On a sun-soaked, tear-shaped tropical island that looked as if it had been wept by the gods into the Indian Ocean, a young girl was leaning her elbows on a school desk. Above her, a fan was whirring lazily, and nearby, her teacher’s voice was calmly enlightening his students on the art of multiplying fractions. Through the open window drifted the rhythmic clicking of cicadas, together with the distant growl of traffic on the busy roads beyond the dusty playground.
Soporifically, the heavy, humid heat of the afternoon and the fan’s gentle breeze and purr worked their magic on the girl’s already sleepy mind. Late-night packing was taking its toll. Soon, the girl’s eyes dipped and then closed.
And she dreamed.
She was walking along pristine white sands. This was not her home, for the beach here was somehow wilder and vaster, and the waves were crashing on to the shore. Rapidly, she found herself approaching a couple seated on a piece of greying driftwood, beside the ocean: the woman’s hair stood out like a dusky halo around her face, and her eyes lit up with love as she gazed at the man, whose fair skin contrasted harmoniously with her dark beauty. An open, leather-bound folder lay on the beach at the man’s feet, and the pages inside, crammed with complex but indecipherable diagrams, drifted gently across the beach, as the man took the woman’s hand in his and said fiercely, “I’ve done it! Together, we can change the world!” Their two faces swam together and vanished.
As the girl continued walking into the sea, she found that, soundlessly, the ocean had frozen beneath her bare feet, but she felt no cold. Emanating from high above the massed clouds, there was a dull and uncomfortable hum. Time passed, or maybe no time passed. With a jolt, she suddenly became aware of a crowd, striding towards her out of the horizon, like an army on parade. As they closed in, she saw that they were all dressed in dark green suits, which stood out against the whiteness of the ice, and their hair was as sleek as an otter’s fur. Their eyes pierced her with a uniform cold stare that chilled her more than the surrounding ice. But they were focused on her. She knew that they were coming for her. At this realisation, she tried to turn and run but found her feet were somehow stuck to the ice. Fear seized her.
“Priya!” said a voice, and she turned her head to see a boy of her own age behind her. He was smiling and holding out his hand for her to take. “Priya!” he said again, and her feet were immediately released from the ice. He took her hand and they began to run, together, away from the figures in suits.
With a jolt, the girl was awake, staring into the face of her irate teacher. Around her, her friends were looking at her sympathetically; the fan still whirred, and the cicadas still chattered in the afternoon haze. Her heart was galloping and sweat was trickling down her neck beneath her braids.
As she returned to wakefulness and reality, the girl remembered that this was her final day at school. Tomorrow, she would be leaving all her friends and be on her way to a new life in a remote land – a land where school was banned, and education was little more than a distant memory.