Many years ago when I was in standard four in primary school I had an experience that was both terrifying and enlightening. Here is how it occurred.
During one of our science study lessons, we came upon the topic of frogs and tadpoles. As an assignment, my teacher asked my friend Cheong Aik and me to catch some tadpoles and bring it to the class for the others to study.
So during recess, that day, Cheong Aik and I walked down to a small stream than ran past our school about two hundred meters away. We. were delighted to find tadpoles on a shallow part of the stream where the water was very still and quiet. We happily got down to our task of scooping the tiny black tadpoles into two glass bottles that we had brought. I noticed that the place was shaded by a huge tree and that made our work a lot cooler. It was much better than having to do the work under the hot tropical sun.
Suddenly the quiet mood exploded into a feeling of sheer terror. Cheong Aik was standing there with his eyes fixed on something behind me! I had never seen eyes like those before and instinctively I knew something was wrong! I turned around. Before I stood a huge man holding an equally huge stick. His eyes were full of fury and he was making some growling sound.
Again I have to thank my instincts for the next thing I knew I was running for my life yes, running for my life! All thoughts of the tadpoles and Cheong Aik were forgotten. I shot out of the stream and started running as quickly as my ten-year-old legs would carry me.
Fast as I was, the piece of flying stick was faster. The wooden missile flew past me, missing me by a mile. I looked behind and saw the huge man on the ground. I realized that he had flung the stick so hard that he fell down himself. It was a funny sight but I did not feel like laughing. All I could think of was to run — run, run, run!
All the way to school I ran. Then I realized Cheong Aik was running in front of me. He was even faster than me. It seemed like ages before we arrived at the school much to our relief. Our classmates were all wondering what happened. We tried to tell them but we were incomprehensible. We were too shocked and dazed’ by the sudden violence that had descended upon us. Anyway, we had to go into the class because the bell had rung.
We sat down on our respective chairs and waited for the next teacher to arrive. Presently the English teacher Miss Parameswari walked in and went about the task of trying to teach us. None of us was in any shape to do any learning. All of us were too frightened and shocked by the recent event. Cheong Aik and I sat glumly all the time wondering why we were attacked. How could such a huge man pick on two kids, less than half his size? I prayed that we will never meet him again.
My prayers were answered almost immediately but not the way I wanted it. The huge man appeared at the doorway with the office-boy. They walked into the class and spoke to the teacher.
Then the huge man cast his blood-shot eyes over all of us. Cheong Aik and I were detected straight away. He pointed his accusing finger at Cheong Aik and me and muttered non-stop, “That’s them, that’s them!”
Soon Cheong Aik and I were standing in front of the headmaster in his office. The huge man was there too.
“This gentleman says that you’ve been stealing his rambutans!” The headmaster’s voice boomed angrily.
In unison, we protested and denied the accusation put upon us. Now we understood why the huge man attacked us. He thought we were stealing his rambutans! I did not even notice that we were catching tadpoles under his rambutan tree. Somebody had been stealing his rambutans and we became innocent victims of his rage.
We protested and shed some tears over our innocence. However, the huge man was adamant about our guilt. Eventually, we were both given two strokes of the cane for a crime we did not commit. The huge man seemed satisfied and he left.
For the rest of the year, I hated my headmaster and even fantasized about taking revenge on the huge man. Clear injustice was done unto us and we could do nothing except voice our innocence. The only consolation was that at least one other person besides me knew the truth. We knew we were innocent.
It is many years since that incident. I have largely forgiven the headmaster for caning me and the huge man for accusing me. I learned that, like the huge man, it was so easy to jump to conclusions over certain things and to let anger control oneself. I realized that it is far better to learn the truth of any matter before doing something stupid like throwing sticks at young innocent kids. I could have been killed that day. I still shudder at the thought.
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