Short Story: The Glass Slate
A short story from Nepal by Sushant Thapa
Recently, Fai had got more interested in her studies. She was a loner. Her mother used to do daily chores for neighbours against a sum of money. Her father had a small shop that sold second hand goods and knick-knacks that he got from the dealer — some of them were antiques – more like trinkets. The merchandise in his shop fascinated Fai.
Her father narrated to her stories about these strange objects. He unraveled the mysteries of the town and wove stories around them to try and sell the objects to his clients. The dealer provided him with goods sold in auctions by museums and by abandoned high schools and tour groups. Rusty sleeping bags, mountaineering gears and all kinds of skiing stick– even golf clubs, a tiara discarded by someone who did not understand its value — such merchandise were the focal points of his stories.
Her father kissed her on her forehead and told her a story every night before she went to sleep. These stories were woven around the objects in his shop. They were not like the story of Big Fish in America. The story of the Big Fish was from the story book she got from the school library. It was a strange tale — the hero’s daddy would turn out to be the fish at last which had swallowed the ring of hero’s mommy. The library at Fai’s school would only allow them to borrow one book for the weekend.
The whole family shared a black and white television set. It was on television that she saw the American shops for the first time. They sold many fanciful items from toys to lovely dresses to cars and more. It was America that dominated her thoughts while she lived in the hills of Nepal. America seemed very picturesque and she pined to visit the country.
It was December. In the hills, it was smouldering cold. It felt as if something was buried in the hearts of the people living there — very deep — and the coldness of that thing was making them numb.
Now, she was old enough to read and write. Her classroom was on the second floor of the school. It was near the balcony. Besides, her class, there was a standard two classroom. It belonged to the primary section of the school. The children in the primary only got to listen to and recite rhymes from books. She fancied teaching numbers or numerical counting to those little children. The school was not a well-to-do one. It lacked in certain basic infrastructures like copies and books. A black slate was provided only to those who were in secondary level, like herself.
The primary class had pictures of Santa, rocking horses and marionettes that fascinated her. To her it seemed that the Santa was running away with the huge sack of goodies. In her imagination she flung opened that sack belonging to Santa and lined the toys in her father’s shop where he would be ready to make stories about the objects from the rucksack.
Her father had told her the story of a pair of big boots in his shop. The young cobbler loved them and did not want to return the repaired boots to the owner. The owner in any case had discarded them as he bought a pair of shiny boots. The cobbler had sewed them, mended them and polished them till they shone like mirrors. The cobbler lived in the little town. He looked after his sick mother and was able to afford her medical bills with the money he earned from mending shoes. The boots and the cobbler ultimately parted when he needed more money for her treatment.
Her daddy would tell her stories about golf clubs. One of them was so close to its master, he claimed that it swayed and surfed in the air like anything to maintain the projectile of the hit. The golf club would feel where its master was aiming and send the ball to the right hole. It would not let its master down. She had asked, “Daddy, how did the golf club know what the master thought?”
Her daddy would always answer, “Look little Fai, we need to empathise and feel at one with the objects so that they can hear our heart beat too. This will kindle a heart in them as well”.
One day Fai had a story to tell. She said, “Daddy I want to tell you a secret, I have a glass slate where I write. I found it in the basement of your shop.”
“Oh, tell me little Fai, how will the letters be visible on the transparent glass slate?”
“I write not only letters daddy but numbers too. They are visible to me. In my heart they have kindled the fire of closeness — I write them from my heart on the glass slate, with an ink-less marker, usually. I can write as much I want, and the marker would never be empty or out of ink and neither will the glass slate be inked or filled with the numbers. I project table of mathematics onto them daddy.”
Little Fai’s daddy was surprised! He said, “Little Fai, you have grown up now and have woven your own story. It is your very own story dearer and closer to your heart and you have found the first object that inspired you, fuelled your imagination.”
Little Fai cherished her father’s words. But, why did her father look concerned? Little Fai could sense that in her father’s face. She asked “What is it, Daddy? I see that you are worried.”
Her daddy could not reply to the child. He recalled something that he had seen when he had gone to take some goods for his shop from the dealer, who was richer than him. The dealer’s daughter who was only about three years old went to the nearby Montessori. Fai’s father had thought that children were only fond of stories and that they only played. But he had seen the small girl write on a slate made out of glass. She wrote with a washable marker and she was narrating something to her father eagerly. The small child seemed so excited and happy.
Fai’s father was looking at the glass slate on which his daughter was pretending to write. He could sense from the movement of her hands, that it was some letters.
“Invisible letters,” he thought. “I will make them visible.”
He realised that he could do something so that his daughter could write clearly and enjoy reading and writing.
He found a big piece of rectangular plywood in his storeroom. He had some white paints. Last time, when the carpenter had come to attach new doors and windows to his small house, he had left behind a piece of ply as it was in excess.
“I will paint it and provide my daughter a real marker with black ink this time,” he said. He prepared the board and stuck it to the glass slate. He bought Fai a marker. Fai was very happy. Every night when he narrated stories, she would tell him more stories that she thought up as she drew and wrote on her glass slate with her real marker, wiped and rewrote. Fai excelled at school and dreamt of bringing education to the little town.
Life began in the hills.
Sushant Thapa is a awaiting the results of his masters in English Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Currently he resides in his home at Biratnagar, Nepal, and has published several poems as well as essays in the online portal of Republica Daily from Kathmandu, Nepal. Thapa has also published couple of short stories and poems in The Writers’ Club online from New Jersey, United States. He revels in rock music, poetry, books and movies.
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