“Mama, I don’t want to go to school,” that was what Laura said to her mama the very night before school started. Her mama was sitting on the verandah outside their small wooden and bamboo-made house. “nonsense, dear! Everybody goes to school. Your brothers and sisters go to school. So, you must go to school as well.” Her mama answered, not seeing the tears in her daughter’s small uneven eyes and the unexplainable fear in her fragile heart. So, Laura could not argue anymore. Tomorrow, she will go to school just next to their village, across the river. Laura looked at the stars in the sky, and wondered if they have their own school to go to, too. ‘if they don’t have to go to school, I wish I’m a star right now’ well, that was how much Laura doesn’t want to go to school.
* * * * *
“Laura, come on.” Laura’s sister, Elena yelled from outside, as Laura was still looking at the small mirror in their room. She saw a pale looking girl, afraid of how the school will treat her. Earlier, her sister made two ponytails of her hair, but later Laura changed it to one. She was afraid somebody will say “you look like a goat with that herds” as what she had seen on their black-and-white TV. Slowly, she went outside and together with her older sister, Elena and brother, Phillip, they walked to school. As they passed each house in the village, the groups of schoolchildren became larger, as Laura remained silent, lost in her own thoughts. “are you scared of going to school, Laura?” asked her same-age-friend, Joyce.
“Yes, indeed. Don’t you?” Joyce laughed and said, “Not at all. School is fun. You’ll see!”
They walked pass the bridge and walked a little longer on the small road, and soon they reached at Laura’s dreaded school. All the children from nearest villages go to school here. No need for transportation as it is very near. Laura looked around and saw so many new faces from other villages, except for the kids who go to the same church as hers. Soon, the bell rang, and all pupils must queue up following their classes. Elena should be in Year 6, Phillip in Year 3 and of course, Laura in Year 1. After singing the school’s theme song that Laura heard for the first time (she just moved her lips as if she knew the song), a big man whom they called the headmaster went in front of the whole pupils, and gave a talk that ended almost half an hour. He talked mostly about taking good care of teeth, and urged the pupils to follow his great-grandfather who died with his original teeth, every single tooth, as in full.
Then, everyone went to class. Laura’s class was at the end of the corridor. There were about 20 students in the class. Laura only knew the pupils from her village. But by the end of the school day, she could memorize all the names of her classmates. All of them were talking about their kindergarten times, where they were learning before and how much they enjoyed themselves. Suddenly, it hit Laura. Yes, she finally realized her number one reason of not going to school. She had never been to any of the kindergartens they were talking about. Her village has no pre-school and her parents did not send her to the kindergarten at other villages. So, she had no basic at all. Not even an ‘ABC’ or a ‘123’. (well, she did hear her siblings talked about it, but she never thought it will be that important!). What if the teacher finds out that she could not read and count or even write?
Miss Annie was the first teacher who entered their class. She has a curly hair and a big mole on her left cheek. She speaks loudly but is very kind-hearted indeed. At least, that was Laura’s impression on her. The first lesson was to read the so-called-alphabets on a big card with pictures on it. Miss Annie will call out names, and the pupil must read the letters before saying aloud the word. Laura’s heart was beating so fast. ‘My turn will come soon enough’ she muttered. ‘Lord Jesus, please help me. Amen’ she said a short prayer like what she learnt from the church. She listened carefully to how her classmates spelled the words. She tried so much to memorize the sound but they were too many. She managed to memorize ‘the sound of the spelling’ of one of the words. And when her turn came, the teacher asked her to spell exactly the word she remembered the most. The word was W A T E R. Laura was so grateful. ‘Thank You, Lord’ she whispered.
The rest of the teachers who came to their class later did not ask much. So, Laura was so relieved. During recess, Phillip came to see her. “Come, let me show you lots of books” he said. So, they went to a place called ‘mini-library’, where they must take off their shoes before entering. There were many books neatly arranged on the shelves. “this is my favorite” Phillip said showing a book with a picture of a horse in it. “can you read it?” Laura asked. “of course, and you will too, very soon” said Phillip. “don’t worry, Laura. We all can’t read at first.” He added. Laura nodded and wished so much that she can read, so that she may know what is the story behind the picture of a beautiful smiling girl in one of the books she saw.
When the last bell rang, Laura smiled happily as she knew the school was over. Her first day went well without anyone knowing that she couldn’t spell. ‘But how about tomorrow?’ she thought. Well, she quickly put aside the thought for a while as she walked happily with some of her new friends. When she and her siblings reached home, their mama was waiting outside their house, with their baby sister on her arms.
“How’s your first day at school, Laura?” her mama asked. Laura looked up to the blue sky and forced her eyes to face the bright sun, like she and her siblings always do in a game where the one who stares the longest will win. Then she answered, “It was alright.”