Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Things They Say... (Part 5.) I'm visiting my Kangaroo...

Linda and I are enjoying a Saturday morning desayuno in our local parque. The sun is shining and we've decided to graduate from Marca to El País to beef-up our Spanish practice a bit. We've got cafés con leche, tostadas con mantequilla y mermelada and zumos de naranja. It's a mystery, and a shame, that within spitting distance of Valencia, orange marmalade is a highly unusual offering in any café. It's often strawberry (fresa), or, if you're lucky, as we are today, melocotón (peach). A perfect morning nonetheless.
And then...

'Meesa Deee, Meesa Deee...'

This can only mean one thing. Very few of the children in my class ever finish my name. They always seem to be so excited by something, that they give up half-way through. I turn to find Nico (pronounce that Nee-co, if you want the gap-toothed smile to continue) gasping for breath behind me.
'Well, good morning, Nico,'  I begin, as if it's Monday morning and he's sitting on the floor in front of my desk. 'And how are you today?'
'I fine, zen-kyu an-joo?' he replies automatically, as per the formula which I've sweated blood to get them all to say. But I can see from his flitting eyes and gaping mouth that the sight of his teacher, sitting in a café with a Spanish newspaper and a decent breakfast in front of himself, is something which he's never seen before in his life, and he's trying desperately to take it all in.
'So, what are you doing here on this lovely Saturday morning?' I open the conversation, knowing that Nico won't be capable of such a task, certainly not in English and maybe not even in Spanish, given the dazed look in his eyes now that they've stopped flitting all over my table
Nico looks at me like I've just addressed him in Urdu. 'Do you live near here?' I ask, as slowly as I can, as an alternative gambit to change my monologue into a conversation.
'Em, em, em,' he begins, not very certainly. 'No. I come wiz, I come wiz, I come wiz... wiz, wiz... my kangaroo.'
I try to decide whether I should display the shock, surprise and smile on my face all at the same time. I wonder if he's just said the first word that's come into his head because he can't think of the word 'mum' or 'dad'.
'Your kangaroo?' I manage to reply, wondering if there's a Spanish 'Candid Camera' team lurking nearby. What the Spaniards might probably call a cámara indiscreta. But no, Linda and I- and Nico... (and his kangaroo), seem quite alone. I scan the grassy area of our parque for any signs of hopping in the far bushes. Nothing. 
'So, where is your kangaroo now?' I ask. It wouldn't be unusual for small boys of Nico's age to be out alone in the parque at this time of day. It's surrounded by six-storey blocks of flats (pisos) and every child (for miles around, it seems) uses the parque as a garden.
'My kangaroo, he live there.' He points across the parque, at a nondescript block. I can't see any signs, 'Beware of the kangaroo!' stuck to the door. 
I wonder if Nico is trying to be funny. He's only seven, and seven year-olds have very underdeveloped senses of humour. I use a lot of humour in class, often to check if they understand what I'm saying (they usually don't), so maybe Nico is trying out a bit of his own. 
'So, does your kangaroo live alone?' I venture.
'¿Qué?' 
A deep breath. 'Your kangaroo?'
Nico nods.
'He live alone? Solo?'
Nico nods vehemently. 'Yes. He live sola.'
This is getting a bit bizarre. Most of the kids in my class still have no idea how to use 'he' and 'she' correctly, and Nico's use of sola (instead of my solo) suggests that his kangaroo is in fact female. I trust that he's less likely to make a mistake in Spanish. Why I feel the need to clarify beyond the risks of linguistic incompetence whether his kangaroo is male or female... I can't explain, but I do. I think it's something to do with being a primary teacher.
'Nico. Your kangaroo. Is man kangaroo? Or is lady kangaroo?' I know I'm not meant to speak like this, but there's no way my head will hear me here, and it's the best way I can think of shortening the 'conversation' a little.
'Lady kangaroo,' Nico replies definitively.
I congratulate myself on my Columbo levels of linguistic detective-work, and wonder if my coffee might be starting to get cold. Then Nico starts to jump up and down excitedly.
'Look you!' he commands. 'She is come, she is come!'
Linda and I both turn in our chairs. I don't think I've ever seen a kangaroo. Certainly not in Spain. And certainly not in a café outside our flat while having brekka on a Saturday morning. I'm wondering how many hops it'll take her to get to our table. 
At a guess, I'd say she was in her early twenties, wearing a blue T-shirt and faded jeans. And long black hair in a pony tail. 'Hola,' she says as she reaches our table, without hopping.
I won't relay the whole of our conversation as it was in what I'll generously (to myself) call 'Spanish' and would turn the brunt of the humour away from Nico and onto me. But we have a nice little chat and very surreptitiously discover that she isn't Nico's sister or aunty or cousin or anything. In the end we ask her directly. She tells us she's a 'kanguro'.
As they walk away, Nico waving furiously, like he's never expecting to see us again, I whip out my phone with its frequently thumbed English-Spanish dictionary. Spanish has a very regular phonic spelling system, if you hear a word, you can usually spell it. (Unlike English.)
I pop in 'kanguro'. Nothing. I try 'canguro'. And there it is. 'Canguro' in Spanish means 'kangaroo' in English.
Linda and I look at each other. Has Nico developed a sense of humour? I scroll down the 'canguro' entry, just in case it has an extra (slang) meaning which will erase the frowns from our brows. I see that it also means 'cagoule' which doesn't help. But then I scroll a little further. 'Canguo' also, rather cleverly, I think, has one final translation into English...

Baby-sitter. 

We turn back to our tepid coffees and the El País newspaper. But I know there's only one new Spanish word we'll remember from this morning's homework... 

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