Eventually, things began to look up. I took an entrance exam for Kopila Valley School in Surkhet. The teachers came to know of my story, and by a stroke of luck I got one of the very few spots available to my age group. In the interview I explained that with a chance at education, I could help my mother care for my three little sisters, and help educated them too.
I tried to channel my sadness and my anger into determination. I wanted to be the best at everything. Because of my Dad, I felt like I had something to prove. I became class captain. I joined the girl’s empowerment club. I took traditional dance lessons.
I wrote poetry and participated in debate competitions. I checked out books from the library. I studied late into night and completed all my assignments to catch up with my classmates. I grabbed every opportunity that came my way.
One day there was an announcement that Kopila Valley School was starting the first-ever football team for girls. I showed up at that first practice on a dirt field without sneakers, sweat dripping down my forehead, ready to try something new. I had never seen a field before, watched a match, or even worn shorts.
In my village every square inch of land was used to grow food, and sports were for boys on fallow terraces between growing seasons. I never knew that football was for me.
I showed up every day to practice with coach Gopi. He treated me as he would boys. He yelled at me but also encouraged me. I still remember my first match and how it felt like putting on a uniform, chasing the ball down the field.
Over time I started to get good at football and our team began winning matches. I scored goals and was particularly strong at defence, head balls, and corner kicks. But I also kept up with my studies, and started to get noticed as a student and an athlete.
I made it into bigger teams and got recruited for tournaments. Rumours also followed. Neighbours gossiped about me, saying I came home too late or left too early. I was called selfish and that I had my head in the clouds. It got worse when I got my periods, people telling me where I could go and where I could not, what I could do and what I could not.