* THE ADVENTURES OF WAIWAI *
With sleepy yet focused eyes, Waiwai looked towards Ma, and asked “May I..?” Before Waiwai could finish his question, Ma nodded in a hurry, and even before she finished Waiwai quickly settled himself in front of the luggage. As Papa pushed the trolley, Waiwai raised his leg parallel to the ground, held his arms apart and swayed his head imitating bird focusing sharply at the trolleys that moved beside him in a file, it almost seemed like a giant cloud along which Waiwai shaped his flight.
With the wheels gaining momentum, Waiwai’s eyes turned poppy as the entire stage unfolded in front of him. A stage where people exchanged hugs, were seen patting the backs, a few parting goodbyes, some hesitant assurances and few confident strides, and some were even seen giving thoughtful instructions to the other. All actions playing themselves out like an epilogue amidst munching, shouting, laughter and lights.
Waiwai was trying to catch up with the varied emotions and behaviours and so he turned to look behind holding tightly onto the trolley – to gather where he had seen such drama before, only suddenly to be halted with a question:
“So, your name is P…”
Before the uniformed man could finish the question, Waiwai nodded almost in disbelief, slightly taken aback and almost perplexed. The overlay of these confused emotions was only because he was not used to hearing his first name especially in a public space. The emotion made Waiwai suddenly making him sit uptight and as the sliding doors behind closed– even the emotional theatrics that he witnessed shut down in his mind.
From thereon Waiwai just followed. Followed and looked around with his palm tightly clasping Ma’s palm. With peering eyes and restlessness in his feet he gazed at depth across the brightly lit hall where he was standing.
He turned his head, looked up and kept turning as the space above and around him seemed never ending – only limited by a decorated roof high above him. Waiwai shook his head, looked downwards only to be greeted by a similar polished and bright floor that reflected the lights that he saw above. In between the brightness what remained were the alphabets and numbers – that flipped, moved and danced at the blink of an eye.
The other things that moved as fast as the flipping alphabets and numbers were the people and their bags. Each one had a bag – some on wheels, some on shoulders, some behind their back and a few floating near the feet passing close to the little dotted furniture legs reflecting on the floor. Each one moved with their bags differently – either through confident strides, or hesitant trudging and even through bewildered wayfinding.
Everyone was on the move and so was Waiwai; but he never realised that he was now part of a long queue. Waiwai’s excitement of the new place made him lose sight of himself, but his eyes still echoed hollowness. Though Waiwai observed he felt slightly unsure of how to be; he was still not able to grasp in his little stride the fast paced, yet regularised action of people. He never lost sight of anything that was happening, however he could not connect.
The next thing Waiwai realised in a state of being dazed was his first instruction, “Leave Ma’s hand and stand with me. Follow as I say”, said Papa.
“I will see you at the other side of the line, okay Waiwai?”, followed Ma with a pat on his cheek.
Waiwai nodded expressing that he will obey as told. He stood behind a queue and looked with obedience, as men in front of him raised their arms – just like he did earlier but this time not by choice but by instruction. Walking past the beeping door, Waiwai followed what he saw and enacted like the others. The man in the uniform stamping the piece of paper that Waiwai presented to him, said:
‘Have a good trip P…’, with a smile.
Hearing his name for the second time, within a period of half an hour, Waiwai held the piece of paper and with responsibility put in his pocket, left his alertness, jumped off the little stool, and made a dash towards Ma, who was standing at a distance and hugged her by the waist.
“Why are you behaving, as if you are seeing me after a day at school”, asked Ma. Waiwai digging his face within Ma, just chuckled.
Waiwai, took his shoulder bag from Papa, dug his hand to take out his glasses, and wore them. As they made their way up the escalator, he leaned his head on the railing of the escalator and looked down yet again at the brightly lit hall. The hall, that had made him forget the time of the day or of the week, or what happened outside, now reminded Waiwai of one known emotion. His eyes turned poppy and the smile returned.
Standing atop, near the glass railing Waiwai looked through his glasses keenly. With his head resting on the railing, Waiwai said “Daadu, see this how my school is!”
“Look, everyone has a bag - with which they are doing something or the other. Either searching, holding onto, running around but always keeping an eye on their individual bag. No one is without one. See Daddu, see, there comes the Red house monitor, checking everyone’s identity card and instructing them to stand in a single line. The other house monitors are also doing the same. Just that here no one is being asked to stand according to their height but whoever is early stands first!”, Waiwai paused with a laugh as he shifted position along the railing.”
“Daadu, they even called me by my name here – that too twice! I have only heard my name that many times when my friends call me at school or when the teacher asks me if I am present or not. I like myself being called Waiwai, Daadu. I don’t like my first name” Waiwai grunted with a cheeky smile across his face.
“Waiwai, food is here”, shouted Ma across the large hall.
Waiwai’s soliloquy was disturbed, but this time he did not felt disoriented nor did he just obeyed orders.
As Waiwai turned towards Ma, he halted with gleaming eyes. What he felt first was the assorted smell of all kinds of food surrounding him, just like how he felt during a lunch break in school, when everyone opened their tiffin. The food plaza appeared similar. Everyone digging their head into the food in front of him and eating at a pace for there was limited time available. Just like in school – the quicker you eat the more time to play. Like a lunch break, some were eating from each other’s plate, while a few ate sitting in the corner, in between that were few who propelled the other to try the dish that they were eating. Everyone ate with each other at the same time, sitting next to each other, but just like in school, no one was eating together – they were all individuals having food.
“Eat fast okay” instructed Papa, as Waiwai shrugged his shoulder and nodded his head, this time in a mischievous manner, listening to another instruction.
As Waiwai dug into his idli, he kept staring at the name of the shop “Jilly Jolly” and blurred back into his talking and said “Daadu, you know what is most like school – everyone here is following an instruction as per a time table. A similar way of doing things but everyone is still doing that their own way. Everyone knows what to do but some are anxious, some little scared, some even not interested. And you know Daadu, the place before we entered the large hall, is just like how it is in front of the school gate. Most Ma’s and Papa’s come to drop or pick up others in school. Just like here, they give instructions, give a kiss on the cheek, wave till they get into school and even wait anxiously with smiling faces. Sometimes I wish Ma, could also come every day, but whenever she does I feel very happy Daadu.”
“Waiwai, Waiwai! eat. Or we are going to get late", screeched Papa’s voice as he made a rush to get coffee.
“What were you talking Waiwai” asked Ma.
"Nothing Ma, I was talking to Daadu” replied Waiwai.
Ma, held Waiwai’s hand, ran her fingers over his curly hair and then fed him the remaining pieces of idli. Ma knew, Waiwai was missing Daadu, who was at home. But more than that Waiwai was being by himself - a feeling that usually came across him, especially when he went to school.
As Waiwai, finished his breakfast, he slid off the chair - as he would from his bench - and then walked with sliding his feet across the floor, moving past the crowd sometime smiling towards a few, then raising his eyebrows towards other children of his age, and even at times ignoring a few alongside as he would normally behave with his classmates or seniors while passing through the corridors of school.
He raised his arms again and swayed his head - this time not to imitate a bird, but the aeroplane that he could see across the large glass wall. Waiwai aired a comfort of now knowing how to be - he just knew he had to be how he would be in school – have fun yet do what is told.
Then came a loud screeching voice of a woman “Please move to gate number 5, and people seated in Rows 16 to 30, please come in front and stand in a single line”. Waiwai halted his slide looked up to Ma and said loudly:
“Oh no! lunch break is over, teacher is here! Classes again!”