I wake up to my father shouting at my mother again. He is in another one of his moods today – abusive. I’m afraid to get up, but I do it anyway. I slowly crawl off the mattress that my family sleeps on. There are no blankets, only one small pillow for my mother, because she is pregnant.
My mother’s name is Neema; my father’s is Amare. I am Khari. I am not allowed to go to school because my father had an argument with the principal. I think it was more than an argument, because Principal Osei left the school with a black eye. I put on my torn tunic and raggedy shorts. I walk outside where my mother is cooking black beans for breakfast. She hands me a small pouch of them and continues her cooking. My father is probably walking to the market where he looks for work as a day labourer. A quiet breeze chills my bony, bare legs and arms. As I walk to the school I pass the market where many other people like my father are waiting around for jobs. I hear merchants yelling, and smell the odour of people.
When I arrive at the school, I sit in my usual spot: behind an orange tree. I like this spot because I am almost completely hidden, but I can still see the school kids. I shove a small handful of beans into my mouth as the first kids walk by. I named them the early birds because they are always the first to come. A couple of minutes later the next group comes. I call them the foreigners. Their skins a little lighter than everyone else’s, and they speak rapid Berber, the only ones in the school that can. A little while later the group that I find the most interesting comes – the football players. They always have a leather football with them, passing it back and forth between the three of them, smiling and laughing with each other. Then finally “they” come. I call them “they,” because I don’t want to think of a name for them, the name would be too cruel.
Every week I have to find a different spot to hide because they always find me. I bite my lip today, praying they won’t find me. But they do, they always do. The cruelest one, Jabari, lunges at me and pushes me down. All of them start hurling insults at me, about me and my family.
“Just go to school, Jabari!” I half cry, half yell.
“Okay, Khari, care to join us? Oh wait, you can’t!” He taunts as he jogs down the rugged path to the school with the rest of “them.”
As the day goes on, I slowly edge my way toward the school, trying to hear what the teacher is saying. At the end of the day I hide behind the school so Jabari and his friends won’t find me. When the last child leaves I go inside the school. I am determined to speak with Principal Osei.
“Principal Osei? Hello?” I call out.
A shadow emerges from the principal’s office.
“Khari? Is that you? Shouldn’t you be home helping your mother?” The principal asks in his deep voice.
“No sir, she’s fine. I wanted to talk to you about . . . me.” I say shyly.
“Okay, go ahead,” says the principal.
“I want to go to this school, to learn my numbers and letters, to be able to add and make friends,” I say, hoping he would be caring.
“I will have to talk to your . . .”
“Mother!” I interrupt. “You can talk to my mother, she’ll be better than my . . .” I falter.
“Father,” he fills in. “I remember that night,” he says as his hand slowly rises to his right eye. “I will talk to your mother,” the principal confirms.
“Also,” I add, “please come to our house, during the day. My mother is pregnant, so the walk is hard for her, and my dad comes home in the evening.”
“That seems fair. Tell your mother I will come tomorrow, when the sun is at its highest point,” says Principal Osei.
“Yes, sir,” I reply.
As I walk home I dream about school. Numbers, letters, math and more. I only hope that my mother will approve, unlike my father. When I get home, my father isn’t back yet, so I go to my mother, who is cooking more black beans.
“Mom, is it okay if Mr. Osei comes here tomorrow to talk to you?” I ask casually.
“Hmmm. Does your father know about this meeting?” asks my mom suspiciously.
“No, that wouldn’t be good. Mr. Osei wants to talk to you about me going back to school,” I force out.
“Oh! Well when does he come? I’d be delighted to see you learn, maybe you could even teach your soon-to-be little sibling too,” she says happily as she pats her stomach.
“He said he would come tomorrow when the sun is at its highest point.”
“Ok, I’ll be expecting him then.”
The next day when I come home I can’t stop shaking. Will I go to school, or will I not? If I go to school what will it be like? I see my mom and run as fast as I can to her.
“Well?” I ask excitedly.
“Yes! Tomorrow you will go to school. Be there at seven o’clock.”
I am so excited I can’t even talk. I go straight to bed. I want to get a good night’s sleep. When I wake up the next morning I am grinning so wide it almost hurts. I whip on my clothes and grab my lunch from my mom. As I sit down in my first math class, I can’t stop thinking about how the rest of my life will be. When the final bell rings I leave school, saying goodbye to my new friends, the football players and go home. I open the door and I hear a sound that warms my heart: my new baby sister crying.
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