I watched as he was dragged out of view. I laughed at his face but a moment later I sobered when I heard crying. I rose out of my chair in the office and walked to the opening of the door where seconds earlier Channon and Saw had been playing. Seegame and Phet watched a bit apathetically, obviously not sure if Saw was actually crying.
Saw lay on the bench, face-down and Channon was straddling him, all gangly 5’7” of him, scissors in hands and a rather bewildered look on his face.
“No one likes to be stabbed with scissors, Channon.” I rebuked as I walked and sat on the ground next to where Saw moaned. “Saw,” I said his name and tried to look at his face. Channon got off and sat beside him sheepishly.
Saw is one of those kids that pretends to cry then laughs in your face when you react in concern. This time, the boy was for real. I put a hand on his back and scratched absent-mindedly. He was not wounded in body, just in pride.
It was very hot that afternoon and I noticed he was wearing fleece pajamas still.
This boy. Goodness me.
Seegame and Phet scooted closer and Seegame sat next to me, on the floor of the school hall. They are two of my sixth-graders. Phet is a small Thai boy from outside the Home of Hope, clever and mischievous but with a serious side that I enjoy. Seegame is from outside as well. He is the biggest boy in the school, tall, and starting to grow into his height, with a dopey good-nature and a sense of humor that circles around pretending to be simpler than he really is. He is the life of my class. Sometimes not in a good way. I have a special place in my heart for him.
“You will go to Bangkok?” I asked Seegame.
Finals was last week and I had said goodbye to him then, thinking it would be the last time. I did not take into account that his liveliness in class has affected his grades, not just in English, and he has to come the first week to be tutored so he can pass his other classes as well. Phet is just there for moral support.
Seegame looked confused and glanced to Phet.
“Seegame will go.” Phet answered for him.
I nodded and gently scratched Saw’s head. He wasn’t crying anymore, but his head was still in his arms.
“Teacher,” Phet smiled with glee, “you cry Friday.”
He was referring to the time after I had said goodbye to Seegame, keeping it together, and then went into an empty classroom and burst into tears.
“Alli-wah?” Seegame looked at Phet.
Phet shot off some Thai, telling Seegame about my ‘moment.’
Seegame looked at me with new interest. This was news to him. “Teacher,” he looked a touch pleased, “you cry?”
“Just a little bit.”
Phet guffawed and enjoyed telling Seegame that it was more than a little bit.
As they teased me, Saw recovered and turned over to look at me. He had one chopstick in his hand and he used this to push a strand of hair out of my face. Then he touched my chin with it and then my forehead. He sat up on the bench seat and rested his chin on top of my head.
Seegame patted my shoulder, “Teacher, I go.” He got up and shouldered his backpack. Phet stood as well. I felt a touch of panic. Not again. No more goodbyes please.
It must have shown on my face.
“I come tomorrow.” Seegame reassured me.
I should have known it would take more than one day to repair his grades. I nodded and said goodbye. They walked away companionably, best friends and likely to remain so. They have a solidarity to their friendship, an unspoken agreement that sometimes happens in kids, you know it will last.
Saw was completely recovered and impatient to tell me something.
“Pla.” he made a hand-motion like a fish.
“Yes,” he nodded, “we fish.” he made a motion like fishing.
“Yes!” I clapped my hands. I love fishing.
“You come.” he jumped up and grabbed my hand.
I followed willingly. I had visions in my head of quietly sitting on the bank of the pond, a pole in my hands and the kids sitting in companionable silence.
The reality was shocking to my American understanding of the sport.
My first clue was a horde of children running by, holding pointed sticks, a net and dressed in very little. It had all the earmarks of a wondrous occasion in my mind. I joined the herd.
As I ran down to the pond, the sun blazing away and the air ringing with shouts and splashes, a boy held aloft a fish he had just caught. I was in awe. They were catching them with their bare hands!
The little boys were the ones using the bamboo spears. Of course, they caught nothing. The older boys were catching them with their hands along the banks. Do not ask me how. However, the very oldest boys were using an old-fashioned weighted net. Very efficiently, I might add.
I stood, marveling, realizing very quickly that I would not be an integral part of this fishing exhibition. It is not a calm sport or one that they did quietly. I watched them instead, delighting in their skill.
They would throw it into the murky water, then use a specific strap to pull it in. It would tangle the fish in the net and make it very hard to swim free. Then they would hand off any fish they caught to an eager, younger boy to run it to the bucket. Then they would untangle and throw it again.
I laughed to see the younger boys give up so easily and instead throw their shirts in a heap and jump into the water. I sat on the bank and watched them. They would come to me, calling my name and asking me to count how long they could hold their breath. Boys are the same the world over.
I thought as I watched them that every little boy needs someone to sit and marvel at what he can do.
The older boys were less sentimental and resented the fact that all the splashing was scaring the fish away. We were soon kicked out of their side of the pond.
They caught many fish without us, proving the point.
As I walked back, Sai and Jee walked beside me.
Jee was featured in my very first blogpost here and he has featured in my every day since. He is stubborn and proud, hates to show affection but would find ways to accidentally hug me or hold my hand. I remember I would sit and watch his head and pray for him during devotions. I don’t know why, but he was in my heart from the second day I was here.
