(Before that, I would like to wish all the Kadazandusuns Kotobian tadau Tagazo do Kaamatan, and also to fellow Sabahans. Enjoy your day!)
(andohbytheway, this chapter is a tribute to Doni, the boy whom I never personally knew….)
Ch. 03 – Stepping out into the world
Months passed by. I am starting to like living here. Slowly but surely, I came out of my shell of shyness. I also managed to shove away my nervousness (and stutters, of course) when talking to Anna. I even start playing pranks on others. That is thanks to Taufiq.
If Abang Zack was the kind brother, then Taufiq is the mean brother.
Taufiq is the eldest among them three siblings. He is the most active of us all here. He likes to tease Hanna, his little sister and Melvin and Erica from the Odou siblings, all younger than him. But he never teased me. I wonder why? He didn’t tease Anna clearly because somehow, he seems to be afraid of Abang Zack. I, on the other hand, don’t have anyone covering for me, am small and eventually younger than him. Wouldn’t I be the perfect target (as seen by the kids on Street 1B)? I dunno.
Then January came. First day of school. Mama sent me till my class. I was shaking. Will I be safe here, this foreign land with too much unknowns around me (and no mama to hide behind)? Will I survive this place? I begged mama to stay, but mama said she got other things to do, so she can’t stay (She did say that everything will be okay, since Abang Zack is also attending the same school).
So I went into the classroom for the first time, mama by my side. The teacher greeted us, but I didn’t respond. Instead, I tucked at mama’s skirt.
“A shy one, is he?” said the teacher with a beaming smile on his face.
“Yes. He’s not used to making new friends, and is not comfortable around anyone that he does not know,” replied mama, a stroke of worry visible on her face.
“Don’t worry mam, he’ll be fine here. First years are always like this, but he’ll soon blend in and get lots of friends,” said the teacher again, assuring mama that it’ll be alright.
Then he turned towards me.
“Hello! my name is Cikgu Hamdan. What’s your name?”
Suddenly, I heard a sharp voice shouting from behind me. As I turn, I could see Anna waving her hands ferociously (and of course I shouted ‘what!’ in my heart). I just smiled a bit as my face went red. Cikgu Hamdan also looked towards Anna, a little bit confused.
But then she walked away. Seems like she’s not in this class (fuhh).
“Who was that…”
“Oh, that’s Anna, Jeremy’s friend. She lives next to us, and they’re quite close,” explained mama before Cikgu Hamdan could even finish his sentence.
“Ooohh….” was the only thing Cikgu Hamdan could reply.
“Okay, Jeremy. You can take the seat next to Uzair there in the third row. Uzair’s a good lad, so you should be friends with him,” said Cikgu Hamdan after a long pause.
I just nod silently, then looked up to mama again (still begging her not to go with puppy eyes). Alas, mama smiled and bid goodbye. She just reminds me to be a good boy (and make lots of friends as ‘boys my age’ should), kisses me on the forehead and then walks out the door.
I walk towards my desk. My shoulders drop down as I drag my feet towards the empty seat. I look around and it seems like almost everyone had a friend (or at least are talking to the kid besides them. Not so sure if they are friends or just started to know each other), when suddenly….
A familiar voice! I turn to my right. Sitting a row in front of me is Hanna, and beside her is Erica. ‘Someone I know is inside this class also!’ or so I thought.
Stuttering, I felt relieved to see them. At least there is someone (or two, to be exact) that I recognize, that I know.
Though I was a little bit shocked to see Erica.
I always thought that Erica was a year or two older than me. She’s quite tall (and intimidating in a way. I can’t really explain it in words. She just has some scary aura….) and not as friendly as the others. So I never get to ask how old she is (I didn’t even bother actually).
Suddenly, she looked at me.
Then she turned her head the other way.
WHAT WAS THAT!? That’s scary. It is as if she’s saying she doesn’t like me (by not saying it at all). I just smile awkwardly, then moved on to my seat.
As soon as I took my place, the boy beside me turn towards me. I turn to him also (awkwardly, of course).
“Hi. My name is Uzair. Nice to meet you. What is your name?”
“Urmm…. I’m Jeremy. Nice to meet you too, I guess….”
Uzair was such a fair boy. It is as if he’s fairer than anyone else in the class (even the girls can’t compare to him). But what really attracted me are his glasses. He has such thick glasses! I never knew that kids could wear one (as I’ve only seen grown-ups wear them.)
As I stare at his glasses, he pulls out his right hand, then shove it into my face.
“Can we be friends?”
The first week of school passed like a breeze. Well, its more like a lifetime to me.
The only time I like is recess. Because that is when I can meet and hang around people I know. I’ll walk to the canteen with Hanna and Erica (though I didn’t say much to Erica) and we’ll meet up with Anna. The four of us are all first years, so it’s kind of easy to sit together.
Even Taufiq will come up to us once in a while, saying things like ‘great! A group of two boys and two girls’ while winking to his sister Hanna, and Hanna would yell ‘I’m telling ummi what you said, abang!’. True, Hanna is a bit boyish, but she’s still a girl.
I’ll just laugh at the sight, and I’ll completely turn dead silent when Hanna gazed my way with blazing eyes (she could be a little bit frightening at times too, you know). But because Taufiq’s there, I’m not really afraid of her (as I am afraid of Erica).
