Topsi's To Blame

"Why haven't you done your homework by this time?" "Topsi's to blame!" Doina's mother is cross. Such a big girl (nine years old!) and she has to check up on her every step of the way. Look, it's eight o'clock in the evening and she still hasn't finished her homework. "Of course! It's always someone else who is to blame! You have nothing to do with it." Doina says nothing. She knows very well that she is to blame, but she says nothing. At the last parents' meeting with the class teacher, Doina's father was brought up to date on her progress at school – not very grave at the moment, but if it continues like this... And now he wants to have a serious talk with the girl: "Your mathematics teacher told me... Doina, I am talking to you!" "Yes, father..." "He told me that you have a good mind, but you don't pay attention. You understand the problem, but you make mistakes with all the calculations. I ask you, how can something like this be possible? Why don't you say something? Don't you have anything to say?" "Topsi's to blame..." "Of course! You mean to say that he whispers the wrong answers to you and that's why you get bad marks!" After the girl leaves the room, her parents confer: "I don't know what's wrong with Doina," her mother complains. "Sometimes I see she's sad, and other times she bursts out laughing... When I ask her why she is laughing, what do you think she replies? 'Topsi's to blame!'" "Who is this Topsi? Have you heard of him?" "He must be one of her classmates. Those boys get up to nothing but pranks. They are always clowning around in the classroom to make the girls laugh, and that's why Doina doesn't pay attention." "If I knew what his surname was, at the next parents' meeting I would have a private word with Topsi's father, and ask him to keep a tighter rein on him. Ultimately, I think that this Topsi isn't very bright at school!" Doina, it is true, sometimes does not pay attention, but she does her homework diligently. She likes to read. She likes to go to the theatre. But she does not really have many friends. Of course, there are other girls in the class. But one keeps her distance; another has two brothers and is always with the boys. A third, Silvia, was close to Doina for a while, but the friendship, unfortunately, did not last long. It seems to Doina that the main reason that Silvia used to visit her was to copy her grammar exercises. "You know, I have tried to find out Topsi's surname from Doina. It was impossible..." "Because you don't know how to talk to the girl," says her father. "If I had discussed it with her, she would have told me!" "Very well, why don't you discuss it with her," agrees her mother. The next day, when Doina comes home from school, her father invites her to sit down in front of him. Obediently, the little girl sits in the armchair. "I was at your school today..." her father says gaily. Doina looks at him, filled with curiosity. "Yes... I was passing in the car and, as you were all having your playtime, I said to myself: let me have a look at the children playing in the schoolyard. I saw you too..." Doina looks at him attentively. Perhaps she is smiling a little... or perhaps it only seems like that to her father. "You were with a young boy, a plump young boy with a mop of blond hair. That was Topsi, wasn't it?" "No." "What do you mean no? I was sure it was him... Anyway, it was quite a distance and perhaps I was mistaken. Doesn't Topsi have blond hair?" "No. Brown hair." "Ahem. I mean to say brown... Ah! Wait. Now I remember. I saw you in the playground with a brown-haired boy who was doing some smashing exercises on the bars. That must have been him! Topsi is good at gymnastics, isn't he?" "No." "If he's no good at gymnastics, that means he gets up to other tricks." "No." Mother makes a discreet sign to father not to insist. She will find out in time what the story with Topsi is all about... "Well then, go and do your homework..." But the misadventures with Topsi do not cease... "Who has broken the milk jug?" "It's not me who is to blame..." "Then who?" asks mother angrily. "Topsi is to blame!" "Topsi again! You're driving me mad. I'll catch him one of these days and pull his ears off, just you wait and see!" Doina says nothing, but smiles. "Who has spilled the inkpot over my desk?" "I did, daddy," admits Doina. "Why aren't you more careful?" "Yes, but it wasn't me who was to blame..." "Then who was, may I ask?" "Topsi was to blame!" Father becomes very cross. "You should know that I don't allow anyone else to sit at my desk and especially not that... Topsi!" Who knows how long the situation would have gone on, if things had not taken an unexpected turn. Father was reading the paper when Doina burst into the room with tears in her eyes. "Daddy! Topsi has fallen down the lift shaft!" "It can't be! Oh no!" Hearing father's exclamation of alarm, mother too appeared from the other room. "Listen, dear," says father breathlessly, "Topsi..." "Well, what about him?" "He's fallen down the lift shaft!" "Call for an ambulance at once! Call for the lift mechanic!" says mother, frightened. "Daddy, please come and pull him out of there," snivels Doina. "Yes, of course, I'm on my way. Maybe it isn't serious, don't be frightened." "It isn't serious," says Doina. "He fell onto the lift cabin, which was at the floor below. Nothing has happened to him, but he's stuck there." The whole family rush to the door of the lift. Let no one have called the lift... It seems to have gone down. They listen tensely. "Do you think he has hurt himself?" "No," says Doina. "Aha, that means this Topsi is very brave, if he's not shouting, if he's not calling for someone to pull him out..." Mother is trying to peer down into the darkened aperture of the lift shaft. She can't see anything... "These children are enough to make you ill, nothing less," she says. "And this Topsi, just you wait, I shall be having words with him after we pull him out. I'll pull his ears off..." "There's no need, mummy, I've pulled one off already..." "What do you mean? You pulled his ear off?" her mother says, looking at her open-mouthed. "Is that how you behave with your schoolmates?" Nor was Doina's father expecting such an answer. "Topsi is not my schoolmate," says Doina. "Then who is he?" "He's my teddy bear. Didn't you know that he has an ear missing?" from The Game Goes On, Ion Creangă, 1985

by Eduard Jurist (b. 1928)