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October 4th, 2020
Lucilius hung up the phone, checked the time and then propped the door of his apartment open so he could keep an eye out. He pulled the fridge open, stared idly at the meagre contents, then waved the door shut, thinking limply about delivery. It was too much of an effort. He walked back to the couch and slumped down. His computer was sitting open on his desk, a window of unfinished work, broken code waiting infinitely for his attention. He looked momentarily at his bookcase, seeing many titles he’d purchased but hadn’t yet read. Instead, he just clicked on the TV.
It wasn’t long before he heard the elevator doors clank open. Lucilius kept his eyes on the tall rectangle of hall he could see through his door.
A little kid walked past, and Lucilius quickly jumped up and trotted to the open door. He stepped half out and saw the kid fiddling with keys to the next apartment.
“Hey Kiddo,” Lucilius said.
The boy looked, slightly wary.
“Your mom just called me, wanted me to let you know she’s gonna be late tonight.”
The little boy stared a moment. “My mom has your phone number?”
Lucilius was taken aback a moment. He’d only exchanged short pleasantries with the young mother, in the elevator, when running into one another at the entrance, but it was suddenly odd - they’d never gotten so far as to exchange numbers.
“I guess so. Maybe she called the building manager? Asked him for it?”
The little boy contemplated this a moment and then decided it was believable.
“Ok, thanks” the boy said, pushing the door open.
Lucilius too started to retreat back into his apartment, but quickly thought better of it, and stepped half back out into the hall.
The boy stuck his head out.
“If you get bored or want food or something, you’re welcome to hang out over here.”
The boy paused thinking about this, and then nodded. “Ok, thanks.” Then the door shut and Lucilius was left to retreat back into his own home. He thought of kicking the door wedge out, but thought better of it - to leave the door open in case the boy got lonely. He didn’t want the kid to have to face another closed door.
He slumped back on his couch, and stared at the inane image on the TV. He clicked it off and then just sat in silence, looking out the window, at the city sprawl.
“Hey,” came the boy’s voice as he walked into Lucilius’ apartment. The boy was carrying a box of Mac’n’Cheese. “Can you help me with this?”
“Yea, of course,” Lucilius said. Lucilius got up and took the box and pulled out a pot and started filling it with water.
“Just get home from school, I’m guessing?”
“Yea,” the boy said, standing in front of Lucilius’ bookcase, looking at all the titles.
It had been a while since Lucilius had really spoken with a kid. He felt a bit awkward.
“Uh, learn anything today?”
The boy looked another moment at the bookcase and then walked over to the couch and sat down.
“Yea, I learned that school isn’t really for learning.”
Lucilius paused, watching the tiny bubbles hugging the bottom of the warming pot of water. He looked over at the boy.
“How’d you learn that?”
“I got in trouble cause I shared some answers with someone who sits next to me. He just has trouble paying attention, and then when we have to do work, he doesn’t know what to do. I was trying to show him, but the teacher said it was cheating.”
Lucilius considered the story, impressed, then poured the pasta into the boiling water.
“Maybe if they taught us how to pay attention to boring stuff before trying to teach boring stuff, he’d do better, but they never went over that.”
Lucilius laughed, then nodding to himself. “Yea, that would be pretty useful. Been a long time since I was in school, but I seem to remember the same.”
“What did you learn today?” The boy asked, looking at Lucilius.
He was taken aback. Lucilius thought over his day as he watched the pasta swirling in the hot water. He’d woken up late after a late night spent watching some dumb show that had kept playing and playing without end. He’d made coffee and then briefly tried to take a nap, and sat at his desk and barely looked at the code overwhelmed by the immense task of even trying to start, and before he knew it, the boy’s mother had called him. He looked at his mind - the bland malaise of thought that had barely mustered enough substance to even be thought. It was like the opposite of a zen state, a sort of mindless decay.
He looked at the boy who -in the absence of a response from Lucilius- had taken a book from the bookcase and was flipping through it.
“I guess I learned something I’ve always known.”
The boy looked up. “How can you learn something you already know?"
Lucilius shrugged as he drained the hot pasta and then tore open the packet of powdered cheese.
“Well, everyone knows the things they should do, but I think you only learn it when you can do it.”
Lucilius added butter and mixed the tasty mess together.
“So what did you learn?” The boy asked.
“That no one can really teach you anything. Learning is really a matter of where your attention is.”
The boy frowned a bit as Lucilius walked with two steaming bowls of Mac’n’Cheese.
“Isn’t that sort of what I said about school?”
Lucilius smiled as he handed the bowl to the boy.
“Well, sometimes we forget to pay attention and need a little help.”
“But you just said we can’t teach each other stuff.”
“True, but we can nudge each other’s attention.”
“Isn’t that what teaching is? Or should be, I guess.” The boy said.
“Maybe, but who is the one paying attention?”
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