The following week, I rang the bell and peered through the window. Nunu was sitting at the table, reading a book. When I came in, she looked up sweetly and smiled.
“You’re ready,” I said. “How did you know I was coming?”
A slight pause.
“I was looking through the window.”
She said it a bit shyly, like a girl admitting what she didn’t want to. If I knew she’d been looking, I’d think she was keen to see me. Worse still, she had tried to hide her keenness by sitting down before I came in. I’d think that, too. How did you know I was coming? There could only be one answer. I knew it already, before I asked. Nunu understood, then told the truth. There was no point in lying. If she did, she wouldn’t just look keen; she’d look stupid.
She had a new pet, a white rabbit. It was in its place, like Nunu; a different place, that’s all. There was a cage beside the table.
“The rabbit’s a reward,” explained mother, beaming at her daughter. “I’m proud of her. She’s doing so well in your lesson.”
A plump thing (the rabbit, I mean), it had a general cuteness, like little girls before you get to know them. The cage was designed for the active rabbit; It was nice enough, as cages go, but it lacked something. Freedom. If you asked Rabbit (I don’t know its name or gender), it wouldn’t want to be there, like Nunu in our first lesson. But you don’t ask rabbits their opinion. Let's call it Freedom; Freddy, for short.
When Freddy stood up, his pointy ears stuck through the wire. I felt sorry for him. There were droppings on the base of the cage. It's not ideal, living like that, next to a pile of crap. In cartoons, rabbits don’t crap. But this was a real rabbit. Being real has its own perks – if you're a rabbit. You don’t have to listen or read or give answers; do a whole pile of crap.
Something else was different. Nunu had a cap, a sporty one.
“Are you going to model it for me?”
She got up, took five steps across the carpet, then returned, wiggling her hips on the way, like a proper model. At least, she tried. It was more like a girl pony. She passed back and forth three times, in front of me. At the end of each pass, she stopped and tugged her cap in my direction. Then she sat down again on the chair beside me. She deserved a break. I started talking.
“A boy gave me a lock of hair.” Nunu giggled. “He cut it off one lesson and wrapped it in a piece of paper. I’ve still got it.”
“I’ll give you a staple.”
She had a stapler set, small and pretty, the sort of thing little girls like.
“It might hurt,” I replied.
“I’ll give it to you, silly. I won’t staple.”
I glanced across and down (she was ten, remember; she was short). She shut her eyes, pushed her chin up and puckered her lips for a kiss, a big one, by the look of it. I stared at the little face; her little mouth, a perfect circle reaching up at me. I didn’t move. A few moments, and she opened her eyes. When she saw me, she sighed – more a groan, really – kissed her fingertips, then placed them on my cheek, very gently.
The lesson continued. I produced a new sheet, a clean one, if you like.
“Where’s the one we were doing?” asked Nunu.
“It was nearly finished. You saw the answers, anyway.”
The air went flat. We’d had fun with that sheet. Now it was gone, the fun was too. She was disappointed.
“You look like a teenager,” I said. “Now you’re acting like one.”
“If a girl I was teaching ever said that again, I’d have to resign.”
At the end of the hour, mother came in. Like an expert, Nunu lifted Freddy and nuzzled her face on his. Her lips touched him. She was very earnest. She was also chewing gum. This time, I couldn’t resist.
“Are you chewing the rabbit’s ear?”