“Hallo, Graham,” Faris said, meaningfully, when I came for the next lesson. “I’ve got everything ready.”
He had. His pens and books were lined up on the desk. He’d organised the chairs. He’d closed his curtain to thwart the neighbours. When I sat down, he shut the door. A toy helicopter was also on the desk, on his side. I hadn’t seen it before. It was a birthday present from his mother, with remote controls, so he could fly it. It’s what he had meant by “everything ready.” He spent a while whizzing it around, especially at my face. I had to dodge. There were two sets of blades, at different levels, to stop it tipping over. I thought the extra blades looked funny. And they didn’t stop it crashing. By the end of the lesson, it had hit the wooden floor several times. I wondered how long it would last.
“Will you tell my mother I’ve been bad?” Faris said, when the lesson was over. He put his head down, and pretended to cry.
There was no need to tell her. She could hear for herself each time the helicopter crashed. He gave me a hug with both arms.
“Are you fond of me?” he asked.
There was a little box on his desk. It had been there at the start, like the helicopter, but he only showed it to me now.
“Is that your ear stud?” I teased when he opened it.
“It’s Auntie’s, for a locket. She asked me to look after it, when she goes back to France. It’s very precious.”
I packed my bag.
“I’m Faris from Paris,” he chanted, softly, as he left the room, holding his helicopter. He had said it before, once or twice, his little rhyme, or “Faris from Paris is my name.” He had lived there, too.
I was still fiddling with my bag. At the top of the stairs, he called, “I love my tutor!” to no one in particular – the staircase, or the wall in front of him. It was the push-ups that did it, I think, in the first lesson. The playfulness. One trick to steal a child’s heart, for a week or two, anyway.
When we were both downstairs, Faris informed his mother, “He said he’s fond of me.”
She looked up from the table.
“There was a context,” I said. “I don’t remember now. I didn’t just blurt it out.”
In French, she asked Faris about the noise on the floorboards. He replied in English, saying it was me; I’d been having trouble with my chair. It was partly true. I’d injured my ankle more than once, and made a noise on the floor. I agreed with Faris. She looked doubtful, but she wanted to believe it. I was the teacher, after all.
There’s another reason I agreed with Faris. He had answered her in English because he wanted me to understand. He wasn’t daring me to snitch. He was inviting me to lie. We were conspirators now.
He put his helicopter down, picked two apples off the table, and cracked them together like little skulls.
“You’ll bruise them,” I said. He did it again, immediately.
“Faris!” mother said, but only because I’d spoken to him. It can’t be the worst thing he’s done, crack a pair of apples together.
“That gave the worms a headache,” I said.
She chuckled politely. Faris returned to his helicopter, and buzzed it around the kitchen, rather wildly.
“Be careful with it, Faris! It was expensive.”
You can fool around quite easily with a new toy, until it breaks, or you get tired of it.