Nineteen autumns ago, in a warm classroom, sitting in the first row next to my first love. I was lucky enough to be the son of a father with a fine job because back where I did my primary school, the “better” your dad’s position is, the closer to the teacher’s desk is your seat.
This wasn’t the case of Mariem whose dad was a plumber -a 7 years old girl, not as pretty as the one on my left but still likeable – who occupied one of the backseats of the classroom amid a bunch of unfortunate little scandalmongers who couldn’t accept someone decent, peaceful, shy, quiet and hard-working among them. Though that was too much on a sweet rug rat, she never complained. Between the classes and at lunchtime she would come to us to talk about what happened in the last episode of the cartoons we watched, swap cards and snacks, gossip about teachers and to crack jokes. She was very content with the swift breaks that were seen as a refuge from a less innocent world, moments of recreation and refreshment that never ceased to supply her with a strength and an endurance she was crying out for to finish the day with a hope that in the next morning, she will enjoy gawking through the door at the gardener ankle-deep in mud planting what it may be a “palmier” these days. Whenever Ms. Qasi looked at her and that was unusual, Mariem raised her eager hand to answer a question or nodded to show that she did understand but none of those tricks managed to attract the “teacher’s” attention nor to lift her from the bottom of the class.
Until one day, a woman from the ministry of education visited our school to take the list of the students whose parents work abroad. As she knocked the door, interrupting Ms. Crap’s nap we all stood up not willing to greet her on her entrance as much as afraid of being sent to the last row and this is why those who sit in the front are mostly the ones who “erect” first.
– ” DEAR” students ! Would you please raise your hands if you have a father/ mother or both working abroad. Ms. sweet-toned Crap, goggling at the pupils in the dark part of the class.
– What’s your name ? The beautiful lady in the blue suit.
– Mariem… and she added her surname.
– Thank you sweetie, your teacher will tell you what to do. Looking back at Ms. Qasi she whispered: I have to move to the next class, would you please give her this form that has to be filled out by her mom before Friday….Have a good day !
– With pleasure ! Bye
A moment later, the bell rang and we all went out except Mariem as “Teacher” Qasi had to show her how to fill in the form. Something that didn’t last more than a minute.
With other students from different classes we followed Ms. Qasi as she headed for the headmaster’s office pulling up Mariem’s wrist too hard and mumbling along the courtyard. We saw the fear in her eyes and even those who gave her a hard time pitied her. The throng faded as soon as he opened the door, with dozens of questions in our minds.
For the rest of the year Mariem’s place remained empty as she moved to another class. I remember her hiding behind the school’s main gate eating her sandwich avoiding some bully fifth graders who called her “liar”.
Though,we had been warned not to talk or play with her, we knew later that she lied about her dad’s job just to get closer to the blackboard and that she complained about Ms. Qasi’s discrimination.
P.S: I’ve recently heard that an old guy divorced her after being caught red-handed with a paramour in the backseat of his car.