Sunday, March 12, 2017

Chapter 5 Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

I didn’t know my carefree and blissful days could transform into a life full of heavy responsibilities. When I finished my five years of primary school and entered middle school, there was no proper education. The teachers usually arrived late to class, and failed to teach even the basics. School was dismissed after being in session for just three hours. When Papoo saw me regularly returning early from school, he took Irfan and me to the shop where he and Jamil worked.  “From now on, they will learn how to run a shop,” he said to Jamil, feeling proud.

Jamil looked at us thoughtfully and replied, “That’s great. Instead of playing games and wandering the streets, they should learn how money is earned.” I dared not utter a word to my bossy brothers, who felt it was within their prerogative to decide young boys’ destinies.

While dealing with a customer, Papoo said, “Rizwan will also feed the buffaloes in the morning and evening since he has already completed his Quran lessons in the mosque.” They chose not to send us to any of the better schools in the city. Instead, they thought it was in our best interest to work, earn money, and develop a strong work ethic. I thought about my father and wondered if he were alive that day; would he have done the same thing, or would he have insisted that I attend a better school in the city?

I dealt with a wide variety of people in the store that day. The whole situation had left me confused, bewildered, and hesitant. Papoo sometimes used harsh words to get me to do the work right. I remember the instance a boy came and informed Papoo that the cattle had returned after grazing. He then ordered me to go with him to his farm. He bellowed in a gruff voice: “Fill all these buckets with water, and give them to the buffaloes.”

The rusty, old hand pump was hard to operate, requiring me to jump up and down to force the water to come out. Finally, after filling four buckets, I fearfully placed one before a huge, thirsty buffalo. In no time, she had lapped up the entire bucket. She looked at me with her sad, brown eyes seemingly begging for more. I gave her the second bucket, then the third, and finally she drank the fourth one too. There were four buffaloes and three young calves. I had hardly finished serving them water, when Papoo started the chaff-cutter machine. “Sprinkle some water on the hay and give me a handful of it. I will put it in the machine,” Papoo instructed.

I was deathly afraid of that noisy, menacing looking machine. Its huge, finely honed blades revolved around so quickly that I couldn’t see how many blades it had. After we finished cutting the hay with the chaff-cutter, he said, “Clean the buffaloes’ eating pots.” The large, square pots were made of cement and reeked of an awful stench. While the buffaloes ate, Papoo milked them. I kept feeding them until night fell. I was exhausted, every muscle ached. I went home as slow as a snail. I slept like a log.

At the time of Azan, the morning prayer time, Papoo woke me up from my deep sleep by vigorously shaking my arm. “Wake up, lazy head. Let’s go to the farm,” he said. Papoo took me there again, and we repeated all the back-breaking yesterday’s chores. I had to go to school though. I anxiously watched the clock on the wall. The time seemed to move slowly. Only half an hour remained before the school’s assembly time, and I was still feeding the cattle. The boy who took the cattle for grazing on the riverbank came and said, “It is time for the cattle to move out.” I thanked God. Papoo saw me as I ran to the door. I was very late for school.

I took a quick shower, threw on my uniform, and ran to school without eating my breakfast. The first class had already started when I entered the school. “May I come in, sir?” I asked the teacher.

“Come,” he replied. I went towards my desk.

“Here. Come here!” he said with a loud, booming voice, glaring at me. He taught us Sindhi. All the students feared him because of his angry nature. “You’re late.”

“Sorry, sir. I was feeding the cattle.” He hardly listened to me and started beating me with his long hard stick.

“Open your palms!”

I screamed as he hit me really hard. He was a merciless teacher. After beating me, he said to the class, “Do your work.” Then he abruptly left the room without teaching us anything.

Within three or four hours, the school day was finished. My hands were swollen. I went back home. The moment I started eating my lunch, Irfan came to me and said, “They’re calling for you at the shop.”

I held the last morsel in my hand and said to him, “I’m coming.”

I was tired and my hands were still swollen from the teacher’s fury. I was not in any condition to work at the shop, but I knew that I had to. I barely made it through the rest of the day.

At night, I looked towards the moonlit sky. The stars above my village were somehow dimmer. It was as if I was lost in those countless stars. In the morning, the storm clouds started to gather. The sky suddenly turned into an expanse of black ink. The rain drops started to patter loudly against the window. Papoo ordered me to hurry the buffaloes under the roof of the farm.

At night, an eerie silence was pervasive, not a sound could be heard. The cattle were huddled together on the ground. My clothes reflected the hard day and were full of dirt. With all the strength that I could muster, I walked home slowly, trying to ignore the pain throughout my body. Working at the shop and the farm had become my responsibilities. The smile on my face had disappeared. I didn’t go to the tube well anymore. These responsibilities made me realize why people say that life is a bed of thorns, not roses. 

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