No one has ever been sentenced to a more severe sentence called education as young as I was.
“I don’t know how to punish him anymore, I ran out of ideas, I tried everything,” my mother said to my father one night as tears were running down her face.
Then my sentence was carried out. I was three years old. The next morning I was trailing my father with a long face to Mactab. Those days in Ahvaz, housewives who had some education taught neighboring children under school age for a small fee in their homes. The curriculum included learning alphabets and listening to the teacher reciting Quran.
As I was schlepping behind my father, I knew where I was going could not be a good place, my freedom was to be taken away. For a few hours a day I was forced to do a mandatory hard labor called learning.
When we arrived, Mrs. Badami my home teacher opened the door.
“I’m not a baby sitter. Mactab is a learning institution. I do not tolerate mischievous behavior in the class,” she said to my father.
“I agree with you one hundred percent. He’s a good boy, I promise you.” My father left me in Mrs. Badami’s custody and hurriedly fled. What a liar was my father.
She ushered me to their living room where I met other inmates, four kids my own age. I sat down on the floor and quietly listened to our teacher reciting Quran in Arabic; I could barely speak my own language. After one hour of listening to the words of God in a language incomprehensible to me, I politely asked permission to use the lavatory. Permission was granted and I left the room. Pee was bliss. I enjoyed every second of my break and reluctantly returned to the class to do time and endure the hard labor.
Mrs. Badami opened a book and eloquently recited from the first page.
“Father gave water. Mother gave bread.”
I recognized the pictures in the book. They were the same parents who gave water and bread in my older brother’s text book. The one he always brought home and loudly recited every night. My brother was in first grade and I was only three. Punishment did not fit the crime.
As unfair as this punishment seemed, honest to God, I tried so hard to stay awake, be a good boy as father promised and learn but my eyes were not under my control. They kept rolling up and down and left and right of the little strange room searching for distraction, anything to divert my attention from hearing the monotonous tone of our teacher. Suddenly I noticed an unusual piece of garment hanging on the wall.
“What is that?” I asked our teacher pointing to the object.
“It is my husband’s coat.” The teacher looked to where I was pointing and replied.
“Oh! It’s too bulky and heavy, I thought it was a mule’s saddle,” I innocently commented.
Kids giggled pointing their fingers at her husband’s coat. Judging by the Mrs. Badami’s facial expression, I knew I had done something wrong as usual, very wrong. I knew by experience that every time I made others laugh, retribution was bound to follow; why I didn’t know. I was to get punished, how severe remained to be seen.
Mrs. Badami took me to their kitchen.
“You’ll stay here all day until your mother picks you up.”
This mild reprimand filled my little soul with gratitude for my very first educator.
After a few minutes that my eyes adjusted to darkness, I found myself in a very little space with ceiling and walls blanketed by a thick black layer of smoke generated from the kerosene cooker, a kitchen filled with the tantalizing aroma of simmering vegetable stew. As I sat there in solitary confinement for a period of time that seemed like eternity anxiously waiting for my sentence to be over, the delicious scent of stew shattered my resistance to hunger. I was lifted by the aroma of the heavenly cuisine and drawn toward the boiling pot. Carefully, I nudged the pot’s led aside burning my hand just to catch a glimpse of the paradise. I inhaled the aromatic moisture and went back to the corner wondering if my real punishment was to starve in presence of food. I was now drooling all over my growling stomach.
At that moment before the steaming pot, I solemnly vowed to be a good kid and shut my mouse forever if the torment ended immediately. I cried myself to sleep and when I woke in sweat I was even hungrier. My wish did not come true. I had no idea how long I had been sitting there but I could not see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. The only way I could survive the famine was to do the wrong thing.
This was the first time in my life that I conscientiously made a difficult decision to the wrong thing.
I lifted the lid and an enticing piece of meat shone my insatiable eyes. Then I carefully plucked a delicious piece of marbled lamb from the top and delicately raised it up to the rim to let it cool and to admire its elegance. Then I held my sinful beauty up in the air for a few moments longer and opened my mouth to indulge in ecstasy. That day, I committed my first and most delicious crime of my life. I gorged the entire piece at once with a great deal of enjoyment and equal amount of guilt.
Suddenly the door flung opened and Mrs. Badami appeared in the frame. The green juice of the vegetable stew was still running down my shirt, my fingers were all greasy and the lid was off the pot.
She plucked me off the ground like a filthy rat and threw me out of the kitchen cursing me under her breath. Fuming Mrs. Badami then twisted my ear and dragged me all the way home in that embarrassing condition. I tiptoed the entire way with my right ear clutched in her left hand, the shameful heat in my ear I never forget.
When my mother opened the door seeing me in that condition; I saw death in her eyes. This is how I was expelled from Mactab; and how I began to hate school.