“Can you play the bongos?” I asked my daughter’s friend, Skye. He grunted in reply.
“I’m sorry, what was that? I just wanted to know if you can play the bongos.” He shrugged.
“Is that a yes or no?” I asked. He smirked, shrugged and then grunted.
Desperate to get around the words that weren’t happening, I placed a set of bongos in his hands and he instantly performed one of the most impressive solos I’d ever heard. When he stopped, he grumbled, “I really can’t play.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” I said, adding, “So let’s go.” But no one moved except me.
“Where?” Skye asked.
“To the Yarnslingers show,” I replied. (Yarnslingers is a local storytelling group of which I am the director and host). “I need someone to play the bongos while I sling yarn around the room. Get it? Yarnslingers!”
Skye murmured something that ended in the word “plans.”
“Plans? What kind of plans?” I asked.
Skye smirked, shrugged and then grunted.
“Look,” I implored, “I only need you to play for sixty seconds and when I’m done slinging the yarn, you can leave.”
Skye said something that began with a “w.”
“I’m sorry. Did you say weird?” I ventured but Skye fell silent. Turning slightly gray, I turned to my daughter, Lucy, for help, “What’s he saying?”
She looked at me and giggled.
“OK, we really got to get moving now,” I explained, “So just tell me, Lucy, what’s he saying?”
She giggled again.
“Please save the laughter for when I’m on stage,” I pleaded, adding, “I can’t throw yarn around the room without a bongo player. That would be crazy! So are you in or out?” There was a long pause and then Lucy chimed, “He’s saying ‘word’!”
“Word?” I questioned, “I don’t get it because the word I’m looking for is simply, yes!”
“Mom, he just wants to know word,” Lucy stammered.
“Oh. What does he want to know about the word, word? I’m a writer. I could probably write a book on the word ‘word,’ but I don’t have the time right now. So what’s he trying to say?”
“Ugh, mom! she spurted, “Like do you really mean it?”
“Mean what?” I asked. The two of them exchanged glances. Skye smirked, shrugged and grunted and then suddenly agreed to play the bongos but Lucy took them right out of his hands declaring, “You really don’t want to do this.”
“On yes he does!” I said reaching for the bongos. However, Lucy had already lifted them high above my head.
“Lucy,” I said patiently, “Skye said ‘word.’”
“Yeah, I know,” she giggled as she persisted in holding the bongos just out of my reach.
“Well, he said he’d play the bongos for sixty seconds, right? Isn’t that what word means?”
“No, Mom,” She explained, “‘Word’ means do you really mean it?”
“Mean what?” I asked.
“Mean it’s only for sixty seconds?” she clarified.
“Oh, so ‘word’ is another word for promise? As in do I promise that it will only take sixty seconds?”
By then, I was pretty frustrated, but it was hard to tell exactly what I was most upset about: a) That “word” alone without “of honor” as in “word of honor” might make it into the Thesaurus as a synonym for promise; b) I was way behind on my teenaged lexicon; c) Lucy was much taller than me; or, d) All of the above. I was just about to give up when Lucy gleefully announced, “I’ll play the bongos for you!”
I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Oh really? Word?”
“Oh God, Mom!” she retorted.
For a long moment, Lucy and I fiercely gazed at each other while Skye studied his shoes. The air was dead. Then Lucy launched into a passionate bongo performance. I wanted to say yes, but what came out of my mouth instead was: a) Tonight there will be no literal yarn slinging; b) Or bongo playing; c) Thank you very much and d) Be home by eleven o’clock. I gently pried the bongos from Lucy’s grasp and, happily, we all went our separate ways. Much later on I would discover that I was practically the only person on earth who was unaware of the meaning of “word.”