Being eighteen doesn't feel very old, but then I see the little kids entering primary school and it amazes me how far I've come since then. When I hear from my little cousins about their teachers and what books they're reading, it's almost like they attend school in a different state. I asked my cousins just yesterday about their state story reading requirement, and they showed me these shiny printed books that looked legit. See, when I was in my sixth year, we were still reading mimeographed pamphlets from the '60s.
Amasak State is the smallest state in Amaia by population. We used to be second-smallest, but then I guess we had more old people than Bazwat State, and well, old people pass after a while. It's nice out here if you like empty space with nothing to do. All this was fine growing up- I had my cousins, my older brother, younger sister, and a whole horde of parents and aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas, animals on the farm and the freshest food I've ever eaten.
At the same time, we were always aware that our enjoyment of life was a fragile right. We remembered this through our injuries, broken limbs caused by falls and burns caused by ropes and stoves. There was grandfather's missing hand, which he lost in a tractor accident, and the deep scars on my older brother's lower back, flesh bitten off by a wolf. And then there were the people who weren't there at all, like grandmother's sister who was crushed by a collapsing shed, or an aunt who caught fire when the rest of the house did.
For me and my sister, though, it was a quiet, rural kind of childhood. We rode to school every day on a motorbike with our bags strapped to our chests. Mostly we learned math and literacy. There was also this one requirement in school. The schools weren't bad by rural standards- few students and fewer teachers. And some old teacher down in Geswi must have decided that it would be fun to have kids read stories by local authors. This was fine if you were from Agapa or Gynnyn or one of those big states down south, but it meant all the kids would have to read the same book come sixth year, because it was the only book anyone from Amasak State had ever published.
It would have been fine for the little second-year kids to read, but every year when it came time for the sixth-years to pull out the battered, mimeographed copies of Swytymyn Arotka's The Little Hen Who Read Too Much and Ruined Her Eyes Forever, we'd whisper to each other when the teacher was bent over at the bookcase. We knew the plot already, how this Amasak State book went. Slapping each other's sides in uncontrolled laughter, we'd recite lines to each other, lines we'd learned from our older siblings and cousins.
"Little Hen said in a stupid voice, 'But why can't I see so good?'" And then we'd make Little Hen say other things in various stupid voices, lowering our chirpy voices to a croak. 'But why can't I read better books?' 'But why can't I tell Teacher to let class out early?'
Finally, we asked Teacher if we could write our own stories and send them out. "No," said the teacher, with her eyebrows furrowed. "Unless you'd like to copy out the book for the week by hand?"
She was too stubborn to change the curriculum any, so we read Mr. Swytymyn's moralistic fable with the same blandness as our older cousins had, carrying on the Amasak tradition.
In my younger sister's sixth year, after I'd moved to Gygnuum for work, she texted me to let me know that Teacher had finally changed the book. The President of Amaia, it turned out, had visited the school, and Teacher had shown him the book we'd been using. The President laughed and said that the Ministry of Education would be providing them with new books to represent Amasak State. They turned out to be copies of the ones from Bazwat State with all the names cut and pasted. It was then that my sister knew she was going to leave Amasak State, too. She rode her four-wheel-drive motorbike just like she did every day for school, all the way down our road, past the bushes filled with pizet berries that puckered up your mouth with dryness, past the schoolhouse, and onto the two-lane motorway leading to Gygnuum, before Teacher, drunk, in her car, crashed into my sister. And that's how my sister's eyes were ruined forever.
A Story From Amasak State © 2018 Dendana