“What’s that red thing on your face?”
Kirin has an eye for imperfection.
It was half-term holiday, but he had homework from school. To start with, a booklet on foxes, bats and owls. The pages had been stapled together in booklet form, ready for the children to complete. There was a title page, headings and page numbers, but they were upside down and back to front.
“Mrs – did that,” said Kirin. “She’s the teaching assistant.”
The booklet was an insight into Mrs –’s mind.
Maths, handwriting. A comprehension. I got him to underline the words he didn’t know. There were lots.
“Crepuscular?” I read out aloud.
“Don’t you know what that means?” asked Kirin. Afterwards, I showed the comprehension to his mother, and said it was too hard for Year 2, but she always defends the school.
“That’s what he has to do.”
“Crepuscular? How many adults know what that means?”
There was another story. A farmer kept a fox in a cage, a handsome brown fox. The animal was unhappy and howled at the moon. The farmer thought it was yearning for its freedom, so he opened the cage, but the fox didn’t move. It just kept howling at the moon. Then the farmer understood. It wanted a wife. It was howling at the fox in the moon. The farmer reached up into the night sky and lifted down the fox in the moon. Her coat was bright silver. As soon as her feet touched the earth, she shook the silver colour from her sides. She shook and shook until her coat was brown, like her husband’s. There was baby-making. I think this was written a while ago.
At the part where she shook the silver from her fur, I said it was like a wet dog shaking off water. I thought I’d impress my young pupil.
“A fox moves like a cat,” he said. He had seen them in his back yard.
When the cubs were born, there was silver on the tip of their fur. I asked Kirin why. Kirin. The name means poet in Bengali.
“Like your hair,” he replied.
“A fox poked its nose through my window once,” I said. “It was hungry. They come at night, and look for food in the rubbish bins. They could steal a baby if there was one, or a small child. In the room, I mean, not the rubbish.”
Kirin stared. Foxes have their own timetable.
“Your hair’s orange,” I said.
Every so often, when Kirin’s working well, I let him play with one of his toy cars. I say, "You've got thirty seconds," and pretend to time him. He runs the little wheels along the table and across the book in front of him, controlling each arc like a racing driver on a curve. Last Saturday, I picked up one of his favourite cars. It was small, and disappeared in my hand.
“What would you do if I kept it? Forever.”
He looked at me, half-smiling. I put the car down again. He also has a flexible, plastic ruler. It's a bit like a floppy sword. I play with that, too.
“I know how to break it,” I said.
“I can. How do you think I’d do it?"
Kirin thought a moment, and came up with one or two ideas, but I shook my head.
"Put it in the freezer," I said. "Leave it till it’s frozen hard, then take it out, and snap it in two.” I held my fingers up and snapped an imaginary ruler. “Don’t do it, though. Mummy wouldn’t be pleased.”
We read one more story, about a vain emperor. I went through vain and vein, showing the blue lines in my wrist. Kirin placed his own arm on the polished table. He had veins too.
When the lesson was over, I got up as I always did, but this time he said: “I don’t want you to go!”