Last Saturday, when I got to Kirin’s house, his child minder opened the door. It’s the term he uses when he refers to her. It’s a bit clinical, coming from a child. He doesn’t say nanny, much less her name. He lowers his voice too, even if she’s outside and can’t hear, as though he’d rather not refer to her at all, and his tone is cooler.
To tell the truth, the young woman is annoying. She’s hardly visible when Mummy’s home, but, as soon as Mummy leaves, she takes charge. She’s always poking around, like a little Mummy, saying bossy things, so we can’t relax. Still, when she opens the door, it means Mummy isn’t home. That’s a relief for everyone.
“Do beetles have blood?” Kirin asked. At first, I thought he didn’t know, but he was testing me. I said I wasn’t sure.
“They’ve got black blood,” he informed me. It hadn’t come up in Science. One lunchtime, he’d been playing with a friend. The two boys had found some large stones. They tried to hit a classroom window on the first floor, but their arms weren’t strong enough. (He didn’t say that.) When they missed the window, they found a beetle, and smashed that instead. It wasn’t quite so hard. (He didn’t say that, either.) To show off, I summed up the story thus far.
“So, you just happened to have rocks in your hands, and thought, ‘Oh, I wonder what a broken window looks like.’”
“You couldn’t break the window, so you thought, ‘Oh, I wonder what colour blood beetles have.’”
He grinned again, but I hadn’t finished.
“Throughout the history of human existence, men have used science as an excuse for cruelty.”
Homework was an information leaflet. He had to use bullet points. I queried the term.
“Isn’t that a bit violent? At school, you aren’t allowed toy guns, but you have bullet points. Mention it to your teacher on Monday morning.”
Kirin grinned again. His bullets were just blobs, anyway.
“Let’s call them cockroach points. You can mention that, too.”
He grinned his biggest grin, and repeated in a loud voice, “Cockroach points!”
I popped a sweet in my mouth. It was lemon flavour: “For my throat,” I said. I offered one to Kirin. He sucked it manfully for a few seconds, then spat it in his palm, and, without a word, went upstairs. Children like sweets. I didn’t do it on purpose.
“Kirin!” called the child minder, from the kitchen. “What are you doing?”
When he sat down again, I screwed up my sweet wrapper, and threw it at him, aiming for his mouth. I missed. I held my hands up.
“It wasn’t me. It was the poltergeist.” I thought he wouldn’t know about those. But he
did, everything, from some computer game.
“Let’s face it,” I said. “Most of what you know comes from a machine. Spell poltergeist.” I’d have him there. When he got it wrong, I recited: “I before e, except after c.”
“There’s no c in poltergeist!”
At last, the lesson was over. The child minder came in, just like Mummy.
“He was very good today,” I said, as I say to Mummy.
“I could hear you being naughty,” she said, to Kirin, the way Mummy does.
“I said very good, not perfect. Even I’m not perfect. You may be perfect, of course.”
I wouldn’t say that to Mummy. Kirin was standing in front of her. He turned his little face up, and chanted: “You’re not perfect! You’re not perfect!”
He wouldn’t say that either, not to Mummy. We were being cheeky to the child minder, like children everywhere.