I was driving this one day, trying to reach home as quickly as I could. My husband was fasting, I’d like to prepare a decent meal for his iftar – if I could not fast, why not reap the reward of preparing the food for those fasting. But then upon entering Jalan Sentul I was slowed down by a motorcyclist. Hormonal as I was, I was almost about to honk him (it was a two lane road, and he was in the middle of those two) but I was softened by his co-rider – his son. He was clad in a blue school uniform, wearing his helmet and seems too small to be a school prefect for me.
I did not honk.
Here’s a father, fetching his child from school, probably riding it slow for the safety of his son, and he must be damn proud for his son to be chosen as a school prefect – he might as well just chosen as one for this new term! Surely that father is excited.
I knew a bit how that feels when my only nephew is off to school – well, to kindergarten actually, he’s only 5. I called my sister twice on his first day, and continued to call again the next day. It was a new experience for him my nephew, and I could not be more excited for that.
And now that I’m almost there into parenthood, I can feel the regret my father felt some 20 years ago, on the first day of my primary schooling.
It was going to be my first day at school, in Year 1, and though I am the second child, my father was still excited for that. I could not recall being overwhelmed by the fact that I was going to school I suppose – I frequented it a lot since my mother taught at the same institution, so it was rather a safe space for me. I have left pre-school for a year (I only went to pre-school when I was five, and too bored to go again the next year since I already knew how to read and such).
I choose to wear a pinafore to school, just like my sister who was four years older, and my parents were happy to obliged – they in fact did not go for the ready-made cotton pinafore they could always buy at the stores, but instead went on to purchase a kind of fabric, a slightly more expensive one, the one which won’t dull over time and sent it to a seamstress.
And then came the day we were to collect the pinafores, all three or four of them as I recall, from the seamstress.
They did not turn alright.
The seamstress was tempted by the fabric to make the cutting of the pinafore a bit more flared – ‘kembang payung’ she termed it, to my father’s disgust. And surely he has the right to feel so, because he specifically requested a normal design for her daughter – it’s a school uniform for God’s sake, and he’s the customer who is always right!
Then came the long, heated argument, and even my mother could not calm him down. Maybe it’s the pride (‘I told you I wanted something else, but you give me something else’), or I just looked really ugly in those that ,y father refused to pay nor take the pinafore.
We just left.
And I started my schooling days wearing my sisters’ uniform (as time has run out), which you could not tell if it’s already four years old and used (thanks to the fabric) feeling indifferent to it at all (and pretty much could not figure out what the fuss about the ‘kembang payung’ navy blue pinafore or the need for a new uniform for that matter!). But my father’s remorse still lingered, pitying me for having to resort to my sister’s old uniform on the first day at school – and I think I have said ‘I don’t mind’ so many times, I still thought it was never enough.
I still could see the pinafores whenever I passed by the seamstress’ shop for months, and still wonder why my father made a big deal out of it. There’s nothing special about my first day at school as far as I could recall, but this is what I do remember – the pinafore story that stuck in my mind, and only recently can I de-puzzle – it is just the urge parents have, to give the best they could for their offspring and to never ever settle for anything less than that, that drove my father mad about it that day.