There’s a little girl I haven’t mentioned. We had lessons at the kitchen table. It was a heavy one, with a solid glass top, the sort you might find in a dining room.
When we sat down, her uncle wiped the surface with a damp cloth. Despite the curry stains, it was quite handy sitting in the kitchen. The little girl – let’s call her Priya – had access to the food cupboards, and the fridge for drinks. She was only seven. The glasses were on a high shelf. To get them, she had to climb on a cupboard, then reach up even further. She was very small. To me, waiting at the table, it looked like rock climbing.
I remember one lesson. She had made her favourite drink – she mixed things together – and kept it in the fridge. She had drunk almost all of it. There was only enough for one glass, but she wanted me to try it, so she filled a glass, and gave it to me. She kept saying how yummy it was.
“Are you sure you want me to have it?” I asked. She nodded, but I left the glass on the table. I thought she might change her mind. I wasn’t tempting her.
“Sure?” I repeated, a moment later. It was too much. Without a word, she reached across, and pulled the glass back in front of her.
At one time or other, I tutored the whole family, the child portion. They came in two lots: Priya and her parents (she was an only child), and her aunt and uncle, plus two teenage cousins. In the kitchen, there were three large plants, one for each child, explained Priya, put into pots when they were born. The sort you can grow inside. They had done quite well in the sunny kitchen, turning into trees and bushes, but I couldn’t help thinking: What happens when they die? I didn’t mention it to Priya.
“Did R– behave himself?” she asked, after one of his lessons. R– was thirteen. She actually said: “Did W– behave himself?” She hadn’t mastered the letter r. It was another cute thing I’d discovered.
S–, the other child, had turned sixteen. Priya came in once during the older girl’s lesson. She brought a pile of books, and sat opposite, in silence, with a pencil in her hand, looking studious.
“You’re peeking,” I observed. It was true. She was keeping an eye on us.
At the start of her own lessons, Priya was usually asleep. When I arrived, I’d find her on the sofa, out cold, at five-thirty in the afternoon. She cried when she had to wake up. She was, I think, the perfect bawling, little sister, or cousin in this case. If you lived with her, it might be annoying.
Once, before the lesson, she slipped and fell on the stairs. They were steep and narrow.
“Did you cry?” I asked.
“I bet you did.”
She confessed. When she was fully awake, the fun began. There was a telephone on the cupboard by the sink. It rang at least once every lesson. It had a special melody, and was very loud. She did a dance, “My telephone dance,” she called it. She used to practise during the lesson, when the phone wasn’t ringing, near one of the big plants. Sometimes, she climbed on the table, and danced there, in front of me. There was more room. It must have felt like a stage.
One day, R– came in late from school, looking for food. Priya was working.
“She did her telephone dance,” I said.
R– didn’t know what it was.
“I only come once a week,” I pointed out. “You live with her, and you haven’t seen her telephone dance!”