I was still a kid back then, and our English teacher brought a small bowl to class. She told us the bowl contained little green pieces of paper with sentences written on them. It was her special way to pass on wisdom and life learning to us school children.
We formed a single file extending to the back of the class. I tried to get ahead and stand at the front of the file, but I was pushed and shoved (I was one of the smaller and skinnier kids) all the way back to the end of the line.
One by one they advanced, and one by one they drew their little pieces of wisdom. Nobody spoke a word during the entire process: they just unfolded their papers, read the content and put them in their pockets. From that it was hard to say what to expect from the whole thing.
The bell rang and I heard the kids in the other sections screaming and shouting. Their voices filled the hallway as they ran out of class and straight to the playground, while those of us who didn’t get their turn endured a horrible wait.
Finally the line shortened and there was only a handful of remaining kids including me. Those who stood in front of me were all taller than me, and they blocked my view of the bowl and the teacher’s desk and the misses herself.
They drew their papers one by one and headed outside. Some didn’t even bother reading theirs and threw them in the trash can on their way out.
The class had emptied. I had made it to the front of the line and was the only one left with the teacher. It was my turn to draw. I peeked inside the bowl and there was a solitary green folded paper waiting for me. I felt sweat drops forming on my forehead and under my armpits. This was my time, the call of destiny. The words of wisdom I was about to read were going to impact the rest of my life.
I took out the green paper with shaking hands and tucked my lips out of nervousness. The paper felt wet in my hand from all the sweat coming out of me.
I turned away without looking at the misses and started to make my way out of the class with the folded piece of paper still clutched in the palm of my hand. With one foot out the door I heard the teacher’s voice behind me: ‘So, what did you get?’
All through the paper-picking process never had she stopped a kid once to ask about the pick. Why she chose to ask me was curious and a bit unfair.
I knew in my head there was no running away from it now. There was only facing the daunting task of unfolding that green paper and reading whatever was written in it.
I slowly opened my sweaty palm and unfolded the green thing. Inside it, written in blue ink, was the following: KEEP YOUR PROMISES. I read it aloud in a half-confused tone and observed my teacher’s reaction. She was standing next to her desk with the empty bowl in her hand, smiling. ‘Remember that,’ she said to me.
I folded the green paper and put it in my pocket. I went outside and joined the rest of the kids. I wondered what their papers said. Maybe they all said the same thing and it wasn’t really wisdom – just some kind of exercise teachers pulled at school children. But then I thought about my sentence. I wasn’t really one to make promises in the first place. But there was confidence and conviction in my teacher’s eyes that seemed real to me. It looked like she really wanted me to absorb those words.
Down the road I managed to lose that little green piece of paper. It carried in it the innocence of my school years and the remains of my childhood. But whatever was written on it still goes off in my mind every once in a while, like a noisy siren or a loud alarm.
Keep your promises. All these years I thought she wanted me to stay true and faithful to others. But it never occurred to me that the statement was meant for me. This was to say these words were meant to bring me back whenever I lost sight of things. They were meant as a guide whenever I lost myself. They were the beacon of hope in my drunken dark times of madness and cheap women, or whenever I sat in front of the typing machine and simply froze.
And today, because of them, I am able to write this.