I was only a twenty something solider / teacher / medic in that far away and good for nothing corner of Imperial Iran. Had two class-full of kids, every day except Fridays. Most students were forced to attend, with no aptitude for learning, no curiosity and no talent – just a bunch of dumb and dirty village boys. Five or six were smart enough to act intelligent, do their homework, answer some questions – even think about high school. Then, there was Omid … so smart and so out-of-place.
Omid was 12 years of age. He had a pale complexion and a fragile figure. He was of a relatively prosperous family, with clean clothes, note books and pens. Every school day, Omid would sit on the first bench and look at me, with attentive eyes and eager face. He was doing well in homework and tests, but mostly loved my storytelling about the great scientists and discoverers – while most of the class was napping to get ready for their long and hard afternoon toil on the barley and potato fields.
Omid’s father was the village nurse (Ampol Zan) and a truly kind and gentle man. He was very happy that Omid had started to care more about school, and occasionally showed his satisfaction by bringing assorted offerings of plums, peaches and pomegranates. But I wasn’t as optimistic, because Omid seemed to lack some very basic survival skills, for that harsh environment.
I’d tell the father, how Omid was always chewing his nails to the bone – how he often seemed lonely and sad – not at all playful and mischievous like a normal boy. I urged him to spend more time together, and see what bothered the kid. But the father wouldn’t tell me of any problems at home – just uttering some vague words like “god is great” and “EnshAllah”. It was only after the village learnt about my ending term of duty and the imminent departure that finally, Omid’s mother decided to have a frank talk.
It was a cold December (Azar) afternoon, when she came to our one-room school, where I was grading the kids’ first term (Sols) exam. It was her first visit, and the mother looked weary and nervous … just like Omid. She had a pale and thin, yet charming and kind face. Her six years of schooling had been cut short by an arranged marriage … yet compared to the rest of SeDeh women; she was learned and refined.
It was quite unusual for a mother to visit by herself, and I was a bit uneasy. “Is Omid alright?” I asked. She declared that the kid was fine – actually that he had never been better! “What do you mean?” I inquired again. The mother slowly and clearly described a very odd childhood for a young village boy. Omid was keeping mostly to himself from an early age, refused to play with other kids, and was afraid of most grown ups. She basically pictured me the child as a total nervous wreck and a recluse.
I tried to reassure her that all will be fine in due time, and that no two kids are alike and they all go through many phases. Added that; perhaps after he goes through puberty, develops physically, matures mentally … you know … the usual teacher bullshit comments. After my little lecture, she fell silent, before mustering all her courage to say; “Omid may not have many chances or many years.” To which I protested: “Why? Why would you say something like that?”
She fell silent for a moment and then started to weep in sadness and pain. It was getting really awkward – a village mother crying in my classroom – what would the people think? I was already in enough trouble with the authorities, and really didn’t need a pick-and-shovel mob at my doorstep. She finally told me why. Last summer, Omid had swallowed a dozen of her mother’s sleeping pills!
End of Azar was my last day – the day that I was anticipating, counting and yearning for the past 20 months. The bus had arrived, to take me back to where I belonged – far away from that filthy and backward dump. Among a dozen well-wishers, Omid came with his father to see me off. The kid simply asked; “why are you leaving us?”
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