I tried to squeeze through the gap as the gates closed. But the attendants were quicker and grabbed me. I was trapped. I cried, begged but no one seemed to care. I looked around me and found that I was not the only one trying to escape. Others were crying their guts out, but no one seemed to care.
At a distance, I saw a black shape floating towards me. It was covered from head to toe in black but had a white circle around the face. As it came near me, I realized that it was a woman.
She came near and grabbed my hand. I tried to pull free, but her grip was firm.
“Come now, don’t try to resist. Today is your first day in kindergarten and marks the beginning of a new chapter in your life. Proper education and guidance will turn all of you into fine young citizens! ” She said as she dragged me yelling and screaming behind her.
“Now repeat after me, A for Apple, ” said the teacher. The children repeated after him. Some were half asleep, others not exactly sure why they were parroting whatever their teacher said. The teacher’s eyes swept across his students. He had already checked the roll call for the day. All the students were present. Thirty students in a class. Six benches in all, each with five students.
“B for ball,” he said, and this time his students needed no prompting. As he walked to the back of the class, his eyes gazed at the fields at a distance. For a second. he remembered his childhood. He remembered how he had worked in the paddy fields during the day. He had completed his education by attending night school.
As he reached closer to the window, he said,” C for ?” He looked all around, but not a single child in the class responded.
“Cat. ” he heard a faint voice from outside the class. Surprised, he poked his head outside the window. He saw the school bus driver seated below his window, legs folded, a notebook in his lap and writing the alphabets.
“What are you doing there?” said the teacher.
The driver got up and apologized.
“I wanted to learn how to read and write.”
“What for?” said the teacher,” You already have a job.”
“Some of the traffic signs are in English….”
The teacher thought about it and then said.
“Ok, join the class. Sit on the last bench. I do not want you obstructing the view of the children.”
The driver smiled.
The teacher continued,” This does not mean you get to skip your day job. and you will also have to appear for the exams.”
The bus driver came in and occupied the last seat in the class. The children began laughing as they saw the tall bus driver adjust himself on the bench. He joined them in the laughter.
“D for ?” the teacher continued.
The boy looked up at the sky, and the stars spread all over. Memories flooded back of days when he would spend hours with his mother on the terrace as she told him all about the tiny bright dots in the night sky.
“That is the great bear.” his mother said, tracing a jagged line in the sky.
“That does not look like a bear,” he protested.
His mother laughed. “I knew you would say that,” she said, “that is why I came prepared.”
She opened her office bag and pulled out a plastic sheet with ‘Big Bear’ written on it. I had the image of a bear, and she held the sheet against the night sky. The stars aligned neatly against the points on the sheet.
“It looks like a curved dagger to me,” the boy said, hoping to put up a fight. His mother had laughed, and he laughed with her.
The sound of her laughter was all he had in his memory. He looked at the crumpled newspaper in his hand. The headlines in bold letters declared, ‘Brilliant astronomer dies in a tragic accident.’ The boy kicked the newspaper away, tears rolling down his cheeks.
He looked up and saw all the stars his mother had shown him. He saw the belt of Orion, Taurus, Gemini. They were all there in the same spot, all looking at him.
The boy stared for a long time and then wiped his tears.
“I will become an astronomer like mother,” he said and began connecting the dots in the sky.