“They were standing in a

“They were standing in a little knot, heads close together — Xersu, Joan and Marcus — Marcus was all hand gestures, waving and pointing, while Xersu had her arms folded over her chest and frowned, and Joan merely looked sad, exasperated, and grim all at the same time.

“‘If you can find some way to do this without dipping into the official budgets…’ Maya Xersu trailed off, her jaw clenched, as she caught me out of the corner of her eye. I froze, waiting for her to say something, to be chased away.

“Meanwhile, Marcus had continued: ‘I’ve told you before, just tell me how much I need to…’ and then he too stopped where he was, seeing Xersu looking at me.

“But Joan was the only one who actually said anything. ‘Honey, don’t worrry,’ she said, ‘we’re only thinking of your best interests, aren’t we?’ giving the others a sharp look. And then Marcus’ face relaxed, and he rubbed his hands on the sides of his pants, and Maya Xersu folded and unfolded her arms, her eyes serious, guarded.

“I walked away, and went back outside to sit in the rain and watch the insects traipse across the dirt paths. There were huge red and gold beetles that lived in and around the crater, and little blue ants, and dozens of others that have still probably never been fully catalogued — though I had spent a couple of days catching insects with someone Marcus knew. If things had been different, if I’d grown up in that culture, perhaps I would have studied insects. But who could know such a thing?

“The other event which made that day stand out happened there, as I was watching a red beetle lift a dead fly twice its size. Now, in those intervening months, I’d had little contact with the children who had been so horrid in my first days. I would see them, across the compound, either playing, on field trips with their young teacher, or with their families, and I’d walk the other way. Not running, but definitely avoiding them.