I taught myself to write. Each evening after being out in the fields working I would come home and copy the strange shapes from my brother’s school book. He would tease me, why would a girl like me want to learn to write. “You’re going to spend your days in the fields picking fruits. You are wasting your time. What do you write anyway? No one is going to want to read what a farm girl writes!”.
What he says is true, I don’t think anyone will want to read what I write. I don’t care though, I just want to write for myself. All day I spend my time picking fruits that will go off to far away places. I can imagine where the fruit goes, I can imagine its long journey by boat to countries far away. There the people will eat them, but they won’t think about where they came from. They won’t think about who picked the fruit for them.
So I write. I write because I want to tell my own story, a story that will only be read by me. It isn’t just my story either, it is the story of all the people that live in our villages. Our lives ruled by the weather or the whim of popularity in other countries. Maybe one day they won’t like our fruits. Then what will we do? We will have to find another way to find the money to eat.
One day a man came to look at our farm. He spoke to my father. I do not know what they spoke about but they spoke for a long time. He wore clothes that I had not see before, he was a tall man with white skin. Sweat rolling down his face, he was not used to the heat. Eventually he left. My father seemed happy, at dinner he smiled, something I had not seen him do since my brother was born.
None of us knew what the man had spoke to my father about, we didn’t ask, we were only glad that he was happy. That was the day I decided to learn to write. After my father had eaten and fell asleep on his chair I looked around our small house. My father’s chair was in one corner of the room. By his side a small table that lay a newspaper. Each day my brother would read it to him. In another corner there were two beds side by side for me and my brother.
On the small table that was only for my brother were his two pens, tattered school books and a candle that he used when there was no electricity. He was the first person from our family to go to school. My father had saved money to be able to send him to the school in the nearest town. I wanted to go to school too, but I am a girl and when I get married what use will school have been?
My whole family slept, my brother, my mother and my father. As they slept I sat on the chair in front of his desk. I looked at the funny shapes on the front of the book. Lines and curves that meant nothing. I opened it to see more lines and curves but smaller. I know they are words but I do not know how they are words. I can see some are different, there appears to be an order.
Making sure not to wake them, I take the book outside where there is a small light. I have a pen too. On my hand I copy what I think is a letter. I slowly draw the lines five times, I can not write anymore as they do not fit on my small hand. I try to hold the pen with my left hand but I find I can not draw them properly, it is too difficult. On the first page I find each one that is the same on my hand. I do not know how it sounds, I do not know its name but there is a shape that I start to recognise.
There is a man who comes to work each day on our farm. My father pays him little but he is happy to just have enough to eat. I know he lives on his own in a small house on the other side of the fields. He once told me that he used to live in the city. When he was in the city he went to the library where a man taught him to read and write. If I show him my hand maybe he will tell me what it is.
That first night I could not sleep. I would hold up my hand, trying to make out the dark lines on my hand. I knew I had written something. I did not know what I had written but it was something. All night holding up my hand waiting for the first rays of light. Waiting for the man to come to work so I could show him and then he could teach me what it was. What it meant.
Walking out into the fields in the morning I was nervous. I have always been shy, maybe this man would think I was stupid for trying to write. He told me stories as we worked but I only listened. Rarely did I ask questions, only responding with nods and smiles. Sometimes laughing because I thought that was what he wanted. He probably thought I was odd.
Taking a basket I walked towards where he was working. He smiled as I approached.
“Can you help me?”, I asked. He looked at me in silent amazement. Perhaps he thought I wasn’t able to talk.
“Of course”, he replied. I lifted up my hand that I had been covering all morning in case my mother or father told me to wash the marks off.
“What is this?”, I asked. He looked at my hand and smiled.
“It’s a letter, it makes a sound”. He then repeated a sound over and over again. He explained that each letter makes a sound. The one drawn on my hand made the sound that he was repeating. I thanked him. He smiled and said nothing, turning away to continue to pick his fruit.
All day I looked at the letter and made the sound that the man had made. As the day went on the letter became the sound. I was scared that it would disappear. What if I did not have another chance to look at my brother’s books? I could not steal his pen because he only had two and he would know. That night I would wait again, this time carefully removing a piece of paper from his book, making sure he wouldn’t know.
Each day for the next few months I would take my piece of paper out with me in the morning. I would show the man and he would tell me the sound that each letter made. Letters slowly became words. I could read and write. I wrote very slowly and each time I took some paper from my brothers book I was scared he would discover what I was doing.
One night, too tired to learn, I lay on my bed. The sound of the crickets soothing as I tried to forget the dull pain in my legs. Pain from standing all day. The glow of my brother’s candle gave a small light to the room. I watched as he looked at my bed, checking to see if I was asleep. I closed my eyes and listened as he reached under the bed to where I kept my paper. There was silence for the next hour, still aware that he was there. Eventually I fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, I awoke late. It was a Sunday and my brother had gone to town to meet his friends. My mother and father had already gone out to work. They had not woken me as they usually do. I reached under my bed to see if my paper was still there. I pulled out the neat pile finding that there was a blank piece of paper on top. I smiled putting it back under the bed. Making my bed I realised that there was a pen under my pillow. I looked to my brother’s table, seeing only one pen.
That day the man came to our farm I had watched my father smile. I had seen him happy. The man never came back. I still do not know why he came. It was my father’s smile that made me want to write down our story. I wanted to write how he worried for us, I wanted to write about the man who lived in the city and now works in the fields to survive. I want to tell the story of how my brother teased me but secretly helped me to write. Maybe not now, but one day someone will read our story.
If you’d like to receive a free digital copy (can be read on Kindle, iPhone, iPad and most other digital devices) of my upcoming book of 10 short stories about a fictional housing estate in London please enter your name and email address below and you will receive it on August 23rd. You can read extracts from the book here and here. Thanks for all your support and encouragement, it’s been incredible!