Girl X

A very strange thing has happened.

I’ve somehow managed to fall head over heels in love with working at the school.

I realised this on Sunday night.

Normally, I would have been looking forward to 12.30pm the following day, when I would be free from lessons and ready to enjoy a glorious Galapagos afternoon.

Instead, in a fairly recent development, I found myself looking forward to my volunteering, which is good because it is the whole reason I came here.

It’s only taken five weeks – and I think there are two reasons for the change.

Firstly, after weeks of gradual improvement and understanding, Lucia and I have now achieved something resembling friendship.

She teaches her lessons and I help with pronounciation and ensure the slower children are keeping up with the work.

Sometimes I’ll sit with one child for a considerable period of time, helping them to master the topic – which gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.

But the biggest change at school – and probably the reason I now look forward to it – is a skinny, bob-haired eight-year-old called Girl X.

It was always going to be a sad story.

When I first met Girl X she was standing with her nose to the blackboard copying Lucia’s instructions.

It was a little distracting so I asked her to return to her desk.

Instead, she decided to hide under her desk. There followed a comical cat and mouse affair, which also involved her hiding behind her book.

I sat alongside her for a while and watched as she copied down the work and made a stab at pronouncing some words, but it was generally frustrating.

At the end of the lesson, I stood up and she stuck her tongue out at me. It wasn’t a particularly affectionate gesture.

I glared at her.

There was a short pause before she ran at me and hugged me tightly.

I was intrigued enough to mention her behaviour to Lucia.

“She’s crazy in the head,” she shrugged.

O-kay.

I wasn’t satisfied with this explanation, surprisingly enough, so the next day I had a quick chat with Paulina.

Paulina monitors the children in the school with special needs.

She knew immediately which child I meant and told me her background.

Girl X’s parents have numerous children and, for one reason or another, have neglected Girl X and her many siblings for some time.

Until recently they lived in a tiny home, with a single communal room and the children were frequently seen running around without clothes.

The authorities intervened a year ago and, since then, life at home has improved. The family have moved and Girl X is performing better in school.

Still, when I heard this I found myself offering to help with Girl X’s extra lessons during my free periods at school.

Paulina accepted gratefully.

I regretted it instantly.

I hate the thought of children becoming attached to hippie volunteers who merrily bid them farewell after a couple of months before disappearing into the sunset.

Girl X had already been abandoned once. She didn’t need to be abandoned again, particularly by some blonde-haired do-gooder on a feel-good kick.

I planned to tell Paulina this but events, typically, conspired against me.

I was alone during break when I spotted Girl X peering at me through the window.

She came into the room and I greeted her, but she ignored me and walked in a huge circle with her back to me until she bumped into my chair.

She feigned surprise and fled.

When she reappeared she couldn’t resist looking at my computer.

I showed her lots of pictures from the other islands, but it must have been quite dull because she promptly burst into tears.

Oops.

I caught nothing from the mumbles that followed except the word ‘Mama’.

Paulina appeared and listened to the child’s teary Spanish.

After a few seconds, she smiled.

“She says she has forgotten how to read,” she said softly and shook her head.

“You haven’t forgotten how to read,” she told Girl X, reaching in her drawer for the nearest book.

We listened in surprise as the child struggled to read the simplest words.

Eventually, she admitted to Paulina that something had happened at home.

Her mother, no doubt terrified the child’s progress was being monitored, had beaten her for not being quick enough at learning a lesson.

The beating had occurred early that morning.

Paulina sighed.

“She has a block,” she told me.

“Will you sit with her and help her?”

Well, that was exactly the moment I should have protested.

Instead, I foolishly sat with the child for an hour while she read with rapid improvement and terrifying concentration.

At one point I decided she needed a break so I initiated a few silly stretches.

When we returned to the book, I accidentally opened it on the wrong page.

“I’m stupid,” I said in Spanish, without thinking.

“No,” she said and hugged me fiercely.

The following day she came looking for me with a drawing of the two of us, hand in hand with lots of animals around and a huge sunshine in the sky.

I decided I had to tell her I would only be in Galapagos for five more weeks.

I don’t really have the heart to write about what happened next but it’s enough to say it involved tears, running away and me generally feeling horrible.

I later found out Girl X had been back to Paulina, this time crying about my departure.

A good excuse for me to refuse to leave the island?

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