This post is somewhat an extension of the previous entry. It is a story about my eldest son, not quite about what he said that caught me off-guard but rather, what he did. It happened many years ago when he was still in Year 1 of primary school.
When it was time for Along to start primary school, we enrolled him at Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Amar, which is located in a neighbouring area across a trunk road from where we stay. There is another school within our neighbourhood that is nearer but we chose to send him to the other school because some of the teachers there are our family friends.
On his first day, I sent him to school in my car. Year 1 students are in the afternoon session and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. The school compound was understandably rowdy with nervous young children and anxious parents facing the start of a new experience. The sound of crying kids and voices of cajoling moms could be heard here and there. My son was as cool as a cucumber… no tears or tantrums from him.
After the students had entered their classrooms, I left the school to return to my office. Later in the evening, I went back to the school to fetch my son. How was his day, I asked. Oh okay… made some new friends, he replied. Not a talkative type, this eldest son of mine.
The next day, I took an early lunch break to go home, fetch my son and send him to school. This time, I just dropped him at the gate because he already knows how to get around. I returned to the office and got busy with work. I was tied down in a meeting and realised a bit too late that I need to fetch my son after school. I rushed out of the office and headed for the school, which is actually not really that far away. Thankfully traffic was not that heavy.
As I reached the last turn of the road about a few hundred metres to the school, I noticed a small schoolboy in the distance, walking on the roadside towards my direction. Poor boy… I thought, to be walking home alone. Why aren’t his parents fetching him or arranged for a school bus?
As I got closer to the boy, I was hit by a bolt of shock. Goodness me, the walking schoolboy is my own son!
I slowed down the car and then stopped when I reached him. I opened the passenger door and my son climbed in. It took me a few moments to recover from the surprise… before I managed to calmly ask him, `Along nak pergi mana jalan kaki ni?’
He simply replied, `Along nak balik rumah la. Habis tu, lama Along tunggu Abah… tak sampai-sampai.’
My next question,`Along tahu ke jalan nak balik rumah?’
`Tahu… ikut jalan yang Abah drive masa hantar tadi,’ he answered confidently.
I was momentarily at a loss for words. The route from my house to the school follows a roundabout way because of a 6-lane trunk road that separates the two areas. The driving distance is almost 3km but a route on foot (if you so wish) is half of that. If I had not crossed paths with my son, he would’ve walked 3 kilometres along unfamiliar roads. The thought of him having to cross the busy trunk road gave me the shudders.
I wasn’t sure what I felt at that time but I guess overall, it must have been a huge sense of relief. I was not angry with my son because it was actually my fault for not giving him instructions on what to do in case I was late. He had taken the initiative to find his way home… the least I can do is to give him credit for that.
As my son settled himself in the car seat as if nothing has happened, I drove towards the school and parked by the roadside in front of the gate. We both got out and I held his hand as we walked back into the school compound towards the canteen. The compound was largely quiet by then… only a few children left waiting for whoever or whatever to take them home.
We reached the canteen and sat side by side on a bench. I then carefully spoke to the him, `Esok atau lusa, kalau Abah lambat datang nak amik Along… jangan pegi mana-mana ye… Along tunggu kat kantin ni, sampai Abah datang, okay?’
`Okay,’ he said.
We walked back to the car and headed home but not before stopping at a coffee shop for a drink. I guess the drink was more for me to reflect on the situation rather than anything else. I ordered Nescafe for myself and ice-cream for my son. I silently watch the young man eat his ice-cream and wonder how a 7-year old boy can be brave enough to make such a decision. I was never that brave when I was his age.
The following day, I made sure I left the office in time to reach school before the kids get out. To test if he understands my instruction, I purposely parked the car some distance away and out of sight. When the classes were let out, I spotted my son among the hundreds of other children. He had a look at the gate where all the other parents were waiting. When he couldn’t see me, he walked back to the canteen and waited there. I stood by a little while longer, just to make sure.
It has been thirteen years now since that incident. Along is now into his third year at a university in Jordan. In that time, he has already made two trips (with friends) to the holy land in Mecca to perform umrah and one trip (alone) to London to visit his uncle (my youngest brother) during winter break.
May the Almighty always watch over you, my son.