1943 The Battles against the Germans Moved to Sicily
In September 1943, autumnal breezes marked the end of the summer vacation - as well as the end of our carefree life.
School benches were made ready to welcome us back. Our interim of freedom was over, and a school year with discipline lay ahead of us. It was sad and hard to start school again. Wartime had been erased from our memory; with the passing of time, wounds heal and the deepest painful feelings disappear.
We were happy at the sight of our new French teacher, since she was very pretty; but soon her strictness made us forget her physical attractiveness. As for our Arabic teacher, a Moslem, he was overflowing with human kindness. Teaching for him was a game; he taught with humor and verve. He would tell us the stories of "The Thousand and One Nights", which enchanted us. Our Arabic lessons were simply a joy.
Strange as it may sound, we lived in an Arab Country but were unaware of its culture and literature. Our teacher filled this void with knowledge, and thanks to him we discovered a beautiful language and a fascinating civilization from ancient times.
We regretted the necessity for his attitude to differ strongly from that of our French teachers, who believed to be the only upholders of highest cultural values. Actually the French, who settled down in greater numbers in Tunisia, either as farmers or in the administration, never seemed to believe that a Tunisian was entitled to certain rights within his own homeland.
There were always some matters which put us in difficulty, with regard to our teacher's convictions. The question of unpolished shoes was one of them, and one that convinced me of the importance of the role each of us plays in our society. One morning, our teacher decided to focus on shoes and I was, of course, the first to be put on the spot.
"Have you looked at your shoes?"
"They are dirty. Did you polish them?"
I stiffened up when she asked me the reason for this oversight. As a punishment, I had to write, one hundred times, "My shoes are dirty." And in order to confirm that statement, I decided to stop polishing my shoes - which elicited the same punishment. But I did not care. I was ahead of the game since I already had several sheets of paper filled with the line "My shoes are dirty." My classmates felt panicky each time our teacher would inspect them. As for me, I would not budge because I knew in what state my shoes were. My classmates would make the tips of their shoes shine by using either the back of their socks, their hand or their clean handkerchief. All that did not help; they were punished just as I was. But for them the punishment was not the end of the story, since they had to explain to their mother the dirt on their handkerchief. In my case I did not carry one. In my family there were ten children for the number of handkerchiefs at our disposal.
To tell the truth, I was not too proud of my stubbornness. What was the point of refusing to polish my shoes, and of having lines to write every day? Fortunately our teacher did not decide to use more drastic measures, such as asking me to bring a note from my parents. Therefore one morning I decided to shine my shoes. My friends were going to be surprised and the teacher would be flabbergasted. Just the thought of it made me really happy! Unfortunately, man proposes and God disposes. The milkman was late, and my mother usually forbade my leaving the house without first having my coffee and milk. What I feared happened. After swallowing down my burning cup of milk and coffee, I ran to school--but I arrived late. While I was gently pushing the gate open, the principal saw me, called my name and took me to his office. He was lenient and just gave me a moral lecture. He was right, but was it my fault if the milkman was late? My argument was weak and I knew it. Time was moving along, and now I had to confront my teacher, this time with quite a substantial delay. She lashed out at me with a long list of reprimands, scolded me and sent to a corner--where I had to remain in a kneeling position, long after my friends had left school. In my mind I could visualize the stern interrogation of my father, wondering why I was so late returning home. Within a few hours I had found myself in trouble with the principal, my teacher and my father. My mother would also have been on the list, if I had disobeyed her. And all this because of a milkman. He had put me in an embarrassing situation; moreover, he had deprived me of the pleasure I had anticipated feeling because of my polished shoes.
I had to come to grips with reality, however; a milkman is important. By delivering his milk with a small delay, he had messed up my day and my hopes. I realized that this incident was part of daily life. Of the little details that can have dramatic consequences. Small causes can engender large effects. Whether man is indirectly responsible for it, the result remains the same. If a train is late, for one reason or another, its passengers, upon their arrival, will have to solve their problems. Some may be punished - or fired, in the case of an employee who has a tendency to be late. It is always embarrassing to enter a meeting after important decisions have already been made. The death or life of a person may depend upon the promptness of rescuers. Examples can be multiplied at length. No one is spared, from people on the top level to people at the bottom of the ladder; and consequences can be serious.
We belong to a society in which, believe it or not, we all have a role to play. That role constitutes an indispensable part of the normal functioning of a community. Failure to assume one's role would mean creating a critical situation for oneself and for others. It is therefore imperative to fill this role conscientiously.
I don't intend to preach an ideology, since an ideology would force us to follow a movement, to become enslaved and lose our individuality. It would deprive us of our freedom of thoughts, and would perhaps become an obstacle on the path we have laid out for ourselves. However this path must not disturb our daily life, nor prevent us from doing our duty toward each other and society.
My problems with my teacher had started from day one. I was late that day and had refused to give an explanation. Had she understood that I was coming back to school against my will? She had become anxious and had asked me to go to the board with my vacation book. I did not budge since I had nothing to tell her or to give her. Vacation is not a time to work; even less so, when one has successfully passed the examination of the certificate of elementary studies." I was gazing down, thinking of the good old times of the past summer. I hated to look at this beautiful woman who was made ugly by her aggressive behavior. Was it possible that such a pretty mouth could utter such virulent reproaches? Never mind, I did not pay much attention. She went on, admonishing other classmates who had forgotten to do their homework while on vacation. Most of them were petrified and stuttered their responses. By acting this way, they supposed they would gain her pity. Quite to contrary; she became more and more severe. I felt like rescuing classmates, but decided to keep still since I could not hope for much in this situation. The teacher went back to her desk, only to pick on me once again. She called me to the board.
At this point it was better to obey her. She gave me a piece of chalk and asked me to write down my memories of vacation. Then I became furious inside myself. How dare she ask me to reveal to everyone what I treasured as my own personal possessions, my garden of secrets which I opened up from time to time for my own pleasure? The school mistress stared at me. I did not move. To reveal my thoughts would have been insolent. I just lowered my head - when in fact, deep down I wanted to look straight into her beautiful dark eyes.
I felt ridiculous, but what else could I do? She threw me out of the class and asked me to stand motionless in the school yard. It was obvious she wanted me to be noticed by the principal, who visited the classes in the morning. That is exactly what happened. The principal saw me, but did not pay much attention - evidently thinking I was on my way to the bathroom. Then I saw my friend Maurice, in tears, walking toward me. He too, had been expelled from the classroom. Had he not suffered enough during the war, in which his father was killed? Did he also have to cry for such superficial reasons? I would have liked to have comforted him, but I did not dare. I even avoided looking at him. We were in the same schoolyard but separated from each other. I did not feel isolated enough to relive my vacation memories. Maurice's presence inhibited me and plunged me back in the atrocities of war, which I had thought were gone forever.