The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Friday, 8 December 2017

What a fool

Crazy-lady, Kirin’s child-minder, has gone. When I press the bell, a new lady comes to the door.

“Do you like her?” I asked.

“No. She’s too old.”

“Old people are best.”

I call her Ancient-lady. You never know. She mightn’t interfere, or spy on us, like Mummy, or Crazy-lady when Mummy wasn’t there. I gave him a few tips on innocence, or not looking guilty; how to sit still, for instance, and not call out, so ladies wouldn’t be suspicious. As for Ancient-lady, I’d assert myself before she settled in and felt more important than me, as she would very soon, if she didn’t already.

There’s a sofa near our table. It’s excellent for spying. Ancient-Lady saw it, like everyone. The first time she sat there, I asked her not to. She got up, went out, and hasn’t used it since.

“I like her already,” I said. “You might too, one day. Did you like Crazy-lady at the start?”

“No.”

“Did you like me?”

I remember our first lesson. He asked for the toilet three times – in one hour. I told Mummy afterwards. She was annoyed, with me.

“You can’t stop someone going to the toilet!”

Good old Mummy. She defends him when she shouldn’t, and rebukes him when she doesn’t need to. There are mothers like that, who criticise their child non-stop, but object when someone else tries to. She expects him to sit with me for three hours straight. She’d want a break, wouldn’t she, for herself? For her son, she’s never bothered. He’s still playful, and wants to trick her. I just remind him – when he sneaks into the kitchen, for example – not to steal too many sweets at a time. She might notice. She might be counting. You know Mummy.

His father is suspicious too; or step-father. At the end of one lesson, he stood over Kirin, and said in a cold voice: “Have you done your homework?”

They don’t seem to like him very much. They do see his earning potential. The more he studies, the more he’ll earn. It’s obvious. To avoid work, Kirin pretends. He said he hurt his finger.

“He may recover when I go,” I joked. He mentioned the doctor. Mummy smirked. She meant: What a fool! To judge him, she uses adult standards, but when she gives him an instruction, she expects the obedience of a child.

          She’s not so stern with herself. She was trying to change a light bulb, behind us, above the sofa. It wasn’t going well.

            “Shit!” I heard. Kirin did too.

“Pardon my French,” he said, with a smile. He’s only eight. I thought: He’s better behaved than she is. What if he said “Shit!” and she heard?

Ancient-lady didn’t last long. There’s a new lady. We had to choose a name, something with an A sound to go with lady, and a mocking edge. Kirin was stuck, so I picked for him. At first, I wouldn’t tell. It was rude, I said. Of course, he begged me.

“Anal-lady. It’s a science word.”

I needed to explain a little more. The name was perfect: the assonance, the elision, the nastiness. On the other hand, it wasn’t child-friendly. He knew it was wrong. I confessed, “I don’t think Mummy would like it.”

“She wouldn’t like Crazy-lady.”

Mummy is getting more suspicious. She isn’t home much. When she is, she sits in the kitchen, watching. I think we’re meant to fear her. Once, when he left his chair, she shot this at me: “Does he often do that?”

I could hear her thinking. The next week, she wasn’t in London. She had left in the morning, Kirin said, and was coming back on Sunday. She’s done it twice, now. She doesn’t tell him where she goes. She doesn’t have to. The first time, I saw a webcam on the floor, plugged in the wall.

“It’s something to do with her office,” Kirin said.

The second time, I saw the webcam again, along with two others, covering our table and each exit.

“It’s so Mummy knows what I’m doing,” he admitted, sadly. “She can see me on her phone.”

Perhaps she never watches; she sets it up to scare him. Either way, he doesn’t like it. The absences, the secrecy, the spying – does she work for MI5? She can do what she wants. One day, Kirin will too. She’d offended us so often. Still, with the webcams, she surprised me. It out-Mummied Mummy.

I nudged a camera with my foot, so it faced away. The green light was on. It occurred to me, as my shoe poked forward, that she might be watching. Too bad. You can watch yourself. Kirin turned a camera to the wall. He had followed my example, like a good pupil. I forgot to tell him, if she asked, to say I did it. She might sack me, but she might, anyway.

Conspirators, we went on learning. At school, in English, he was doing imagery. His teacher said a metaphor was a weak simile. I said it wasn’t.

“Even if it was, does that mean anything to an eight-year-old?”

He thought for a second, then smiled ironically, and shook his head. We’d been doing metaphors.

“Can you think of an example?” I asked. He grinned, and repeated one of mine, for sunset. I say ‘mine.’

“The orange ball sank into the ocean.”

I added a new cliché: “And left not a ripple behind.”