Children of Pearson's
]7 July 1994
Lonely. No superlatives can describe the growing hollowness inside me. The me that has matured way beyond a normal 5 and a half year old can possibly be.
“Hmpf! I am not going to friend you!” Desiree snapped at me.
“Why not?” I replied, feeling annoyed at the sudden outburst and the distraction from hearing what the math teacher was saying..
“Why? Oh gosh! I don’t know how to explain it to you. You just don’t get it, don’t you?” Desiree’s face contorted into a flabbergasted expression.
Being friends with Desiree meant that for every other day, I get the unfriending treatment. There is always something in Desiree’s point of view that is not right with our friendship, that she has been time and time again, unable to provide a proper explanation to. Again, it is seen as my fault for not knowing what is wrong.
“This time, I am serious. I am no longer friending you” Desiree folded her arms akimbo, rolling her eyes and turning her head, looking away from me.
“Childish….” I muttered under my breath, chuckling at myself at the irony that I am a child calling another child childish. Who knows, the very next day, Desiree would approach me like the few times before and declare that we are friends again. The only reason that I put up with the ridiculousness of the situation repeating itself is because she is the only “friend” that my mother gave the stamp of approval.
I turned away from her, trying to shift my attention back to the teacher, focusing on catching up with the bits of math that I had just missed out from the sudden outburst by Desiree. In a corner of the classroom, a boy left his study table and began jumping and hopping around with a crayon in his left hand and the teacher remained oblivious to the boy’s actions.
Soon, it would be play time for the children of Pearson’s Kindergarten. Pearson’s is a place where children from the lowest income families are placed. Children with special learning needs are also placed in Pearson’s. In a class, it would be common to have hearing impaired, dyslexic, autistic and ADHD children in the same class as the rest of us normal kids. Poorly funded and highly subsidized by the government, parents pay close to nothing in terms of school fees. Teachers are paid minimum wage and could not care about the wellbeing and learning of the children. Their daily mantra would be “anything is ok as long as there is no trouble ”.
Playtime today is scheduled at a playground in the vicinity of the neighborhood. It is an old and overused playground with dried leaves mixed into sand that smelled of urine and sometimes of dog poop. In the center of the playground, a slide with a structure that is shaped as a mythical Chinese dragon towered over 3 rusty, creaky swings with worn out rubber seats that children would rush and take turns to play on.
The clock struck 9 am and the children of Pearson’s dashed out of their study seats lining up neatly into 2 rows. Many are making excited chatters with friends over what kind of games they will be playing.
“Silence!” bellowed Mrs Pereira, the school’s headmistress. “ If you are not silent and well behaved, playtime will be cancelled and we shall have extra classes.”
“Now, go find your partner and make sure both of you hold each other’s hands tightly. I want no one to be out of my sight. IS. THAT. CLEAR?” Mrs Pereira raised her voice and pitch in a crescendo.
The children not wanting playtime to be taken away, scrambled in silence to grab their partners and lined back quickly into rows of 2.
As the number of children are odd numbered, naturally, there will always be someone left out without a partner and that person is usually me. Somehow, Desiree is Miss Popular and could get anyone to be her partner and if it happens that Desiree declares me unfriended, no one would be my partner.
Not wanting to be left out this time round, I reached out from row to row asking if anyone would be willing to be my partner for playtime. From the corner of my eyes, I noticed Mrs Pereira clearing her throat and tapping her fingers impatiently. I froze for a second and took a quick look all around me.
“Great…. I am the only one not in a line.” I mumbled with my head down in defeat, joining the line all the way to the back, alone.
The acrid smell of the playground assaulted my nose the moment we arrived. Soon, little voices started playing over in my head and I spaced out.
“Remember the world out there is filled with bad people, you do not talk to strangers.”
“You do not make friends that I don’t know of.”
“How many times do I have to repeat myself never to play with other children that I have not approved?”
“Just tell them that you cannot play with them because your mother says so.”
“Your mother says so - is the only reason they will ever need from you”
“Elizabeth!” Daisy tapped me on my shoulder, breaking me out of those little voices. “Come play with us. We are playing catching. You are the catcher!”
Kids surrounding us started screaming and running in all directions. It is the dreaded game of catching where the catcher must be avoided at all costs. The catcher must catch another player with a tap on the shoulder to make the caught player the next catcher.
I squinted my eyes, I scanned the playground with an eagle’s eye and located a good target. Nimbly, I dashed across the playground falsely targeting areas around my “prey”. As soon as I noticed my “prey” relaxing, I quickly changed my course of action and before the boy realised it, his shoulders were tapped on.
“Ahh! No fun!!! Elizabeth always catches someone so quickly!” The boy huffed and stomped his foot. “ I want revenge!!!!”
With both hands coming after me, I ran with all my might towards the nearby bush maze that has many trees surrounding it, which gives the maze a vibe of mystery - like the entrance to wonderland in Alice in Wonderland. Logically, the cover of the trees and bushes is ideal to confuse my chaser.
It was there, at the entrance of the maze where I saw a strange looking boy. He was dressed in blue robes intricately embroidered with Chinese patterns, the front half portion of his head shaved with the back half tied into a neat ponytail. He looked younger than me by no more than a year. He had on him, an aura of superiority and haughtiness. In that instant, I instinctively knew that this boy is not of this world even though I had never watched a television program before.