I woke up because I felt absence where Sa’afia should be. It was still dark. I looked for a clock, but couldn’t find anything in the unfamiliar room. Including my phone. Or my clothes.
So I lay back and faked a snore. We didn’t get around to drinking the tea until after seven.
The tea was cold. I spanked her for that, or because she’d made it with sweetened condensed milk. The reason didn’t matter. But demonstrating that Sa’afia was forgiven, and that Sa’afia was good and clever, distracted us until it was after eight.
I kissed Sa’afia with the front door open, but with an eye out for neighbours who might say something to her mother. I remembered my shirt, the one she’d splashed with curry, and I made to dash back inside and get it.
“No, it’s okay.” Sa’afia put her hands on my chest, the nicest way of saying go away. “I’ll wash it. You can collect it tonight, if my mother’s not coming back.”
“It needs laundering. Someone seems to have got it…”
“No, it’s okay. It’ll be all white and shiny. Just like your girlfriend.”
“Beak girl. Daisy Duck.”
“Maybe I’m going off her. You’re my girl.”
“Can you actually get all that yellow out?”
Sa’afia looked angelic. “It’s tumeric. It gets a shirt quite … yellow. Doesn’t it?”
I didn’t often spend much time discussing laundry, but there was something about Sa’afia’s expression. I said, “Yeah. But you put it there, you’ll get it out. I don’t want to be able to see there was any tumeric, or saffron or what the hell. You’ll get that shirt white, girl.”
Sa’afia looked at me, expectantly. So I said, “Or else.” I got eyebrows, and an expression that expected more from me. So I said, “Or else I’ll punish you.”
“You’ll punish me?” She looked shocked. I took it that I’d guessed wrong, and I was about to turn it into a joke, ho ho, when she said, “Well, now. So you should.”