By JEFFREY P. YAP
The scene was like a spin-off from a defunct soap opera. I was out on the street, in front of our house, and was holding two t-shirts and a pair of shorts. At a tender age of seven, I was out of my wits and clueless about the world out there, leaving the house and carrying a mere change of clothes that wouldn’t even last for a day. My mother who happened to be outside because she forgot to close the front gate called my name, saying that dinner was ready. Didn’t she see me tearing up and lugging a baggage as a sign of protest?
I was called names like “cry baby” and “emoticon” but one that I couldn’t forget was when my aunts and uncles said that I would shed tears at the slightest provocation. When I received a small plastic toy car without any engine during our class Christmas party, I wallowed in sadness. Whenever the boiled white rice was too dry and a little soggy, I would leave the dining table. When I wasn’t allowed to hold the boat’s paddle to navigate the man-made lagoon in the zoo, I didn’t talk to anyone until an older cousin gave me a bag of chips.
But I was no brat, mind you. I didn’t cry until I ran out of tears or made pesky weeping murmurs. It was just second nature for me to sulk for a few moments and delve into my pain, or into my idea of pain. My mother would tell anyone that I could be talked out of it and I’d stop the drama immediately.
It was never my intention to cause inconvenience in order to get what I wanted. But that night while carrying three pieces of clothing—I was running away but I couldn’t find a real luggage, so there—I ignored my mother’s pleas to return and started walking a few meters away from the house. It was almost time for supper and I could smell our neighbor’s cooking. There was a sudden waft of deep-fried milkfish marinated in garlic and soy sauce and boiled white rice with pandan leaves. My stomach started growling but I had to go on. I saw mother opening the gate and heard her shouting my name. I think that I had walked quite far because it was already quiet and I could only hear my footsteps.
A tricycle stopped in front of me and the driver asked where I was going. He said that a kid my age should be home and should be preparing for tomorrow’s first day of school. Are you my estranged father? I was almost tempted to ask. But before I could answer him, my mother was right behind me and told him to go ahead and look for other passengers.
But I was no brat, mind you. I didn’t cry until I ran out of tears or made pesky weeping murmurs. It was just second nature for me to sulk for a few moments and delve into my pain, or into my idea of pain. My mother could attest to anyone that I could be talked out of it and I’d stop the drama immediately.
My mother asked me what the problem was and I told her right away that I didn’t like going to the barber shop on Sunday nights because there was a feeling of dread waiting for my turn to sit on the barber’s chair, and I had no say on what kind of haircut I would be given. Also, the fact that it was a Sunday night made me anxious because of school the next day. I learned the word “anxious” from reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
My mother probed further. She found out that it was going to school that I didn’t like, not really the barbershop. The barbershop only reminded me of school because of the clean cut that was required of students then. She tried to point out the benefits of elementary education while I listened intently. Looking back, I might have not explained myself to her very well because I was just silent. I wish I told her that I preferred reading choose-your-own-adventure books and Sesame Street magazines on Fridays and Saturdays over attending classes. I didn’t like my classmates who bullied me. I didn’t like my science teacher who once thought that I was laughing at him and hit me on the head with a long folder stacked with test papers inside.
I wish that I told her that I used to spend my free time in the school library because I had no friends because they couldn’t understand why I only wanted to read and not run or play basketball with them. You see, I wasn’t just silent or bad tempered for no reason. A kid simply wanted to have fun and be happy.
My mother nodded in agreement and said that I should go back to the house for dinner. Maybe she understood my circumstances at that time. Maybe she didn’t.
It was Sunday night and we could see our neighbors already having supper. “I’m hungry,” I said to my mother and handed my clothes to her. She smiled, tapped her hand on my shoulder, and said, “A few more days and it’s Friday again. You can stay in your room and read all day.”