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Mark's experiences in school don't become much better over time. Whippings are a daily experience, and Mark is frequently punished because he talks too much or his nails aren't clean or his school fees aren't paid on time. And he hates homework.
But there were reasons he stayed. For one thing, Miss Mphephu has a nervous breakdown and is replaced by an older woman who teaches with more gentleness. She seems fair when she metes out punishment. For another thing, he makes friends, and some have enough lunch money to share. Third, some Catholic sisters start a nutrition program, offering children low-cost lunches. Last but not least, he enjoys learning. It opens up a new world for him, one he wants to continue exploring.
One day in December, the Principal gathers all the schoolchildren to the courtyard to announce the last day of school. The kids break into a cheer. Then he calls on the teachers to announce the year-end results of examinations and everybody goes silent.
Mark's teacher goes first and she announces that Mark is number one in his class. They call him up to the podium and shower him with congratulations. His teacher gives him a white sealed envelope and tells him to give it to his parents.
Mama is overjoyed, and even Papa is impressed when he hears about Mark's achievements. He asks Mark how much it costs to go to school, and it turns out to be a tenth of Papa's annual wages. He turns to Mama and asks her why she started this nonsense that he can't afford to continue?
Mama says she didn't use his money to pay for Mark's school this last year and Papa gets suspicious, wanting to know where she did get the money.
The money came from Granny. Mama asks if he won't change his mind about it. If he stopped drinking, they could afford to pay the school fees.
Papa makes fun of the idea of education, but he gives Mark some money to pay for his schoolbooks. Mark thanks him but Papa says that he shouldn't get any ideas. Once Mark has learned how to read, he wants him to stop going.
Florah turns six and also starts school.
For Mark, school becomes a "nightmare" (23.56). He gets constantly whipped by teachers for his family's inability to pay school fees on time, or for lacking schoolbooks or a proper uniform.
One day, a teacher ridicules Mark for not having the primer or proper uniform. He is mystified, he says, how Mark can continue to come out number one in the class when he's not prepared like everybody else. He whips Mark in front of the entire class.
This happened week after week. Some teachers were more sympathetic, but Mark started to hate teachers.
Mark tells Mama he wants to quit. He says he'll go back when he has a uniform and books. Mama wants to know what he'll do if he leaves school and he says he'll get a job. But he realizes he's only nine, so he wants to know what he should do. Mama urges him to stay in school.
Soon after, Mama miraculously finds a job cleaning and tending babies for an Indian trader. She is six months pregnant but she took the job and now she has the money to pay for school.
But Papa stops giving Mama grocery money. He says she is working now and why should all his money go for their survival?
One day, Mama comes back with a box of books, wanting to know if Mark can use them. It turns out she's bought some used books in Chinese, French, Arabic, Hindu, German, and Afrikaans (a language derived from Dutch that's spoken in parts of South Africa).
Mark explains that just because they're books doesn't mean they can use them at the school.
Mama still doesn't believe them so she takes the books to Mr. Brown, one of their neighbors with a high school education.
Mr. Brown tells her they're worthless.
Mama insists that the people at the market told her they were schoolbooks.
Mr. Brown says they are schoolbooks, but only for white people and Indians.
Mama feels terrible, but Mr. Brown strikes a deal with her. He says he'll buy Mark a few primers if she'll give him those books.
Mama wants to know what Mr. Brown will do with the books.
They'll look beautiful on my shelves, Mr. Brown says.
Mama gives him the books and a week later, Mark has two primers.