That was many weeks ago now. She had found her classroom. Inside was a tall Indian teacher at the front. She spoke in English, tilting her head from side to side and smiling, showing her white teeth all of the time. The children in Sylvia’s class were small like her, but she knew none of them. Some were black, some were brown and some were white. Sylvia had never seen white children before and spent a lot of the morning sneaking shy looks at them.

When teatime came Sylvia followed the other children to the tables under the shade near the playground. She opened the tumbler that her Gran had packed in her new school bag. Inside was the left over pap and spinach from the night before. Her stomach growled when she saw it and she began eating straight away, not noticing that children were gathering around her.

A girl with long braids from the hair salon plaited into her hair said, “Look at what she eats!”

Children stood with their cans of cola and chips in packets from the shops, and laughed. Sylvia, not knowing enough English, understood nothing of what they were saying but became scared as they gathered around her, more and more of them. She stopped eating and looked down at the table hoping that they would leave her alone.

Suddenly a boy rushed forward and grabbed her tumbler, the one her Gran had bought new for school, and ran away with it throwing the pap and spinach on the green lawn along the way. Sylvia tried to catch him but he was big and fast. She shouted, “Stop!” but he didn’t.

A bell rang and the boy dropped the tumbler and stamped hard on it smiling all the while. When he ran past Sylvia he shouted, “Go home poor girl!”

Sylvia picked up the pieces of the tumbler and walked out of the school gate. She waited at the end of the road until her Gran arrived. She lied to her Gran, telling her that the teacher said that they mustn’t bring food anymore to school, that the tumbler would stay there and the teacher would fill it with food instead.

“That’s very kind of them,” Sylvia’s Gran said, relieved that all had gone well. And Sylvia smiled up at her agreeing.

That was Sylvia’s last day at the rich people’s school.

Still, every morning her Gran would drop her at the end of the road and pick her every afternoon at the same place. Sylvia would be full of all the stories about school and her friends there. At night around the fire where they cooked, her Gran would talk about how one day Sylvia would be clever and rich, and they would fly together in an aeroplane to see Sylvia’s mother.

“Your mother did the right thing Sylvia. You shouldn’t think she didn’t. We will go and fetch her when you are rich from learning everything at the rich people’s school.” Gran would smile and take Sylvia into her soft-jellied arms and hold her tight. Sylvia would be almost happy, except for the part that knew lying was wrong and that now maybe because she wasn’t going to the rich people’s school they would never get her mother back.


Tell us: Do you judge little Sylvia for staying away from the school?