By Mary Eugenia
The moment I dreaded finally came when I saw the plane in the sky. My three years old son had come to the airport to see me off. I was holding him when the plane landed on to the short runway of Buka airport. As the time for departure came I hugged him briefly and handed him over to my mum.
She told him, “Umari, don’t cry when Ana (mummy) is going. She will go to school and get a job and buy us plenty of ice cream.”
And all he said was, “And she will buy lots and lots of drinks for me too.” They did not stay for long because mum did not want him to cry for me. As they went out I did not look on because I was about to cry. After a few minutes I regained my composure and went and stood in line. As I walked out to board the plane, I turned to my right and saw little Umari starring blankly from under a red umbrella. I gave one last wave and a forced smile before I walked on. I wondered what he had in his little mind as he watched me walk away.
I was given a seat close to the window but opposite to where Umari and his bubu were standing so I could not see them. As I sat and waited for the other passengers to get settled, I thought of his innocent face and tears started to collect in my eyes again. Soon the main passenger door was closed and the plane started to move. As it was turning towards the main runway, I turned and spotted the small head under the red umbrella and I realised that my son was still on the same spot. A sob was caught in my throat, and I gulped it down painfully. Tears clouded my eyes and I could not see clearly so I turned towards the window to hide them.
In between muffled sobs I said to myself, “Oh my son. What did you do to deserve this? I always put your hopes up when I come home for holidays. But I always leave in the end; and it really breaks your heart. Please forgive me. I have no choice but to go back to school because I have to secure your future.” My mind was in chaos and I was not aware that the plane was about to take off. It was not until that it started speeding up that I realised that I had not fastened my seat belt. With shaky hands I quickly fastened it, took a deep breath and wiped my tears to get one last glimpse of him. As we skidded along the runway I looked out and saw the red umbrella and the forlorn figure being carried by my mum. My heart ached painfully and I could no longer hold on so I sobbed silently as the plane’s wheels left the runway. Nobody in the plane knew what I was going through so I suffered secretly until I drifted off to sleep.
2016 was the year I first left Umari to do my first year at the University of Papua New Guinea. He was just a year old and had just learnt how to walk. Leaving him for the first time was the hardest thing I had ever done. It was Sunday afternoon and my last day with him and his dad at Buin Primary school in South Bougainville. I was very reluctant to pack my belongings.
But as the night wore on I had no choice but to do so. While packing, I occasionally looked at them sleeping soundly and cried silently. It was my first time to leave them and I could not bear that thought; because they were my two favourite people and my whole world revolved around them. That night I slept with a very heavy heart. I woke up very early the next day and as soon as Umari woke up I carried him. I held him and cried for a long time while he was happily chattering away. But he did not see my tears because his head was laid on my shoulder. We did not tell him that I was going somewhere because he was just a baby and would only cry and follow me. I did not let go of him until the vehicle arrived. He must have sensed that I was going somewhere because when I was about to leave, he started crying and clinging on to my laplap. His dad lifted him up and they went and hid inside another room. As his cries echoed throughout the house I slowly walked to the car and got on. I forced myself not to cry as we moved forward.
But then one of the ladies in the car asked me. “Are you going to school?” I nodded. “And your baby?” It seemed that she could not stop asking questions and I was annoyed. “I left him with his dad.” I replied reluctantly after a while. “Oh my Gosh he is so small, how is he going to cope?” She exclaimed. As soon as she said that I broke down and cried in front of everyone. Umari was very small and could not understand why his beloved mummy left him. But when he started to understand things, he was told that I went to school. So whenever he was asked where I was, he would say ‘ana, kul’ (mummy, school). But he did not know that I went by plane. So when my first holiday approached, my parents decided to take him to Buka to wait for me at the airport. They wanted him to see me get off the plane so that he would know where I went.
On the 27th of May 2016, I flew home when school was suspended because of the students’ boycott. Umari waited for me at the airport and watched as I got off the plane. I had mixed feelings because I feared that he might despise me or would not recognise me. As I reached the arrival room I held out my hands to him and he came willingly. At first he was reluctant to talk. But his facial features showed that he was happy to see me. After carrying him for a moment I tried to hand him over to his bubu, but he cried and hung on to me. Everyone laughed and joked that he is scared that his mummy would leave him again.
The following day we went to Buin to see our dad. Umari was very happy that the three of us were finally together. But his happiness was short lived because two weeks later the school suspension was lifted and I had to go back. And for the first time he went with me to Buka to see me off at the airport. When my departure date arrived, he went to the airport with my dad. When the plane arrived I stood up and took his hand to shake it. As I did so he held on to it and did not want to let go. He was crying and saying, “Mama! Mama!” But he stopped after a few seconds, as if he understood our situation very well. Dad held him and comforted him as they went out. When I was inside the plane dad called and told me that when he saw me walk out to board the plane he did not cry. Even though his facial features showed that he was about to cry, he held on like a bikman. That afternoon I called home and enquired, “Where is Umari? Is he all right?” Dad answered, “Since you left he did not stop looking at your photo that was taken at the airport.
Also he did something that small children don’t normally do. He danced sadly with his head bowed down as if he had a very big burden; and all of a sudden he fell down to the floor and cried. When I heard all that I went and cried in the privacy of the bathroom. I knew that he did all that because I left him. He must have thought that I went home to stay, so when I left he was heartbroken.
Three years had gone and I’ve been going home for semester breaks and Christmas holidays. But every goodbyes are the same because I always walk off in tears. Now my son is growing up without me having to observe his new discoveries and talents each day. But there is nothing I could do because I failed to foresee what would happen in the future, if I have a child before completing my education.
Umari will always be my little hero who brightened my whole life as well as his dad’s when he came in to our lives. Everywhere I go and in everything I do, he is always in my thoughts; and all my hard work in school is dedicated to him. I hope that one day, he will understand why I had to leave and couldn’t see him grow up. I pray for him a lot, hoping that he will grow up to become an intelligent, God fearing and a well-disciplined young man.