Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mantis and Phones

Mantis and Phones are probably the least accessible members of the Masks--Phones because he refuses to speak or listen, and Mantis because he finds it hard to speak or listen.  As a result, the two have formed a sort of strange bond.  They provide the social interaction the other needs, and they both do it without needing to exchange words.  They usually just play card games.  Usually just War. Simple, doesn't require talking, takes long periods of time.

Any time I try to talk to Phones, he just gives me a brief nod and a wave and moves on.  He's always listening to music--you can hear it faintly if you're close enough--and is always cloaked in a red hoodie.  He's never taken it off around me, so I've never gotten a good look at his face.  Never heard his voice.  He's a silent presence.  An elephant in the room that no one knows how to talk to.

Mantis is a little easier to communicate with.  At least he's willing to try.  I've made a few attempts, but they're all difficult.  He has some common phrases like please and thank you down well, but whenever he attempts a less stock phrase, he moves slowly from word to word, pausing briefly between each, and when he finishes, he gets an excited look on his face at the accomplishment.  It really surprised me, but whenever he made a fairly small mistake around Last or Crimson, they'd correct him. It seemed rude to me, but Mantis would smile, thank them, and correct himself every time.

"Most ESL speakers appreciate it," Last told me.  "They wouldn't know that what they're saying is wrong otherwise.  It sounds rude to draw attention to errors, but it's actually what helps them learn.  And Mantis is learning.  Slowly, but he's learning.  Just remember: he speaks slowly and with a thick accent, but he's not a dumb guy.  He's got a fairly good mind for science and he's actually done a fair amount of public speaking--in his own language of course."

"He's from where, China?"  Last nodded in response.  "How'd he end up here?"

Last shrugged.  "Far as I can tell, he just really didn't like the country. Liked America better. Liked good ol' democracy, maybe.  Came over, and had a hard time fitting in.  He was just that stupid foreign guy who couldn't pick up on the language as quickly as he hoped he would, couldn't find a good job, couldn't scrounge up enough money to go back when he decided that he wanted to...a bunch of stuff like that.  I only got what I could with the help of Crimson and a Chinese to English translator.  Turns out that Mantis doesn't even speak primarily Mandarin Chinese. Watching two guys trying to communicate in a language they're both only kind of familiar with--well that's an ideal use of time." He rolled his eyes.

I nodded at Phones.  "And what about him?  What's his story?"

"He's the only one I haven't been able to wrestle a story out of.  I know that the Choir's after him, and I know his first name--or maybe it's his last name, I dunno.  But he's only had one conversation with me, and that's the one where I recruited him.  I've had to pass some other messages along and we've gotten a system down, but for the most part, he's a mystery even to me."  He looked at him and shook his head.  "Maybe, once the Choir's gone, maybe then he'll be able to open up. Talk to people without getting hurt."

"That alone is almost reason enough to fight," I said quietly.

Last gave my shoulder a pat.  "I know it's all confusing," he said.  "You're changing, and you're trying to figure out just who you are. You'll figure it out eventually, and we're here to help you figure it out."

"To help me figure out who I am, or to tell me who you think I am?"

Last gave me a wistful little smile.  "Yes," was all he said.  I got nothing else from him.

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