‘¿Cómo estás Abuela?’
‘bueno, bueno , feliz.’
Michael flicked the switch on the babel box in his pocket; bee-boop from the Bluetooth earpiece confirming it was on. Quietly smiling to himself he looked at Matthew and his grandmother, watching the interaction between the two of them. An interaction that happens the world over when a grandmother greets a grown grandchild on the threshold of their home.His brain adjusted, it had to overcome what they called Lingo-Synch he watched and listened as he heard Matthew’s grandmother speak in Spanish a moment later hearing the English translation.
‘Sit, Sit. Are you hungry, you must be hungry.’ All said as she pushes mateo to the small dinner table, using her strength of wisdom and respect to move and manipulate Mateo to a seat, fixated on her grandson. Turning to shuffle to the kitchen, picking up the kettle from the stove and going to the sink. All the time asking questions fast clipped Spanish, never waiting for an answer.
By the time she finally sits still across the table from Michael, to the left of Mateo holding his hand, all the formalities out of the way, food and drink in front of her guests she finally stops for a breath.
‘Gran, This is Michael. He is a work colleague of mine.’ It is almost as if he had not existing, as for the first time she realises he is sitting at the table, that he is even present.
Turning her gaze onto him, eyes alive, as grey as rain clouds, yet bright and shiny as a still pond reflecting the sun. Unnerving at first as the depth and wisdom of her look settles upon him, causing him to doubt what they had come here for.
‘Hola, señorita Fernández. hablas ingles, mi español es pobre’ Stumbling through the sentence he and Michael had been rehearsing on their way over, his Australian twang missing all the flow and ardor of the native Spanish speakers.
‘No, I do not speak english.’
‘¿Puede Matthew traducir para nosotros?’ He was through it, the two sentences he hoped to stammer out had been delivered.
‘Yes, yes of course Mathew can translate.’
‘There you go Matt explain away.’
‘Gran, Michael here is a scientist.’
‘Aah a scientist, you must be a smart one’
‘Thank you ma'am’ Michael was amazed at how clear and quick the translation was occurring, so quick in fact he realised he’d just answered in English, not Spanish so repeated himself ‘Si, señora’.
‘Yes Gran he is.’ Matt looked at his friend a mixed look on his face, one of absolute agreement with his gran, blended with a incredulity that his gran would say such a thing.
‘We want to try an experiment Gran, it would help us out a lot.’
Matt held out a little white earpiece, not dissimilar to the one that Michael was wearing.
‘Gran, if you put this in your ear we want to see if you can understand him.’
‘What do you mean understand him, he has already spoken to me in spanish, I understood.’
‘No Gran, We’ve exhausted all of his Spanish, that is what I managed to teach him on the way over. Ask him a question now before you put it in.’
‘Is this true Michael, can you not speak Spanish’ her grey wisened eyes meeting his.
‘Yes Maam, it is true I can not speak a word of spanish beyond what Matt has taught me.’
‘Mathew what did he say?’
‘It is true he can not speak a word of spanish beyond what I had taught him.’
‘Sheesh. What does this thing do then?’ holding the earpiece up and looking at it over her glasses.
‘Gran, stick it in your ear, ask Michael a question?’
Sticking it in her left ear, wiggling it a little. ‘aah my ears keep growing'
'As him Gran'
'Michael what is this?’
'Mrs Fernandez, it is a digital translator. It lets me speak in English and you hear my words in Spanish.’
Gran sat still dumb founded, those grey wise eyes fixed on Michael her pupils expanding to large dark pools. She pulled the earpiece from her ear and pushed it gently into his hand. Reaching up feeling his ears searching for his earpiece, taking it from his ear and placing it with its partner in his palm.
Crossing herself she stood, resolutely pulling Michael to his feet and turning him towards the door. ‘Ora a Dios, esto es malo, no es así. ¿No sabes sobre la Torre de Babel? adiós, rezaré por ti.’
Click. What had just happened? he had just been bodily removed from the house by a 5 foot 3, 84 year old, as if he was a young child of three. He stood there for a moment, trying to work out what had happened, he’d not understood a single word she had said.
The door opened, Matthew stumbling backwards through the door ‘Abuela, lo siento, lo siento.’
‘Vas a Mateo, ve. Llamaré a tu sacerdote.’ then click, and the two of them stood on the threshold of Matthew's grandmother's house.
‘What was that about?’
‘She says you are doing the work of the devil, do you not know of the tower of babel. Told me to wake-up, that technology is not the answer to everything and it will be the end of us’.