I keep replaying a scene in my head.
He is walking down the sidewalk, outside the school fence. His shirt is unbuttoned, untucked, gaping wide open and fluttering tails in the wind. You can see his white wifebeater underneath, clearly.
His hair is tousled. His face is set in stern lines, angry and gritty, like he had woken and not showered.
I had never in ten years seen him in public like that.
He was a businessman. He had moved up to ironed button down shirts tucked into ironed business slacks, years before. He used the best hairgel there was, to hold his hair in place in the high winds that roared through the desert. For customers. To look good, all the time, for customers. Because they were not buying product, they were buying HIM. He told me all the time.
I wave. I know he is furious. So I wave, cheerfully, and hurry the children to meet him. He cannot get through the fence, not without the police being called on him. We have to get out through the gate, and calm him down by acting fine. I know something is wrong. But I have to act. Act cheerful, act ecstatic to see him. Act adoring of this monster who terrorizes us.
He has no priors. I have no evidence.
He demands to know why we left the house for school without taking him with us. I told him he was home for two hours, I was not going to wake him when he so obviously needed sleep. He asks how many men there were inside. I told him. I counted them, every school day, and stayed as far away from them as humanly possible. He asks me if I remember him saying he wanted to go. I do. Of course I do. I told him I remembered, but we go every week, he can come next time, when he has had some sleep.
Did I talk to them? He wants to know. Today I can say No. Not today. Not one.
What was I doing inside? What happened? Where were the children? They were with me. I was helping them learn. Nothing happened. We wrote our names and drew pictures. We had snack. We sang a song. The boys were good boys, mostly.
He said they were not allowed to come back, unless he took them. He could not take them, his TB tests come out positive. It would take months to get them back into school, and he was never home. He would end up not taking them. I knew.
His craziness was ruining their education.
Okay, I tell him. Okay. No problem, you can take them. As long as they learn.
He begins interrogating them. Using a nice voice, wheedling and a bit flattering. Scary as hell. I hope they do not remember how that ended, last time.
This school is a joke, he says. In my country, you go to school when you are eight, he says. They are too small for school, he says. You don’t need to go. He tells me.
Whatever his problems had been with me, they have become my son’s problems. He is holding them back, when they need to learn, when they need to leave the three rooms that surround them like a cage.
He is a madman. Now I know. Only crazy people penalize their children and deny them opportunities. He told me he and all his family and all his culture loved children more than anything. That education was the number one concern of all his mother’s family, that he wanted his boys to be engineers. He told them, daily, to become engineers, since birth. Now? Now that they have started preschool, they stay home.
Now that I have found a way to keep him from beating them again, he stunts them in another way. Two months he didn’t touch them. Now they are not allowed any school? What have I done? Denied him one outlet, and provoked him into increasing his control?
I had to leave. My kids deserved a real life.