Hassan was laughing about something, and so were both the Wellses. Already, they seemed to love him. People just liked Hassan, the way people like fast food and celebrities. It was a gift Colin found amazing.
The moment Colin sat down, Hollis asked Hassan, “Would you like to say grace?”
“Sure thing. ” Hassan cleared his throat. “Bismillah. ” Then he picked up his fork.
“That’s it?” Hollis wondered.
“That’s it. We are a terse people. Terse, and also hungry. ”
The Arabic seemed to render everyone uncomfortable or something, because no one talked for a few minutes except Hassan, who kept saying that the quail (it was quail, not tiny chicken) was excellent. And it was good, Colin supposed, if you happened to enjoy searching through an endless labyrinth of bones and cartilage for the occasional sliver of meat. He hunted around with his fork and knife for the edible parts and finally located one entire bite of meat. He chewed slowly so as to relish it, chewing and chewing and ouch. Christ. What the hell was that? Chew. Chew. Chew. And again. Fug. Is that a bone? “Ow,” he said softly.
“Birdshot,” Lindsey told him.
“Birdshot,” Hollis agreed.
“The bird was shot?” Colin asked, spitting out a tiny metal pellet.
“And I’m eating the bullets?”
Lindsey smiled. “Nope. You’re spitting them out. ”
And so it was that Colin dined that evening primarily on rice and green beans. After everyone had finished, Hollis asked, “So how did it feel to win KranialKidz? I remember on the show you didn’t seem that, uh, excited. ”
“I felt really bad about the other kid losing. She was really nice. The kid I played against—she took it kind of hard. ”
“I was happy enough for the both of us,” said Hassan. “I was the only member of the studio audience dancing a jig. Singleton beat that little fugger like she’d stole something. ”33
KranialKidz reminded Colin of Katherine XIX, and he stared straight ahead and tried hard to think of as little as possible. When Hollis spoke, it seemed to break a long quiet, the way alarm clocks do. “I think y’all should work for me this summer in Gutshot. I’m starting a project, and you’d be perfect for it. ”
Over the years, people had occasionally sought to employ Colin in a manner befitting his talents. But (a) summers were for smart-kid camp so that he could further his learning and (b) a real job would distract him from his real work, which was becoming an ever-larger repository of knowledge, and (c) Colin didn’t really have any marketable skills. One rarely comes across, for instance, the following want ad:
Huge, megalithic corporation seeks a talented, ambitious prodigy to join our exciting, dynamic Prodigy Division for summer job. Requirements include at least fourteen years’ experience as a certified child prodigy, ability to anagram adeptly (and alliterate agilely), fluency in eleven languages. Job duties include reading, remembering encyclopedias, novels, and poetry; and memorizing the first ninety-nine digits of pi. 33
And so every summer Colin went to smart-kid camp and with each passing year it became increasingly clear to him that he wasn’t qualified to do anything , which is what he told Hollis Wells.
“I just need you to be reasonably smart and not from Gutshot, and you both fit the bill. Five hundred dollars a week for both y’all, plus free room and board. You’re hired! Welcome to the Gutshot Textiles family!”
Colin shot a glance at his friend, who held a quail daintily in his hands, his teeth gnawing at the bone in a vain search for a half-decent meal. Hassan placed the quail carefully back on the plate and looked back at Colin.
Hassan nodded subtly; Colin’s lips pursed; Hassan rubbed at his five-o’clock shadow; Colin bit at the inside of his thumb; Hassan smiled; Colin nodded.
“Okay,” said Colin finally. They had decided to stay. Like it or not, Colin thought, road trips have destinations. Or at least his kind of road trip always would. And this seemed a fair end point—sweet, if ceaselessly pink, accommodations; reasonably nice people, one of whom made him feel slightly famous; and the home of his first-ever Eureka. Colin didn’t need the money, but he knew how much Hassan hated begging spending money off his parents. And also, they could both use a job. Neither of them, it occurred to Colin, had ever, technically, worked for money before. Colin’s only worry was the Theorem.
Hassan said, “La ureed an uz’ij rihlatik—wa lakin min ajl khamsu ma’at doolar amreeki fil usbu’, sawfa afa’al. ”34
“La ureed an akhsar kulla wakti min ajl watheefa. Yajib an ashtaghil ala mas’alat al-riyadiat. ”35
“Can we just make sure Singleton has time to doodle?” asked Hassan in English.
“Is that some kind of gibberish?” Lindsey interrupted, incredulous.
Colin ignored her, responding in English to Hassan. “It’s not doodling, which you’d know if you—”