I like February. It’s a short month. This year, for Valentine’s Day, a scratch card was on sale, £1 each, nine red hearts, just match three. Two win nothing.
Lunchtime at the girls’ school. When the bell went, I headed for the gate. A half-day booking. I hadn’t been sent home. There was a teacher on duty, and some girls were standing next to the fence, which is made of steel wire, ten feet high.
“You’re on the right side, girls,” I said. “It’s dangerous out there.”
I'd just stepped through the gate when I saw Famina, in the yard, with Melissa. Two Year 9s. They both ran over. The teacher, who had locked the gate behind me, opened it again. Famina gave me a sweeping high-five. When she saw it, Melissa complained: “I want to do that!”
“Excellent high-fives,” I said, after they were done. Silence. My small talk is not so good. It’s even worse when teachers are listening. I could only say: “Are you wearing lipstick, Famina?”
I often asked her this. Sometimes, like today, I added, “Are you allowed to?” thinking that the answer would be no, but I never got a straight reply.
“It’s sexy!” was all she said that lunchtime, by the steel fence. Was I the only teacher who noticed her lips?
We’d been friends for a while, Famina and me, I’m not sure how long, and best friends after that. In the middle of a lesson – it was French or History – she had popped her head up and asked, “Best friends?” as if she knew the answer already.
“For life,” I said.
“For life, for life,” she echoed, very seriously.
How long is a girl’s life?
The next time I saw her, it was Double Art. A famous lesson now. Other girls still point her out to me – “There’s that girl!” – as if I need reminding.
The Year 9s walk in.
“Mr Cooper to you,” I reply.
“Oh, that’s so sweet!”
They settle down. Girls like drawing.
“I love you!”
It’s Famina. She’s standing by my desk. We look at each other. Then she returns to her chair.
Double Art is never-ending. Famina pops up again. This time, I see her from the start. She trips the few steps to the teacher’s desk, and pulls up just before it, as if she’s been tugged by a string.
“I love you!”
When she has her head down, drawing, I pop up too, in front of her.
“Do you really love me? You don't know me.”
She giggles, thinks a bit, then says, “Like a teacher!”
She’s sitting with her friends. I ask if they’re from Bangla Desh. They don’t answer. A moment later, Famina is up again, dancing around, giving each girl a warm hug.
“Famina’s very affectionate,” I mention to the girls in front of me.
“She might hug you,” someone says.
The lesson is about to end.
“Start tidying up now.” My teacher voice.
“I love you too!” says Famina.