Writer: Shabbeedur Shuja Category: ছোট গল্প (Short Story) Edition: Dhaboman - Winter 2020

Nilufar liked the lunch monitor job, if you could call it a job at all. Everyday she popped up at the local school, worked for an hour monitoring the kids as they played outdoor while the teachers took a break. Five hours a week. The earnings barely covered the gas price but she, like many other women, mostly new immigrants with little English or foreign degrees who could not find anything appropriate for their education, vied for these sorts of work opportunities. There were some ups and downs but overall Nilufar liked it. Her husband worked in an IT company, kids were in their early adulthood, completely busy with their own lives. This window of an hour gave her a cherished break from the monotony of the chores at home. Kids in school can be quite mean, sometimes outright rude and infuriating, but at some point, you have to get used to all that. After all, kids will be kids!    

          “Nil! Nil!” A screeching voice called out as she was about to walk out of the backdoor into the fields. Today she had class four, a real bunch of rascals, she had to admit, affectionately. She was a mother around the clock and tried to be her best in dealings with these kids. It didn’t always work. Sometimes she wanted to slap the devil out of their little rotten brains.

          She looked back to find Vidya standing at the other end of the long corridor, very animated. She was from Sri Lanka, had a very heavy accent, much worse than Nilufar, something she couldn’t help feeling good about. Nilufar didn’t understand a thing she was saying but sensed something really terrible was happening out there in the fields and it definitely needed her attention.  Usually a teacher or other lunch monitors kept an eye if someone was running late. She tried her best to be on time but today two morons somehow managed to smash into each other at a mostly barren intersection, resulting into road closure. She had to turn around and take a longer route to the school. Vice principal Mr. John Lobosky gave her a side long look, no words. Yeah, Nilufar got the message but you know what mister, shit happens.   

          Stepping out she was instantly face to face to a gang of fourth graders, who had surrounded and were verbally abusing a kid who stood at the center of the circle and was screaming every possible profanity in his vocabulary – and it wasn’t that negligible by any means. Nilufar shook her head in total disbelief. What was going on with these kids? Were they all suddenly turning into characters from Stephen King’s books?

The kid in the middle she recognized readily. This was the kid, relatively small with dark skin and sharp, loathful eyes, who had given her a sample of his rich vocabulary in profanity just the week before. All she did - being honest to her job unlike some of the other lunch monitors who just stood there and did nothing that they were supposed to do like monitoring the kids and making sure they were safe - had asked the kid not to roll on the ground. It wouldn’t just make his rather worn out cloths dirty but could have also given him scratches from contact with rough ground. She had approached him gently. The boy had just joined this year and everybody had already taken notice that he liked to be left alone, sat quietly in class and played all by himself during recess – usually rolling on the ground or throwing himself at the school walls. Some stuff had already assumed he might have had some sort of condition – possibly OCD or something of that nature. She was polite, her voice was as low as possible but still loud enough with a touch of authority. “Son, you are not allowed to do that.” She had said.

The boy stopped, scowled at her and then blurted out, “I don’t care! Go away!”

Nilufar was startled. As a lunch monitor, she had heard and seen plenty of stuff, often being the subject of ridicule by the older kids – for her thick English accent and shallow vocabulary to South East Asian garb to smell of ethnic spices. It took her a little time but she had learned to deal with that in a calm, impassive way. The same kids gave even the teachers hard time, forget the lunch monitors! But a grade four student acting up on her was too much.

“You should not speak to me like that,” she had strongly said, determined to establish her authority over that tiny boy.

That backfired badly. He went nuts and blasted out a series of profanity that she wouldn’t say even in isolation. Once the moment of shock had passed, she had grabbed him by the hand and pulled him all the way to the vice principle’s office.

          Mr. Lobosky brought a quick end to that chapter by allowing the boy to disappear and informing Nilufar that the boy ‘s name was Tyler Smith, must have had some sort of disability, he wasn’t sure what, but he had no interest in agitating him in any way. If he chose to throw himself on the ground, so be it. She could stay close and keep a watchful eye. If things got out of hand, only then she was to interrupt. She had tried to explain it was one of those dire situations but he smiled in a way as if she was talking in a Martian language.

          Later, Vidya had filled her in with some more information about Tyler. Despite her deficiency in English she was friend to everybody and usually managed her conversations using handful of words and impromptu sign language. She was a hard drive of information on just about anybody in the school.  

          “He lives with grandma,” Vidya had revealed compassionately. “No mom, dad. Not dead. Divorced.”

          “Where are they?” Nilufar had inquired. Over the years working as a lunch monitor, she had seen her share of unfortunate kids. These things didn’t surprise her that much any more. You talk about all the starving kids working in slave like conditions thousands of miles away, guess what, there was no need to look that far.

          Vidya shrugged and twisted her lips. “We from Asia. Kids our life. These people … not like that.” She grimly said, with complete disapproval of the locals. Then, after shaking her head some more in total disgust she had added, “They are selfish. Mom with another man, dad with another woman and Tyler with grandma.”

          Since then, Nilufar had almost unknowingly started to pay a little more attention to the kid. Yeah, he had hurt her feeling with all that profanity but hey, the boy didn’t have any proper guidance. Grandma must be in her seventies, maybe sick, not exactly in her best to raise a kid like Tyler, already alienated and deserted by his moron parents. She had noticed he didn’t even bring proper lunch or snacks for recess. Maybe couple of sugary cookies or a cheese sandwich. She felt pity for the boy but didn’t want to get too much involved. She had no training to deal with special need kids and feared good intentions were not enough.  

