A flat rock about the size of a medium pizza, I figured, would work nicely. I arrived at Sada Shiva half an hour early carrying my stone.
Last week, we installed a water hose that is propped up on a stick where the schoolyard drops off and slopes downhill. It’s a great setup, except that in order to use the waterspout, you have to stand on the hill, which is gradually eroding under the constant stream of water splashing out of the pipe. I had decided to improve things by wedging a rock into the hill, so that at least one small pair of feet could find purchase on the muddy slope.
Setting my bag down outside class three, I climbed over the edge of the yard and scooted down to where I could crouch below the water spout. Using another rock, I began chipping away at the hill. It was peaceful in the deserted yard.
I looked up to see Sunil and Hari looking down at me.
“ARE YOU BUILDING A WATER TAP?” They always talk in capital letters.
“Yes,” I said, although it seemed generous of the boys to elevate my stone to a “tap.” Without further discussion, Sunil and Hari disappeared. I began chipping again.
Overhead, Sunil and Hari were leaning over the edge of the yard, holding two wide, flat rocks.
“MISS!!!” Krishna came galloping up behind them with a third rock.
I looked down at the small stone I was using to whittle away an indent in the hill. Things were not going according to plan. When I looked up all three boys had left their three stones and gone off again.
“MISS!!!!” Madu and Ganga arrived. More rocks.
Five minutes later, students were coming out of the woods, like elves, by the dozens. Their stones piled up at the edge of the yard. I was impeached, moved aside, and replaced by Ganga and Madu, who began wedging the stones into the hillside where I had been standing. Rita-Madam arrived and squatted at the top of the slope, looking down at us. Her ponytail rolled around to the front of her shoulder.
“Thik, thik,” she murmured. Good, good.
More rocks marched out of the woods. Ganga and Madu shouted up to Hari, who passed them down. It was not eight minutes before the students had built a neat ledge where the water splatted onto a flat rock, sending up fine celebratory drops that leapt into the grass. Just to show off, they’d created a few steps leading down to the tap from the yard. There were still five minutes to spare before morning line.
That, I thought, is what I meant.
“Thik, thik,” Rita Madam said.
We climbed back up to the yard and they scrambled into place for morning exercises. Govinda arrived and initiated the daily yard routine. I went into the office, where everybody had taken up their normal posts: by the table, with the comic book, quietly off to the side. Rita Madam rang the bell, and the day began.
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