When I get to Monica’s, and press the bell, the door seems to open by itself. I say, “Hallo, ghost,” pleasantly, and walk in, as if I’m not expecting a human. Monica puts her head around. One week, she looked different.
“Are you Fizi?”
“Fizi doesn’t like you.”
“But you do?”
It was only half a question. She seemed older, prettier. I think it was her hair. I asked when her birthday was. She gave me her reproving look.
“I know I’ve asked you lots of times. Write it down, so I won’t forget.”
She took a sheet of paper, and wrote: Monica’s birthday: 2 August. She got the apostrophe right, and the colon. I put the sheet in my bag. Later, I showed it to her. She said the date was wrong, tore the page in half, methodically, from top to bottom, and handed it back. I mightn’t know her birthday, though I’ve kept the page. It has more meaning now, in two pieces, but, if you asked me, I mightn’t know that, either.
“My brother calls me Moneyca.”
“Oh, no! How could he?”
“He heard you.”
“How is that possible? He’s always outside during the lesson.”
“He still heard you. He must have been listening at the door.”
I thought of all the silly things I’d said. Someone must have heard. Somehow, I hadn’t been sacked – unless she was fibbing again.
“What language does your family speak?” She told me. “Say something for me.” She did. “What did you say? You’re a smelly old man?”
“I don’t know the word for smelly.” Pause. “What’s your surname?” I told her. “Mr Spaid is a poo-poo head.”
She was getting naughty.
Daddy asked me for more lessons. He wanted me to come three times a month, instead of twice. I spoke to Monica about it.
“Are you free on Tuesdays?”
“I’m not free.”
She was sniffing again, and sneezing. After one sneeze, she waved the tissue in front of me. It was very wet.
“That’s girl spray,” I said.
She leapt up from her chair. It crashed noisily on the floor behind her. She picked it up, sat down, and did the same thing again. There was another noisy crash.
“Shush!” I whispered. “Your mother will hear.”
She did it once more. Mother heard, and poked her head around the door. I said Monica was excited when she got the answers right; she was keen to learn. I finished with a warm smile: “She’s only nine!”
Mother smiled too, but she fingered her daughter’s book, inspecting the work we’d done. At last, she left the room. I remembered the pen I’d lent.
“Where’s my pen?”
“I took it to school, and put it in the pot on my table. A boy stole it.”
“No more disgusting than a snotty tissue.”
She had to do an exercise on synonyms.
“If I get the answer right, I can put spit on you. If I get it wrong, you can tickle me.”
I couldn’t lose, but I said, “I hope you get it wrong.”
She smiled, and got it wrong.
“We had a deal,” I said.
At the end of each lesson, if there’s money, Monica goes and gets it. This time, when she came back, I only saw tissue. She was holding it out in front, in both hands, like a piece of wet flannel.
“There’s no money,” she intoned, and slowly shook her head. She looked miserable. Suddenly, she smiled, and turned the tissue over. My banknotes were spread underneath.
“I never thought you’d be so wicked.”
“I don’t like you.”
“I lied for you.”
“Fizi despises you.”
“We had a deal.”
On the footpath, I turned my head. Monica was at the window. She grinned and waved. She must have run to catch me.