The first day of school came and went. My youngest fussed and decided he wanted to stay home and never go back to school! He didn’t get to see his best friend except at lunch, the day was long, the school was big and he was tired! A rather typical first day, my two daughters now 25 and 23 gave him a glance but knew from previous experience not to lecture him on his cheery looking school, his fun recess without kids taunting him, the nice teachers who spoke without calling him a dog or donkey and most of all the freedom he had to wear what he wanted. The list went on, not being lined up each day for finger nail checks, only black flats, no hair accessories and no sign of anything personal. I looked their way and smiled as they told Heme, ” It will be better tomorrow buddy!”
The summer came to an end, the boys were full of jitters and so was I. We spent our last few days as usual, being together, making our own fun. Grama’s box in the corner was finally turned over to the kids to be used as an addition to the pad house, a car and train. As I watched on I felt great joy that I could provide something, anything for my children. The box had been put to the ultimate use, as all boxes would be for years to come. I explained that this time it would be different, school would be a place to learn and grow. I packed them a lunch made with love, put in homemade cookies and sent them off around the corner.
The day was full of nervous excitement as I made myself busy around the apartment cleaning and cooking. I could not leave the apartment because I feared the boys might come home at any moment during the day. The first year of school my oldest son was dropped at the villa doorstep on several occasions. He stood at the rusted metal gate, a 6 year old in a foreign country, no language, frantically buzzing the gate. I ran downstairs carrying the baby and peered out to see him standing there looking so small against the large neighborhood houses. He said that the teacher had looked at his back and stomach and then sent him home. I assumed that they thought he had chicken pox, although he did not. This started our new routine where I would not leave the villa during school hours. Talking to the school administrators did little good as I would learn in years to come when I visited the girls school numerous times. So each morning we had our routine and pledge, “I love you, no I will not leave the apartment, don’t worry, no I promise, I love you too” This was the drill for the second year of school.
I picked up laundry, washed and started in cooking a favorite dish for the boys. He walked in the door carrying with him a warm and comforting smile, the old days. As he walked towards me he carried all of the memories of the past. His voice wafted towards me as perfume, first touching my face and and gently releasing its fragrance throughout my whole being until I felt washed in it from head to toe, warm and all consuming. He explained that the boys were fine and they looked happy. I felt a kind of joy that had been non existent since we arrived to this place. We laughed and joked, he peeled onions for Adas (lentil) soup while helping me with the dishes. The little kids clattered into the kitchen and he grabbed foof swinging her around as she giggled, “Baba Baba again again“. My heart felt light, a burden had been lifted and the sun was truly shining.
As the time approached for the boys return I felt hope and guarded excitement. He walked out the door to get the boys, since he was home he offered and I gladly accepted. The girls ran through the house laughing, arguing and playing. I could hear the boys coming up the stairs and my heart raced. I watched as the door opened and they entered but it was not what I had expected. The same sullen look followed them as it had the previous year. My heart sank, the day that was shining had now become glum, but I smiled and walked up to them to give them a hug. He looked at me sharply and I knew the look well. I stepped back and watched as he took them to the mejalis (living room). I stood at the door and listened, he lectured them on the importance of knowing the lessons and listening to the teachers and then things would be fine. As he exited the room he stood looking at me for a moment, a warning. I let him pass and walked into the room seating myself in between my boys, I put my arm around them and warmly kissed them on the cheek. They laid against me and we just sat talking and trying to laugh. I finally asked them the dreaded words I was warned never to speak, “how was school?” They both ignored my question and started to unpack their bags. I looked at my oldest son and asked straight, “Did anyone at school do anything to upset you?” He looked down at the pad and said, “the school is newer and nicer, the teachers seem better. ” I pressed on, “Did anyone hit you?” He looked at me and spoke, “At the beginning of the first class the teacher asked us to all hold out our hands, he walked around and hit each of us on the palm with a ruler and said something about not doing anything bad or this is what would happen.”