The Things We Can’t Help

After the heartbreak of Iqra, I find solace in this new kid. I love the way she smiles and the way she bends her pencil to write small ‘f’ and ‘e’. I love the way she chuckles and I love the way she makes me to love. She is this angel that just descended from heaven the other Tuesday and there is no way one can fail to find the attachment in her.

She has cute little fingers and her nails are transparent. Her head is always covered in her hijab but I have on several occasions taught her with an exposed head that has long curly hair ponytailed at the back with pink sometimes purple and red bands. I have slowly surrendered to the fondness and now my life has been turning into accepting the old heartbreak and believing that one can always pick themselves up, dust their clothes and keep keeping on.

Iqra was a powerful kid. You loved her that first time you set your eyes on her calm and innocent demeanour. You loved her desperately. She had been born and bred in Norway for all the six years that were her age and there was something ferocious in her attitude that forced you to like the way she was. A baby head with curled hair and she always shut her eyes when smiling; like she felt pain feeling happy. Iqra was the first kid who held my ears in mock warning and commanded me to tell Mum to buy a new drawing book because she was presently using her elder sister’s, which was criminal. Half-Norwegian-half-African face: always beamed with innocence and sincerity in a home I never trusted anyone else – not even the parents through whose hands I paid my bills.

But now she is gone. Gone to the darkness. She is out there, in Europe perhaps. She could be in Norway, most likely. She could be in London or Lisbon or Kiev or Where-The-Chuck. She could be a seven-year-old in Cape Town or Mogadishu or Rotterdam or wherever it is con women go back when they don’t pay the teachers of their children.

I had taught her that Thursday afternoon and when I came back the afternoon that accompanied Friday, she was gone. The gate had been wide open and I could see into the house that they had moved. They had moved without telling me. A neighbour told me they had gone back to Norway that Thursday evening. Perhaps I was broke and I felt I had been cheated by the people I had underestimated as incapable of doing much harm. But it was the feeling I received a few days later that overwhelmed and threw me to my ribs for three consecutive weeks until the posho-mill guy thought I had moved out of town.

Goodbye Asiya. Mwalimu loved you.
Goodbye Asiya. Mwalimu loved you.

I have never gotten over. They say you accept and move on with life – I have accepted but I’m not sure if moving on will ever take place. It is this thing that tags along in your shadow and follows you to the grave. It follows you to those lonely nights of old age and there’s nothing you can do. You sit at your window and spread your seventy-year-old eyes in the starry sky and ponder so much that you don’t feel piss when it comes. You particularly look at a star out-shining the rest and you feel jealous. Why should she shine so bright! Why…..

Does she shine on everybody? Does she shine on Iqra? Does Iqra feel good when she is shone upon? Did she realise her dream of becoming a teacher?

Here you locate a stray hair on your beard and fix it between the index finger and the thumb. You press tight and pull. The pain comes with relief. You always pluck off members of your beard every time nostalgia plays catch-up with you.

Now you clear your throat and then ask the question you have been hesitating to ask every time you sit next to that window: Is Iqra alive?

You don’t know whether or not that kid is still alive. You don’t know if she is married or she decided to go the other way. Most likely she cannot remember you because she has had better teachers in her life. Perhaps she never had a heartbreak after they boarded that eagle plane that stole her from Nairobi to that other side. If she became a teacher, you don’t know. This story is simple: you don’t know anything about her after that Thursday of Were.

But life goes on.

So Asiya is a next wonder kid. She already is. She is the only long haired girl from the horn of Africa who welcomes me home with a smile. The other day I even saw her cry that she wanted to go with me. That should swell your heart if you are a teacher. They say that no love exceeds the love of a mother; they have never tasted the love of a teacher to a child who smiles.

She had been jovial all day and I had taken her through the content in the easiest way. There had been no need to rush because we were already ahead. Only one month yet she was now reading the two-letter syllables fluently and she could write some on her own. So this day we had simply done revision and wrapped it up with a storytelling session. She had told me a story about an ogre called Aamir (her bully brother is also called Aamir). Aamir had eaten all the bread and anjera in the village and was hiding in the forest. Then her mother and her teacher had gone to the forest and captured Aamir pulyuu! And with a cheeky chuckle and twinkling eye, that was the end of her story.

After our storytelling, the mother had asked if she could talk to me. I was wrong to think she wanted to ask if I preferred black coffee to milk. Minutes after I said why not, my tongue tasted lemons. It was something tragic. Someone was getting between my Asiya darling and myself.

Let me tell you something about Asiya. The first days I had thought she was retarded. You know that jargon about IQ blah blah. She used to sit and just look until I asked her mother if the slow talking kid had had a decent infancy. I always suspected that because her brother and sister were 10 months older and 10 months younger respectively, her intelligence would never blossom. Sometimes our psychology professors tell the truth, you know. But I only needed four days to discover that this particular blah blah was not among the truths. She picked up so quickly that she now cracked jokes and laughed out loud and acted Tom and Jerry. And she would keep asking her mother to tell her what the time it was so that at exactly 10.30am, she was at the gate waiting to open for anybody because that anybody was always her teacher. Someone clap for me.

Thank you.

Asiya’s mother and I disagreed after the story telling. Said her husband no longer sends enough dollars these days. Or that the dollars sent are never enough. I don’t exactly know what she said because she uses a demented version of English and a more demented Swahili that you will be selected for talent show if you connect together any three consecutive words and go home with meaning. Her doctor should just advise her to stick to Somali or else her tongue will get malaria.

Anyway, the end thing is that she wanted me to cut the hour I teach Asiya and her brother and now introduce a third child, seventeen, into it. How do you teach Swahili to a beginner in twenty minutes and expect her to sit the class eight exams next year? And how do you teach six lessons in a third of an hour? So I told her the only night runner in our village died last year. She lost her patience with me and I think this thing is over.

But how do you tell Asiya that you are going away for good?

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