We feed the poorest of the poor children at Santa Elena Primary School. When the recess bell rings the children pore out of the ancient yellow and green concrete building and our kids, the twenty or so on ‘the list’, line up for their food.
I ask the children “Where are Amelia and Maria?”
“Over there” says Yanira pointing toward the soccer field.
I look up to see Amelia forcing something from Maria’s hand and then pushing her younger sister to the ground.
Maria comes running to me crying “She took my shilling!”
I say to her “Get in line Maria. It is time to eat.”
She sobs “But….she took my shilling. Amelia took my shilling.”
I touch her hair.
“I know. But it is time to eat.”
The children file through and pick up their bowls of rice and beans. Today there are some chicken pieces as well.
As Maria takes her food from me she points at Maria who is already eating with her friends and, once again, says “She took my shilling.”
I take her by her hand and say “Come sit on my lap while you eat. You haven’t much time.”
Maria’s diminutive frame balances on my knee. At eight she is the size of a small five-year-old. She grasps the large spoon in her tiny fingers. It is no wonder her sister was able to pry the quarter from her hand.
Maria takes a large spoonful of food and leans over her bowl so none of the stray grains of rice fall to the ground.
“Eat it all, even the chicken bones”
“She shouldn’t take my shilling. It isn’t fair.”
Yes, I think to myself. Life will be unfair to this little girl. .
“I know sweetheart” I rub her back.
“You ate it all…good girl!”
I ask a question I often ask: “Why must you eat all your food?”
“So I can learn in school” she says smiling.
“That’s right. You are strong and big in here” as I tap the side of her head. “You are smart.”
“Papa wants me to go to school. Amelia, too.”
“Your Papa is a wise man.”

The bell rings. Recess is over. She hugs me and I watch her as she runs off to her classroom.

The shilling in her tiny hand is like Hope. Will she be strong and smart enough to hold on to it?

Perhaps this one.

2 thoughts on “The Shilling by William Gilbert

  1. Quick entry into the scene; lovely description of the relationship between teacher and student; great close.

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