We said we needed a break and thus, refused to attend lessons. We sat outside our classroom for three consecutive days with a poster that said, “Do not disturb.” The school administration called our parents to pick us up from school and handed each one of them a letter.
“Dear parent,” the letter said, “It has come to our attention that your daughter is not interested in learning. Kindly take her home and bring her back after a week if she changes her mind.” My mother didn’t say a word as she drove to my paternal grandmother’s home. They spoke in a hushed tone, after which my mother drove off without saying goodbye.
I was woken up at dawn the next day and handed a jerry can to go and fetch water. At the well, a girl named Gertrude or Getuu as everyone called her, pushed my jerry can out of the line and put hers. I pushed her and she pushed me. I was furious with her and so I shouted, “Bangladesh!”I could have called her a fool, an ignorant buffoon…something…anything insulting. Bangladesh is nothing more than a country in South Asia. But I remembered the first time my elder brother shouted, “Bangladesh!” at me. I was eight years old. I was so angry that I removed shoes and aimed for his face. I had learnt that day, that it’s bad to be insulted but it is worse to be insulted with a word whose meaning you do not understand; it makes you feel ignorant and hurts your pride.
Getuu drew a deep breath and then spat in my face. I took her hand and bit it. She shoved me and I landed on the ground, elbows first. My elbows were scraped andfrom head to heel, I was covered in mud. I didn’t want to cry but a lump gripped my throat and started chocking me so mercilessly that a fountain of tears flowed from my eyes, down my cheeks, to the ground. A boy came and helped me up. His name was Ezekiel. No one in the entire village, not even Ezekiel himself, knew how to pronounce his name. Everyone called him Zekyeri. His eyes were brick red. His hair was brown and unkempt. When I said, “Thank you,” he smiled. I noticed that his teeth were painted with rust.
The next day, I received a love letter. “Dearest lover,” it said,“I sowed you yesterday and I loves you at the buttocks of my hat. I wasn’tsleeped at night as I thinked of you. If you say yes, I can be happy to be your loving hasband.” At the bottom of the page, Zekyeri drew a picture of a boy and a girl holding hands, surrounded by heart shapes. He labelled them “me” and “you” respectively. I hid it under my bed. My grandmother found it and invited Zekyeri to her house that day. She told him, in my presence, that my mother had entrusted her with responsibility of finding me a husband since I was no longer interested in school. Zekyeri was to come back in a fortnight and claim me as his wife in exchange for two cows. I cried myself to sleep that night.
My mother picked me up after a week and took me back to school. When next we sang the national schools’ anthem, I meant every word, especially the part that says, “…matching along the path of education, singing and dancing with joy.”