His only experience with school was the one year he went to the Peace Corps school. They had not come to start a school, to few children to make it worthwhile. They had come to replace the town well, whose bucket had to be hauled up by the hand, with a modern faucet, a spicket, as he had heard one of them call it.
But, in that year he came to love words. It seemed as if he could not learn enough in time. He would beg them not to erase the vocabulary lists from the chalkboard before he very slowly copied them down on the sheets of paper they had given him. His thin brown hand in sharp contrast to the white paper as he drew each letter with the attention a Bengal tiger sets on his prey.
Each night he recited them to his mother like words to some ancient hymn.
Now, the Peace Corps was gone and his only connection to the magic of letters and what he saw as his escape route from the village was Old Madri. Why she wanted the plant watered from the river instead of the water faucet that was only a few feet from her front door was a mystery to Nagesh. One he did not care to solve.
The plant had been merely a seedling when he began almost two months ago. Now it was almost ready to bloom. He could not see the white flowers trying to burst from the top.
He had had a plan when he started. He luckily had discovered the college vocabulary list in the trunk. He would memorize all of the words in this Merriam-Webster Dictionary that was on top of the pile of books. Then, when he was sure he would be able to read the books, he would start with the first book in the pile, one called “typing”.
His plan, however, had been to ambitious. He had not nearly finished learning all of the words in the dictionary and the flower was almost ready to bloom. He had perhaps a week or two more before the bloom faded and his services would not be needed.
He needed another plan. As he dipped the pot into the shallow edge of the river, he tried to find some way that he could continue to see those books. Words were everything. They were his hope, his happiness, his blood. Suddenly a cow drinking very near Nagesh nudged him into the river. It was only his quick reflexes that saved the plant from being washed away. As he floated, potted lily on his chest, he looked at the cloudless sky. The color azure came to his mind. He begged Krishna to send him a plan. He needed more words.
Drifting slowly, his brown body and white trousers but dots on the vast river, he thought of a plan. He would offer to clean Old Madri’s hut in return for no payment, no rupees, just one hour a day with the books.
He quickly swam to the side of the river, careful not to lose the plant and hurried off to offer his new found service.