Sai, his older brother, is more solid than his wild sibling and used to teach me games in the evenings when I lived at the boys’ dorm. He is not as sure of himself as Jee, but he is less proud because of it. He is also not very into physical displays of affection but isn’t afraid to defend me in the face of Jee’s random acts of terror.
Sai was trying to tell me something to me as we walked. I opened Google Translate on my phone and he spoke into it. When I took my phone back, the words on it sent a pang through my chest.
“We go home Friday.”
“When do you come back?” I asked through the phone.
“I don’t know.”
My heart sank. I was hoping they would stay for the summer classes we have. That would mean that they would be with me until the day I leave. Now, they will leave on Friday and come back probably sometime in May, when school starts again.
I will never see them again.
It hit me. I looked into their faces and I couldn’t nearly bear the thought. Jee smiled archly, like he didn’t care, but Sai looked sober. We walked back the rest of the way and I went back to the office to finish my work before dinner.
Friday. Ok, I have a week.
That evening, right before devotions, three of the Filipinos left for the Philippines. One of them has become a close friend. I didn’t want to be there, saying goodbye. As the kids cried and the volunteers gave hugs, I felt something in my hand.
Sai was trying to slip 20 baht into my hand.
“No, no! I can’t take this.” I protested, giving it back.
He looked away. I put a hand on his shoulder. He put his hand on top of mine without looking at me. Then he pulled it around his chest and stood with his back resting against my side, staring off at the hubbub around us.
I love you.
Then I tried to steal the 20 baht from him. Forgive me, it was the only way to make him not feel awkward about it all. I think it worked. He laughed and held onto my hand for a moment before letting go.
As you know, today is Thursday night. They leave tomorrow. I leave tomorrow for Chiang Rai to meet Anne Williams at 6:30 in the morning. I don’t think I will see them in the morning.
I tried to tell Sai that tonight, but he didn’t understand me through Google Translate. Jee though, heard it and nodded to me. He, of course, did not share the information with his brother, though I asked him to, because he is stubborn and I asked him to.
How silly is that?
And how silly is it that I love him to the moon and back, despite the fact that he betrays me constantly, is always making fun of me to preserve his own strong image, and then pretends to want to hug me sometimes in the mornings, only to dash away, laughing as I practically sob.
It is important that I collapse and feign great hurt when he does that. Because I don’t care if he doesn’t love me, I want him to know that I love him no matter what. That has been my Jee-mission from day one.
So tonight, Jee has been acting really strange. He keeps coming up to me, then walking away without telling me anything. He knows it is only tonight. I know it. He keeps watching me, then looking away when I catch his eye.
In the past I have literally held this boy captive while I look into his wild eyes and tell him I love him. The moment I release, he darts off, but soon, he would come back for more. Thats how I know he needs it. He needs me to hug him and kiss him on his perfect head while he protests. Because he always makes sure that he’s close enough for me to catch.
Tonight though, after devotions, the boys were dismissed early and I came down 5 minutes after him. I was afraid he had gone to the dorm already.
As I came down the steps, I saw him immediately. He was to the side, his back to me. He glanced up when he heard the girls coming and then started walking. Slowly. I walked out into the night air and he kept glancing back at me. His shoes were on but he lingered at the edge of the tile.
I felt like every little girl and boy in the Home was grabbing me. I tried to be patient and I put my shoes on, moving away from the crowd and walking towards him. When I was even with him, he started walking normally.
Just then, another little boy grabbed my hand. He laughed and pulled me away. Jee wouldn’t look at me, but I saw the moment he decided to go. His stride lengthened till he was up the road, away from me.
I noticed Sai was there, hard to see in the shadows. He called Jee’s name. Jee wouldn’t look back. Too proud.
Sai walked with me. When we were even with the girls’ dorm, he stopped. I stopped. I looked at him, he looked at me.
“Goodnight.” he said, clasping his little hands awkwardly. He nodded, then turned to go.
“Sai!” I called and then held out my arms.
He came to me so fast.
He is so small. You forget how little they are sometimes, at least I do, because their personalities are so big. They know so much. Sometimes more than I do.
I held him, his arms around my waist and my chin resting on his head.
His arms tightened. I kissed his head.
Then he was gone.
I stared after him, wishing it didn’t hurt so much to say goodbye. I looked to the boys’ dorm, hoping against hope that Jee would swallow his pride and say goodbye too. Because the one thing worse than saying goodbye is just disappearing.
Well, he didn’t come.
All week long I haven’t stopped fishing. I’ve been looking for moments with them every day. When Jee gave me a tiny house he had modeled. That one evening when Sai sat and called me names then laughed when I threw my flip-flops at him. This morning when we played in the sand, building our houses and digging our holes.
I tried to make every moment count. I’m still hoping that tomorrow morning, by a miracle, I will see them one last time. If not, I’m not sorry that I ignored packing for the weekend to play in the sand with them. I’m not sorry that I didn’t finish assembling the books for the coming school year. I’m not sorry that my laundry is still hanging on the line.
Speaking of which… Goodnight, I have a few things to do.