Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Pencil by Ali Majod

After recess Mr Jamal returned to the classroom. His pupils saw him coming and quickly scrambled to their desks. They sat there quitely, their noisy chatter turned to silence.

         He stopped in front of the door, glanced over the classroom, then slowly entered. His heavy footsteps attracted the children's attention. From the corners of their eyes, they stared at his shiny, black shoes with a curiosity that could not be satisfied.

          "Stand up," the class monitor called out and everyone stood up. Some of the pupils were leaning to one side, others were doubled over, some were standing on one foot, while still others were half-sitting and half-standing. One pupil continued munching on a piece of cake he
had stuffed into his mouth.

          "Good morning, sir!" The classroom echoed with the voices of thirty-five pupils.

          "Good morning! Now sit down and take out your geography books." The narrow classroom was steaming hot and the overcrowded condition made it even worse. Already a variety of odours was noticeable.

          Mr. Jamal approacahed his desk and sat down, all the while wiping away the pespiration. When the monitor saw that the teacher was seated, he came up to Mr. Jamal's desk.

          "During recess some boys were fighting, sir." "Who were they? From what class?"

          It was Wednesday and Mr. Jamal was the teacher on duty. Any matters relating to the pupils were his responsibility.

          "Our class, sir."

         "Who were they? Tell me their names."

         "Zahid and Dollah Udin, sir."

         Everyone in class stole a look at the two boys whose name had been mentioned, then they truend their attention back to Mr. Jamal. Sobs were heard from a corner of the room, and the pupils glanced around once more. Udin Dolah was crying.

         "Zahid and Dolah, come up front!" The teacher commanded in a threatening tone. The pupils could inteprete every inflection of his voice.

         Filled with fear and anxiety, the two boys who had been fighting went forward slowly. Zahid went first. Dollah followed, crying louder and louder.

          "Why were you fighting?"

          The two boys were silent. Only Dolah's sob could be heard. the other children held their breath and looked to see what was going to happen. The room was silent.

          "Why were you two boys fighting?"
        "Dolah stole my pencil, sir."
          "That's not so, sir. he says my pencil is his."
          "Whose pencil is it."
          "Mine, sir," Zahid quickly replied.
          "Mine, sir," Dolah answered.

          "Dolah, bring the pencil here."

          Dolah rushed back to his desk and began looking in his bag for the pencil. When he found it, he stoped crying.

          "Okay," said Mr. Jamal, unconsciously twiddling with the pencil that he had just been given. It was an unusually long pencil. He kept blinking his eyes, trying to think of something to say.

          "All right, now. Is there any way that either of you can prove it's your pencil?"

          "Yes, sir. I craved something on it with a knife," Dolah answered confidently.

          "And you, Zahid?"

          "Err... there's something carved on it with a knife," Dolah answered confidently.

          "Zahid is just copying what I said, sir."

          "What did you carved on it, Zahid?"

          "Err... " He just shook his head.


          "The letter 'D', sir. That's my initial."

          "Correct, Dolah, it is your pencil. Zahid, you did wrong in three ways: you stole a pencil, lied about it and then you hit the boy you had stolen it from. So, you will be recieve three strokes of the rattan as your 'reward'."

          Zahid accepted his "reward" like a man, all the while staring wide-eyed at his teacher. Then he returned to his desk. His face was sad as he contemplate what had happened. Tears began to roll down his cheeks; he cried silently.

          Mr. Jamal was proud of himself because he had solved the problem with such wisdom. It was like a story from Tales of One Thousand and One Nights.

          Classroom activities returned to normal. Whenever the pupils were doing their written assignments, Mr. Jamal used this time to sit at his desk and read. He said he was preparing for an examination. While Mr. Jamal was absorbed in his own studies, Zahid would go over and glare fiercely at his enemy.
          "You are really great at lying!"

          "Hoorey for you! You got three strokes of the rattan! Hoorey for you!"

          "Hoorey! Hell! You stole my pencil and carved your initial on it. Then you claimed it was yours. You must think you're pretty smart."

          For some reason - perhaps because he was upset - Zahid hit Dolah on the shoulder, knocking him sprawling against his desk. Dolah immediately let out a yell. Zahid was frightened, so he ran back to his own desk and sat there, pretending to be minding his own business.

