The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Friday, 8 January 2016

Errors that we make

No matter what Priya did, I never got angry.  Raiding the biscuit tin, dancing on the table.  They were her biscuits; it was her table.  She never did anything really bad – her mother might not have agreed – and she wasn’t trying to make me angry.  Things just happen, don’t they?

Priya’s family was from Sri Lanka.  They were Tamils, and Buddhists, too.  Her mother always looked cross, when I was there, anyway.  Once, she said to me, “I don’t know how much work goes on in her lesson.”

“It’s certainly not boring,” I replied.  I shouldn’t have.  We all know that lessons should be boring.

            To pass time, I show off, and I did the same with Priya.

“Move on!” she used to say, in a hard voice, when I got too carried away.  She’ll make an imperious lover.  One day, she said, “I don’t understand you.”

She wasn’t the only one, apparently.  Cousin S– stopped her tuition.  They found someone else, but didn’t tell me.  Priya mentioned S–’s new tutor.  It just slipped out in the conversation.  I was furious.  It’s hard to learn certain things.  To learn them from a child is even harder.  Harder still, to learn them casually.  

“You’re angry!” she declared, triumphantly, when she saw my face.

“I’m not,” I said.  She had finally done it, made me angry, and without even trying.  She made me lie, too.  It was quite a victory.

Perhaps the new tutor was less expensive.  Perhaps she was better at extracting work.  Perhaps she was just better.  R– had stopped already.  Priya was the only one left.

There are other families.  Priya had a friend the same age, and I started tutoring her.  After a few lessons, Priya asked, “Who do you like better?”

“Whatever I say will be wrong.  If I say I like her better, you’ll be jealous.  If I say I like you better, it’ll hurt her feelings when you tell her.  So I’m not going to answer.”

Priya needed something sweet, so she opened the chocolate cupboard, and pilfered a few pieces.  That’s right.  They had a cupboard full of chocolate.  They had family in Switzerland too.  

The chocolate looked nice.  When she sat down again, there was a quick struggle.  If winning back a piece of chocolate means falling into someone’s lap, it’s an error which a girl can make, quite accidentally.

She had scratched herself at school.  In the middle of a telephone dance, she went, “Ouch!” and examined her arm.  She was standing on the table, in front of me,

“Show me,” I said.  She waited shyly, then held out her arm.

Her laptop was also on the table.  She had to write a story.  There was a prize at school for the best piece of writing.  She’d done some work already, and we did some more, but she pressed the wrong key, and deleted everything.  She began to wail, a beautiful, loud wail, as if the world had ended.  Her uncle came in.  She hadn’t wailed like that before, not while I was there.  S– came in too, like following a scent, not certain what it was she was chasing.

Our lessons finished two years ago.  Priya told me what her mother said.  We were stopping for the summer.  She didn’t say forever.  Like a business woman, Priya wrote my details in her book.  Name and telephone numbers.  I remember the little voice: “Cell?”  Telling more than asking, the way grown-ups do.

“Do you really think she’ll call me?” I said.

“She might.”

It’s the last thing I remember her saying.