Saturday, November 23, 2019

A Walk with My Two-Year-Old Son

I first posted this in February 2007 in another blog, though the actual walk took place in 2006.  Based on the original comments, I regret not bringing a camera.  Nor did my phone, an old Nokia, have one either.

Before moving to Sarawak and to get out of rut, I decided to take my two-year-old son, Jason, for a walk. Usually when we walk it’s to a known destination for a known reason—running errands for me or playing outside with him. Today would be different. I wanted to see if we could learn anything in half an hour. Any longer than that, the mosquitoes would be biting.

We lived in Penang, in a mostly Chinese residential area, in Malaysia. Other than being Jason’s father, I teach creative writing and recently published a collection of short stories set in Malaysia, Lovers and Strangers Revisited—the Silverfish version.

Lately I’ve been feeling weary of the “author” bit and needed to get back to “writing”. But in order to write, I needed to start observing my surroundings again like I used to do when I first moved from America to Malaysia. Jason, on the other hand, like most two-year olds, is a natural sponge, taking everything in around him. He’s also tiny for his age, petite like his mother, a Bidayuh from Sarawak.

I grabbed some biscuits for the both of us and a spongy orange ball to play with. We didn’t get far; halfway down the stairs, I realized I had left the ball behind while unlocking the door.

“Back so soon?” my wife asked, teasing me.

Jason wanted to hold the ball but I didn’t want him to drop it into the monsoon drain that ran alongside our street, so I handed him a biscuit instead and held his free hand securely.  I didn’t want him to fall into the drain either.

We turned the corner to the small field behind our building; we were both startled to see an elderly Chinese man sitting on the ground, looking suspicious and looking suspiciously at us. Careful not to make any eye contact, I steered Jason around this man, whom I had never seen before. Not far away from him, on the other side of a tree, was a small wicker basket. Nor­mal­ly, I would have taken a closer look but the man’s gaze continued to bear down on us, so we kept walking.

Initially I planned to play ball here, but my wife had warned me before about getting my son’s hands dirty and having him put those dirty fingers into his mouth. So, I handed Jason another biscuit. I figured we’d finish the biscuits first and play ball later. We were half way to the end of the field, when the Chinese man began to point and shout at us as if ordering us off the field. I detoured toward the road, but then I saw it, a zebra-striped dove resting peace­fully in the center of the field.

I pointed it out to Jason, and his eyes grew with excitement. We ventured closer. The Chinese man shouted and furiously waved us away. Since he was making his way toward us, wicker basket in hand, I thought it best to lead Jason toward the side of the road. We stood there eating our biscuits, observing both this strange man and this bird. I thought perhaps he was a bird-catcher, like Papageno in The Magic Flute. (I had written a novel about a delusional man obsessed with The Magic Flute.) The man cautiously approached the dove. He set the basket down, opened the lower portion and gently coaxed the dove inside.

Afterwards, he began to pick at the grass. At first, I thought he was gathering some edible goodies for the bird. Then I saw a small spool. He was rewinding the line that kept the bird from fleeing. I assumed the wings had been clipped to prevent it from flying away. This dove—called a peaceful dove, I later learned—was popular for cage-bird singing competi­tions. The man carried the dove in the basket under his arm to his motorcycle; as he rode off, Jason and I waved goodbye.

We made our way up a short alley, crossed the road and walked along a road I had never been on before since I had assumed it was a dead end. Jason and I discovered a much bigger field containing an old playground.

Delighted, Jason practically dragged me to the nearest sliding board. I helped him up the steps and sat him down at the top of the plastic slide. He squealed with delight when I caught him at the bottom—his first slide! He slid down three more times before I led him to a larger sliding board and placed him at the bottom and rolled the ball down from the top. He laughed and caught the ball.

Catching on to this new game, he threw the ball about halfway up the slide and laughed as the ball rolled down to him. He could’ve played all night, but I spotted an even larger slide at the far end of the field, so we went to investigate. It was an old wooden slide and way too tall for Jason or me. Again, I placed him at the bottom of the board and rolled the ball to the top. Jason’s eyes grew wide and wider as the ball rolled toward him, gathering speed along the way.

Next up was the adjacent swing. Leaving the ball on the ground, we got on with Jason on my lap. He giggled as we swung, higher and higher. Wanting his ball, Jason got off to play with it while I continued to swing. Jason suddenly ran behind me. I desperately tried to stop the swing from slamming into him. I somehow managed to reach around and catch Jason by the shoulder and stopped him, the swing an inch from his head.

Relieved but upset, I had a stern talk with Jason about running in back of swings. Jason, nodded.  He may not have under­stood my every word but he understood my mood and knew that he had done something wrong; he also knew or sensed it wouldn’t be fair to punish him because I was partly at fault.  Either way, we agreed not to tell his mother.

Noticing a mosquito on his arm, I swatted it away and we made our way back across the field. Blocking our exit, however, were four large stray dogs. Being a dog lover, Jason pointed with glee and said, “Dog!” He would’ve run straight toward them if I hadn’t held him back. Not sure if the dogs were friends or foes, I maintained a wary eye, while the four dogs eyed me and Jason rather warily. Afraid he might hug them to death, the dogs wisely moved from our path. Jason waved to the dogs as we passed by and said, “Bye!”

Jason and I crossed the road where I noticed three Indian children playing in a fenced in area with three rabbits. Jason didn’t know what to make of the rabbits. Other than Bugs Bunny, he had never seen a live rabbit before. Eyes large and round, he marvelled as the rabbits hopped across the lawn pursued by the three children.

Watching us watch the rabbits were two stray cats. Jason took an interest in them. He gave chase and the cats, fearing for their lives, hid under a car. Jason squatted down, bent over, and laughed as if to say, “You can’t hide from me!”

Four dogs, three rabbits, two cats.  What next?  We were nearly home when we came upon this woman who was walking beside us, almost step by step, although we were in the alley and she was at a lower level beside her building. The woman kept looking up at Jason and me as if trying to get our attention. Then we saw it. Perched on her left hand was a small green bird. I pointed it out to Jason. Like the elderly Chinese man, the woman was taking her bird for a walk.

When we reached home, I glanced at the time.  Exactly half an hour had passed since we had left for our walk. In that short time Jason and I had seen a lot and had a whole lot of fun and even made a discovery and learned a valuable lesson about safety. 

Already I was looking forward to our next walk—no doubt our first walk in Sarawak.  Soon, though, he would have a little brother to walk beside him.

   --Borneo Expat Writer