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Mark's first day of school is a nightmare. The schoolyard is stuffed with children who are terrified to be left behind by their parents. The teachers herd them into a courtyard, where they are so crowded, some children faint from the heat.
The Principal stands in front of the crowd and urges children to behave. Good behavior is the difference between this – he brandishes a cane – and that – he points to a smiling teacher.
The Principal goes through the rules and emphasize that they should have respect for him and the teachers, pay school fees on time, and never be late, etc.
Then groups break off into different areas. The 200-plus newcomers are packed into a church hall.
A young girl kicks and claws her way through the crowd. It turns out that she is their teacher.
She speaks in a soft voice and grows angry with the squirming crowd, which doesn't listen. Finally, she screams at the top of her lungs to sit down. Some of the fighting ceases, but still nobody listens as she introduces herself. She is Miss Mphephu, their teacher.
As she screamed, the children screamed and cried. Pandemonium reigned, and finally, she resorted to slapping and hitting the children near her. She grabs a long cane and starts to use it. Mark hides in a corner to escape her wrath. If he hadn't made a promise to his mother, he thinks, he would never come back here.
The Principal finally arrives and achieves order by reminding the teacher that not all the children are supposed to be there. They attend school in shifts. He uses the cane to poke and prod children in the 11am shift outside.
Mark is in the 8am shift, but he's glad to be sent outside. He returns at 11am, hungry and frustrated with the experience.
Miss Mphephu is still their teacher and she tries to teach them the alphabet, how to count in twenty, and how to sit and stand when she commands it.
At home, Mama tells him that no matter what, it's worth it to go.