At Monica’s next lesson, there was no Daddy, just as Daddy had predicted. There was a new lamp on the dining room table. He had said that, too. The lamp has a long, silver neck that you twist around to suit you. It’s so bright I turn it away. I call it my hair dryer. The first time I said it, Monica laughed, but only the first time.
Her mother wasn’t home, not bad news in itself, though Daddy said she would be. Auntie opened the front door. When Monica and I were alone, she said, straightaway, “There’s no money.”
Daddy had not mentioned this. A new lamp is one thing; abundant light, but you can’t live on that. Auntie should have told me when I got there. She’s spineless, I thought. I looked at the little girl who was with me. There was no money; it was a problem, but she was nine. It wasn’t her job to tell me.
“It’s not your fault,” I said, thinking: This child is worth more than her adults. In all these months, I haven’t changed my mind.
At the end of the lesson, Auntie came in. She looked as if she didn’t want to.
“Her mother didn’t leave any money,” she explained, then turned to Monica, and frowned: “Why didn’t you tell me?”
It happens now and then, no money at the end of a lesson. Mostly, I assume it’s not on purpose, and go back. But it was two weeks till the next lesson. They’d forgotten once. They could forget again. When I arrived next time, the door mightn’t open at all. It’s happened before, more than once, at other addresses. On the bright side, as it were, they had a new lamp. It shed a ray of light on the future. There’d be work at that table, lessons even. But they mightn’t involve me.
I decided to go back, if only to collect the money they owed me. I could sack Daddy later – I’d done it to other Daddies – but sacking him would mean sacking Monica, and I was fond of her. It was a bad start, though. Mother had only had two tests, and she’d failed both of them. In fact, as I write this, she’s failed the money test six times. Monica says it’s four. When I teased her about it, she didn’t answer. She just lifted her little hand, and hid the thumb. Meanwhile, I keep going back. I get paid in the end.
Their house is up the road, three bus stops away. It’s convenient. It’s another reason to go back, if I needed one. I see Monica sometimes, outside the lesson, on the bus or train. The first time, she was by herself, coming home from school. In her uniform, she looked innocent. The bus was crowded. I didn’t catch her eye.
I mentioned it in the next lesson. She said she hadn’t seen me.
“Are you sure?” I pressed. “I don’t mind. I would’ve ignored me too.”
The last time I saw her outside lessons, we were also on the bus. I was sitting near the back. She got on. When she caught sight of me, she grinned, and sat across the aisle. Her mother was with her, and her two, younger brothers. It was Sunday. They’d been to church. They were in their best clothes. Monica was holding a special bag.
“What’s inside?” I asked. She showed me. When a girl lets you look in her bag, you feel you know her better. Mother ignored me. I thought, OK, but it was odd. She apologised in the next lesson.
“I didn’t recognise you!”
“I’m glad,” I joked. “I get recognised everywhere I go.”
We laughed, but she hadn’t known me, and still let me talk to her daughter. It was another test failed.