x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Babysitting isn't as simple as it might seem

Having spent my holidays in India babysitting my cousins, I'm left trembling at the sight of any little boys that may cross my path.

I've always whinged about how being an only child is about as exciting a state of affairs as one of Professor Binns' history lessons (that's a Harry Potter allusion, for any unenlightened beings). Getting a little sister or brother would make everything from holidays to family gatherings so much more fun, I used to reason in those days of ignorance, besides gaining what would hopefully be an eager little minion worshipping the ground you tread on and doing any work for you.

Having spent the best part of the holidays a few days ago in India babysitting my cousins, though, I'm left trembling at the sight of any little boys that may cross my path.

My aunt, a working mother, very kindly offered to pay me to babysit and tutor Chiraag and Ribhav when I arrived at their house in India during the school holidays, and I was more than happy to accept. A day of Facebooking and watching TV while my cousins quietly did their homework, and spinning cash out of it? Not a bad deal, and there was a dress at Jane Norman to be saved up for. The two round-faced, innocent-eyed, curly-haired children beamed at me, delighted, no doubt, that they would be spending quality time in the company of their favourite cousin. A niggling, rather more truthful voice at the back of my mind muttered that they were probably only happy because with their mother out of the way, the only obstacle that stood between them and unlimited time playing video games was an easily swayed teenager, but who am I to judge?

"Call me if you need anything, help yourself from the fridge, and it would be great if you could give them some French tutoring, it's the subject we're going to target our revision on this week," my aunt peered at me anxiously and with many assurances that everything would be all right, I waved her goodbye. The door clicked shut. I turned. Chiraag and Ribhav looked at each other, and their faces simultaneously split into evil grins. Without another word, they'd sprinted to their bedroom, and by the time I chased and reached them, panting, they were hunched over their Nintendo Gameboy, engrossed in a Pokémon fight and hollering "Let's do this, Charizard!"

"Right," I announced grimly. "You've got your priorities all wrong, you can't afford to do whatever you're doing."

"She's right," Chiraag turned to his brother seriously. "We can't have a Charizard battling a Starmie." As an argument threatened to escalate about whether fire Pokémon are good against water types, I grabbed them firmly by the collars of their shirts and dragged them to a table, flipping open their French books in front of them. "I want both of you," I said in a voice of forced calm that was meant to sound deceptively dangerous, but ended up as a sort of strangled croak, "to write me an essay, or a poem, in French. On, er ..." I cast my mind wildly around for a topic. The only one I could think of was one they've made us do a million times. "Ma famille. My family. Go."

They glared mutinously at me and began, pens slowly scratching across paper, Ribhav only pausing to ask, "How do you say 'stupid'?" I breathed deeply and wandered out. Ten minutes had passed when the relative peace that had dawned over the house was shattered by a volley of howls. Having located the source of the cacophony, I was greeted by Chiraag, a budding scientist, patiently attaching wires to the dog's ears. "What are you doing?" I shrieked. "Where did you get those wires from?" The dog, distracted from barking at a passing squirrel and looking like it had sprouted giant wirelike antennae on its head, wagged its tail and licked my nose.

Having deposited Chiraag unceremoniously back on the chair, I whipped around to Ribhav, who was diverted once more in the manifold pleasures of the Pokémon world. "You've got a job to do, mister." Chiraag peeked over my shoulder dispassionately. "He's losing again," he turned to face me, expression incredulous, "How am I related to this... organism?"

A dignified Ribhav slowly handed me his essay, which was composed of seven sentences, two of which had been crossed out. "I would never," he looked pointedly at Chiraag, "get up without finishing my work first." I sighed and regarded the essay. "J'ai un frère et une cousine. Ils sont des imbeciles."

"Non!" I massaged my temples, and thrust the offending item back in his hands. "Just for that, you can do two more."

A quick survey of the scene proved that Chiraag, in the meantime, had disappeared. "Oh yes," floated in a triumphant shout from a distant room. "Koga, you are destroyed."

As I rose, Ribhav took his chance and bolted out, and I sank into a chair. Babysitting may bring in the green stuff, but at that moment, the outlook seemed almost as bleak as Koga's.


The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai