Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Special Boy

What made him different from the usual six-year-old was his ability to quit whatever he was doing right away.

If the aunt who was raising his said, "It's time to go" or "Dinner!" he would stop immediately, even if he had reached a crucial point in a game or the best part of an anime.

All the other Japanese children that I know would grumble and try to keep playing the game. They would stay planted in front of the TV set, tearing themselves away--complaining all the while--only when Mother start to yell. I never realized that such ordinary moment of discord, such scenes that occur without fail in every hose, are symbols of happiness.

"Why do children have to be like this?" "Why is this one so stubborn?" "Why do parents have to get mad all the time?" "I'm having so much fun! Why do I have to stop?" I never knew that such feeling of resentment on both sides of the parent-child divide are themselves what constitute happiness.

What I mean is that the process of repeatedly finding the precise point where both sides can come together is itself a form of nurturing, a form of mutual love and interdependence that takes shape only because each side learns to accept the other in the course of acting out these far-from-rosy scenes, the tedious collisions that form such a large part of how parents and children interact throughout the world.

His aunt was by no means too strict with him, but the boy always followed her orders as if struck by lightning.

The boy's mother went off and left him. Only after a year had gone by did any word come of her whereabouts. By then she had had a child with, and married, another man.

Apparently the boy's father had often beaten his mother. When the split up, the boy and his elder brother were taken in by the father's parents. By then the brother was old enough to be less of a burden for his father and grandparents, but the little boy was too much for them, and one day all of a sudden, it seems, he was dropped in the laps of his mother's parents.

People who marry are supposed to be grown-ups, I thought. And when two grown-ups have a child, they're supposed to take care of it until the can present it to society in some kind of decent shape. Nowadays in Japan, thought, it seems that children often marry children, and when they have children, they find these new ones too much trouble, so they let them go. They're like the kind of idiots who buy dogs because they think they'll make cute pets, and kick them out when the barking annoys them.

The mother's parent--the boy's other grandparents--were not eager to have him, either. They were too old to be raising a child, they said.

The boy's aunt couldn't stand to see what was happening to him and decided to take him in herself. She told me, "I didn't want to tell him that we were going to start living together from now on, or that he'd be leaving Grandpa and Grandma's house. I figured that, at some point while I was playing with him, I would just say that we'd be going to another house, or maybe when we were all eating together I'd just say I wanted to take him home with me and not make a point that he would be leaving Grandpa and Grandma's place for good."

Finally, though, how painful could it have been for him to leave the home of grandparents who couldn't raise him? To me, that made him all the sadder, all the more pitiful. Of course the grandparents were probably not devoid of feeling for him, either, nor had they treated him badly, I suppose.

The boy had clothing, shoes and toys. He could watch TV, eat three meals a day and go to kindergarten. Some might conclude that he was a lot better off than many children around the world living in misery. But something important was missing from the boy's world--a secure sense that things would go on as usual and little things allowed to pass, an atmosphere that let him feel, "I can stay here."

Japan may well be full of such children these days.

I kept my thought to myself, but they went something like this:
If it had been me, I would have like her to let me know what was happening. As painful as it might be, I'd rather have her tell me the truth. You father and mother abandoned you, and though you grandpa and grandma do love you, they simply can't raise you. So now you're going to be leaving their house. From now on you're going to live with me, your aunt.

I would have wanted her to say it that clearly.

I wanted to tell her that it might be more painful for him to learn the truth, but that at least he wouldn't have to deny anything.

But each family has its own way of dealing with such things. He would at least be better off than he had been. He would be able to live in the same house with the same person. This was nothing for me to be giving opinions on.

One night shortly after he had started living with his aunt, the boy can to play at my house. He and my son enjoyed playing games, talking endlessly, and sharing the names of each other's friends. He was thoroughly delightful--a bright, lively, wide-eyed little fellow.

Like other children, this boy had so far grown up with someone to change his diapers and hive him his mild every day. What had happened to ruin thing? How could a person just walk away like that, decide one day to cast aside this smooth-skinned little creature who want nothing more than to enjoy life with wide-open eyes, a little creature who moreover, gives his protector such unconditional love? And all because of what? Not genuine poverty or hardship, but just some irresponsible thing.

The boy's aunt said to me with understated love, "I made his mother sign a document so that I would absolutely never have to give him up if all of a sudden on some whim she decided she wanted to take him back."

This was both terribly sad and terribly important as a final lifeline for him now.

Once he started living with her, she said, he had started smiling more often, and stopped having pointless fights with his friend or fits of temper. It seemed that he was finally starting to feel somewhat secure.

I couldn't help wishing that all children might have someone to appreciate them in this way. But there must be so many, many children in the world for whom that never happen--children who die unnoticed, unloved children who turn to violence because they don't know what else to do. Parents who toss their children aside are incapable of realizing that each and every such child is a treasure for all the world.

"Time to go home."

When his aunt said this, the boy stopped playing the game and jumped to his feet. Only my son stayed sprawled on the sofa. He still had no idea how fortunate he was to be able to do this. Sadly, he might never in his life realize that he was too fortunate to recognize his own good fortune.

"Gotta pee," the boy said. The three of us waited for him at the front door. He can out of the toiled with incredible speed, still zipping his fly. "Oh good," he whispered to himself the moment he caught sight of his aunt.

Clearly, this meant, "Oh good, she's still here."

Only a child who had been dumped in numerous places without warning could have said this.
They went off down the dark street hand in hand. They would probably go on living together as peacefully and happily as they appeared to be at this moment. The painful memories of abandonment would no doubt fade for him, and his life with his aunt would become indistinguishable from that of any ordinary mother and son. As in any family whose children had not experienced abandonment, they would have their fights and their moments of tenderness and would overcome the many obstacles encountered on the road from childhood to adulthood.

But still, that little whisper, "Oh good, " would probably never fade away completely. The right to utter those words was a thing of value that belonged to him alone.

It was like a tiny diamond, painful but precious, that he would keep inside. Even if he forgot about it, it would always be there, sparkling, long after the parents who had abandoned him forgot his very existence.

By: Banana Yoshimoto

Yoshimoto, Banana. Freedom. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2009. Print.


Anonymous said...

That is terrible!!! I can't believe that little kindergartners would have to go through that! I can't even imagine what that must feel like just to be dumped by your own mother. Thank yo for posting this moe!! It sure makes me thankful for the home and loving parents I got.


Renee said...

Moe, did you get your prize?

Renee said...

I am glad you liked it :)