and lotto at play
my rear view mirror I could see the child’s ponytail and the back of her
feet as she crouched on the dirt in front of a car. She turned around and
leaned against the car, using one small hand as an effective shield
against the white heat.
of brown sunburnt hair escaped from the rubberband and untidily framed her
round face. I got out to get my ticket from the car park attendant and she
came running over in a dress that was faded and two sizes too big for her
and smiled - a big happy, toothy, childish, innocent smile. My heart
turned over. The glare backlit her hair, into a flaming halo. She was a
light had changed to chocolate gold by the time I returned to the car
park. I saw the ragged angel. She was sitting still, her face buried in
tiny hands with the dirty fingernails and remnants of red nailpolish.
Tired now, the day was done.
next day at midday she was there again. In the same dress. Standing next
to her father in the car park without a booth. “Why you didn’t go to
school today?” I asked, thinking how she didn’t even have anywhere to
shelter if it rained or sit down if she was tired from morning to night.
father who had the look of a man whose innate cheer has been defeated by
life said she didn’t get in. He applied to two schools in Port of Spain.
“They don’t have room.” He said she was six and that her name is
Kesi, that he had two other children, one of whom was in school that his
wife was working. I didn’t ask about the other child.
evening, as I entered the car park, Kesi skipped up to me and smiled her
free, open childsmile - more heartrending since I as an adult knew the
rules that she would learn soon. That a lack of education, and poverty was
enough to slam shut all the possibility that lit up her face. And that
soon even that light would fade once she comes to understand rejection and
what it meant. Not that she didn’t know now, children know a lot more
instinctively than we think, but the hope was still fresh, would take a
good more bashing before it hardened into bitterness.
tugged at my shirt. “I could come with you?” That I had showed a
little interest in her in one conversation was enough, plenty for her to
place her life in my hands. The father waited. I hesitated, wanting not to
say no, dash hope, wanting to be able to say, yes, and yet what would do I
do with her? Bring her home on a sentiment? That might not last? She had
parents. And feeling ashamed for not wanting to get involved, wishing
children weren’t such a big responsibility, mumbled, “another day.”
father handed me a tightly folded piece of paper. On a Play Whe form, an
apt metaphor for Kesi’s life - which was left as much to chance as the
lotto, with a similar probability of winning, he had carefully written
down her name and the schools to which she had applied.
spent the next morning ringing up school principals in Port-of-Spain. Just
went through the directory. I pleaded - said she was only six, had never
been to school, lived in a hot car park all day long. That she deserved a
chance in life. “Yes yes yes,” they said, irate, as if they’ve heard
it all before.
after principal turned it around, and instead complained: their first and
second year classrooms are jam, crammed, there’s no desks, no rooms, no
elbow space; their teachers are already unfairly burdened, its unfair to
the children to add another, they had to empty science rooms to create
classrooms, that I had to be realistic, that they couldn’t promise
anything; that so many people are working in town now that the city’s
schools are overflowing.
my lotto number came in! I got principal Patricia Williams who sounded
like the kind of teacher who uses her power - to give a child a fair shot
at life - with the kind of enduring influence that throughout the
child’s life opens door after door to him or her.
school, like the others was overcrowded. “This year I am taking 50
students and I have 163 applicants.” There was space in schools, she
said, but the problem was matching spaces to children. Beetham, she said,
had a beautiful big school built for 800 but just had 100 children because
of the stigma. “But,” she concluded, she believes “in inclusion,
especially if a child is living in a car park and would interview her.”
She said there were hundreds like Kesi, she wished she could take them all
in, that most of them were creative, but not articulate, that she had
started an in-house broadcasting course for children to become fluent,
communications was the future, she bubbled and bubbled with the thrill of
giving back possibility and magic to children.
raced to the car park with a piece of paper with Mrs Williams’s name and
school. Kesi her father said “had gone out to come back.” I hope that
the next time I see her she will be in uniform, after school. But like
lotto, and one principal out of 20, and one child out of hundreds, it’s
all in the luck of the draw.