Graves should not be this small

I still remember that moment. I was sitting up there, on the roof of an abandoned house waiting for the sunset on the riverside. It was my secret place to hide from the world surrounding me. I don't know why, but I always thought that the sun would rise, the moon would replace it, and everything would stay the same. How foolish was I? I haven't ever imagined that the whole sky could fall apart in a single moment and break the running circle of life while burning everything on its way. - Janat, how many times should I have to tell you?! Don't come to my class just because you want another hour of sleep! You know my policy, don't you? - Yes teacher, sorry. I just couldn't control my eyes. I keep telling them to not close, but they do not listen to me. The class burst into laughter. I smiled as well and then looked at my student who was hardly standing on her feet and covering her yawning mouth by hand. She was in her every day worn-out clothes with a singing bluebird stitched on her jacket. Probably, that jacket was her favorite one. Janet lived far from the place I have called “a school for everyone”, in the heels near the Aksu-Jabagly mountains. Because of the pandemic that shut down my work as a research assistant, I was forced to move back to my home village located 60 km away from the nearest central city. So, I did what every crazy person would do. I have opened an English course for children from my village who are not capable of financing the study of their children for obvious reasons: quarantine and poverty. Yes, I know, Central Asia is a big meal with corruption, poverty, and authoritarian regime being the main ingredients of it. But the hidden secret of this meal was waiting for me in Janat's house. - Janat, wake up. After this class, I need to see your parents. I have to have a conversation with them, OK? Janat didn't say anything and just nodded instead. - Teacher, she probably, is happy now. That is why she did not sleep last night. - What are you talking about, Zhan? - You don't know yet? She will become an adult and get married. They had a party last night. I was shocked and surprised at the same time. - Stop joking around. It is not funny to say things like that. It might hurt Janet's feelings. She is only 15. She is a child. - But teacher, what I am telling is the truth. My grandma and people from the whole village went there yesterday. Her future husband also was there. Right, guys? After hearing the answer from the class it took me a while to realize the world I am living in. And, perhaps, most importantly the world Janat is living in. For the whole month of my English classes, I was witnessing how the Kazakh traditions were slowly torturing this little girl and destroying her entire future. Maybe, I subconsciously did not want to believe and that is why I did not notice all of it? I don't know. - Janat, stand up, please. We are going to go to your house. - Why? - As I've said before, I need to talk to your parents. All the students suddenly: - Teacher, so we can go home? - Yes, the class is dismissed for today. But don't forget to repeat the last topic we've covered, right? I will send the homework via Whatsapp. They sighed as if they were getting punishment. - I know, I know. But it is how the world works - the world is unfair. Zhan, you will go with us. - Why? Please, don't. I promise I will do my homework next time. I know, I just need your help to guide to Janat's house and I won't meet with your parents. - God bless you, teacher. - God bless you. Where have you heard those phrases, Zhan? - Ohh, it is, maybe, because I live with my grandparents. You know, they use the old Kazakh language and as I grow up I get used to their language. - OK. So, who is the groom? Zhan? Janat? Janat was looking down and did not answer. - I've not seen him, however, my grandma says that he is a brave man in his 30s. Because his first wife was not able to get pregnant, he asked the parents of Janat to get married to her and in return, he promised to take her to the city and pay for her higher education. - I see. My realization of the situation further chained my emotions. I did know where I was going, but I didn't know what to say to her parents, how to make them understand what they are doing is completely outrageous. - My grandma says he will cover their debts as well. I do still remember my conversations with her parents and I still remember their surprised faces when I threatened them with the call to police. It was something out of the ordinary for them, but not what they were doing. I was not able to stop them and I still regret it. A month later I got invited to Janat's funeral. During the funeral, I don't know why, but I couldn't cry. I was looking to the ground. And all that I was able to think was: - The graves should not be this small…

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