          Back to the present. Shoving some of the kids as gently as possible under the circumstance, she forced her way into the circle, sheltered Tyler with her body and yelled at the top of her voice, “STOP! You can’t treat him like that. Break up! Go play! Shoo! Shoo!”          Some of the kids quickly disbursed, fearing complaints to their parents. Few others stayed back, resisting, reasoning and rationalizing their aggression toward Tyler – he says terrible things; uses profanity that if you hear your ears will fall off; hits people without any reason; and oh no, he is no disable or autistic, he just is a bad, bad boy!  

          It took Nilufar some time to get Tyler out of there, not as much as for the other kids but for Tyler himself, who would rather stay back and continue to yell words at his class mates, words that could potentially have her ears fall off.  Rescued, when she signalled him to walk with her as she strolled across the field watching kids busy playing in a bright day, Tyler refused and stood leaning on a light post, not even looking at her. He didn’t look happy. Nilufar left it there. Sometimes troubled kids needed little more time to absorb things that went around them.


          Next day, as she came to work and strolled the fields keeping an observant eye on the kids, she suddenly sensed she was being quietly followed. A quick sidelong look proved her suspicion true – it was Tyler, walking behind her keeping a good ten feet distance, eyes on the ground, lips tightly pressed in a grave face. Just because he was walking behind her didn’t mean she should get any wrong impression. He still didn’t like her. He actually hated everybody.

          Nilufar wasn’t a child psychologist but she had picked up many things with all that interactions with school children and of course after surviving some tough years with two kids of her own. A mother must learn to outsmart the kids. She tried her best to ignore him while slowing down a bit to allow him to get little closer so that she could potentially start a conversation, something of an ice breaker. She stopped under a tree to get away from the blazing sun.

          “I loved my grandmas so much, especially the one from my mom’s side,” she muttered, looking at a group of girls walking like fashion models on a catwalk.

          There was silence. She allowed that to linger. Tyler scratched his head full with short curly hair, dark as night.

          “You got two grandmas?” Finally, he blurted out, his eyes squeezed, forehead creased.

          “Not any more. They are gone to god.” Nilufar responded, giving another quick glance at him.

          “I got just one. She is sick all the time!” He pushed his lower lip outside, moved his hands in a hopeless gesture.

          Nilufar waited for him to say more but he didn’t. She didn’t insist. Little at a time. He needed to get more comfortable with her before opening himself up.

She noticed a few older boys got too close to the outer boundary. Next to school was a common park and people of all sorts visited there. It was part of Lunch Monitor’s job to stop kids from venturing out. As she moved out of the shade and strode toward the boys, she extended a hand to Tyler, inviting to be held, which was ignored. She retreated her hand. Not too much! Too much attention too quick could ruin it. Tyler didn’t follow. Stood at the same spot until she returned about twenty minutes later circling around the field. Recess was over.

          “Tyler! Get back to class!” Nilufar called out.

          Other days he wouldn’t even move. Today he put his eyes on the ground and walked slowly back inside.

          “Tell your grandma I said hello,” she said as he walked past her. He didn’t look or respond, but his face brightened. Nilufar smiled to herself. It was so satisfying to see any positive change to any troubled kid. She would have to find more details about Tyler. Maybe she could do more.  

Nilufar stayed back a little longer, to ensure the other kids he was having trouble with didn’t get onto him again.

          Several weeks had passed since then. Nilufar’s mother had an accident back in Bangladesh and had suffered some sort of brain injuries causing an instant dementia. There were times she recognized Nilufar, but mostly didn’t. Her mind drifted through time in a strange way – sometime she was in her childhood looking for her mother, another time asking for her deceased husband, wondering where he might have gone suddenly. She lived with Nilufar’s younger brother and his wife. With their own two little children, this sudden situation was equally disheartening and challenging for them. Nilufar had called in the school, told them he would be away for a little while and flew back to Dhaka. The sight of her mother lost in her own mind had such depressing impact on her that she extended her one week stay to three.

Few days later, her husband called her to give a dreadful news. The night before there was an amber alert. A young boy was abducted by his father. Cops were notified and during a chase the man rammed his car into a truck. Both the father and the kid were in serious conditions. In the news they mentioned the boy was a student in the school where she worked.

          Nilufar found all the details in ten minutes. It was all over the net. Grandma had custody of the kid. Both parents were hateful to each other and had addictions to deal with. That was a setup they all had agreed to until the parents cleaned up their mess. Anger had overpowered Nilufar, an outrageous feeling of abomination occupied every part of her senses, and after a long time she broke into a burst of profanity. Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? Iffing morons!

          Returning to Toronto hadn’t eased her life much as she was constantly on the phone with her mother, sometimes begging her to take her medications, sometimes singing lullaby songs to help her go to sleep. Since diagnosed with dementia she was alert most times.

          She had returned to her job as the lunch monitor. Tyler would come up sometimes in conversations. He survived and was released to a distant aunt. His grandma didn’t survive the ordeal.  She passed away after suffering a stroke.

          It was almost July. Last few days of class before Summer vacation. Nilufar had walked around the field once and was standing under the shade of a tree, watching the playful kids keenly. A soft touch on her hand startled her. A quick glance revealed a complete surprise.


          The boy held her hand strongly, looking up at her face with his deep black eyes and a rare smile that was nothing less than divine. There were prominent marks of long stitches visible all over his head and face, reminding her the deadly ordeal he had to go through.

          “I looked for you!” The boy whispered.

          Nilufar tried hard to manage her emotions, blocking the tear drops that were so eager to flow. A young overweight woman standing at the nearby parking lot waved at her, must be the aunt. Nilufar waved back. Tyler left her hand and hobbled back to the woman. He’ll be back. After Summer. The woman shouted something like that. Nilufar nodded and looked away. The tears of joy rolled down her cheeks.