The Secret Classroom
Snow Shell asked Mount Ember, the military dog, “Hey, have you read Cinderella?”
“Nope.” he said. “It is too flowery for me. I have just finished Gulliver’s Travels.”
“How did you manage to finish it?”
“I read it when the kids and their parents were sleeping.” Ember winked at her. He dug out something from under the bush. “See, I have even written notes. Martha will be proud of me.”
“Aren’t we supposed to read moral books? After all, Martha asks us for a moral after we narrate our stories.”
“Okay. What is the moral of Cinderella?” asked Ember, tossing his head.
Shell snickered. “You should not have step-moms.”
“Nope.” Sheila, the cat, joined them. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“What are you going to narrate, Sheila?” Shell looked at her with interest.
“Oh! Trying to be the teacher’s pet, as always? You know that Black Beauty is Martha’s favourite. She identifies with Ginger.”
“Oh. I just happen to like that story.”
They were joined by Speck, the Sparrow. “Do you think the kids or their parents suspect?” he asked, anxiously.
“Take it easy, Speck. No one knows.” Ember tried to be as comforting as possible with his gruff voice.
Snow Shell, Ember, and Sheila lived with their adopted humans. They met Martha, their neighbourhood horse, for their weekly lessons in history, English, Math, and Moral Studies. They were joined by Speck, the sparrow, Lisp, the parrot and Jack, the street dog. Night, the Owl, joined them when he was not sleepy. Martha seemed to know everything and was worldly-wise too.
Martha, with her red hair falling over her forehead, looked prettier than a lady. Her beauty was marred by a slight cut to her forehead, caused by a previous owner.
“Thank God I have Justin to take care of me,” She explained the secret of her shiny coat.
“Have they all gone to the church?” whispered Lisp.
“Yes.” Shell replied.
“Where is Jack?” asked Sheila to Ember.
“No idea.” He shrugged, a habit he had learned from the humans.
“Shall we start with Math?” asked Martha.
She kicked apples that she had hidden away under the straw and asked Shell and Ember to count them.
“7!” screamed a shrill voice from the tree. The other animals looked up, irritated. It was the monkey again. He was wild and unruly; he would come whenever he wanted and leave as per his will, but would not sit with them. He was smart and already knew addition and subtraction, which he had learned from a girl and her father. Martha was secretly pleased with him, but the others were annoyed as he was smarter but did not follow the rules.
“What is the next question, Blue Mountain?” he asked.
“Cut it out, Monkey!” barked Ember. Blue Mountain was the name given to Martha by her humans and she did not like it. She preferred Martha, a name she had given herself. Ember’s name was Lion. As if anyone would address a dog as ‘Lion’, he thought scornfully. Snow Shell’s name was Lola and Sheila’s name was Fluffy. When they were together, they addressed each other by the names they liked.
The monkey plucked a ripe mango and threw it on Ember. He dodged it and Lisp flew to the tree to peck him. The monkey jumped into another tree and disappeared.
“Forget him and get back to the class,” said Martha with authority. “Lisp, what is 5 added to 4?”
Lisp fixed her eyes on her fingers and counted. “9.”
“That is right. But, learn to count in your mind. Don’t use fingers.”
Lisp turned to Speck and winked. Sheila, the cat, smiled with closed lips.
“Wow, you look sophisticated, unlike the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland,” squeaked Speck.
“Thank Goodness, the humans are not here to see us.”
“Yes. Do you know the origin of the word, ‘Cheshire’?” asked Martha.
After some interesting explanations and an English lesson, Martha said, ‘Hey, we just have 15 more minutes.”
Martha unloosened her ropes and neighed. It was a sign for Sultan, her friend, to set himself free and join them. He did not join their lessons out of choice but was always ready to play and ride. They broke out of the stable and ran around the farm, neighing and playing while the other animals and birds watched in fascination.
“Who wants a ride?” asked Sultan, bending down. Sheila climbed on him while Speck flew to take his place behind Sheila. Lisp and Shell climbed on Martha. Ember pleaded to be left alone and watched the others. The horses galloped a few times around the grass.
“Can you trot gently?” asked Lisp after some time.
Martha acquiesced. “I wonder what it feels like to place your feet firmly on the ground and walk or run for a long time,” sighed Lisp.
“Wow, the rest of us wonder what it is like to fly,” sighed Sultan. “I wish I could take a walk on a slope. I miss my previous home.”
Ember cleared his throat, “It is time, friends. They will be here any minute.”
They hurried bid good-byes and prepared to resume their roles in the world of human beings.