(This is a story of a teacher who struggled to keep balance in her life. The names of the people have been changed upon request and the narration kept in first person to make it easier to read)
Finally, the long wait was over. We had waited for three days to get our appointment and placement letter and here it was. The Dzongkhag Education Officer gave us a letter each and wished us luck. As immediately as I received the letter, I felt different. We were four of us; two women and two men. I was posted at Trashigang Jr. High School while the rest were posted at Jigme Sherubling High School.
All of us were excited. We were teachers now but more than my friends, I had many reasons to be happy. That night after the dinner, I left my friends at hotel room and took a long walk alone along the road towards Trashigang- Samdrup Jongkha highways. For one brief moment, I wanted to feel the cold wind touch my shoulder and take me wherever it went.
I had never dreamt of becoming a teacher. In fact, teaching had embraced me. Just as I was about to complete my twelfth grade exam, my parents divorced. My father left for Bumthang, leaving us all with mother to fend. We were three girl children and I was the youngest. Fortunately, my two older siblings were already working and somehow we lived on.
When the class twelve results were declared, I knew I would never qualify for scholarship outside the country. My teachers were expecting me to have topped the class but with my family splitting apart on exam days, I was lucky to have at least sat for the exams. I just barely qualified for teacher training at Samtse National Institute of Education.
This is where I met Kuenzang. We were in same class and over the time we were attracted to each other. We started to spend more time with each other. However, he had his own share of family problems but he refused to speak of it. Instead, he chose to forget by drinking. This is the time when our relationship started to lose definition. I wanted to help him but instead, I got more tangled in his madness. He felt like a fish bone struck somewhere in neck which would neither come out nor would go inside but would give pain all the time. There were times when he got into trouble with the law in fit of drunkenness. If he was not seen for few days, there was only one place to look, and it was a bar near the Dzong.
Both my studies and my friendship with everyone started to suffer. Kuenzang, who sat on the back seat, was the only person whom I could beat in studies while he beat me on ribs, cheeks and everywhere.
I had decided to quit the studies but have not thought of where I would go and what I would do. As I decided to pack and go, my friends told me to give a second thought on leaving the institute without no definite place to go but I was determined. I left the institute carrying a small bag where there were few clothes all bundled up inside it. I never thought of going home either. It would be better to stay in institute or just stray around than going home. I wanted to see Kuenzang for the last time but I dreaded the moments with him. But I still loved him. My future remained at fork edge.
On the way to the bus station, my mind dragged me to the gate of the institute lhakhang (temple). I wanted to be there to ask for forgiveness for not being able to drag my own life. Once inside, I paid my respect, said my prayers and made my exit. As I reached out to put on my shoes, I saw a lean figure stand before me. It was Madam Sangay, Physics teacher, who had also come to make prayers at the lhakhang.
As I stood up, and picked up the bag to leave, she wanted to know where I was leaving for. I tried to lie to her that my father was not well and I needed to be with him at hospital. She was not convinced. She told me to come with her to her house. I obliged.
Once inside, she looked at me and told me to do a small errand before I left. I obliged again. She gave me a very old Nu. 100 note, torn at the middle and told me to get a juice bottle from the Institute canteen. I looked at the note and wondered if the shopkeeper would accept such a note but I did run to the shop and got the juice. The shopkeeper, Ap Jigme, a baldy old man, in loose shirt and pyjamas, looked at it well and remarked if I had found it on the way but he still accepted it. He returned the changes and I hurried back.
Once I reached back, I returned the changes and gave her the juice bottle. She looked at the changes and said, “Phuntsho, did you notice how dirty, torn and worn out was the money I gave you to buy the juice?” I nodded in agreement. She smiled and said, “ Yet Ap Jigme accepted it.” I again nodded. “ You know why Ap Jigme accepted such an old, worn out note?” she was challenging me now. I stood in silence. “ It is because the note, no matter how worn out it was, still had a value. Many times in our lives, we feel worn-out, torn, crumpled and grounded into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel worthless; but no matter what happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. We do not create our value from what we do but whom we make of ourselves. And that value , we can only make from education. People are out there looking for chances to educate their children. They take loan and become indebted for years just to create value for their children and you are throwing it away like trash in the dust bin!!” she blew air with closed mouth and shook her head. I was numb. She poured some juice and water into two glasses and gave one to me. It seemed to put some sense in me.
Her warm hands ran across my cheek and it was the first time that I cried in peace. The tears drenched both my wonju and tego sleeves. She asked me many question and I remember answering them in broken voices. It felt like I had saved all my tears for this day to pour on her. She took me back to the hostel and made me promise to come to class that day. I nodded my promise. But I had another promise to make to myself. It was not to see Kuenzang’s face that day but the moment I entered the class, my eyes went straight to the bench he sat. He was there gazing at me but his eyes showed no emotions nor was he interested in talking to me. I closed my eyes as I sat down on the bench and screamed at myself that I do not want to think of him. I had to force him out of my mind. I did it everyday.
Some weeks later, he developed some health complications and his family members took him to Thimphu for treatment. I wished him quick recovery.
It took very long time to change. It was like taking another birth. Under the mountain of assignments, classes, works and activities, life started to renew slowly.
After all exams were over, I went to see Madam Sangay at her house. That day I cooked lunch for two of us and watched a movie with her. When I left her house, she put one Nu. 100 soiled note in my hand and told me that the note was her picture for me to remember. I guess that was the best picture I got from anyone in my life.
Being a teacher was one thing. Being taught was yet another thing. My life hung like hinges in between the door and pillar. I was holding the door for someone coming and holding myself to one moment of great lesson that changed my whole life.
…I went back to my hotel room. I took my purse, looked at the soiled note and cried alone. I guess I had a feeling of a teacher too.