The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Quality time with my sister

I was late for a lesson. When I arrived, Faris was agitated. Our lessons were too long already, in his opinion, and he was right. Starting one late would make it even longer: two hours, plus the time he’d waited. Five minutes before we normally finished, he said I should go. He had to watch Sherlock Holmes. I guessed it was on later, and said, “Stop lying.”

There was more bad news. His toy helicopter was broken. He had crashed it too often, the final time just before I came.

“If you hadn’t come late, it wouldn’t be broken!”

“You said you loved me,” I reminded him. “You called out on the stairs.”

It didn’t help. He had to write another story-ending, his least favourite task. A girl had been locked in a tower, by a river. One day, she heard someone singing. She looked out, and saw a young fisherman on a boat, floating past. She was captivated. What happened next?

Faris, the same as anyone, imagined her escaping from the tower. In his version, though, she made a steel staircase to do it. He was serious. It wasn’t his revenge for starting late. That would have been clever. I gave him some advice.

“If you’re making up a story, avoid logical flaws. Don’t say things which can’t be true, or can be proven false. A young girl can’t lift steel bars, and weld them together, even if they happen to be lying there, conveniently, on her bedroom floor, with all the equipment she needs; but, if she somehow managed, it would take so long, the fisherman would have floated away.

That didn’t help either. I had made him feel stupid again. I was also teaching him to lie, effectively, I mean. He needed help with that.

Faris was still trying to get rid of me.

“You have to go. I’m missing quality time with my sister. I could be downstairs now, playing with her.”

It was cleverer than Sherlock Holmes, something I couldn’t disprove, however unlikely it seemed: a boy’s urge to bond with his sister. She was a cute two-year-old. The only time she kept quiet was in front of the television, in her high chair, with something to eat in her hand, the light from the giant screen flickering over her.

I still refused to go. He tore a page from his notebook, and screwed it up.

“I’m sick of writing. I need to do grammar.”

“If we start doing grammar, you’ll say you’re sick of that.” 

“I’m a kid,” he replied, in a lighter tone. He wrote in his book, Faris is stupid, and Faris is very stupid, several times. When he finished, he read them out to me.

I got up to go, and nearly did. He knew I meant it.

“Don’t go!” he said. He meant it too.

At the end of the lesson, he played his cello for me. More quality time. He played beautifully. As for the bad behaviour, he begged me not to tell his mother. He swore he’d work next week: “On my mother’s life. On the Quran.” 

Next lesson, as soon as we sat down, he apologised. I think he’d been waiting all week. He still misbehaved, of course. I hadn’t told on him. He would have misbehaved anyway.

He took a pair of scissors, and cut a lock from his hair, at the front, above the forehead. It was jet black. He put it on a small piece of paper, which he folded carefully, like collecting evidence, then gave it to me.

I unfolded the paper, and felt the lock.

“It’s woolly, like a sheep,” I said. “Hallo, sheep.”

“Don’t call me that.”

Faris from Paris is my name.