Abang Zack, on the other hand, will be on duty guarding the rails and making sure that everyone lines up orderly to buy food from the canteen booth (he’s a prefect, and perfects on duty get to go out earlier to eat). So we just get to talk a bit (more like him asking me how I am doing in class) when we passed each other at the rails.
But I never saw Uzair at the canteen though. My first friend (besides those I already knew) at school. I was taken aback when he suddenly asked if he could become my friend. But later, I found out that almost everyone was like that in school. Guess this is what mama means ‘making lots of friends’, kan?
When the bell rang, we would all rush out of class. But Uzair will always stay back. There was a time when I asked him if he wanted to tag along, but he just smiled and say ‘you guys go ahead’. And then, when we came back when recess was over, Uzair would always be there already (like he didn’t even leave).
“He’s planning something!” said Anna with big round eyes when I told her about it.
“Like a spy! He has a secret mission.”
Then Anna shrugged nearer to me and pulled my ear, then whispered
“Maybe he’s an alien…”
“E-EH!??? But mama said aliens do not exist,” I said with a panicked voice.
“Maybe lah, he he he….” replied Anna while trying to imitate that evil laugh of the bad guy in the cartoon we would always watch on Saturdays.
“If you want to know so much, why don’t you just go and find out what he’s doing every recess,” Erica suddenly said, a hint of annoyance on her face.
I became dead silent hearing Erica’s words (and the sight of her frown). Anna suddenly stood up and turn towards me, a determined look on her face.
“Yes, Jer!. Lets become spies!”
The next day, as soon as the bell rang, I scurried to the canteen to meet up with Anna. Hanna said she doesn’t want to follow (she’s afraid something bad will happen. She says its her instincts. For real? I dunno) while Erica didn’t even cared (Anna asked if Erica wanted to come along while I just didn’t have the nerve to ask).
So its just the two of us. Abang Zack had already bought me and Anna some packed mee goreng (thanks to Anna asking her brother to do so the day before), so food’s not a problem.
Then, with Anna as the lead, we ran towards my (and Hanna’s and not forgetting Erica’s) classroom. Right before my class, Anna slowed down and crept under the window panes (with me following right behind lah, of course). Just like a spy!
Slowly and quietly we raised our heads, trying to take a peek at Uzair (that is, if he’s there lah). And, as expected, Uzair was there. He’s….
“….eating,” whispered Anna, just like how spies would do in movies.
He’s eating. But when did he buy his food? And on top of that, he’s eating from a transparent container, and I know that it is not from the canteen.
Out of curiosity, I came out of hiding and went into the classroom. Seeing me, Uzair smiled. Anna’s still at the window, as if she didn’t even notice that the one entering the classroom was me.
“You’re early today. Have you finished eating already?” asked Uzair politely.
“No. not yet.” I replied.
I looked at Uzair’s container. In it was rice porridge and some green vegetables that looked a little bit yucky (though I didn’t say this to Uzair. Papa always said that if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anythingat all).
Then I remembered the packed mee goreng in my pocket. I know! Why don’t I just eat here with Uzair? That’ll be great because I’ve never eaten with the other boys from our class (and partially because Erica is not here). I sit down on my seat beside Uzair and started to eat the mee goreng (while wondering where’s Anna at the moment). Then I started to talk.
“Uzair, where did you buy that porridge from?”
“I didn’t buy it. I brought this from home.”
Ooo…. that explains the ‘not seeing Uzair at the canteen at recess’ mystery.
“Every day?” I continued.
“And porridge, every day?”
“Mm….yes” replied Uzair while spooning the porridge into his mouth.
“Why don’t you just buy food from the canteen? Don’t you feel bored eating the same thing every day?”
At that instance, Uzair stopped eating. Then he turn towards me. An awkward feeling clings in the air around us. An even awkwarder look shines in Uzair’s eyes. Then Uzair spoke.
“Because I can’t afford to have such luxury as you.”
That was the first time I know about life’s hardship. That was the first time I know that not every kid in the world has a father.
That was the first time I know the term ‘orphan’. And the first time I know Uzair is one.
Note: Doni mentioned earlier in this post was a boy from Kinarut, Sabah. The eldest out of four siblings (if not mistaken), he was an orphan. No father. Just a mother who worked hard enough to get just like 5kg of rice per month. Doni, strucked by poverty, brought rice porridge and kangkung rebus every day to school as his lunch. But the other Year Five students at his school always make fun of his lunch, calling it ‘dog’s puke’ and other horrible stuff alike. They also hit the boy and spill the porridge onto the floor, then force him to eat like a dog. Doni kept his cool, never complaining to his poor old mother. That is, until one day.
One day in 2008, Hina Joloni was shocked to find her 11 year old son hanging from the ceilling in the only room in their makeshift house. Then, and ONLY THEN, did the school authorities and wellfare department and community started to take note of this boy and his family. Then and only then did the help came.
But its too late for Doni.
So, if you know someone who’s unlucky as Doni, don’t be shy and don’t be afraid to lend a helping hand. Be grateful that you are one of the lucky ones (as you still have the time and luxury to browse the web and read a story from a crappy blog, haha), and share the love and care. Peace!