          "What's going on?" Mr. Jamal asked, slamming hi book down on the desk.

          "Zahid hit me, sir." Then Dolah started crying because the teacher had seemed to sympathize with him.

           Mr. Jamal ordered Zahid to come up to his desk. Zahid walked slowly.

          "What did you do?"

          "He took my pencil and..."

          "I mean just now."

          "Nothing. He stole my pencil, so..."

          "I didn't ask that. I asked what did you do just now? Do you understand?"

          "Mr. Jamal pushed down Zahid's songkok. Dust flew everywhere. Zahid's head was almost swallowed up by his songkok, which went down down over his eyes and half of his nose.

          "You hit Dolah again, didn't you?"

          Zahid was somewhat startled, but the expression on his face didn't change.

          "He stole my pencil, then he scratched it all up and craved his initial on it."

          "I didn't ask you if he stole your pencil. Admit it - you hit Dolah!"

          The boy remained silent. Only his eyelids moved like a small house lizard eating whitewash off the wall. He had the look of determination on his face.

          "All right, you good-for-nothing - now tell the truth!"

          Still Zahid remained as silent as a tree stump. He pretended to look ignorant and stupid.

          "I mean it - admit what you did!" threatened Mr. Jamal, while pulling on one of Zahid ears.

          Everyone in the class stopped working and began watching the drama that was taking place between their teacher and Zahid. Some of them were holding their breath.

          "I hit Dolah," Zahid confessed with a quiver in his voice. Dolah smiled triumphantly.

          "So that is what happened! Are you going to do it again?" Then he pinched the boy's stomach and tugged at it, forcing Zahid foward. The pain was terrible. Zahid's face and ears turned red.

          "No," he answered, with a feeling of defeat.

          As Zahid returned to his desk, he glanced at Dolah with anger-filled eyes and jaws tightly clinched. He felt like taking Dolah by the neck and choking him.

          He could not stand to see that thief go free but there was nothing he could do since the teacher had believed Dolah. Zahid had really wanted that pencil - and he had worked hard to get it.

          It was a very special pencil, twice as long as an ordinary one; it had a curved plastic handle and a large eraser.

          He had wanted that unusual pencil since he first saw it in the bookstore. That was surely not wishing for too much! On his way home, he imagine how proud he would be to own such a pencil.

          "It would last a year," he whispered.

          The teacher never paid any attention to Zahid when he raised his hand in class and he was always too shy to speak out. But he never blamed Mr. Jamal. "I'm so small," he said softly, "who would ever take notice of me?"

          But perhaps that pencil would make a difference. If he raise it high enough, the teacher would take notice and ask him questions too.

          The eraser was huge. All of his friends could borrow the pencil, especially Siti, Zainab, Budin and Samad. He wouldn't care how many people borrowed it. In fact, the more who used it, the happier he would be.

          But how would he ever get it? He raced back to the bookstore. He had to ask a question.

          "Sir, how much is that pencil?"

          "It's not expensive, only fifty cents."

          Zahid shrugged his shoulders. he had only five cents. Still there was hoped. Perhaps his grandmother would have enough money.

          He ran home and told her how much he wanted the pencil.

          "Zahid, you already have a pencil."

          "But, Grandmother, it is so short."

          "What's wrong with a short pencil? We're not rich."

          "My teacher always grumbles and says that my pencil is as short as the hair in his nose."

          His grandmother did have a little money. She had the two dollars that would be needed to pay the fee for “Parents Day”, which would soon be held at the school.

          "Zahid, you don’t have school the day after tomorrow, do you?"

          "No, I don’t."

          "Why don’t you go along with your Uncle Teh when he taps the rubber trees? You could collect the scraps."

          Zahid agreed. If he earned more than fifty cents, he could buy a ruler as well. His old one was so chewed up that the edge looked like a saw blade.

          He bought the pencil. The first time he held his new possession, his hands trembled and he jumped with delight. He smiled broadly. He wanted to tell everyone about his good fortune.

          At school he proudly showed his pencil to several of his friends. Some shared his happiness; others envied him.

