By Deb Werrlein

April 25, 2022


At every lesson, she serves me tea. She steeps it with cardamom and swirls of evaporated milk then pours it steaming into “my” cup—a white ceramic blue-flowered mug—and adds a heaping spoonful of sugar. It must be drunk hot and can’t be rewarmed if I’m late, she insists. So I’m always on time.

The tea started as her gift to me for my volunteer tutoring. Learning barriers presented by dyslexia, allergies that fog her brain, her late entry to schooling, anxiety from earlier decades of trying and failing, and her status as a nonnative English speaker make progress slow. But she has will, and we have time.

For years we have sat, me cradling my mug, her tapping out sounds and syllables. She reads American children’s books to build vocabulary and confidence then tells of her Pakistani childhood: how she and her siblings climbed trees in the afternoon heat to sit among cool leaves and eat sweet peppers pilfered from the family garden. How she shucked corn in a circle with her mother and aunts, listening to their stories, learning to make and drink tea hot.

Now, we share pictures of my children and her grandchildren, who have all grown into young adults since we met. I sip my tea, letting the long-familiar aroma of cardamom fill my head, the tea’s sugariness tickling my throat. When she correctly spells the word “beautiful”—with its inexplicable string of vowels—we laugh, and she reaches out to squeeze my arm.


Deb Werrlein is a writer, editor, and literacy tutor living in Northern Virginia. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Brevity, Lithub, Creative Nonfiction, and others. You can find her on Twitter @debwerrlein


Image by John-Mark Smith courtesy of Pexels

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