Little Words Of Wisdom
Kids say the funniest things in this tender complete story by Wendy Clarke.
A heartwarming story by Wendy Clarke
CAN you help me?” Shannon Reed squints up at my daughter through the thick lenses of her glasses, and pushes her book towards her. They sit at a hexagonal table, and as well as Shannon there are another three children. Lee Connors, whose hair never seems to sit flat, serious little Lydia Diamond, and Eddie Simms, who likes to chew his pencils until there is not much left of them.
My daughter takes the book from the little girl and studies it. I notice she hasn’t made much of an effort to smarten herself up for her day in the classroom; one denim-clad leg, torn at the knee in the latest fashion, sticks out into the aisle between the tables.
The children don’t seem to mind, though – they like the novelty of having someone new in the classroom with them.
“What’s that mean?” Lee is holding his book up and pointing to it. Nadia looks up. “What?” “That squiggly thing there.” Leaning across the table, she looks at it. “It’s a question mark.” “What’s that?” “It’s what you put at the end of a question.” “What’s a question?” Nadia laughs. It’s nice to hear the sound. It’s one I wish I heard more often – my daughter can be such a serious girl at times.
“You should know, Lee. You’re the king of the questions. It’s when you ask something, like why did the chicken cross the road? Lee scratches his ginger head. “Why did it?” “Are you OK there, Nadia?” I leave the group I’m helping and walk over to her table.
She’s been at a bit of a loose end since taking her “A” levels and I thought it might be nice for her to come and help me in the class for a bit. “I’m fine, Mum.” She looks back down and her dark hair falls like curtains across the book, just like it used to when she was a child doing her homework at the dining table, and it hits me again that soon she’ll be gone and I know how much I’m going to miss her. She might be eighteen, but she’s still my little girl.
“Is that your mum?” Eddie Simms takes the pencil from his mouth and points it at me. “Really?”
“Don’t point your pencil at people, Eddie. That’s rude,” I say, taking it from him and placing it on the table.
“Does she live in the school with you, miss?”
“Mrs Allen doesn’t live in the school, silly.” This is Lydia. Although she isn’t very good at arithmetic or spelling, she likes to think that she knows more about life than the boys. “She lives in a house with Mr Allen, and a dog and a cat and a f ish.”
Actually, I don’t. Nadia is allergic to animals, and we’ve lived alone since Keith died, but the little girl’s imagination never ceases to amaze me.
“We must say a big thank you to Nadia for coming and helping us today, children.”
“Will you come again after the big holiday?” Lee asks, pulling the sleeves of his jumper over his hands and flapping them in front of his face. “I like you.” Nadia smiles but shakes her head. “I won’t be here, I’m afraid. I’ll be living in another town.”
Lee looks disappointed – all the children do. Next to him, Eddie is balancing a pencil across his tongue. Lee reaches out and flicks the end of it and it rolls on to the floor. Normally I would tell them off, but this is the last day of term and I decide to let it go.
“Won’t you be lonely?” Eddie asks, bending to pick the pencil up.
I glance at Nadia, wondering what she’ll say. She’s not talked about it much and I have no idea if she’s worried or not. She shrugs. “I don’t know, Eddie. I’ll just have to wait and see.”
“When I f irst came to the class, when we f irst moved here, I was lonely.” Lydia looks at Nadia through thick, dark lashes, then takes the hand of the little girl next to her and holds it up high. “But then I met Shannon and I’m not lonely any more.”
IT’S the start of the new term and I’m sitting in a small classroom next to the off ice. Mrs Jackson, the head teacher, has asked if I’ll take a booster group to help some children with their English, and Lee, Eddie, Shannon and Lydia are seated at the table with me.
“What are we doing today, miss?” Lee asks, resting his head on his arms and looking at me over the top of them.
“We’re going to f inish what we started yesterday.”
“Oh, do we have to?” Eddie threads his pencil between his f ingers and stares at it. “It’s so boring.”
“That’s not a very polite thing to say, Eddie,” I say.
He’s right, though. Usually I have the knack of making the lessons interesting to the children, whatever their ability.
Yesterday, though, I could tell my voice lacked animation and it wasn’t long before I had lost the children’s attention. “Can’t we do something else?” “Learning to write letters is part of the curriculum. It’s very important to know how to do it.” I look at the children’s faces and wonder, at seven years old, how important letter-writing could really be, or how relevant.
I get the children to open their books with the idea of getting them to read their work out to me. Lydia has her arm around her writing, trying to hide it.