          A few days later, the highly-prized pencil was missing. Zahid was sad and told his closest friends what had happened, but it was obvious that they could do nothing to help him.

          The next day, he saw Dolah using a long pencil, just like the one he had lost. But his was a little different – the red paint had all been scrapped off.

          "Where did you get your pencil?" Zahid inquired.

          "My father bought it for me yesterday."

          "Why did you scrape all the paint off?"

          "So it wouldn’t look like yours."

          "Mine has disappeared."

          "That’s why I scrapped off the paint – so you wouldn’t say I stole yours."

          "Can I have a look at it?"


          "Why is the eraser already worn down?"

          "I’ve been using it."

          "You couldn’t have used it that much."

          "I made a lot of mistakes last night."

          "That’s my pencil. I know it is."

          "No, it’s not. My father bought it for me."

          "How much did he pay for it?"

          "How should I know?"

          "I didn’t ask him."

          "If he had really bought it for you, you would have asked him."

          "I’m not going to listen to any more of your questions."

          "Just answer this one – if you got it yesterday, why is it already so short?"

          Dolah didn’t answer. He tried to run off, but Zahid grabbed him by the shoulder.

          "Did you steal my pencil?"


          "Yes, you did! That’s my pencil!"

          "It’s not either! It’s mine!"

          Zahid grabbed the pencil. Dolah grabbed it back from him, and he fell to the ground. Zahid immediately jumped up and started hitting Dolah. The other children came and stood around in a circle, cheering them on. The shouting grew louder and louder.

          Zahid had lost the fight because he was so small and he suffered a second defeat at the hands of the teacher when he returned to class.

          The schools bell rang. Zahid started for home as fast as he could. Dolah called out to him, but he didn’t pay any attention. He slammed the door with a bang. He was angry and hurting as well.

          Mr. Jamal also called him, but Zahid ran down the stairs and kicked over a flower pot. It broke and scattered all over the concrete floor. He raced off as fast as a wild stallion.

          Zahid stopped at the junction of the road. He looked around and hid in the weeds and grass beside the road. He was preparing an ambush for Dolah.

          The boy he had been waiting for passed by and Zahid sprang out at him like a hungry tiger. Dolah fell to the ground. Immediately, Zahid began hitting him, first in the stomach and then on the jaw.

          The other children tried to break up the fight but without success. The two boys kept on fighting. Zahid’s intense anger increased his strength and although he ended up bruised and bloody, he finally won.

          Dolah was completely exhausted. Zahid then opened Dolah’s bag. He looked for the pencil. He found it. Then he broke it into bits and threw the pieces into the river. Afterwards, he ran home as swiftly as lighting.

          As soon as he reached home, he went and hugged his grandmother around the neck. Then he buried his head in her lap, without saying a word. He felt sad and dejected, deeply hurt.

          That night, the small boy was feverish and often mumbled in his sleep about the pencil. Maybe it was because of his cuts and bruises. All night long his old grandmother kept watch over him; frequently tears would flood her eyes.

          The fever lasted three days. His short, plumpish body had shrivelled somewhat, causing him to look even smaller then before.

          When he was well, he returned to school, but he was no longer the quite Zahid he had once been. A change had come over him. If was as though the fever had created a new Zahid.

          Every few minutes, one of Mr. Jamal’s pupils would cry out, is despair, "Teacher, Zahid won’t let me do my work", "Teacher, Zahid pulled my hair", "Teacher, Zahid smeared ink on my nose", "Teacher, Zahid hit me",  "Teacher, Zahid this… Zahid that…".

          Once or twice Mr. Jamal warned him, "Zahid, stay in your seat," and then tried to ignore him. But after having his ears pounded by dozens of complaints, Mr. Jamal became angry and instructed Zahid to come up to his desk.

          "Zahid, you’ve turned into a little monster!"

          In reply, Zahid merely lifted his eyebrows and gazed off into space. He was really putting on a show. From time to time, he sniggered. No one could fathom his thoughts.

          "If you don’t have a book or a pencil, then go home. You are better off staying at home and sleeping. What’s the use of coming to schools if you’re are going to act like a brat?"

