Since my nursery days are way back in my past, I hardly remember my nursery mates. However, there is an exception- actually, two: one is a boy who didn’t speak, and the other a girl –his friend, who was overly protective of him.
I had just turned three years old and had been attending the nursery for a few months. I’m not sure if the boy and his friend had been there all along and I only just noticed them, or whether they joined the nursery later. Anyhow, they caught my attention one day.
To say that the boy didn’t speak is not quite accurate. He did speak; but he was either hearing impaired, or there was something in his way that prevented him from speaking clearly –I didn’t know which then, and I still don’t know, today. So, he did speak, but in his language that was understood only by him and those close to him.
My ears perked up as soon as I heard him. I stopped playing with my other friends and went to the section where he sat with another little girl. I asked them both, “What are you playing?”
He ignored me, and so did his friend. I moved closer and asked again. “What are you two playing?”
This time, the boy looked at me. I couldn’t tell if he smiled or not, but he started saying something to me as his fingers pointed at the toys on the desk. The girl only looked at me, but she kept playing.
Not being able to understand, I said, “What are you saying to me? Why are you sitting here? Do you want to play with us over there?” I pointed in the direction of my friends, who were still making farm animals out of Play-Doh.
The boy said something which again I didn’t understand. This time, his friend said to me, “We are building a house. He wants you to play here, but I want you to go away.”
I wouldn’t leave easily. I wanted to play with them.
“I want to stay. He wants to play with me. Why do you want me to go? How come he speaks a different language. Why don’t you come with me to play with my friends, too?”
The girl responded, while trying to attach two wooden pieces together, “Because-” and here she paused to hand the boy some wooden pieces, which he took and snapped together while saying something to her- “we don’t play with other people because we are friends together.” She gestured to him and shook her head, “Not with them.” She looked at me, “Not with you.”
“But I want to be his friend, too,” I said.
“No,” said the girl, “He is my friend. Not yours. Not anyone’s.”
Then, the boy started to say something to me. The girl quickly hushed him. I ignored her and told him that I didn’t understand the language he was speaking, but that I’d ask my grandmother to buy me a book to study so that I would be able to understand him, “Because that would be more fun!”
“Not fun!” the girl shouted “Go away!”
I said, “No.”
She shouted again, “Leave us alone!”
“But I want to play with him!” I responded.
By now, the voice of authority had arrived and the red lips on the teacher’s face began to move quickly. She told me to leave “the poor boy alone,” and that I was not to ever bother these two again.
I was furious: but as furious as any three-year-old could be, I was also a smart three year-old. I had gotten into trouble with this teacher on the first day of school, and I wasn’t about to get into any situation with her again, so I walked away this time.
I remember that after the day I was told to stay clear of the boy and his friend, I still secretly approached them whenever I thought the teacher was not looking. The girl didn’t like me, but she didn’t say anything to the teacher. She even helped me to understand what the boy said to me.
At some point, I grew familiar with his gestures, and I could pretty much guess what he was saying to me. My grandmother had explained to me earlier that the language he spoke was so unique that only he, his parents, and maybe his friend, the girl, were those few people who understood him, and that there was no book for me to study to learn his particular language. I was disappointed, but also determined to speak to him. When my grandmother asked why I was so persistent, I responded with strong will, “Because I am his friend.”
From then on, until the day I left the nursery to attend the big girls’ kindergarten on the other side of the Chao Phraya’s bank, he and I became best friends, and even his friend hated me less. –She said so herself.
“I am here to protect him, you know. Everyone- even the adults- are mean to him,” she looked at me, “…except you.”
I don’t know if it’s because it was so long ago, or that it was not important to me to find out, but I don’t recall either his name or the girl’s. However, through the years I have often thought about him –my friend, the boy who only spoke his own language. By now, he and others have probably found a way to communicate with each other. As far as I and his other friend back in nursery school were concerned, however, we had already found the way: it’s called love.