Abija loved school. She was proud of her smart white blouse and royal blue smock dress that constituted the school uniform. Her mother would brush Abija’s long black hair until it shone and then and weave it into two neat plaits .Abija would take the satchel containing her lunch, kiss her mother and baby brother goodbye and set off down the dusty path towards school which was next to the church and dispensary. The path walk took her past bougainvillea and other colourful flowers ,past the rice fields with emerald green splashes of the rice plants in the brown muddy water, across the small stream and up through tall swatches of bamboo where she would sometimes catch sight of a flash of blue or yellow, as flocks of parrots rose from the trees, circled and settled again.
She would often her the school bell calling her as she came out of the trees and into the clearing at the top of the hill. The one room school catered for children aged six to twelve. Small children, like Abija, sat at the front on small stools. A long plank on bricks served as a desk. The older children had proper wooden chairs, desks, exercise books, and pencils .The small ones had to make do with slates and chalk so they could rub out their mistakes.
Abija tried hard, but was a bit of a dreamer, always making up stories in her head. She tried to concentrate, but her gaze would wander from the teacher to the side walls where there were posters ,maps and some wonderful pictures of bible stories. Jesus healing the blind man was her favourite. The man was kneeling, holding his hands out in the way of beggars. Jesus was standing there in a white robe and looking gently at the man. In the town near Abija there were many beggars, mostly people would ignore them or throw a few rupees into their hands without even looking to them. Abija did feel sorry for the poor and sick and wished that Jesus was there in her town to help them. She wanted to be a doctor when she was grown.
Abija first noticed her own eyes were not right about six months after she started school, initially it was just occasional blurring and she could not see the face of Jesus on the poster so clearly. The colours seemed to be draining out of her world and the bright colours became drab and washed out. She was only seven years old so she thought that the world was just losing its colour and in the self centred way of children thought that the colourful world she experienced as a child got less bright for everyone as they grew older. She knew people seemed to get more serious and laugh and joke less as they grew and thought that colour changed as well.
It was when she started knocking into things that her mother realised something was wrong and took her to the doctor in the town along with Abijas uncle. Abija was frightened then. You only went to the doctor when you were sick in her country.
The doctor examined her eyes with a light and asked her to read the letters from a chart.
Abija struggled even with the largest letters on the chart and felt foolish.
“Bilateral Cataracts” The doctor said matter of factly, “Unfortunately they are progressive, unusual in one so young but they will lead to permanent blindness unfortunately probably in six to twelve months”
“Is there no cure doctor?” Said Abija’s uncle.
“Only an operation and unfortunately that is not generally available in this area. You would need to go to Delhi and it is very expensive”
Abija’s mothers face fell and her eyes filled with tears “Wont some ointment help doctor?” she said “We could afford ointment”
The doctor shook his head.
Abija only really understood the word BLINDNESS and it began to dawn on her that they were talking about her and that she was going to be blind soon like the man on the poster on her schoolroom wall. What was going to happen? She was terrified.
Her uncle took her hand and said
“Don’t be afraid Abija we will find a way to make you well again”
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