I arrived one day at a pupil’s house. The boy’s uncle let me in, and called upstairs, “Adil, your tutor’s here.”
“Oh, shit!” floated back, softly and bitterly. Adil is sixteen. He’s calm and pleasant. Too calm at times. In one lesson, he fell asleep. How do you wake someone who’s bigger than you? I’ve fallen asleep too. In my lesson. I really have.
Oh, shit! I felt sorry for him when he said it. I don’t know what his uncle felt. He had spoken very softly, breathed more than spoken. Not softly enough. The walls are pretty thin out there. I heard someone fart in the house next door.
Adil had forgotten I was coming, but we still did the lesson. Not all my pupils answer when I knock. They’re home; they’re not asleep, or ill; they just don’t answer. Once, I saw a boy through the curtains, sitting with his mother. They were on the sofa together, so close their thighs were touching. With a straight back, his head reached her shoulder. They knew I was coming. I came every week. They had sat down to wait, and not answer.
The sofa faced the window. No hiding out the back for these two. Anyone could knock. They didn’t want to snub the wrong person. And what if I didn’t come? They’d want to know. They were taking the trouble to deceive me. It was also fun. I could feel the anticipation through the window.
I knocked a few more times. I’m not sure why. Nothing to do now but wait for me to go. Whichever way you look at it, they were smart. Just buy some decent curtains.
In some families, the children take charge. One boy kept me waiting in the snow. This happened every lesson. I rang the bell. His grandmother called him to open the door. I could hear her in the house. I’m not sure what language it was. It didn’t matter. He ignored her. Boys like it upstairs. She didn’t come herself. I don’t think she ever left the kitchen, and there was no one else at home. In the meantime, I got to know the door.
He let me in eventually, but we couldn’t start the lesson. He disappeared. When he came back, five minutes later, he was holding a plate of cakes in both hands, round ones in different colours, the cakes I mean, and a pile of slices. Grandma again.
In what was left of the hour, he ate the cakes in front of me. He always kept a piece till the end, but he ate them all. A useful skill for a child to have. I thought you just swallowed cake. It’s actually quite complicated. First, you feel it with your eyes. Then, you use your fingers. With Grandma’s cake, there’s no need to bite; just tease it with your lips. Then, sit back and feel the cake inside you. He taught me all this. He didn’t listen. Without the cake, there would have been no lesson.
After a few weeks, I stopped the tuition. I don’t normally. Why let the pupil win? I’d rather have the money. When I cancelled, it wasn’t just the cake, or being left out in the snow. It was the dumb malice I could feel inside him.
A month or so passed. I saw him on the street, an ex-pupil now, talking to some cake enthusiasts. Oh, shit! None of them knew me, but they laughed when he did, and repeated the insults he shouted. We are all ex-pupils. It was liberating.