The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

You’ve had lots of practice in your long life

Last Saturday, when I arrived, Kirin wasn’t hiding beneath the table. He was on his chair, ready. I think he was even holding a pencil. There were printed sheets in front of him, a sample maths paper for the 11+. I know the school. It has one of the hardest exams.

“My mother said I have to do at least four pages.”

“OK. Let’s have a look.”

He might have managed the first three questions, which were all on page one, but there were over twenty altogether. There was no point in starting.

“I can see it’s too difficult. I’ve had lots of practice in my long life.”

I told him I’d explain to Mummy when she got home; he wouldn’t get into trouble. We then discussed ways to hoodwink her, like how to hide a toy car if she came in unexpectedly.

“See what you can do. You have thirty seconds. You wouldn’t have three if I was Mummy.”

He put the car on the table in front of him, and piled his books and papers across it. He tried to make the pile seem natural, but it just looked a mess. I said it wasn’t a good idea; Mummy didn’t like mess; she’d tell him to clean it up; and she’d wait there and watch while he did it. He’d already started tidying. He knew Mummy better than I did.

I suggested keeping the toy behind his giant pencil bag, and slipping it inside when she came in. There was enough room under the flap for a Belgian minibus, and the small fist which enclosed it. He smiled gently.

“What if she caught me with my hand inside?”

“It’s your pencil case. Bag,” I corrected. I went on. She couldn’t see through the flap, so she wouldn’t see the toy. If she caught him with his hand inside, he mustn’t pull it out too quickly. It would look guilty. He had every reason to put it there, in his own pencil bag, which Mummy herself had bought, the biggest and most expensive she could find.

“Just say: ‘Now, where’s that red pen?’ and peek beneath the flap. I’ll say: ‘Don’t worry. I don’t need it. I had a quick look. You haven’t made any mistakes.’”

Mummy would poke around for a minute, on the coffee table, at the bookshelf, then slip out quietly.

“Children lie badly,” I concluded. “Some adults do too. I’m a very good liar.”

“You’ve had lots of practice in your long life.”

Mummy still wasn’t home. It was pay day. She pays four weeks in advance. I think she's mad, but it saves her the bother, she said, of bringing cash every week.  Usually, if she's going out, she leaves the money in the bookcase, near my chair. Kirin calls it his cash machine. Today, the machine was empty. I hadn’t seen her for a few weeks. I thought she might have forgotten. I sent her a text. Kirin got up and stood at my shoulder.

“Don’t stand there. You’ll make me nervous. When I talk about money, I sound
grovelling or rude. I’ll show you later.”

Mummy replied immediately. She hadn’t forgotten. She’d be home soon.

It was true, about being home soon. When she came in, she repeated: “I hadn’t forgotten!” It wasn’t shrill, but she needed to stop saying it.

I mentioned the sample paper. I told her it was too hard. I didn’t mention her instruction to do four pages. She didn’t mention it either.

“I just wanted to give you an idea,” she explained, “of what the school required.”