In the slums in the outskirts ofSao Paulo, where she lived, the sunrays had to jostle to penetrate.
Even thepre-dawn glow failed to reach her ‘Favela’. She always woke up to her father’sscream, and that day was no different. ‘Alanza, get up fast, you keep sleepinglike a buffalo day and night.
She staggered towards the churrasco as his screamechoing in her head. For Alanza, dawn would start forher with lighting the coal in the churrasco. Since the age of ten, she has beenpracticing making more than twenty bread and a vegetable dish every morning forher parents and her three brothers, who all were daily wagers. She wouldmeticulously wrap their day’s meal in the newspaper, keeping her surge ofdesire under the wrap! She was not even three when herparents would leave her along with her brothers to fight hunger, pricks offlies and insects, the harshness of weather and multiple bacterial and viralinfections. Soon her brothers picked up part-time jobs, and her drudgeryincreased many folds.
She started cleaning utensils and filth around her at theage of five; as she turned ten, she was well equipped to make meals for thewhole family as well. Due to heavy workload, loneliness and monotony shesuccumbed to torpor. She would often spend her entire day in the darkness ofher favela. That day when everyone left forthe work, she walked about two kilometres to catch a glimpse of the nearbyschool.
It was her earnest desire to be inside the walls of the classroom, butshe never even got the opportunity to be the other side of the school gate. Shedreamt that everything is good. That her parents can buy a house away from theslum and her brother would have the things they wanted. She dreamt of becominga gymnast and also studying at school to become a teacher. After her parents and brothersleft, Alanza went to meet her friend Giovanna outside the school. Since she wasfive years old, Alanza used to stand outside the school gate some mornings. Oneday, a pretty little girl called Giovanna stopped and asked her what she wasdoing there and why didn’t she come inside the school. She told her she wasreally poor and did not have enough money to attend school.
Giovanna told hershe was lovely and wished she had a little sister like her. From that dayGiovanna and Alanza became best of friends. She knew Giovanna arrived atschool at 8 am and spoke to her for 10 minutes before going inside. She hastened her pace as thedark clouds began to gather in the sky. Up to now, the sky had beenpicture-perfect, but it was transforming. The beautiful aqua-blue shade wasbeginning to darken into silvery-ash.
Large cushions of cloud were forming,staining out the saffron-yellow colour of the sun.She got the first splash of rainwhen she was the three-quarters way to the school. The rain poured so heavilythat even the cars and buses headlights could not infiltrate the downpour. Alanza took refuge under an oldelm tree, hoping that she showers would stop for a while. The rain wassprinkling onto the grass like water from a garden hose. Droplets of rain began to trickle from theleaves. The rainfall became more penetrating and intensified.
A wall of rainmoved over the elm and the drops were pounding against the awning. So much rainwas falling that it sounded like a waterfall. It reminded her of the rotor wingblades on a helicopter. There was a small helicopter landing field near herslum and Alanza loved watching the helicopters land and take off. Eventually,the noise lessened and the drops faded into a sylph-like melody.Alanza turned back to returnhome as it was already too late and Giovanna was already inside the school. At the end of the last year,Giovanna gave her all her school books of the previous year like every year.
Today was the first day back Alanzacarefully hid these book from her parents and took them out to read when herfamily left for work. She loved doing mathematics and reading the English storybooks. Unbeknown to her, Alanza was very gifted and intelligent.
She memorisedall the books with ease and her next-door neighbor uncle Gabriel helped herwhen she was stuck. Uncle Gabriel was a teacher but lost his leg in anaccident. He could not teach at school anymore as he did not have the money tobuy a wheelchair and spend his days teaching a handful of children in the slum.
He knew Alanza was a gifted child and would progress a lot in life if she wasgiven the opportunity. He did his best to teach Alanza. With each passing year, her burning desire to attend theschool was dying like an ember. Though her parents did not remember her precisebirthday, as per their vague calculation, she was almost eleven. Girls of herage were in high school; this thought clouded her gaze. But she didn’t stopgazing at boys and girls in blue tights, skirts, and white shirts.
Red ribbonsin girls’ braids were her most favourite accessory. She often dreamt ofaccessorizing her tan-brown hair with the red ribbon. The school bell clankedloudly, and everyone rushed inside the gate.
Clamour outside the school gateended, but the cacophony inside Alanza’s mind became fierce. Why can’t I go to school? Why my parents and everyone treatme like dirt? Why am I born to do kitchen work? As she was talking to herself in her head, her wretched childhoodmemories fogged her mind. Her parents along with her three elder brothers moved to SaoPaulo from Belo Horizonte when she was a toddler.
In the dearth of food andlivelihood, they abandoned their farms and village house to settle in the slumnear Sao Paulo.One day a well-dressed lady named Leslie came to visit theirfamily. She asked them whether she would like to send any of their children toschool. As they have low income, it qualifies them for an innovative programcalled Bolsa Familia. It provides families with a monthly stipend as long aschildren stay in school. The only child in the family who would qualifyfor this program was Alanza as she was only eleven years old.
The monthlystipend was a bait for her parents which they readily and happily accepted.