Nazreen didn’t show any irritation, nor did she appear worried about anything. Or so we thought. I sleep in the TV room, because of everybody’s coughs and sneezes. It’s difficult for anybody to get restful sleep, what with protracted hacking in alternating shifts. Also, the wife has pleurisy with shooting pains in the ribs, so it’s separate rooms until the supposed cordon sanitaire lifts. So, coming back to Nazreen, her mama told me in the morning she was mumbling doctor, engineer while tossing and turning in fretful sleep, and she wet the bed. She hasn’t had a case of incontinence in ages. This was extremely distressing. Kids are sensitive to minute vibes and nuances, however hard parents try to hide with cheerful conversation and lame jokes. We, as parents, aren’t exactly subtle either. I hated myself for not being perceptive enough to detect her foreboding, and for being accomplice to fostering anguish. She’s just like me—all brave and cocky outside, but full of dread and terror inside. It took me a while to get her to smile after dressing up. We set off.
Anxious parents with fidgety kids queued up near the school office. Nervous faces all around. The tension hung low. After a disorganized registration process and sidestepping a clumsy faculty photo shoot, a tall guy in a blue suit led us to the test room. We accompanied Nazreen till the door and saw other kids inside already taking the test. She didn’t even look at us as she walked inside and sat in one of those tiny chairs. The doors closed, we were asked to wait outside, and we did, back among concerned brooding parentage. I recalled my first days of school at Carmel Convent, the scenic route the school bus took, the strange children, and the snack of stale biscuits that upset my stomach. I remembered I just wanted to be back home, back with people I knew. (Things haven’t progressed much since, have they?) My daughter would be feeling the same, I thought. We must fight these personal battles, and grow up to fight more, until we die. Pointless, but that’s how the world works.
It was a half-hour test. We walked around the school, disappointed by poor facilities and meager means of recreation. The only thing of interest was the art and craft of little ones pasted on numerous notice boards. I scoured for signs of originality, but found none. Twenty minutes passed, and a teacher brought a diffident Nazreen out, a strange mix of emotions on my daughter’s face. Nobody else had left the classroom. Catching sight of us, she smiled wanly. The teacher disappeared inside. Nazreen must have failed to perform in strange surroundings with strange people and they had to let her go, my ever-optimistic wife muttered. Better ask her what happened, empirical I opined. So we did. She was reluctant to talk, and I felt she didn’t want to recall what had happened inside. But there’s no stopping an impatient mother, and the daughter had to come clean.
There was writing the alphabet, which she completed in two minutes, counting of various objects, another two minutes, writing numbers from 41 to 100, five minutes, and identifying the first letters of words, one minute. The only thing she had trouble with was the first letter of a bird the teacher showed her. My daughter was trying to decide whether it was a sparrow or a lark. Well, it was just a bird, and the first letter was B. Oh, well. She, who knows Danny DeVito is The Penguin in Batman Returns, whose favorite Nick Park movie is Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit episode the one with the burglar penguin, who hates the wicked falcon in Stuart Little 2, who knows Zazu from Lion King is a hornbill, that a pterosaur is the flying dinosaur in Jurassic Park III … was stumped by bird. Bird! Imagine that. I couldn’t help but laugh, a laugh of relief and pride. The other kids hadn’t come out because they hadn’t finished; the teachers were helping them along, and most were sitting confused and dazed, wanting to see their parents.
So yeah, that was good; and it felt good.
The results will be announced the end of this month and admission happens thereafter. We are yet to hear from Middle East International School; that’s where we’d really like her to go.