Love thy children
APRIL 20 — I was on duty last week so as usual my colleague and I waited at the gate to supervise the kids going home. It was already 7pm and it being a Friday night, we were anxious to go home.
I noticed a Year One boy, Shah*, playing at the bus stop. He was the only one left. He was always the last to leave the school.
A couple months ago, while I was on duty I noticed Shah was walking towards the main road. I quickly got into my car and drove up to the crying boy, asking him to get in so I could take him home. He had been waiting for his father to pick him up for quite some time. Fearing he was forgotten, he was going to walk the two kilometres home. His house wasn’t very far from mine, so it wasn’t a problem for me to drop him off on my way home.
Shah answered all of my questions and was able to successfully direct me to his house. When we got there, I saw that the gate and front door were open. I gave the “salam” but received no reply. Inside, the house looked like it had been hit by a tornado. There were clothes everywhere; on the floor, in the laundry basket, on the staircase. Dishes were piled high in the sink. The grass in the front lawn was pretty long. It didn’t look like a family lived there at all.
I asked Shah who was supposed to be home. His sister, he said, but she was probably out. His father was jobless, his mother worked at a factory. I talked to the neighbour next door, who was outside watering her flowers and asked her to keep an eye on the boy. Then I went home, still not believing what I had just seen.
Shah’s father had never picked him up before 7pm. We tried telling him that the poor boy would be tired and hungry after spending hours at school so maybe he could pick the boy up earlier. Shah’s father only laughed and told us we should take him home ourselves if it bothered us that much having him stay at school until past dusk. His answer left us scratching our heads. Who was the parent here again?
A couple days after that, as I was leaving the school, I noticed Shah was standing near the gate. I rolled down my window and asked who was picking him up. He shrugged and asked if I could. I shook my head. I didn’t want him or his parents to think that responsibility should fall onto the teachers’ shoulders. Some parents do think that way. He nodded and waved me goodbye. As usual, his father picked him up after 7pm that day.
Usually for the late ones, the guard would ask them to stay inside the guard post or at least inside the locked gate. However, some of the parents had complained about this as they arrived at school only to find their children unable to come out of the gate as it was locked. The night guard would only lock the gate when he was at the school surau performing his prayers or away patrolling the school compound. Again, usually Shah would be the only one left.
About a month ago, his father had the audacity to call and yell at the class teacher for letting his child wait alone outside of the school gates. He had recently started working in Singapore and on that day was late because of a traffic jam. By the time he picked his son up, it was already 7.30pm.
The guard had gone to perform his Maghrib prayers and left Shah waiting alone at the gate. Before this, the guard had allowed the boy to wait in the guard post but after he had stolen a cigarette from the guard’s bag, the guard refused to let Shah wait there anymore. When the father was informed about this incident, he only laughed and said his son did that so his father could get a free cigarette.
The class teacher asked if the boy was okay. The father said he was. He then started yelling at the class teacher for not accompanying his child and leaving Shah to wait alone. The class teacher tried to explain that school ended at 6.10pm and perhaps the father could use the service of a school bus if he was unable to pick the boy up earlier? At least Shah would be home earlier and have a rest.
“Cannot. Too expensive!” he said, before ending the phone call rudely.
Since the father started working in Singapore, he had passed on the responsibility to pick his youngest son up to the boy’s elder brother and sister. Shah’s elder brother and sister are studying in the morning session at a secondary school nearby. Most of the time, they would be at home doing God knows what since both of their parents are working and not around to supervise. By right, there shouldn’t be a reason why they couldn’t pick Shah up earlier than 7pm and yet Shah is always the last to leave.
That Friday, when I saw his brother approaching on a motorcycle, I beckoned him over.
“Can you pick your brother up earlier?” my colleague asked.
He shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, non-committally.
Shah climbed up onto the motorcycle, his right arm wrapped tightly around his brother’s waist. He waved at us, a big smile on his face. We waved back, wondering whether things would change come Monday and he would no longer be the last to leave. Probably not, I thought.
I chose to write about this is because I feel some parents don’t realise how precious their children are. They have needs too and just because they are smaller and younger than us doesn’t mean their needs should be neglected. It pains me to see how some parents are taking their children for granted, not counting their blessings and being grateful for these precious gifts from God. Are we going to wait until these gifts are taken away for us to realise how meaningful they are to us?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.