Kirin said Mummy gives him Year 8 Maths. He’s in Year 3, the little genius.
“I believe it,” I replied. She hasn’t mentioned it to me. I wouldn’t understand that sort of thing, the special algebra that flows between them.
It was Eid time again. Kirin showed me his presents. There’s always plenty of those. In religion, as in the mysteries of Math, Mummy is never sparing. This year, he got a cell phone and a watch.
“I don’t need to ask you the time anymore,” he yawned. “I’ve got two things to show me.”
In case he doesn’t get it the first time, I thought. It wasn’t fair on Mummy. She probably didn’t mean it that way. He also had new pyjamas, but they made him hot. She didn’t mean that, either. He hadn’t slept well. He said he’d told Mummy, but she hadn’t believed him.
He’d had a haircut, too. I thought: That’s typical Mummy. She gives with one hand and takes with the other. I’m a bit anti-Mummy at the moment.
“Wouldn’t you like long, golden hair?” I asked, in my most unctuous voice.
“I don’t believe you.”
There was homework for school. He had to do a comprehension about Arthur and the sword in the stone. The first question ran: ‘What time of year is it, and how do you know?’ I thought it was too easy. Worse than that, it was boring. They could have asked something else, surely; a more evocative question. For example: ‘How do you think he felt when the sword came out? Like a king?’ I didn’t wait for Kirin. I answered for him: “It says it was freezing, and it’s not freezing in summer, you idiot.”
It just came out, like a prompt blade. Kirin bolted. He got as far as the corridor, where his child-minder caught him, and sent him back.
“What happened?” I asked. He was hurt, disbelieving.
“You called me an idiot.”
“No, I didn’t. I was talking to the person who wrote the question. It’s too easy. You’re too clever. I never call my pupils idiots, even if they are. Only an idiot would think I called him an idiot.”
He looked at me. There’s one thing about Kirin. He has a sense of humour. He gets over things quickly, too. He doesn’t sulk, like me. I asked him to read the rest of the passage aloud. He reached the part where Arthur does his bit.
“The sword came out,” Kirin read, “like a knife through butter.”
“I knew it!” I called out. “I thought of the same image, ‘like a knife through butter,’ just before you read it.”
“But you didn’t say so.”
I regarded him.
“You’re very sceptical” – I pointed to his dictionary – “for a child.” One of his dictionaries. “Actually, they should have said butter at room temperature. Chilled wouldn’t work.”
“You mean they should have said it, or it wouldn’t work?”
It wasn’t revenge. I really wasn’t sure what he meant. When he didn’t answer, I went on.
“You’re right, I think. If the butter was melted, it wouldn’t work either. The knife would be on it, not inside it, and you could just pick it up. But why didn’t they say ‘like a knife through butter at room temperature?’”
He said he wasn’t sure.
“It sounds ugly. It spoils the rhythm, and you don’t need to say it. People know what you mean. That’s ugly as well, when you explain too much, like your old tutor.”
Kirin opened his mouth, but I got in first again.
“I know. I’m ugly too.”