Kim was a loner, a social misfit, and felt worthless and contemptible. Until he made a friend.
Kim was seven, with the physical growth of a five-year-old, and the emotional development of an even younger child. And he knew that something was not right with him.
The first time his mother shaved his head bald, Kim had been horrified. How could he possibly face his friends?
“Let your friends laugh at you,” his mother had declared. “They will know how stupid and dirty you are! Wetting the bed at your age!”
But she had been wrong: it did not improve him, and his hairstyle was to remain as such for quite a number of years.
The other boys instinctively knew that something was wrong with him and shunned him. Unable to defend himself against his taunting friends, Kim became a loner, a social misfit, as even he agreed with his mother’s judgement of him – he felt worthless and contemptible.
In the evenings, he would loiter around the neighbourhood. He had no fear of punishment. He still remembered the shock and dismay when he found his bed soaking wet that morning. It meant that there would be no supper at night, for that was how his mother chose to punish him. Besides, he had lost his right to enter his house until eight in the night. Only then would he be allowed in to do his homework, and then, to retire with a hungry stomach.
It was about this time that my son Sashi got his new tricycle. It had a green seat and huge rubber tyres, which looked very impressive. But what attracted children to it most was the beeping horn that was battery-operated.
Kim had been watching the chrome tricycle with fascination. He did not have anything to be proud of. (Even his shirt was torn and his mother had been indifferent about it. Not that they were poor. It was just her form of “punishment”. She openly discussed her ways of dealing with her “errant” son with shocked neighbours.)
Sashi was returning from one of his “cycle walkings”, a term he coined himself, and an activity which involved the both of us.
Initially, I had resisted the idea. The hilly roads were hard enough without an added burden. Sashi could barely reach the pedals, which meant that I had to become his “pusher”, literally.
When I voiced my objection, Sashi would not hear of it. “Cycle want to come awso,” he insisted. Then he warned, “After cycle cry!”
“Really?” I asked with great wonderment.
Secretly happy that Mummy was so easily fooled, he asserted seriously, “Yeth! Cycle can cry!”
I stipulated certain conditions. If Sashi found it impossible to pedal on a steep road, I said, it was his problem.
It came to a point when both Sashi and I were panting.
“I told you not to bring it along,” I said in irritation.
“I so tired. Mummy push,” he cried out.
Kim, who had been eyeing Sashi’s tricycle, just like the other boys, came running to his rescue.
“Sashi, sit. I push,” he volunteered.
I looked at the boy in pity. “It is hard, you know!” I said, pointing at the steep road.
“Baby cry? Mummy so difficult?” was all he said incoherently, before he ran behind the tricycle as he pushed it along with all his might. Sashi shrieked with gleeful laughter at the sudden speed he had gained.
Sensing my difficulty and wanting “Sashi baby” to be happy, Kim had made himself worthy of something. He had gained a friend.
Since then, Kim’s idle wandering became less frequent. He called on Sashi at odd times. My son was so grateful to Kim for volunteering his services to please him, that he decided to repay his kindness one day. Initially, however, he would extract a promise: “You friend me or not?”
Kim eagerly agreed as he could not wait to ride the tricycle.
Months passed and Sashi gained a better grasp of the Malay language. He found the boys in the neighbourhood, with their rough and tough ways, great fun, and indulged in reckless activities.
Kim felt miserable, as he was painfully aware that he might lose the only friend he had. So he decided to lure his little friend.
“Kim! Why do you bring sweets every day?” I asked him one day, puzzled.
He could not answer. He knew that it pleased Sashi to receive them as much as it had pleased him to give them away. It was worth spending his meagre pocket money. He didn’t mind going hungry himself, if he could buy those little treats for his friend.
Sashi had no reason to believe that Kim was any different from the others. And Sashi actually demanded, “Where my sweet?” whenever Kim came to play empty-handed. He took it as his due, and frowned in great annoyance when I admonished him.
It was all the more puzzling to me, as Sashi had no liking for sweets at all. Maybe, he saw it as a constant renewal of their friendship.
It was not until after Sashi had drowned at the age of four years old that I learnt of Kim’s actual state of affairs from a mutual friend. She had fed Kim on most nights, taking pity on him.
It hurt me very much to know that I had allowed the poor boy to actually buy my son’s friendship with his pocket money.
Maybe, it was Kim’s way of saying “thank you” to Sashi for accepting him for who he was.
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