Sylvia leaned against the huge granite boulder, now warm from the early morning sun. It was a ritual when she was here, especially on the cold days. The boulder would catch the sun until it was teatime at school, and when the sun moved completely off the boulder, she could then wander slowly down the dry riverbed, making her way back to the corner at the end of the road near the school. There she would wait for her Gran.

She would have preferred to stay at home all day, not sit here at the river. She liked being at home, just her and her Gran. She liked following her around, her Gran carrying the big metal watering can and she the small plastic one, watering the spinach beds in their tidy plot. Sylvia liked watching the water seep into the thirsty ground. She liked sweeping the yard with the broom made of grass, until the sand lay tidy, engraved swirl patterns across its surface. But Sylvia knew that it would cause trouble if she refused to go to school, so she wasted her morning on her warm river boulder.

A blue-headed lizard climbed very near to her bare leg sticking out from under her neatly ironed uniform. It didn’t even know she was there, thinking her leg another part of the stone. It too was searching for warmth. It nodded its head as if in greeting, though only in her mind, because not even a lizard would greet a stone. Sylvia wondered sadly: But then who would?

Unthinkingly, she rubbed the stone in commiseration and the lizard dashed away in fear.

Lying back, Sylvia gently drifted asleep. Her mind took her to her mother. Not in the distance, not far away in America, where she lived with her new family. Her mind carried her to her mother in time. To before school, when she was small and her mother lived with them at her Gran’s. They were all happy then.

But then she met the American. He couldn’t live in a dry, backward desert, he had said in his big voice that vibrated the walls of their small hut. That was not a life for him. If she loved him, she would go with him. “But what about Sylvia?” she had asked. No, black Sylvia wouldn’t do in a family that would be milky-coffee coloured. Sylvia could stay with her Gran, she won’t mind, it would be better for her.

Then she and her Gran were alone. There was food, because money came every month from America, to be collected at the Western Union counter at the post office, jealous eyes watching and nasty tongues talking when Gran and Sylvia left. Sylvia’s mother had agreed to leave her behind only if the American agreed to pay for her to go to the rich people’s school, the one on the hill where every student grew up to become a doctor or a lawyer. And so he did.


Tell us what you think: Is this a great opportunity for Sylvia? Why do you think she is not going to school?