Fourteen

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Techa - Sister in Uipo

☢☢☢

The following week, on a Monday, Daniel opened admission to the school he dearly named Green Sprouts Elementary, at the least amount of only 200 rupees per student. In a family where there were three children, admission of the third child would be exempted, with a free package of textbooks and school materials. Within two days, he had received a headcount of thirty-two children from his village. The Pastor had announced the news in Church on Sunday and parents had begun registering their children right from the churchyard.

The admission fee was fixed at a very fair price and most of the parents paid at once. But there should be more children registered. A few more. This he reckoned were the children of the poorest. He would give them a few days before classes begin, he thought, and if they can't make it, he would meet them personally and ask them to send their children regardless. He would teach them for free as long as he could. And he prayed every single one of the registered children would turn up to school.

But just a few days before the start of school, every parent he had in mind and more turned up to register their children, and now there were nearly sixty kids, ready to go to school. On the following Monday, Daniel woke up in the wee hours of dawn, had a cup of warm water, and drove to his school. He opened every door and window, dusted the desks and chairs, and settled into his office. Classes would begin exactly by 7:30 am and end by 11:00 am for Nursery and Kindergarten kids, and noon for kids reading in grades 1 and 2.

When Pavei arrived at 6:30 am, Daniel took his truck for a ride through the village. He returned loaded as if he went downtown to buy children. He came back packed with them, weather-beaten village kids and their cracked skin for playing in the dust, grinned at Pavei as they climbed down from their ride. Little girls giggled at one another and boys jumped down from the truck bed, their trouser pockets heavily laden with marble stones, nearly dragging their pants down to their ankles.

Pavei knew each one of the kids and the boys called him 'Boss'. In the evening, after sunset, Pavei had often found himself playing marbles with the kids, haggling over them and trying to cheat one another for the heck of it. Now, he was going to teach his game partners math.

"How are you, Boss?" They asked as they shuffled past him into their classrooms.

Only a few nursery kids cried as they came, for which Eziine was relieved since she would mostly teach the little ones. Exactly at 7:30, the first bell was rung. There were exactly four of them for now including Daniel himself, Pavei, Eziine, and another friend of Pavei, Genevieve, who had graduated college and was particularly unemployed at the moment.

For the initial part of the morning, as children filed into their classrooms, they howled and laughed as though they had come to share jokes and quarrel instead of learning. Just as Daniel exited his office, a thin woman of medium height approached him with her little boy in hand.

"Sir Daniel!" She called.

She had her long dark hair twisted to make a bun just above her nape. Her eyes were sunken deep, she looked malnourished and beaten to the bone with labor, her fair skin sunburned. Clothed in a worn-out pink salwar, she approached him.

"Forgive me, I'm sure you're very busy. But I need to talk to you." She spoke in accented Manipuri which easily gave away that she was a Nepali.

"Sure. No problem."

"It's about this boy," the woman sighed, glancing at her little boy.

Daniel smiled at the kid who now took a step closer to his mother to bury his face against her thigh. "Hello boy, what is your name?"

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