Something kept bothering him in the heart — a wish to become educated, to go to school. It bothered him so much that he started to try to read newspapers thrown out by people who had already read them.
His name was Noman. He had bright hazel eyes and a round-shaped face. He was not more than five years old when he started picking up garbage with his father. They were so poverty-stricken that they often had no money to feed themselves. But Noman wasn’t ungrateful as most kids of his age. In fact, he was happy with his life and didn’t complain about anything. But he just felt that something was missing — a dream, a goal.
One day, Noman was picking up garbage from the streets when he saw some boys. Unlike his grimy, dirty clothes, they were all dressed in grey and white uniform, with bright bags and shoes. Noman’s eyes twinkled as he saw them entering a large building nearby.
Noman kept staring at them for some time, but was distracted as his father called him for some work. After finishing his work, Noman started feeling thirsty, as it was very hot. He asked his father for water, who told him to go and ask someone in the houses on the street for water. So Noman went door to door asking for the water to drink on a hot sunny day. Most of the people gave excuses and shut the door.
But then a kind and understanding man handed him a water bottle. Noman brought the bottle back to his father and they both sat in the shade of a tree and drank water. The sun was at its peak and the day was unusually hot. Then all of a sudden, the boys in the uniform that he saw earlier came back to his mind.
“Father, did you see those boys who just passed from here? Do you know who they are?” Noman enquired.
His father finished drinking water and responded, “What do you have to do with them? They are the children of rich people who have shiny cars and good food. The place they were going to is a school. They go to study books and a lot of other things, but it needs a lot of money. Why are you asking?”
“Nothing, I was just wondering!” Noman said with a heavy heart. Then he saw his father get up with a grunt. Noman got up too and walked alongside his father. He remained thoughtful as he knew his parents didn’t have enough money to send him to this strange, yet amazing place called “school”. But he couldn’t control the desire in his heart to go there.
From that day onwards, Noman always stopped and looked at the school building and all the kids who got in and then came out, happily, chatting about various things that he knew nothing about. And his heart always ached and bothered him, but he always ignored it, thinking that he was not meant to be there.
Days passed. On one warm sunny day, Noman saw a piece of paper on the floor. He picked it up and sat on the side of the garden near the place he was cleaning. He observed the letters closely.
“P-a-k-i-s-t-a-n,” he was trying hard, but he just couldn’t read it properly. Just then he heard a voice.
“Hey garbage boy! Don’t try something that is way too complicated for you. Clean my shoes instead, it would be easy!”
Noman looked up. They were the same boys he used to see going to school. They were smiling wickedly. Noman stayed quiet and put the piece of paper aside, but refused to clean the shoes of the boy.
He picked up the garbage and put it in the big bag he had set aside. The boys were still there.
“You don’t want me to complain about you to my dad. Clean it up, quick!” he cackled wickedly.
Just then someone came forward, a tall and robust man.
“Oh, Professor Ahmed! How are you?” the boy looked around and asked awkwardly, trying to change the subject in case the teacher heard the things he had said.
“I just heard what you said to that poor boy. I must say I am deeply disappointed. How can a student of mine do something like this? Math comes after manners. No manners, no education. Learn to respect others!” he thundered.
The boy felt ashamed and said sorry to Noman and ran away with his friends. Professor Ahmed looked at Noman and asked if he wanted to study.
Noman blurted everything out — how he could never go to school, how he tried to read papers fallen on the ground and that he always dreamt about school and studies.
Professor Ahmed said, “How about I teach you all the subjects?”
Noman smiled, but it faded away suddenly. “But I don’t have any money,” he said.
“It’s okay. I’ll teach for free and I will bring you all the books and stationery that you will need. I will teach you every day after coming back from school. What do you say?”
Noman could not believe his ears. He was so happy and excited that all he could do was nod in disbelief. Then the professor asked Noman to take him to his parents.
Professor Ahmed asked his parents for permission to teach their son. They could not believe their ears and readily agreed. They also added that Noman did not have to help his father anymore but Noman insisted that he would like to help his father as well as study. It was then agreed that Noman would come to the professor’s house in the evenings and study.
Noman studied with all his might. His dream was finally coming true. Professor Ahmed saw his efforts and decided to get him admitted in school.
Noman was ecstatic the day he joined the school. He promised himself that he would show the world that he could be a bright student. He studied hard and always got one of the top positions in his class.
Due to excellence in his studies, Noman started to get scholarships and his education became free. He easily got admission in a good college, then university and finally made his parents and teachers proud by becoming a doctor. Noman worked in a good hospital and opened an NGO for those who want to get education but can’t afford it.
Published in Dawn, Young World, July 2nd, 2022