At the airport, I am in line for a cup of tea.
“How you doing?” the man in line ahead of me asks the cashier.
The cashier hesitates. “O.k., I suppose,” he offers. “My wife is having a baby this summer.” There is tension in his voice. He did not have a good night.
“Congratulations,” the man in front of me says to the cashier.
“After that,” the cashier says, “I’d say my day is really good. Thank you.” The cashier is now smiling. “It’s our first child,” he goes on. “We find out what it is next week.”
Again, I hear some worry in his voice. Is this child to be fish, reptile, or amphibian? At six months gestation perhaps we are all reptiles.
“I didn’t want to know,” he says. “My wife did. Since she’s carrying it for nine months, I guess she gets what she wants. She doesn’t want anything ambiguous. No baby wearing yellow—you wouldn’t know what it was. It’s our first child. We’ve done everything in order. Been married five years. Got a car, a house, then a dog. Now the baby.”
The cashier’s red hair waves over his head. He talks fast. Just to talk, I suppose.
“Where you going?” he asks me. Ohio.
“You going home?” No.
“What you going for?” Invited to speak.
“I’m finishing my degree at [a nearby college].” He has assumed I’m a professor.
“I love my biology classes,” he says [At the nearby college he attends, one of my former PhD students teaches in the biology department, but I don’t mention this.]
“Did running start,” he says. “Did chemistry that way.” He scrunches his nose—chemistry often doesn’t smell good to biologists. “It was hard,” he says. “But I like the chemistry that relates to biology. You know, biochemisty and . . .” His voice trails.
He fits two corrugated sleeves over my tea and hands me the cup. “Have a good trip and speech,” he says.
I never think about my professional talks as speeches, but the thought stays with me as I fly off to visit Ohio University.