Thursday, 28 June 2012

"I know you,"

he told me. I looked at the man sitting on the other side of the table. I was certain I had never seen him before.
I am not good at remembering people's faces on a casual basis. It is not that I do not care about people. I like people. I find them fascinating. My brain is just not wired to remember them when I have only met them briefly and perhaps once many years before. I assumed that, if he was correct, it was the case here.
He laughed at my startled look and said,
          "You might not remember."
I shook my head. He pulled out his wallet and took out a battered plastic coated card.
          "My father laminated this for me. I have kept it all this time. I often show it to people."
I recognise the card. It is the card I made for him and gave him on his second day at school in Australia.
We were both strangers at the school. I had arrived in the morning for my second lot of "practice" teaching. He had arrived in the afternoon. His family had arrived from Finland the previous day. We do not have very many Finnish migrants to Australia and I had no idea what they were doing here.
His English appeared to be limited to "good afternoon", "please" and "thankyou". He was about ten. He was bewildered. The teacher of the class he was placed in had little time for him and there were no external support services the way there are now.
         "You can help him," I was told but I was given no idea what to do.
I went home via the State Library. I knew there was a reference book there, a book of word lists in twenty different languages.  I copied out some potentially useful words. That night I typed them up with their English translations and pasted them onto a card. The following day I gave him the card. I gave similar cards to several other boys.
I was only there for three days so I had no idea if the cards really helped or not. I thought they would probably be lost in the rough and tumble of the playground or discarded in the waste paper but they were used that day and the next.
        "We are going to play jalkapallo - you come too?" one of the boys asked.
Football? He was bewildered by that too. Football is played with a round ball not an oval ball. Nevertheless he headed off to play with them at lunch time and they showed him where the "toaletti" was on the way.
        "I've kept it because it reminded me of how hard it was to learn English. I always wanted to tell you thankyou but you left again. I didn't understand at the time and I was terribly disappointed."
        "I'm sorry," I told him.
        "No - it is about forty years too late but thankyou. Bet you can't remember what I taught you?"
Oh yes I can, "Yksi, kaksi, kolme..." One, two, three....
We high five it over the table. I watched him carefully put the card back in his wallet. His family were Russian refugees in Finland. It was why he had arrived speaking so little English. Finnish was his second language. English would be the third.
Now I can remember a small, very blond boy. As we leave the meeting he asked me, "May I do something I wanted to do then?"
He hugged me.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it lovely to be appreciated!

Shauna said...

What a lovely story Cat. So often we never get that second chance to say thank you, or find out how something we did helped someone else, and what an amazing memory he has.

Anonymous said...

So it was you Cat! I told Mikael to look out for you but never dreamt he might actually know you.

catdownunder said...

Remembering me would be less difficult than remembering some people Shauna but I like what he remembered about me!
What I find so appalling is the fact that I had no idea how to help him!

Allison said...

Thank you for sharing such a lovely story.