          The teacher’s threats didn’t bother him at all. His face remained expressionless and empty. Once in a while, he would stare spitefully at his teacher and wish, "If you were only my size, I’d take you on too, just as I did Dolah."

          "Stand here until school is out," Mr. Jamal commanded. Zahid headed for the corner, with his head down, but on his lips there was a smile. He strutted, as though mocking the command given by his teacher. Mr. Jamal became furious.

          When school was out, Dolah was waiting for him. But Zahid was in luck, because he happened to be carrying a piece wood to protect himself.

          "Don’t come any closer, or I’ll knock your head off!"

          Zahid kept threatening to hit Dolah with the piece of wood. Dolah was too frightened to come any closer, so he went to look for a piece of wood too. Meanwhile, Zahid ran home as fast as his feet could carry him.

          That afternoon, Zahid  asked his grandmother for some money. He told her it was for a book, but when he arrived at the store, his eyes caught hold of a long, red pencil. Suddenly, he felt sad again and tears rolled down his cheeks.

          No longer did he need a new book, or a pencil or even a ruler. None of the things could help him the most. At last he spotted it – a three inch pocketknife under the glass counter. He bought it right away.

          The knife would be just what he needed to keep Dolah away from him. And he might even get more used out of the knife than the pencil. Children are scared of knives, so he would make the blade as sharp as he study.

          He continued going to school, but not to study. His primary victims were children smaller than himself. He would laugh when they let out a cry or a scream.

          He dumped oil into the aquarium on the class nature table, pulled out the ferns and bean plants and then sliced up the preserved centipedes and snakes.

          He enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment. He felt free at last. Things would even been better, if he were as big as Dolah. Yes, if he were that big, he would run amok at the slightest provocation.

          Zahid was often punished for what he did. But none of the punishments ever seemed to affect him and sometimes his bravery got next to Mr. Jamal. Perhaps, Zahid was too stubborn for his own good.

          For example, Zahid would often put his hands in his pocket while being punished, thinking perhaps the knife was some sort of magic charm giving him extra strength to endure the pain. His face revealed strong determination.

          On one occasion, Mr. Jamal sternly told him to return to his desk after his punishment, and he released his anger by stabbing his knife into the desk in front of him. The knife stood straight up. He imagined it was sticking in his teacher’s chest and a broad smile come across Zahid’s face.

          Mr. Jamal had seen it all, but he acted though he has not noticed a thing. “Only God knows what’s wrong with that boy,” he thought, “but my, how I’d like to tear him to bits!”

          Finally, Zahid cut Dolah with his knife. This was a serious offence, and as a result, he was taken to the school principal. Even before this happened, Mr. Jamal had already recommended that Zahid be sent to reform school.

          Dolah’s hands was quickly bandaged, and Zahid was taken into the principal’s office.

          For some while Mr. Berahim did nothing but look straight at Zahid. He was thinking of all the things that Mr Jamal had told him about Zahid. How he had broken the flower pot, how he had ruined the projects on the nature table, how he had disturbed all the other children, how he had become careless in his schoolwork, and finally, how he had deliberately cut Dolah with his knife.

          Several times Mr. Berahim coughed and placed his glass on the table. He was trying to think of the right thing to say to this small boy.

          At last he pretended to be looking for his pocket knife so he could sharpen his pencil.

         "Zahid, do you have a knife?" he asked with a smile.

         The boy shook his head. Mr. Berahim was certain that he would not give up the possession he prized so highly.

         "If you do, please lend it to me, so I can sharpen my pencil."

         Zahid didn’t know what to do. He was afraid of the principal. With a trembling hand, he reached down into the pocket of his pants. He handed the knife to Mr. Berahim who accepted it with a smile.

         "Is your knife sharp, Zahid?"

         The boy nodded his head.

         "What do you do with such a sharp knife?"

         Zahid shook his head. He didn’t quite understand what was going on.

         "Mr. Jamal told me that you used to be a good pupil."

         The boy was quite. Only his eyelids flickered. The rhythmic sound of children reading in the next room could be heard; they were reading as loudly as they could.

         "Lately you haven’t been a good student, have you?"

         Zahid shook his head again.

         "Who is the best student in your class?"


         "Would you like to be as smart as he is?"

