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from the September 2006 issue


As he did every morning, Bilal al-Dandashi headed to school. Arriving late, he entered trembling from fear of his teacher, whose rebuke would be crude and sarcastic. He discovered, however, that all the pupils and teachers were asleep. He tried to rouse them but to no avail. Feeling bored as he sat there alone, he yawned and fell asleep. While sleeping he dreamt he was in a school where the pupils were sleeping so soundly that they were oblivious to their teachers' angry cries. Then his mother woke him and urged him to shake a leg so he would not be late for school. He hurried off to his school, where he found the teachers conferring with one another and the pupils playing merrily. He did not join their games, however, because his mother had roused him to go to school. He had dressed quickly, left the house without eating, and rushed to school. He took a seat among the pupils in his class, preparing for what would happen next. The teacher, who entered with a scowling face and glowering eyes, cast hate-filled glances at his young pupils, who were whispering clandestinely to each other. Then he shouted angrily at them, "Shut up!"

The pupils immediately fell silent, and the teacher placed his worn briefcase on his table, opened it, and took out a set of papers, which he waved in the air as he asked, "Do you know what these are? They're your written responses to my question about what career you will choose when you become men."

The teacher stepped toward the wastebasket. Waving the papers in the air again, he told the pupils, "These essays don't even deserve a zero."

He tossed the papers into the wastebasket as if ridding himself of disgusting rubbish and told his pupils, "I have spent days teaching you the official national anthem so you can sing it at the party marking the end of the school year. Today I will examine your ability to memorize. Woe to anyone who fails."

The pupils whispered to one another in grumbling voices. So their teacher screamed at them furiously voice, "Shut up!"

The pupils fell silent, and their teacher said to them, "I'm going to count from one to three. When I reach three, you will all start singing the national anthem in unison. Go on. Get ready. One . . . two . . . three!"

Exchanging meaningful looks, the pupils began loudly and enthusiastically to belt out-to the tune of the national anthem-a well-known love song. Their teacher shouted at them: "Shut up!"

Then the pupils rushed at him like a shot and began beating him with their rulers, texts, notebooks, and feet, demanding that he shut up. Taken by surprise at this turn of events, the teacher called angrily for help, but none of the school personnel came to his rescue. He staggered and fell to the floor after receiving painful blows to his shins. He tried to resist, to menace them, and to endure the attack, but the overwhelming pain made him cry and beg them to stop hitting him. They ignored his pleas, however, and did not quit until he yielded and fell mute. Then they tied him up with ropes they had brought and ordered him to sing the national anthem. He hastened to obey their command, rendering the anthem in a quavering, tremulous voice while they stuck their fingers in their ears and groaned with disapproval. Bilal al-Dandashi then separated from the other pupils to stand before them, adopting the stance favored by their teacher. He shouted at them in a merry tone of command, "One . . . two . . . three!"

Then the pupils' voices, which were raised in harmonious concord as they sang the national anthem, all united into a single voice that surged from the school's windows like a wave.

Read more from the September 2006 issue
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