“My dad is in Houston until Saturday, Ma’am.”  Said James. “Mom… Is not here anymore.”

Clive continued, “My dad left before I was born. You spoke with my Mom. She doesn’t understand this stuff.”

James concluded, “We work as a team.”

The teacher walked to her desk.

“Who was in your team?” She asked while shuffling the mess around her desk. She found the list. Friends were assigned together in groups of four to six, but each needed to have their own presentation.

She called them out. Four boys were standing by their desks. Physically ordinary, but the way they showcased their work drew gazes of admiration from the class. A look of respect from a usually very strict teacher.

She murmured, “The best presentations.” She lifted her head, “Can you tell the class how you worked together? I’ve never seen anything like this.”

James and Little J exchanged a quick glance. Little J walked up.

They met in Mr O’s junkyard, their favorite playground. The old owner tolerates them. They usually were reasonable, playing more or less quietly; nothing that required adult supervision.

This Saturday morning he found them sitting together around the hood of their choice old American classic, each immersed in a notebook. From his chair, he watched them struggle silently for half an hour.

Finally, he barged in, “Whatcha doin’?” There was always a playful note in his voice. The man was like a kid with a gray beard.

It took a while before one of his guests looked up. Little J seemed irritated.

“Tough homework.” He muttered, “Dad’s not home.”

That looked like a challenge. Mr O took the lollipop out of his mouth, “Why is it a problem? You got help.”

Clive, the one with the smart looking glasses, turned to the others, “What’s he talking about?” Then he looked up at the amused old man, “What do you know?”

Mr O smiled even wider through the thick gray beard, “Do you  think you know more than me, young man?”

That shut them up. Mr O seemed to enjoy the long silence that followed.

Then Little J appeared more careful, “How…?” Politely, “Sir?”

“How many of you in this team?” the man questioned.

Clive replied first, “Four. Can’t you count?”

“Right. Still defiant. Do you got brains?”

Clive pushed his glasses back in place, “What? Of course.”

“I had to ask.” The old man said smiling. “Four brains? You sure?”

“Yes. Four brains.” Clive was getting impatient.

“If you put them together, four brains can do more than one.” The old timer was still smiling. Then he added for good measure with a brighter face, “No?”

Slowly, four brains started ticking.