         Zahid shook his head again. He was still afraid of the principal.

         "Why not?"

         Once more he shook his head. His was really stubborn.

         "Does your grandmother ever give you any money?"

        The boy nodded.

         "How much?"

         Sometimes only five cents."

        "Did you buy a book with the money?"

         Zahid shook his head.

        "Did you buy a pencil? An eraser."


        "What did you buy with it?"

        Once he shook his head.

        "Did you buy a knife?"


        "What for?"

        "Err, Dolah…” and he quickly shook his head gain.

         "What Dolah are you talking about?

         "The one in my class."

         "Are you afraid of him?"


         "What did Dolah do to you?"

         "He stole my pencil, then…"

         Zahid couldn’t hold back his feelings any longer. He broke down and started crying. He remembered his grandmother, who had spoken to him in the same way that the principal is now doing. His grandmother was kind; the principal seemed just like her.

         He recalled the pencil that he had treasured to much, and how he had been forced to break it, into pieces. He thought of Dolah and Mr. Jamal.

         "Don't worry, Zahid. I’ll look into the matter. But if Dolah is guilty, what will you do to him?"

         "Nothing, sir. I just want Mr Jamal to know that the pencil was mine, not Dolah’s."

         "Okay, you may return to your classroom."

         After the boy had left, Mr. Berahim want to see Mr Jamal. They talked about the pencil.

         The two boys were brought to the principal’s office. Mr. Berahim threats were successful. Dolah confessed everything; the full truth had finally come to light.

          "Perhaps the whipping that he didn’t deserve brought back memories of a sad childhood experience." Mr Berahim explained to Mr. Jamal when they were alone.

          "A sad childhood experience?" Mr Jamal asked in astonishment.

          "You may not know. His father is terribly mean and Zahid hates him. He may have thought you as his father."

          "Oh now I see what you mean. Does he live with his mother?"

          "Oh! Now he lives with his grandmother. His parents are separated."

          "Do you think that his grandmother has spoiled him?"

          "There is no doubt about it"

          "Then he’s not altogether to be blamed!"

          "That’s right. And it’s evident that he has turned his hatred upon you. You can understand  how that happened."

          "There is one thing still puzzling me, sir."

          "Why did Dolah cry so much and try so hard to convince me that the pencil was his?"

          "Because he wanted to cover up for what he had done."

          "I see."

          "But never mind. It’s all over now. I’m confident that you can do what is necessary to bring the situation back to normal again."

          Mr Jamal nodded once more. He had learned much form his experience.

          "People who are short and small are always very sensitive," Mr. Berahim said, with a twinkle in his eyes. He felt good about the whole thing, although this was by no means the first experience he had had.

          Mr Jamal attitude toward Zahid changed. He allowed him a little more freedom and would even let him get away with disturbing the other children form time to time. If Zahid didn’t have a pencil or paper, Mr Jamal would give him what he needed.

          At first, it was difficult for Zahid to make it up with his teacher, but kind word have a way of melting a person’s heart. “Whoever speaks to me like as she does must be a good person like grandmother," Zahid thought.

          Zahid was embarrassed to take on responsibility of being in charged of the classroom blackboard but Mr. Jamal had assigned him to do it and he had to accept it. There was no other choice.

          When it was a story time, Mr Jamal would have Zahid sit beside him. Sometimes he would use Zahid as an example of what children ought to be like.

          Then one day during recess, Mr Berahim asked Zahid to come to his office.

          "I want to give you a present."

          "Thank you very much, sir," he replies, his face all aglow.

          Mr. Berahim picked up two pencils just like the one that had been stolen. Both of them were red.

          As Zahid accepted the present, tears rolled down his cheeks. He couldn’t say for sure – it struck deep down in his heart. Then he smiled.

          After recess, Mr Jamal entered his classroom. He no longer had the habit of standing outside the door and looking before entering. He would always go straight in.

          When it was time for the children to do their written assignments, he couldn’t stop smiling as he noticed Zahid and Dolah using pencils just alike. “Children are really good at heart, if they are only given a chance,” he thought, his eyes moist with tears.

Reblogged and corrected from http://thepencilform1.tripod.com/version_text.htm by Sarip Dol


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