The Boy Who Stayed – by Alifya Yousuf

From the corner of my eyes, I see the kids mischievously. Slowly, but surely, packing their bags. There are still 10 mins left for school to end. But I have had this conversation with the kids a couple of million times, how one should wait for the bell and then pack their bags. But I can't fight with the excitement they are packing with. The second the bell rings, they rush home.


I am a teacher by profession, but don't judge me when I say this, "Young kids are so, so annoying." I always thought of being a lecturer at a fancy University, and for a while, I was, then I shifted to teaching college kids, and with good pay, I did not seem to mind that. I am confused about how and when did I end up teaching the freaking 5th grade!


As the clock ticked on 2, the bell rang, and kids ran out of the room. As if it were an Olympic race. The noises, chatter, chaos, loudness gave me a headache. Peaceful adults always surrounded me; this will take me some time.


Soon enough I noticed, that a young boy was sitting on the backbench. He was so quiet that one might not even notice his presence, which is rare with kids. He just sat and looked out of the window. This was unusual for me.


Initially, I thought, he must be waiting for his parents to pick him up. So, I stayed at the table and read my book. 20 mins had passed, and he took out his homework and started to do that. Again, I assumed that maybe his parents would pick him up late and asked him to wait in class. It was 3:00 pm, and my stomach was growling with hunger. Now I may not be the nicest woman, but I will not eat while the kid stays hungry. I cut my sandwich in two and went towards him.


"Are you waiting for your parents?"


"No"


"Then?"


"I am waiting for the other kids to come into the park, so I can go and play with them?"


I saw out of the window, and there was a beautiful park nearby. I thought to myself, that is what he was looking at.


"Well, you should go home. Get fresh. Eat up and then go to the park to join your friends."


"No, I will go to the park directly," he said in an assertive tone.


"What did you have for lunch?"


"The cafeteria lady usually saves a sandwich for me, but she was absent today."


"So, do you want to share this sandwich with me?"


"No, thank you, you can have it."


He was so mature and composed for his age, which made me more curious about him.


"Skipping meals is a bad habit. Have the sandwich, please." He politely took it from my hands and started to eat.


"Why don't you go home and go to the park then?" He did not answer and kept eating.


"Well, then where do you go after the park? I see you have finished your homework. So, you still have plenty of time. And do you play in your school uniform?"


I know I shouldn't question a kid like this, but I had to know where he hangs out for his safety. What if it is a bad crowd? Or so many other worse things can happen.


"I have my play clothes in my bag once I see the kids. I change in the school washroom. After playing, I go to an old uncle whose name is Micky. He owns a grocery shop and needs some help to set stuff on the counter, so I am with him the rest of the day. He is a good man; he gives me candy and yummy treats in return for my help. And before dark, I go home, eat dinner, and sleep."


He is a smart kid, too; he knew I would ask him follow-up questions. So, he told me his whole routine in one go.


"Now, little boy, don't mind me asking this. But it seems you make your whole routine to avoid your home and only go when necessary. Why is that?” He was quiet for a while. As if he was analyzing the question and carefully choosing his words.


I promise this is my last question," I added.


"I am not happy at home. I find myself happy at the park and grocery store. My mom is always sad, angry, or tired with wine in one hand. My dad is always worried or anxious with papers, bills, and calls. This routine seems to work best with everyone." After answering my last question, he asked me his first question.


"Ma'am, do you also have an unhappy home? Is that why you are staying back so late?"


I was lost in his question, but how could I answer him. That it is I who is unhappy, my home is perfectly fine. I touched my stomach and felt that baby in me. If I don't find my way to happiness, my little girl will be alone like this little guy. I don't like staying home because it reminds me that I will be sharing the place with someone in the next six months. I have never been around kids, and what if I become a bad mother. These questions and worries drive me away from my home.


"Listen, this is what we are going to do. Your mom and dad might be not feeling well, but a magic lady will talk to them, and then I promise you will love going home."


The kids entered the park, and the boy thanked me for the sandwich and left.

One year later.


“Okay, everyone, I will mark your assignments tomorrow. Your presentation is due in the coming week. This is for all the legendary procrastinators I have in my class. I know University applications are coming in soon. Just a reminder, put your sincere focus, and trust me, you got it.” And with saying that I left the class.


So maybe teaching small kids was not my thing after all. I transferred myself to teaching the 11th grade, and things are much better.


As I was leaving the campus, I decided to stumble across the little boy's class. His one question had changed a lot for me. I started to build a happy home for my daughter, Rose. I put a lot of work into myself by creating a habit that makes me a happy person. As a parent, your responsibility does not end on giving a physically beautiful home. Instead, it is a never-ending responsibility that you keep giving yourself and your child a happy environment to grow, love, and dream in.


After that day, I had advised the little boys' parents that they talk to a counselor and change a bit for their happiness and their children's.


I saw the boy at a distance. He was alone in class, looking out of the window. It made my heart sink. Maybe people don't change. I was about to go into the class before I saw her mother rushing in, apologizing for being late and kissing him on his head. The boy smiled eye to eye and left with his mother.


People do change for the right reasons. It is complex, beautiful, scary, and mysterious how every encounter takes us somewhere, how it can mean nothing at times, and at times it can mean everything. He was just another little boy, but one meaningful conversation, he helped me, and I helped him. I thought of that day, smiled, and left the school.

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