A boy and his tutor

            The older man sat up, lifting his pencil off the boy’s paper.

            “If your teacher hasn’t told you what matters, then to her it doesn’t,” the tutor said after making a remark with which his pupil disagreed.

            The conversation between the boy and his tutor was drowning in the sounds of sizzles and the splashes of water as an employee washed dishes in the room adjacent to this dining room. The brushed aluminum walls bounced light across the room, stretching shadows across the boy’s college-ruled paper.

            The boy leaned intensely over his spiral notebook as he attempted solving yet another math problem. His eyebrows slightly furrowed.

            His tutor sitting to his left mirrored him. The intensity matched almost as close as their hair color, both intensity and color a shade duller. The tutor’s left hand moved like a machine pivoting on his elbow, fanning between the papers and functioning as an armrest for his head.

            The boy’s pencil also kept turning—graphite-side down, eraser-side down, graphite-side down again as he continued to work through the mathematical equation.

            Two minutes into the problem and the boy had solved the equation correctly.

            Fractions were the culprit. Tutor and student each took to his respective paper to solve the next problem step-by-step. The two worked side-by-side as they prepared to compare their answers.

            “Okay, here I’ve done it differently,” the tutor said as he pointed to a step in the equation, compassion resounding in his voice.

            He raised the paper.

            “No, see, this is 14/3.”

            Both the boy and his tutor returned to their hunched positions over their papers. As they worked on the same problem, the tutor glanced over several times, monitoring his pupil’s steps.

            “The thing you’re missing is there’s an x there.”

            The boy scribbled some more things on his paper and his tutor flashed him an OK sign.

            “OK, let’s do one more and we’ll call it a night,” the tutor said as he checked his watch.

            The boy began again hard at work. The rest of the night, the boy remained fairly quiet, only nodding in response to his instructor.

            “No, you can’t do that,” the tutor said repeatedly tapping his finger on the boy’s paper.

            Graphite-side down, eraser-side down, graphite-side down again, the pencil went.

            Under the table, the boy’s feet were crossed and moving back and forth, but his hands stayed idle as he looked up deep in thought. His feet stopped moving and his head shook back and forth.

            He dropped the pencil and pushed his hands hard into his eyes.

            “Don’t be afraid of that fraction; It’s not so bad,” the tutor said. “Use eight instead of 16 as your common denominator.”

            The tutor leaned in close to the boy, as if to share a life secret. “Using the least common denominator makes it easier.”

            “Ah!” The boy leaned back, relaxing in his chair.

            “I’m more or less tired, how are you doing?” the tutor asked.

            The boy smiled, remaining silent.

            Both gathered their papers and stood up to leave.

            The boy smiled.