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A Late Translation
By Colleen Messina

1     Darin and every other sophomore boy sighed when they saw the new exchange student. Maria, from Mexico City, looked slightly uncomfortable as she stood in front of the class. Her downcast eyes looked like dark half moons. Her black tresses merged with a garish, ruffled shirt that followed the waves of her hair in an undulating sheen. Every boy became obsessed with a single thought: who would dance with Maria at the Winter Festival?
2     Darin began to calculate how he would ask her to dance, and as he did, wild metaphors came to his inspired mind (an unusual event for Darin, who was not very literary). She was like a fresh snowfall to eager skiers! She was like a new breed of trout to enthusiastic anglers! She was exotic, and he might have a chance to dance with her! Was it his imagination, or did Maria look up at him and smile?
3     "I'd like to introduce our new exchange student," said the teacher. "Let's all give our names and tell whether we know Spanish. Spanish is Maria's native language, but she will be using English as much as she can."
4     Maria smiled timidly as everyone in the class stated their names one by one. Darin tried to act dispassionate, but he felt just the opposite. When it was his turn, he said his name in a deeper-than-normal voice. Then, in a moment of insanity, he said that he knew Spanish! His friends raised their eyebrows at him until they all looked like great gray owls, but they didn't say a word. Darin didn't realize that his little lie was an impending catastrophe.
5     "Now we will all select names for the gift exchange tomorrow. Please, no expensive gifts! This box has your names in it, and we will pass it around. Please pull out a slip and bring a present for that person tomorrow. Remember, the Winter Festival is tomorrow night!" the teacher said with a grin, knowing that the class could never forget the winter dance.
6     Darin watched as the box advanced down the row of students. When the box reached him, he picked a folded piece of notebook paper with a trembling hand. He expected to get some gross kid he couldn't stand. Sam, he read, and he felt relieved about his plight.
7     Sam was one of his best friends, so it was a good choice. Darin decided immediately to get him some aftershave lotion in a hopeful gesture that someday Sam might have a reason to use it. Maybe Sam would sprout a few beard hairs by the time he went to college. Maybe he would use it for the Winter Festival. If he overused it, that might increase Darin's chances of dancing with more girls! After picking names, everyone stomped home in a flurry of excitement and new, wet snowflakes.
8     The class returned the next day with presents in hand. Some had beautiful, sparkling ribbons and bright paper; others were wrapped in a crumpled heap of repugnant, recycled wrapping paper. It didn't matter one iota to anyone. Presents were presents. The room exploded in a gift-giving frenzy when the teacher gave the word. Darin passed Sam his present with barely a glance. To Darin's complete amazement, Maria floated towards him in a haze of colors and swirls. She looked like she had just emerged from a beach resort! He nearly fainted when she handed him a rather unique, but unwrappable, present. It was a stubby cactus in a primitive, earthen pot. Darin thought it must be some Mexican species and noticed a nametag attached to the prickly offering.
9     "Hablo español?" she asked tentatively.

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