The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Sunday, 8 October 2017

I’m ringing Daddy!

Mother put her head around the door. She’d overheard something.

“Did Monica say there’s no money?”

“No,” I replied. “I was talking about Daddy. I saw him on the street.”

The week before, Mother hadn’t paid the right money. She’d forgotten again. She owed me eight pounds. The next day, I dropped in to get it. Still no money.

“Her father’s coming,” she said. “He’ll pay you.”

She didn’t know when exactly. I walked to the bus stop again, without the same money. I felt stupid. While I was waiting, a car pulled up. Daddy got out, hand in pocket. The car crept forward. I pointed. I thought there was no one in it. Then I realised. Once again, I felt stupid.

“Shall I pay for two lessons?”  He held a roll of notes in the air. “When are you coming next?”

“In two weeks.”

He paused, then shut his fingers round the notes, and put them back in his wallet. It didn’t make me feel any brighter.

Monica had her own anecdote. She giggled when she told me. She was with a friend, outside a supermarket. A homeless man had asked them for money. The friend’s mother offered to buy him food. He said he wanted Macdonald’s.

“In a way, it’s funny,” I said. I talked a bit, and finished: “It could have been me if there’s no money.”

Monica asked me for past exam papers. Auntie had told her to.

“Not to do with you,” she explained. “To go through with Auntie.”

It’s my teaching material, I thought. If Auntie’s going to tutor, she can get her own. But she’d blame Monica if I didn’t bring something. I said I would, then realised: Auntie, the past papers – I won’t be needed anymore. Too late. I’d promised. Next time, I gave her a paper.

“You brought it!” she cried. She hadn't trusted me, or she’d forgotten. It was an old Maths test, the first few questions – the easy ones. It hadn’t printed well.

“I need a colour cartridge,” I said, “but I don’t want to buy one.”

“Skin-flint!”

Say that to Auntie. Mother put her head around the door; she was popping out to the cash machine. She’d forgotten my money again. Monica grinned. Auntie was upstairs. The lamp was too, the one Daddy bought for our lesson. Auntie had it now. Soon, she’d have the questions. When Mummy left, I stood up: “I’m ringing Daddy!”

Monica started miming. She gesticulated, sitting next to me, and jumped about, which meant banging chairs. She’d never been cuter – or noisier.

“Sh!” I said. “Auntie will hear!”

She stopped suddenly, and said in a measured voice, without looking at me, “It’s your last lesson next week. You’re getting sacked.” She glanced across to see what I’d do, then looked down. “You’ll have no more money.”

“I don’t believe you. They wouldn’t tell you now.”

“I overheard them talking.”

I sensed a fib. Her parents weren’t good at “next week”; they didn’t plan ahead, not with her education. They’d forgotten the 11+. They’d forgotten me ten times over. Still, the exams would happen whether they remembered or not. Summer would come. Why have a tutor? They’d think that, sooner or later. Next year, Monica would be in secondary school. I’d helped her in primary. I belonged to the past already.

“Look.” I put a finger to my eye. “There’s a tear.”

If there was, she didn’t see it. She kept her face down, studying her book, like a good girl. The sentences she’d spoken – they were too easy. She was fibbing. I was almost certain.

“You’ll learn lots of things at secondary school – how to manipulate boys, twist them around your little finger” – I smiled – “the way you do with me.”  

Missed the tear, missed the smile. They mightn’t have existed. She took pity on me.

“It’s not your last lesson.”