“Is anyone being naughty?”
“Are you being naughty?” I asked Lyan. He was bigger than me.
“No,” he responded, seriously.
“Are you being naughty?” I asked Filsan.
“No!” she responded, more seriously. She also shook her head.
“Am I being naughty?”
Filsan grinned. Auntie smiled, said no too, then went out. It was obvious. In our own way, we were all being naughty.
I’d brought a comprehension for Lyan. It was about camping.
“Have you ever been camping?” I asked.
“Pilgrimage to Mecca.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes. You shouldn’t be afraid, should you, Graham? You shouldn’t be afraid! You shouldn’t be afraid, should you, Graham? You shouldn’t be afraid. You shouldn’t be afraid, should you, Graham? You shouldn’t be afraid!”
“No, Lyan, you shouldn’t be afraid.”
He chanted every lesson. The message was different.
“Can I use your pen, Graham? Can I use your pen?”
His was fine. Without waiting for an answer, he plucked the pen from my hand.
“Can I eat, Graham?”
I was tiring of his questions.
“Can you eat Graham?” I replied. Filsan turned her head, her eyes sparkling. “Haven’t you had dinner?” Lyan shook his head. I felt sorry for him. “That’s terrible. When did you last eat?”
“Morning. Can I eat now?”
“Go and ask Auntie.”
He dropped his head and didn’t mention food anymore. We worked for a while, then I asked, “Can I have the light on, please?”
“I don’t need it.”
“I do,” I said. He still didn’t move. I almost got up, but I was the teacher, and Filsan was watching with her warm eyes. It might confuse her.
“Filsan, can I call you Sweetie?” I tend to ask girls that, if they’re sweet. She nodded gravely. “Can you put the light on, please?” She did it at once. When she returned to the carpet, I said, “Thanks, Sweetie.”
Lyan laughed, the only time I heard him, and we had months of lessons.
“It’s not funny!” she cried. Silence. Back to English. I had a spelling question for Lyan.
"Give me a word with a silent letter.”
Sweetie gaped – at Lyan, then at me. I was expecting knee or knock. It was hard to believe. Lyan had no malice. He could say stupid things, but so could I. He was sitting there as placid as ever, as if he knew what he’d said was right.
“You mean know!”
I spoke too loudly. Sweetie grinned again. At last, the hour was up. It was her turn now. She was waiting on the carpet, with a book in her lap, open at the page she’d chosen. In book terms, in sums and words, she was on a par with Lyan, but I couldn’t help thinking that she understood more. Imagine it, Lyan and his big, bare belly, sprawled on a tiny chair in a class of seven-year-olds.
There was a spelling list to learn. She had to put each word in a sentence. The first was animal.
“I stepped on a hedgehog.”
She really did.
“Excellent.” The sentence, I meant. “Write it down.”
The sentence had to include the word animal. I forgot, but so did Sweetie. It’s tough in Year 2. She showed me her knee. She’d hurt it at school.
“Did you cry?” I asked. She nodded. “Do you think hedgehogs cry?”
“No!” she said, in her deep voice. She went quiet. I thought she’d changed her mind – of course hedgehogs cried; everyone knew they did. But she stretched her arms out and hugged me. Lyan saw. His head dropped again.