“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
In which case, there’s hope for me yet, thought Ron. The advertisements behind him should have been familiar, but they might as well have been written in Ancient Runes, because he couldn’t understand a word.
How had he gotten himself into this predicament? Ron smirked at his own folly as he recalled.
Back in the emergency department, he’d had a patient – a few patients, actually – for whom his intrinsic charm and dashing appearance did nothing to assuage the situation. He was, as Hermione was quick to point out, practically monolingual.
“You could study another language, you know,” Hermione had said to him as he entered the doctors’ lounge, winded after frantically gesticulating with all four limbs for thirty minutes straight.
“But those interpreter phones are supposed to work,” said Ron.
“They do work,” said Hermione. She glanced over her shoulder at Ron before turning back to the patient progress note she was typing at 112 words per minute. “There’s just no guarantee when they’ll work. First you need to find the accursed contraption in the bowels of this hospital. Then they might put you on hold for five minutes to get to the operator and another twenty minutes before they find an interpreter who speaks the right language.”
Ron swore underneath his breath. “I just wanted to ask him if his head still hurts.” He sighed. “I don’t have time for this. We’re in the emergency department. Hasn’t someone made up a spell for this yet?”
“Sure they have,” said Hermione, her fingers still flying over the keyboard, “It’s called Google Translate. And there’s no shame in using it, by the way.”
So Ron entered his desired sentences in English, memorized the translation best he could, and headed back to his patient’s room to deliver a speech. After inadvertently mixing up the word “reto” (challenge) with the word “recto” (rectum), he returned to the doctors’ lounge and promptly collapsed on the moth-eaten couch.
“How’d it go?” asked Hermione.
At that moment, Ron decided that enough was enough.
That was how Ron came to be standing alone in front of a Costa Rican Walmart at nine o’clock in the evening, carrying a backpack full of deodorant and shampoo.
“What am I doing,” he muttered to himself, over and over again. “What in the name of Blast-Ended Skrewts am I doing.”
It wasn’t a question, not even a rhetorical one. With a wry smile, Ron remembered his 2nd-year Organic Potions professor at his previous school, an elderly gentleman with curly white hair at the back of his head and a sunburned scalp of nothingness on top, who had muttered the same thing after pouring concentrated hydrochloric acid into a jug of organic waste material.
Ron pulled his phone out of his pocket. His Uber driver would be arriving in less than two minutes, and then he would go home and join his host family for dinner.
Just then, his phone buzzed in the palm of his hand. An unknown number displayed itself on the screen.
I am so fried, he thought. I am sooo fried.
He answered the call and swallowed a few times. A woman’s voice greeted him at the other end of the line.
“Er, hola,” said Ron. Then, in Spanish, he asked, “Is this Uber?”
The lady spoke a couple of sentences. Ron tried to visualize the fire-hose current of information as a series of individual words, but they only congealed into an impervious soup before leaking out of the base of his brain.
“I’m sorry,” said Ron, “I’m learning Spanish. My comprehension is garbage. Can you pick me up in front of Walmart?”
The lady spoke another several sentences. The only sentence Ron could make sense of was something like, “Where are you?”
“Is this Uber?” Ron said again. “I’m in front of Walmart.”
Another thirty seconds of one-sided conversation later, Ron still had no idea what they were talking about.
“Um, no sé,” he said in Spanish, which was turning out to be his go-to phrase whenever he was hopelessly confounded by the linguistic puzzles presented before him. “I’m on the sidewalk, I think? Where are you?”
Ron heard a sigh, and then the lady switched to fluent English.
“I’m not Uber, Ron,” she said, “I’m Hermione. Did you find that deodorant you were looking for? Our mamá tica is waiting for you to come home so we can have dinner together.”
“Hermione?” Ron spluttered and choked on his own saliva. “Why didn’t you just tell – “
“My name was the first thing I told you, silly,” said Hermione. “You weren’t listening.”
Ron didn’t have a chance to argue his point, because at that moment his Uber driver pulled up to the curb. He hurried inside before Hermione could quiz him on the differences between the pretérito simple and the pretérito imperfecto verb tenses.
To be continued