Little One was White's first volunteer assignment. White knew this could be a tough cookie as this case was off-tangent. Little One was not a normal kid, not one born from a normal situation. He had much more asperities. When Little One was ten, he was stricken with leukamia. Little One was raised by a single parent; the family was in financial turmoil; and Little One was weak academically. Little One's mother, Big One was perhaps the hardest hit. She had to carry two jobs a day, working eighteen hours each day. A caretaker by day, a factory worker by night. And when Big One had the time, she had to cook meals and look after Little One.
White's objective was simple and clear: be a role model, guide Little One and help out in his studies. The first meeting between White and Little One at the family care centre was a genial one. Although Little One was reserved, White livened their encounter with jokes, laughter and games like snake and ladder and Boggle. By the end of their session, Little One felt cushy with White's company. Little One rattled off stories about how talented he was at various sports, representing his school in soccer and sepak takraw. No matter how huge Little One blew his bubble, no one had the capability to deflate it. He excelled in sports, but failed miserably in his studies. Little One had never passed in his exams and his report card was always smeared with red characters. He was contented with low grades and he considered a feat to maintain a twenty out of a hundred. He constantly skipped remedial classes and only concentrated what he was good at, sports. Teachers began to abhore Little One as he had the tenacity and resilience. Little One would retaliate if reprimanded. No students could laugh at him, not about his loss of hair or his inability to read and write. It was as if there was a strong defensive wall surrounding him, only his fortified pride gave him hope.
The next meeting between White and Little One was held at Mcdonalds , but it was disrupted with a sudden eruption of the deadly disease. Big One had to work, so White had the immense task of taking care of Little One, taking temperatures by the hour and putting wet towels on his head. By evening, Little One was still pale and frail. He laid in bed, sometimes going into mild convulsions. White, together with Big One, brought Little One to the hospital. Fortunately, the doctor deemed the symptoms were not lethal.
Future meetings were more fruitful and a strong friendship was forged.White equipped herself with notepads, books, CD-roms and in every session, inculcate games so that learning became fun. White taught multiplication tables and applied them to the maths problems. But progress was really slow as Little One had short attention span. Amidst the tuition, he would play R & B music and croon to the tune "Lonely, I'm Mr. lonely.." The jiving went on incessantly.
Occasionally, Little One would show notes of affection from his girlfriend. According to Big One, Little One spent hours talking on the phone and text messaging her on the mobile. Intermittently, White would get phone calls from Little One "How do you spell...?" White was amused and probably thought the words were declarations of love to his puerile girlfriend. Outside tuition, White and Little One had meals and shared joyous moments watching the movie Madagascar. Their conversation topics varied, from cars to games to movies. But it was awkward when questions regarding sex were triggered. White felt that she never had the right answers and often shrugged it off.
Little One soon had a circle of friends and they came to his home almost everyday, even in the midst of his exams. They shared similar traits. They were lonely. They were consumed with hunger most of the time. They detested learning. In such circumstances, it was tricky for White to conduct her lesson. Little One would write a hurried essay and then join his friends for a friendly game on his laptop (donated to Little One when he was very ill). In other occasions, their tutoring sessions were often disrupted by constant flow of questions from Little One's friends.
Meanwhile, Big One had to juggle the many tasks thrown to her: attending to the business of medical consultations, phone calls from the principals reporting Little One's misbehavior at school, financial arrangments, and maintenance of the household. Big One would call White many times a day, venting her frustrations and pain. These phone calls became a reliance and they pertained to anything and everything (the quarrels between the mother and son, teacher's complaints of Little One, the lack of motivation to study from Little One, the mere confirming of tuition times, her working environment, and the fear that the Fierce One would return). Her erratic behavior was understandable as Big One was under immense stress each day and she hardly had friends to confide in. However, she was an endearing woman underneath the tough exterior. She made a simple Thank You card for White on Teacher's day. To this date, White is still keeping the card and it is nicely hung on her bedroom walls. Although the card was simple and plain, the printed three words "Thank you Teacher" on the card held much meaning. It signified a close friendship of two diverse individuals, bonded together from extreme backgrounds.
However, all is not well. Little One's disinterest in his studies became more apparent by the day and was evident in his behavior towards White. He became impolite and shown much lethargy when learning was concerned. White had to match this misconduct by portraying a disciplinary figure. Little One did not like it and complained to Big One that learning was hard. Little One added oil to the fire, telling tales to Big One that White often mentioned about Fierce One during lessons. The subject of Fierce one or the term "father" was a taboo and White knew the sensitivity of the issue.
One afternoon, White received another phone call from the Big One. The phone call was not about the confirming of tuition times or the complaints of work environment. Little One wanted to stop tuition.
"He is stubborn and I have tried talking to him about it. He does not want it. I don't know what to do with this kid. I'm so sorry. I will call you again if I can persuade him."
Subsequent days followed and similar phone calls were received almost every alternate day. It all began like this.
"He has an exam soon. Are you going to come?"
"It's not that I don't want to. He doesn't want me to come."
"I will talk to him and get back to you."
The replies were alike, like a broken tape-recorder repeatedly playing its ragged tune
"I'm sorry. He still does not want..."
What would you like to do when you grow up?
You know, it's really hard to earn a living as a footballer especially in Singapore.
Yeah, but I have the skills.
However, even the best footballer needs to know how to read and write and converse well in front of the media.
Stop acting as if you care for my studies, just because she's here to teach.
He called me a crazy woman today. For all that I have done for him, he called me crazy.
Why did you pierce your ear? It's not that cool.
I like it. I pierced the other with a safety pin.