Thursday, 20 March 2014

Old Scabs And Fresh Wounds.

Remember how, when we were children, we used to pick at scabs on our knees or legs or arms even before the scraped knee or elbow or the mosquito bite had fully healed? Remember how the blood would ooze out of the still fresh wound and our mothers or grandmothers would rush to apply liquid dettol or antiseptic cream, lest the wound became infected?  As adults, we often keep picking at scabs of past hurts, insults and misunderstandings that we believe others have inflicted on us. We keep digging into those wounds of the mind, whether real or perceived, and continue to let them fester without letting them heal and giving the scars a chance to fade away. What I have experienced in the last couple of days made me realize that most of us make much ado about nothing almost all the time. I have learnt lessons on how to cope with what life throws at you  from a mere child, whose physical and mental wounds were reopened six months after the incident had occurred.
Since the kids have 'Spring Break', ( yes, it is spring in the United States Of America, though we have just lived through an unusually hot Nairobi summer!) they are at home and my son wanted to invite his bus friend home to spend the day. I messaged his aunt and she told me the child was in hospital again. The doctors had operated to remove the plate that had been inserted in his thigh after his bone had been shattered by a bullet during the Westgate Mall attack. He was recovering, she said, and would be discharged that very evening since he had already spent three days in hospital. We sent him our best wishes and said we would visit him at their house the next day. She was especially glad that we planned to visit, as he would be alone at home all day with just the house help for company, as everybody would be back at work.
So my son and I went to see the brave little boy. I thought, with such physical and mental trauma, he would be abed. I knew it was not just the old wound that the doctors had reopened to remove the plate.He must have relived all the mental agony of being back in the same hospital where he must have been given the news of his mother's tragic demise in the attack, a mere six months ago. If news of his operation brought back such vivid memories of that day for me, I shuddered to imagine what agony he must surely have faced. As a child, my favourite and sometimes the only good part of having been sick, or having a broken bone or a minor surgery was that my mother and either, if not both, of my grandmothers would be at my beck and call! The most vital person in his life would not be there during his recovery period and ever after and this hurt me to the core.
The house help ushered us in and to my great surprise, the child followed, once again back on his crutches. He greeted us with a huge smile, was completely delighted to see my son and when I handed him a bag of chocolates, the first thing he did was to offer one to my son! I was speechless...
My son and I had not gone there to poke and pry, we were not there to dig and delve into what he had undergone. We had gone to offer whatever little crumbs of comfort chapattis and spicy vegetables and a few chocolates could give to this child. Yet he candidly discussed his operation, showed us the X Rays taken when the ten inch long metal plate with ten metal screws was still inside and finally handed over the plate, which the doctors had returned to him, to my son for his inspection! They both examined the screws, speculated on why one was longer than the other nine, rechecked the X Ray and wondered aloud why two screws seemed to be crossing across each other into the bone. I was amazed at their coping ability. They could have been touching and talking about a metal plate used to make furniture, not one that had resided inside the child's body until so recently,so matter of fact were they about it!
The child hobbled into the kitchen on his crutches and asked us from there if we would like to have some juice.He could so easily have asked the house help to get it for us but this was something he wanted to do himself. I could not imagine being so hospitable after such major surgery and great pain.My son ran inside to help him, even as I said I was fine and would not have juice. At that point, I was barely swallowing my tears and I thought it would be impossible to get juice past the lump in my throat. My son rushed out of the kitchen, literally joined his palms together in the age old Indian gesture of supplication and beseeched me to have the juice. I was shocked, as he has never begged with humbly folded hands before. If either of my kids wants something, they ask or request me, not beg. He said sotto vocce,' Please have the juice, my friend will feel so bad if you don't. Please.' So I agreed.
The child's left hand was also bandaged. He said the burnt skin had been scraped off by the doctors. But that did not stop him from quickly making a tiny bow from an ear bud and some thread and an arrow from a tooth pick! I warned them not to shoot at each other so he drew a guy on a piece of paper and wrote ' I am a bad guy' on it. They had great fun shooting arrows at their target and while my son did it in all innocence, I wondered if it was a cathartic process for the other child...
When it was time for us to leave, a pen was pressed into my son's hand as a gift, maybe for visiting his home for the first time! He refused to take no for an answer. Oh generous heart, those bullets could not destroy ingrained qualities!
If, at the beginning of this academic year, someone would have told me that a fourteen year old and a ten year old would teach me about life and living, I would not have openly scoffed at the person, because I believe we can learn from even a new born baby (ever watched one breathing?!), but I admit I would have been a bit skeptical. That is exactly what has happened. The child has taught me about being equanimous and generous in the face of huge tragedy. I have learnt about being hospitable and smiling for your visitors though you may be wracked by physical pain and be feeling mentally torn apart. From my son, I have learnt the importance of firm, supportive and unyielding friendship. He may be bursting with questions but he never asks his friend about what transpired that day and yet listens whenever the child wants to talk about it. He does not shy away from it. Most importantly I learnt that accepting hospitality gracefully is also an art, which my ten year old seems to have mastered and I just about scraped through my first test after being prodded by him! I only wish it had been under favourable circumstances...


From My Desk: Tales Out Of School

                                               My Alma Mater, St.Helena's School, Pune. As we went back and forth on the Core ...