|Photo credit: Catherine Yong|
When we were little, my father made a commitment to be our family's driver. I say that he made a commitment because it required of him a great sacrifice. He chose to drive all four of his daughters, with different schedules, to different schools — while working a full-time job. He drove us to every piano lesson, every sport event, our friends' houses, choir practices, the list went on and on. Wherever I went, whatever I was doing, I could count on my father's car to appear on the horizon, coming for me.
Every morning, before he started the engine, he would pray for each of us. With our hearts heavy with exams, bullies, and the fear that we are not beautiful enough, we started the day by praying. When we arrived at school, we would exchange "I love yous" and then he would say good bye. His was the last face I saw before I stepped out into the wild, wild world. His was the first face that welcomed me as I stepped back into the familiar.
Even now, I remember the relief that would wash over me as I climbed in. The car was my resting place. So glad to be out of the scorching heat. So happy to see my father at last. So happy that the wait was over. Some days, he would even bring me lunch boxes filled with my favorite things, with chili sauce on the side.
I was not always grateful. Sometimes, I stepped into the car with my mouth spewing ugly words of complaints. Like everything else in my childhood, I often took my father for granted. Even then, my father responded with kindness and patience. Sometimes, he would even apologize for the delay. The man had a job! I had no idea how much he sacrificed for me. He never gave up. Even when each of us took on new activities, he continued to serve us in this way, year after year.
When I was sixteen or seventeen, I told him that I was old enough to take the bus. My friends did it. I assured him that this would help ease his load. He halfheartedly agreed, but when it came time for me to take the bus, he would always insist that he wanted to drive me instead.
I think he had bus-phobia. And I think it was because of me.
I was left behind by the school bus driver when I was in first grade. At the time, we were living in a remote village where my father was a pastor. My school was in the city, about 30 miles away. A local bus driver offered my parents her service (school buses were private businesses in Malaysia). Every morning, she picked me up before 6 a.m. and brought me home after 12 p.m.
One afternoon, I waited for hours. I was with my classmate from the same village. Both of us were left behind. I remember the silence of school yard. There was no one else in sight. Being impatient, I convinced my friend that we should surprise our parents by walking home.
She hesitated (for good reasons), but she finally came with me as she did not want to be left alone. We stopped at every bus stop. When we finished our last drop of water, I thought of selling my hair clip (it was very shiny) and use the money to buy some water. She cried and cried despite my attempts to cheer her up. I, on the other hand, thought this was all very exciting and could not wait to surprise my parents (not sure what this says about me).
Meanwhile, our parents were on panic mode (now that I have children of my own, I can only imagine their state). They called the bus lady only to be informed that she did not see us, so she left. Our parents searched for hours. First the school, and then up and down the route between home and school. Hours later, the two fathers continued their search, while the mothers waited at the house of a family friend.
I still remember the first sight of my father's car appearing on the horizon, coming for me. I remember the relief that washed over me to see his face. So glad to be out of the scorching sun. So happy to be found (though slightly disappointed that I didn't get to surprise them at home). He brought us to our weeping mothers, who eagerly fed us, as we had nothing to eat since the morning.
Perhaps this was the start of my father's bus-phobia? Or, perhaps he just loved us a lot, and driving was his way of spending time with us.
I know now, it wasn't the air conditioner, or the food, or the cushions. The car was not my resting place, my father was. My father who came for me, who still comes for me.
My father was my safe place. My mother was my safe place. My sisters were my safe place. With them, I could laugh. In that car, perfectly crammed, and together, we sang the praises of our Father's love for us.