Mr Cruikshank left the room, and reappeared a moment later with his papers. She stuffed the last of the biscuit into her mouth, then got up and went to sit next to him. He had a whole pile of them. Stuff she hadn’t even started yet!
She began going through them with him, showing him what she had done and what she hadn’t, and in the background she could hear Mum and the headmaster’s voices rumbling away. ‘We’re very conscious of the pitfalls, psychological and otherwise, that can occur if children are only encouraged to go in one direction … blah, blah, blah … If Costanza comes to us, while we would consider her mathematical ability an asset, her pastoral care would be …’
It sounded like it was going all right. Tanzie let her attention travel to what was on the page. It might have been renewal theory. ‘Yes,’ Mr Cruikshank was saying quietly, his finger on the page. ‘But the curious feature of renewal processes is that, if we wait some predetermined time and then observe how large the renewal interval containing it is, we should expect it to be typically larger than a renewal interval of average size.’
She knew about this! ‘So the monkeys would take longer to type Macbeth?’ she said.
‘That’s it.’ He smiled. ‘I wasn’t sure you’d have covered any renewal theory.’
‘I haven’t, really. But Mr Tsvangarai told me about it once and I looked it up on the Internet. I liked the whole monkey thing.’ She flicked through the papers. There was tons of it. The numbers sang to her. She could feel her brain sort of humming she wanted to read them so much. She knew she had to go to this school. ‘Mum,’ she said. She didn’t usually interrupt, but she was too excited and forgot her manners. ‘Do you think we could get some of these papers?’
Mr Daly looked over. He didn’t seem to mind about the missing manners. ‘Mr Cruikshank, have we any spares?’
‘You can take these.’
He handed them over! Just like that! Tanzie began flicking through them. Outside a bell rang and she could hear children walking past the office window, their feet crunching on the gravel. She poked her head up to look at them. She wanted to see if any others were reading books.
‘So … what happens next?’
‘Well, we’d like to offer Costanza … Tanzie … a scholarship.’ He lifted a glossy folder from the table. ‘Here’s our prospectus, and the relevant documentation. The scholarship covers ninety per cent of the fees. It’s the most generous scholarship this school has ever offered. Usually fifty per cent is our maximum, given the extensive waiting list of pupils hoping to come here. The new scholarship is designed to recognize children with unusual levels of ability.’
‘Like me,’ Tanzie said.
‘Like you.’ He held out the plate towards her. Somehow they had replaced the biscuits on the plate with new ones. This really was the greatest school ever.
‘Ninety per cent,’ Mum said. She put her biscuit back on her saucer.
‘I do appreciate that there is still a considerable financial commitment involved. And there would also be uniform and travel costs, and any extras she might want, like music or school trips. But I would like to stress that this is an incredible opportunity.’ He leant forward. ‘We would love to have you here, Tanzie. Your maths teacher says you’re a joy to work with.’
‘I like school,’ she said, reaching for another biscuit. ‘I know lots of my friends think it’s boring. But I prefer school to home.’
They all laughed awkwardly.
‘Not because of you, Mum,’ she said, and helped herself to another. ‘But my mum does have to work a lot.’
Everyone went quiet.
‘We all do, these days,’ said Mr Cruikshank.
‘Well. It’s a lot for you to think about. And I’m sure you have other questions for us. But why don’t you finish your coffee, while we talk, and then I’ll get one of our pupils to show you around the rest of the school? Then you can discuss this between yourselves.’
That evening Mum went up to Nicky’s room and got him to hook the computer up to Skype. Every Sunday she would text Dad half an hour before, and he would set up the computer at Grandma’s so that Tanzie could speak to him. She would sit at Nicky’s desk and try not to be distracted by the little image of herself in the corner. It always made her look like she had a really weird-shaped head.
Except it wasn’t Sunday.
Tanzie was downstairs in the garden throwing a ball for Norman. She was determined that one day he would fetch it and bring it back. Tanzie had read somewhere that repetition increases the probability of an animal learning how to do something by a factor of four. She wasn’t sure Norman could count, though.
They had got Norman from the animal shelter when Dad first left and Mum stayed awake for eleven nights in a row worrying that they would be murdered in their beds once everyone realized he’d gone. Brilliant with kids, a fantastic guard dog, the rescue centre said. Mum kept saying, ‘But he’s so big.’
‘Even more of a deterrent,’ they said, with cheery smiles. ‘And did we mention he’s brilliant with kids?’
Two years on, Mum said Norman was basically an enormous eating and crapping machine. He plodded around the house shedding hair and leaving evil smells behind him. He drooled on cushions and howled in his sleep, his great paws paddling the air as if he was swimming. Mum said the rescue centre had been right: nobody would break into their house for fear Norman would gas them to death.