Anticipating all those complications, the school authorities backtracked from the hard line they had taken regarding my fees. They sent two of the teachers to fetch me. But by then, all of us had left the house to borrow money for the school fees, so the teachers found the door locked. And no one could tell them where we were. They panicked-we were already panicking elsewhere! -and everyone was so frantic by the time I reached the school gates that a hero's welcome awaited me. (I think I would have killed myself that day, or maybe, beaten up someone in school, had I been prevented from writing the exams.)
All my classmates were already at their desks. I was completely drained and traumatized because of the goings-on, and was probably red in the face from all the crying. A few teachers converged quickly, offered me a glass of water, and then ushered me into the exam hall. Through the window, I could see my anxious parents waiting for me to start writing. It took a few minutes to still my nerves and pick up the pen. And then, my fingers flew across the answer sheet without pause, for I knew the answers.
So after all the drama, I managed to write the exams, after all. Of course, when the results came in, the mark sheet was given to me only after the last rupee due had been paid. By God's grace, 5E had scored well. On my way out of the school building, I compared my Telugu marks with my bete noire, Rajani, who was my most bitter competitor in Telugu and a vigorous boy hater. I had the last laugh for my marks were way better than hers. But those were small joys.
I'd got decent marks in the seventh class exam, and was encouraged to apply for admission in a better school although my parents had no idea how they would find the money for the higher monthly fees, books and other expenses. Eventually, I joined the popular St Mary's High School, which was a long way from home. And that meant I had to take the bus to school. Or walk, when there wasn't any money for the fare. Now, a five-kilometer walk on an empty stomach is not exactly a perfect beginning to a long day, especially if you need to exercise your grey cells. I certainly would not recommend it. But then, I did not have the luxury of any other options. Yet I loved school for it provided me with an escape from the perennial conflicts that were tearing our home apart-a home that once had been full of laughter, hope and happiness.