Every day when my dad would come back from work, I would run towards him. He would take his shoes off and I would ask the same question from him a thousand times in a row, like a broken record, until he would finally answer me.
“Have I got admitted to the school?”
“Have I got admitted to the school?”
“Have I got admitted to the school?”
“Not yet, Yusra!”
And then I would frown and start praying for that day to come quick and with that I would picture a school building. Every time when I thought about school, I couldn’t help but imagine a dark room with a fat lady sitting between two piles of sacks, scrutinizing the class. That fat lady was what I thought how a school teacher looked like.
One day, to my extreme happiness, my dad told me that we were going to the school and it dawned upon me that I would have to take a test before the admission because that’s how children get admitted to the school. My mom dressed me up and my dad drove us to the school. On our way, I asked my mom what I was going to be asked. She told me that I was taught all the basics at home so I did not have to worry, it would not be difficult for me. We reached the school and it looked nothing like what I had imagined. A big gate. A large school ground with swings, surrounded by a good number of classrooms that I couldn’t event count. Oh, so that’s how a school actually looks like. I highly doubt that I managed to see that view without dropping my jaw.
My mom was right. I knew just about everything on the test. The Urdu/English alphabets. The forward and backward counting. Spellings of some words. The first and second kalma. It was a piece of cake and that too with generous amount of chocolate sauce for me. Of all the tests I’ve taken in my life, this was the easiest one. The principal smiled at me and patted my cheeks and told me that I did great on the test and gave me a juice pack and a bag of chips.
I got admitted to the school.
I woke up early in the morning for my first day of school. Out of sheer excitement, I didn’t even want to eat my breakfast. Mom dressed me in my school uniform and did my hair. With my school bag perched on my back, I shoved my feet into my new shiny brown shoes and my mom stooped down to buckle them up for me. While buckling my shoes, she looked up at me, smiled and said, “Don’t forget this day and time when you grow up.” I had no idea what to say to her, so I just smiled back at her. That was a five-year-old’s response. A way of ensuring her mom that this day would be remembered. Forever. So, right then and there I promised myself that I would not let this day slip out of my memory.
And now it’s safe to say that after all those years, I still haven’t failed to keep my promise that I had once made to myself in secrecy.
My dad dropped me off at school. The day I had been waiting for eagerly had finally come. He came inside the school with me and took me to the principal’s office. The principal asked a lady worker at the school to show me the way to my classroom. My dad kissed me goodbye and told me he would come to take me home when the school hours were over. Being left in absolute unfamiliar surroundings and watching my dad leave me in the hands of a perfect stranger was that episode of my imagination about First Day Of School which I never watched. My heart started pounding in my ears and I tried in vain to keep myself from crying. Suddenly, I didn’t want to go sit in a classroom. I didn’t want to discover more about that school. I just wanted to run back to my dad. I wanted to go home. All I could see around me was an enormous building and alien faces. I was crying. The people at school were brutal. Like robots with no feelings, they watched me cry my eyes out but no one took me back to my dad. I was taken to the classroom instead.
I was assigned a roll number. 43. It took me a while to settle down and observe my surroundings. This time, too, the scene around me caught me by surprise. There were no piles of sacks and no fat teacher. Instead, what I saw before me was a big black rectangular thing on which, a pretty, happy faced teacher was scribbling down the English alphabet in different colors. Fat? No! Fat was absolutely not the word for her. With time, I started to acknowledge what I was seeing in my vicinity.
The bell rang after sometime and everyone started to get out of the classroom in pairs, with lunchboxes in their hands. This is lunch break, I was told. A girl, (let’s just call her ‘The Nice Girl’) while leaving the classroom with her friend, halted where I was seated and said that I could come with her if I wanted to. I didn’t have any friends to have my lunch with. I hesitated a bit at first but then I realized I was a total loner at this new place so I took my lunch box out of my brand spanking new school bag and tagged along beside her.
I don’t know why but I have always been the weird one since my childhood. I have weird desires now and I had weird desires back then. I wanted to see how school toilets looked like. I decided to ask The Nice Girl to take me to the lavatory but I found it so embarrassing to tell her that I only wanted to go to the loo just because I wanted to see it. I thought she would laugh at me. Even though she was really really nice, it still seemed a bit embarrassing to me. So I fibbed. I told her I wanted to go the loo really bad. She, being as nice as she could, told her friend that she was going to show this new girl (that was me, of course) the way to the loo and she handed our lunch boxes to her friend and said that we would eat our lunch once we get back from the lavatory.
So instead of eating my lunch and playing on the swings, I was heading towards the toilets just to see how they looked like at the school. The Nice Girl took me where the school toilets were. She stayed outside while I went inside and counted the number of toilet doors. After examining that place, I came out concluding that I didn’t really like the school toilets. Too small. The classrooms were a lot better. Wide and colorful.
I was feeling hungry and so was The Nice Girl. She suggested that we should start munching on what our mommies had packed for us before the bell rings. So we got back to where her friend was but what I saw next brought back that I-want-to-go-home-RIGHT-NOW feeling within me. Her friend was not at all nice like she was. She had hogged on my lunch. She was laughing devilishly, running around the school ground still chewing on the last bite of my lunch and giving me that same bully look they show in those school bully movies. She was just making me want to kill her. But I couldn’t kill her of course. Standing in the middle of the school ground, helpless like a fish out of water, I broke into a fountain of tears and cried my heart out. The Nice Girl got all mad on her friend. She told her that she was a bad girl and tried to calm me down from crying by offering me her lunch. Although, feeling like it was the end of the world, after all that had happened, somewhere in between the weeping and the longing to see my parents' faces, I couldn’t help thinking how nice, caring and sweet The Nice Girl was. I wonder if I had told her that. I highly doubt I had though.
Nevertheless, I made a friend that day.
I had learnt a lot that day. Like how hard and challenging it was to say goodbye to your loved ones. And that the school classrooms didn’t have piles of sacks. And that the teachers did not necessarily have to be fat. I finally knew how school toilets looked like. But above and beyond all, I had learnt that I could then proudly call someone my friend.