Another morning bares another lesson. Another two hours in which I am often left on the verge of despair wondering how I can help this girl. The mother comes down enquiring about some books, some codes for a website, some things that concern her school work, things the daughter should, but can’t help with. The mother is left enraged that this daughter can’t be left to do anything herself. They both begin a long, loud and gesture-flinging exchange, the type for which the inhabitants of this boot are famous for. The ugliest is brought out from both parties.
The mother is stubborn, seeing the only solution in shouting, the daughter puts up a wall, unwilling to admit any fault in the face of such ferocity. But fault she has, and her continued repetition of the word ‘ciao’, both reflecting her indignant refusal to listen and signalling the end of the discussion, is unfair and deliberately infuriating. I sit in silence, eyes unfocused, staring blankly through them at the white wall behind. I wonder again how I can help her. I know that surely it will not be through acting like her mother.
The cleaner here is my enemy. There are people who actually want to help, and then people who only take pleasure in the berating and lecturing that comes with such opportunities. The cleaner very much falls into the category of the latter. I arrive home one day to the words ‘Sam, senti’ (sam, listen) in that excruciating tone which lets me know she is about to proudly rebuke me for yet another thing I have failed to do correctly in the house. ‘Sam, you must always turn off the wireless dongle after you have used it’, and I know this is only the start; she’s probably been sitting smugly in that chair all day, drooling over the moment of my arrival. But I am tired, my bike broke down 10km away and I walked it home taking a beating under the Italian sun, I don’t feel like giving her the satisfaction of delivering the rest of her words. Like the ‘ciao’ of the previous incident, I cut her off saying ‘ok, I understand,’ and instantly turn round and leave, knowing the effect it will have. The fat, ugly cow springs out of her chair, infuriated, shocked and exasperated. She stamps as she follows me out, shouting why it is so important that I have to turn the dongle off after its use, demanding recognition of the errors of my ways. The way we act proves to me two things; that as I’d suspected the cleaner has more interest in proving her superiority than in aiding me, and that also, I have more in common with my student than I had thought.
I speak to the mother afterwards about her daughter. She is more than able to help, but she can’t because of the daughter, she assures me. In my opinion this makes her less than able to help. She continues in this vain, sniffing of insecurity as if having to need a tutor is something to be ashamed of, stating that her and her father are intellects, that the problem is all with the child. But problems all start somewhere, I think, and I then feel I’m beginning to see the root. They are just too different, she concludes, and for that she doesn’t know what to do, for that she gets angry, for that she is at her ends, and for that I am here.
For the mother is perfectly organised, where the daughter is not, for the mother could perform well at school, while the daughter could not. But where the mother is stubborn, so is the daughter, where the mother will react with a raised voice instantly, so will the daughter, where the mother will claim they are inconsolably different, so will the daughter. And much more than trivial differences in levels of organisation, it is these latter qualities that define them, and it is these latter qualities that make them inconsolably similar, yet simultaneously destined to forever be in denial.