I was here.

Looks can be deceiving. Nadia knew that all along, but little Aliya was the one who reminded her that, now and again. How ironic that life’s biggest lessons are taught by smallest teachers, Nadia reflected. She smiled as she saw Aliya staring at a magazine clipping. The little one wore a funny woolen cap on her head that covered her ear. No matter how stuffy it was, she kept pulling it down to her neck.

“What is this honey?” Nadia asked.

Aliya craned her neck to look up at her. Instead of answering her question, she waved the clipping in front of her nose. Nadia took it from her hand and looked at it. It was a painting of a tree; the most picturesque tree that probably enroots in the whirring brains and imaginations of the little ones.


“It is beautiful. Can I show it to the class?” Nadia asked with a look of admiration and pleading.

Aliya shook her head vigorously. She had developed this habit of answering in gestures rather than words but Nadia chose to ignore it. Aliya had recently lost her mother to cancer. There would be plenty of time to go hunting for her lost words, once she gets over the shock, Nadia decided.

She knocked at the board with her knuckles to draw attention to her self and held out the picture for the kids to see.

“Now look here sweethearts. What do you see?” Nadia asked.

Almost everyone shouted out that it was a tree. Amidst the enthusiastic bunch, who were jumping to answer the question, sat Aliya with a thoughtful look. Miraculously her lips moved. They shaped a word that wasn’t in synchrony with the “tree” of the others.

“Now shush everyone! It’s Aliya’s turn to speak. What did you say sweetheart?” Nadia asked.

“Roots,” Aliya replied with a dazed look in her eyes.

“Oh. We thought it was a tree,” Nadia played along and stared at the painting. Aliya left her seat and walked up to her. She tugged Nadia’s shirt and spread her palm towards her. Nadia handed over the clipping to her, and observed her patiently. As if programmed, she pulled the woolen cap to her neck, turned the clipping upside down and handed it back to Nadia. Nadia looked at it again.

“Well, yes. If you look at it this way, it does look like roots. Doesn’t it?” Nadia said as she held the painting once again, this time upside down. The ‘magic painting’ intrigued the kids so much that they swarmed round her.

Aliya was engrossed in her work already. Like a careless scientist she had started work on a new theory, dismissing the previous one, leaving it at the disposal of the world to admire and benefit from.

Later that day, she spotted Aliya exchanging money for the ‘magic painting’ with her class mate. This troubled Nadia a lot.

Nadia left school that day thinking about her. In her eight years of teaching at the junior school, she had seen many kids. The extra-ordinary ones always stood out, although she tried her hardest to bring out the best in every kid. Aliya was the first one to bring out the best in her. She had changed her whole perspective of looking at things. Every one sees the tree, the birds, and the leaves. In fact some are observant enough to notice the insects that crawled on them and the splits on its bark, but only a few exceptional people see what is hidden, beneath the soil. Aliya was one of them. She was recalling the time when she had asked Aliya why she wore the cap, when she finally arrived at the bank which was opposite the famous Cancer Hospital.

As she came out of the bank with her purse tightly held to her chest she saw a crowd of people in the middle of the road. Through the gap she saw something that caught her attention; a pink funny little woolen cap it was.

She did not remember walking to the centre of the circle, nor did she remember carrying the limp body to her car and driving it to the hospital. The only thing she remembered was the comical way Aliya’s limbs were splayed. Her hair was a mess, as if she had shaved it off herself.  Beside her, lay a jar of coins which was labelled: “cancer hOspital fund”.

Her scream never left her throat that day.

©2014. Habiba Danyal

The speakeasy challege #153:

  • the media prompt is a painting by Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian. Mondrian is best known for his modern work, using primary colours and straight lines, which he called “neo-plasticism.” But his early work was really interesting too. This painting is called Avond (Evening): The Red Tree.
  • this week’s sentence prompt, is to be used as the FIRST line. “Looks can be deceiving.”


24 thoughts on “I was here.

  1. Poor little thing. This is such a touching story. I particularly like the way you focused on how a student sometimes changes a teacher’s life. Great use of the prompts! 🙂

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