The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Thursday, 8 June 2017

You should’ve told me

Before each lesson, I remind Monica’s parents. I text them – Daddy, the day before; Mother, in the morning. It doesn’t make much difference. Sometimes there’s money, sometimes not. Today, there was not. It was the seventh time. At the end of the lesson, Mother came in, followed by Auntie.

“You should’ve told me,” she said, to Monica; to me: “I forgot. It won’t happen again.”

“It won’t happen again,” echoed Auntie. Normally, I don’t see her. She’s upstairs. When the ceiling creaks, Monica tells me what room she’s in.

Mother peered down at the table. Monica had escaped, but she left her book open. The work was messy. Mother didn’t like it. Neither did Auntie.

“It’s all right,” I said.

“Can you read it?”

“Can you read it?” echoed Auntie.

“I don’t usually look. She just tells me the answers.”

“Can you give her homework?” Mother asked.

“Homework,” nodded Auntie. It was the summer holiday. A girl had time to spare.

The adults disappeared, and Monica returned. I left some photocopies, stapled together. There were lots of examples, but few questions.

“It’s not as long as it looks,” I said. “Your mother’ll be happy, but it’s not much work, really.”

“I’ll tell her you said that.”

As I walked out, I wondered: Will she wave through the window again? It’s something a child will do, but not for ever. I was on the footpath now. I turned my head. She wasn’t there. I could feel her, though, behind the curtain. She’s playing with me. I took three steps, then looked back, and there she was, laughing, waving.

Next lesson, at the start, Fizi walked in, holding a plastic bottle.

“Do I know you? Are you Fizi?”

She nodded. She’s very quiet. I’d heard her speak only once.

“You look different,” I encouraged. “Your hair’s changed, and you weren’t holding a bottle.” Pause. “I didn’t know you were here.” I turned to Monica, beaming: “You didn’t tell me!”

Monica was searching for her homework. Fizi slipped out.

“Are you sure you did it?”

Fizi came back, in her soundless way, holding the homework on her palms, like a
treasure. She put it on the table, and left again, without a word.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “Whenever I need something, Fizi will know. She’ll be there, waiting.” Pause. “Does she need a tutor? I’ll give her my business card.” I reached in a pocket. “I don’t have a business card.”

Monica made one for me from a piece of paper, the right size and shape, put my name on it, and wrote Fish underneath, like a job title.

“What’s your phone number?”

“I don’t think Fizi’s mummy will want her to have it.”

Monica made up a number, and read it out.

“Is it like yours?”

“Very.”

She showed me what she’d done. There was a mark between the F and the i. It looked like a j.

“It says Fjish.”

“Fjish!” Monica repeated. She went to find Fizi. After a moment, the little girl appeared, ahead of Monica, clutching the business card.

“Why did you send me a card with Fish on it?”

“Monica did it. She wrote fjish.”

“Fjish!” Monica repeated, with a grin. I had some paper clips. She took a pink one, and twisted it around.

“It’s a heart,” she said, holding it up.

“It’s a bit squashed. I’ll let you have it. A memento of the lesson.”

“What does memento mean?”

“Something you keep to remind you of a precious time.” She threw it across the room, dramatically. “You’ll come across it later and think of me.”

“Wimp,” she said, as if it was me she’d twisted and tossed on the floor.

I tidied up. The homework sheets were loose.

“What happened to the staple?”

“I’ll do it,” she said. She has her own stapler, a tiny, pink one. When she’d finished, she passed the sheets to me.

“They’re in the wrong order,” I said.

“You should’ve told me.”