The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

I know girls who’d give their right leg

A week later, at six o’clock as usual, I arrived at Nunu’s. I rang the bell. I’m on time, I thought. Nunu’s waiting; she’ll be at the table, pretending to read, trying not to look excited.
I peeped through the window. No sign of Nunu. If she was waiting for me, it wasn’t at the table. She’s playing a trick, I thought. She’ll jump out when I walk in. Girls had done that. I rang the bell. The door opened, and I walked in. Still no Nunu. She was upstairs, mother said; her cousins were staying.
After a minute, three children came down: Nunu, another girl and a boy. The cousins were a bit younger than Nunu, but she looked much older. She was wearing her tight top. It had never looked tighter. They sat down at the table, as if they were all part of the lesson.
“I’ll need an extra £5 for each cousin,” I said.
“I’ve got it,” the boy replied, seriously, putting his hand in his pocket. He was smart. He’d make a good pupil. But he was joking, He didn’t want to sit there and he didn’t have to. In fact, he wasn’t allowed. It was Nunu’s lesson. He could have some fun, though, unlike Nunu – she had to learn. At the moment, she sat in silence, eyeing the younger children, more like an aunt than a cousin. She was apprehensive. They might say something stupid. When she said something stupid, it didn’t matter. She didn’t notice.
The cousins went upstairs.

“Are you coming next week?” Nunu asked. It was the half-term holiday, a whole week off school and, perhaps, the tutor. I didn’t answer at once. I watched her, as if I wasn’t sure what she meant, as if a girl might want her tutor in the half-term holiday. After the pause, I said this.

“Two weeks is such a long time.”
“It’s a short time for me.”

“I know girls who’d give their right leg to sit with me for an hour.” Silence. “Deep down, you want me to come.”

“Deep down, I don’t!”

She sneezed. She had a cold, she explained. She’d caught it in PE. I asked a few questions. Her class had been out in bad weather. Her arms and legs were bare, as they were now.

“It was freezing!” she moaned. “We were just standing round.”

The lesson finished. Mother came in to pay, as she always did. I mentioned Nunu’s cold. I even described how she got it. Mother looked surprised. She knew about the cold. I didn’t need to tell her. I didn’t need to know in the first place. I was paid to teach Nunu, to help her learn, and there I was, learning about Nunu. It had nothing to do with exams. It was personal. What else had we talked about? Words, like sneezes, come from nothing, but people listen. So did mother. She stared at Nunu, at me, at Nunu again, then put it all together, as it seemed to her, and said to Nunu, quite cleverly, I thought: “You don’t wear enough clothes.”