I have two sisters and we were all forged in fire. We were torn off from each other and from a volatile home which we left one by one at an early age, each going in an uncertain direction. After our parents died, we found ourselves revisiting the home of our girlhood memories.
A noun is a naming word … for a person, place or thing. Verb … an action word. Adjective…hmmm...
I lifted my 2HB pencil off the paper. I sat up in my chair by the open window and again scanned the sea of empty chairs in the immaculate fourth-floor classroom. I thought I had a good start writing my answers on the rough mimeograph sheet, line by line.
It was my first time to see a test like that, neatly typed on a long grey paper. I was ten, and it was my first time to use the words Noun, Verb, Adjective. I had only just met these words two weeks ago when my father announced that I and my sister, who was two years older than me, would be continuing our schooling in the city. And in the evenings that followed, he started giving us both a crash course in English grammar and other lessons these city kids probably already knew.
“Adverb!” I heard my father’s deep voice in my head. I smiled secretly, my eyes lit up, then I buried my face back into my papers.
It was the second year of Martial Rule in Bhavana. It would seal my people’s brutal fate for the next 20 years, but we didn’t know that. My father was a staunch believer in the New Democracy that was flaunted by President Barko, whom he idolised. And he had no doubt in his mind that his idol would keep his promise to the people of flinging open the gates of the elite colleges in the city to country mice like my sister and me, if we were poor but deserving.
“Bzzzzz! Bzzzzz!” The bell rattled from the end of the hallway signalling that we had to turn in our papers. It was not my withered third-grade teacher Mrs. Alas’s bronze-coloured hand-held bell, so again something new, and rather grating, to me. The teacher in my room, a petite but severe-looking young woman wearing glasses and a dark-coloured dress approached my desk and asked me if I needed a bit more time. Her voice was thin and calm and she seemed extremely gentle with me. I didn’t, and handed in my test sheets.
Outside the door, I could see my sister, who had also done the test in another classroom, walking towards me alongside a couple of teachers making small conversation with her. She had long, fine, dark brown hair and luminous pale skin that matched her simple pink dress which my mother had picked out at the mall two nights before. As I looked at this scene I could see what others could already appreciate in a 12-year-old girl that they could not in a boyish child like me, even if my outfit was equally new. They seemed astounded that we had come so far, looking the way we were – clear complexioned and well dressed and speaking English rather fluently for country folk. But this astonishment was probably more true when it came to beholding Celia.
Celia and I and Grandmother’s servant girl were in the middle of a rather skilful game of city touch on the concrete driveway of Grandmother’s house when we were told the news that St Sofia had accepted us. We had absolutely no say in this, being children from that era. But this would be the beginning of ten years of my education at a “boarding school” and discovering what having a big sister like Celia would mean in my life.