Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Of missing children

You know, missing children is nothing new in this country. William Yau is just one addition to an alarming list of children that have gone missing. And why do I say alarming? Because the list is ever growing and we do not know how long it is. For every child that had been reported missing and publicised in the media, including the Internet, there must be at least one missing child that we do not know about. Or care about. And this is the real tragedy.

Nobody knows the anguish better than the parents of the child that goes missing. And when the realisation sets in that the child is indeed gone forever, the deep feeling of guilt must be truly indescribable. It creates a psychological scar that is impossible to heal. So let me say this to the insensitive outsiders who continue to pass unwarranted judgment on the parents: please don't. There is already a permanent hurt. Give them space to grieve in private. After all, they will have to live with it until the end of their days. I doubt the passing of time can improve matters for them.

When I was reading the stories of the hunt for the missing William, my thoughts immediately went back to the time when my son was three years old. At this age, boys are beginning to be playful. That's alright with me. Boys have to be playful. It's part of growing up. But they lack the sense of danger because at this age, they live in a state of naiveness. They won't know danger until danger visits them and teaches them.

In my son's case, he chose to play hide and seek with us in a department store. One moment he was with me, the next moment he had hidden himself completely behind a clothes line. I had always known where he was but this time, the clothes were so thick that I couldn't find him. My reaction was to call out to him but he being mischievous, he refused to answer me.

He didn't know it then but I was frantic. My heart did not skip a beat. In fact, it skipped many beats. But my wits were still with me. Luckily, we were at a secluded spot in the department store, almost a cul-de-sac. There weren't any other customer. Come to think of it, no sales person either. He wouldn't be able to run out to another area of the store without passing my wife. So I stationed her there while I went searching for my son among the rows of clothes lines.

I saw some rustling and zoomed in. Parted the clothes and there he was, looking at me and about to begin laughing. Inwardly, I heaved a big sigh of relief. But this was an incident that couldn't go unpunished. So down came my hand and I thwacked him hard on his bottom. He was surprised. He thought he was being clever playing hide and seek with us, and not getting found out for a while. And now he was being punished. Must have hurt badly too because he started crying. I picked him up and then came the explanation why he must never, never do such a thing in public again.

That brief incident has stayed with us all this while. Since then, every time we learnt about a child going missing, the moment comes back to us. It never fails to. So you see, we know how parents feel like when their child goes missing. Luckily for us, it was only a fleeting moment. But it was enough to teach us an invaluable lesson that if anything can go wrong, it can.

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