Fat Cousin

Dimpy (Dimples) said, “Okay, who’s remembered homework?” Everybody in her Spatial Studies class raised a hand. That’s a good response, she thought, seeing that at the first class they hadn’t even understood the subject. They’d imagined it was cosmology, Special Studies, or some form of Physical Ed.

Her instruction to the class had been “Your homework is to remember your homework.” Even she hadn’t understood the real meaning of the sentence, but it had caught their attention. The next question was a trick one; let’s see how they dealt with it.

She said, “Who’s done homework?”

Everybody looked at each other, and half of them raised their hands, and some put them down again, and some put them up again. Dimpy smiled and thought, if the purpose of my class is to find the space between thoughts, we may be getting somewhere.

She noticed that Tom – the only student whose name she remembered – hadn’t put up his hand. “Why haven’t you done it, Tom?”

He looked incredibly pained and said, “I have a very difficult situation at home, Miss Kashi. It makes it very hard to do homework.” He was about to say more, but stopped. Others began whispering around him. Dimpy felt sorry she’d asked, and was about to ask someone else, but he started up again.

He said, “My parents both work at a logging camp.” Both of them? thought Dimpy. They’d be isolated for weeks at a time with limited facilities and friends. They must really like each other, or hate and put up with each other, something she hadn’t managed with her one-year-old Tasha’s father. He continued, “So I live with my uncle and aunty in Lucerne.” There was such hurt in his eyes; his lips moving barely; this was a child in trouble.

Tasha had only one parent but at least she was present. Tom had two absent ones. Then she thought, hang on – two parents at logging camp? Were his parents both guys? Was he getting teased about this? Was that the “very difficult situation”? Or was it something much worse – that his uncle or aunty was abusing him?

She said, “Do you want to talk about his alone? We could go outside.” She walked nearer to him and said quietly, “Shall I call the college counsellor?”

“No need for that, Miss. Everyone in the class knows. They’ve seen her. That’s the price I pay for living with my uncle and aunty. They want to rest when they come home from work, and they tell me to take her out for a walk, and they say I have to hold her hand so she doesn’t fall down or run off. I keep swapping sides but it does no good. She’s so heavy, miss, my fat cousin. After the walk my arms are always aching. I can’t hold a pen, Miss Kashi, let alone write. That’s why I can’t do my homework.”

Dimpy was about to berate him for being silly. A college kid traumatized by having a fat cousin – how ridiculous! Then she remembered how crazy her own family was. Who would believe she had an invisible uncle?

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