The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

My mother’s a lady

“Bring me some stomachs next week.”

That’s what I thought Faris said. It was Starmix, a packet of sweets. He was updating his stash of goodies.

“Does your mother let you have them?”


“OK, I’ll bring some.”

“They make me hyper.”

He held his arms out like a zombie, and quivered, then mumbled something about a lesson at school. When I said, “What?” he mumbled again. I was having trouble hearing that day. I got it the third time.

“Oh, intercourse!” I cried, happily.

“Sh! My mother’s a lady!”

It was something else embarrassing, the mechanics of sex, as simple, really, as eating a sweet. At the age of eleven, you complicate things.

Early December. Faris had to do a ‘pre-test’ before he could sit the main 11+ exam. Another £200. Schools have a sense of humour. His mother thought he’d pass: “I’m 99% sure.”

Most mothers think their children are clever. His was no different, but at least she understood the concept of failure. There was one more lesson before the pre-test. She said to him, in a quiet voice: “Next lesson might be the last.”

He had, after all, declared his love for me, to the whole house, if no one in particular. He walked into the next room, and stood beside his sister, in front of the giant screen. If he passed the pre-test, his mother explained, we’d carry on preparing for the 11+. If he failed, I could come back in January, and prepare him for his Sats exams. He needed help in grammar. She’d let me know on Wednesday, when the results were out. She asked for my number again, to make sure she had it, and saved it on her phone. I remember the care she took. She even rang the number, to be quite sure.

I called out to Faris: “I’ll see you again. For Sats.”

His mother blanched. She knew what I thought now: he was going to fail. Or she wasn’t going to ring me if he did.

The next lesson, I brought him his packet of stomachs. He said, “I didn’t know if you would.”

He stepped forward, hesitated, then hugged me, saying: “I’ll do you proud.”

“Are you sure your mum won't mind me bringing you sweets?”

“I’ll tell her it’s a leftover packet.”

“There’s no need to show it to her. Don’t lie unless you have to.”

Maths was his best subject. We hadn’t been practising it. His mother said to do a bit now. In a sample paper, he got stuck on question two. If 1/3 is 0.333, what is 1/30? The easiest questions are at the start. He refused to continue, and sat there tapping his pen.

The front door banged.

“It’s my stepdad,” Faris said. “They think you’re an excellent tutor. Please say something nice about me!”

When the lesson finished – the final one, maybe, and all that – there was nearly another hug. It turned into a high-five. A boy knows why. Downstairs, I mentioned question two. Mother was horrified: “Have I left it too late?”

Stepdad asked about behaviour.

“I’m very fond of him,” I said. “He’s an angel.”

The adults were pleased, but they didn’t believe me.

Faris failed the pre-test. His mother didn’t call. She didn’t have to, although she said she would. She didn’t ring in January, either, to arrange grammar lessons. I called her, and she didn’t answer. I received a text three days later, at one in the morning. I was glad when I saw her number, but the text ran: “I’m sorry I missed your call. I don’t know who you are. I lost my contacts. If you reply, I’ll get back to you.”

I did as she said, and that was it.