A CONNECTION THAT SPANS SPACE AND TIME
by JONATHAN HUANG (Taiwan)
Issue 1.3 December 2019
It was suburban Lindfield, Australia, in early summer, and, as much as I can still remember, the morning was sodden with late-night rain and just beginning to swell into suffocation. That was four years ago, the day when I held my mother’s hand as we walked to the school, with the sun overhanging our heads like a ripe grapefruit about to fall. With every step I felt my heart plunging down against the concrete pavement, and by the time we reached the reception office, either I was dizzy or the world really revolved around me. “It will be fine,” was what they said, so I repeated it to myself—it will be fine—as we greeted the deputy principal, who wore a bold tie and a striped polo top. On the way to my classroom, he introduced me to the school with all the expressions a head officer would be equipped with: the cricket field (his brows like the wings of a seagull), the multi-purpose court (his wrinkles showed), the canteen (his lips proudly curving) . . . even though he knew I could understand not more than “what is your name?” or “where do you come from?”
“I grew up in Taiwan,” was my answer. My teacher Ms. Waterson wore glasses, and I kept an earnest gaze at them as I spoke to inhibit shaking. There was something quite different about her—I, at the time, thought her almost idiosyncratic, even just upon first gaze. This I saw not just in the way she talked—her intonation like waves in the Pacific, rising and falling—or how she read us Goodnight Mr. Tom as part of her English lessons, but in the way that she seemed to get along with everyone there in the room. And I was no exception. She had known the others for a year more than she did me, but that did not stop her from approaching me after school and trying to pick up a conversation. Although I disliked the idea after our first day, I cannot deny that I had learnt to speak my thoughts during those sessions (even though sometimes they came out as ungainly gibberishes). Over time she did not insist on me staying after school any more, and, instead, it was me who started the discussions and debates in class. Only then did I feel the mutual bond she had created in us—everyone, including her, was one.
Ms. Waterson prized human connection greatly, and I did not have to wait for anyone to speak a word to land on that conclusion. She was adamant—too much so for a young woman. Even now I find it captivating—how her stubborn strivings did not stop even when she was tittering on the brink of death. It was autumn, mid-April, when the principal announced the news of her hospitalisation due to lung failures—every time I recall his speech given on the hall lectern, which at times was drowned by the wearying wind from the air-conditioners, I remember a bittersweet smell: the perfume of early blooming camellias, of those camellia shrubs that traced the fences of the school and outside her office.
We had a substitute for extension class the next day, a grey lady who claimed quite proudly that she was taking over “temporarily”; I guess that was the reason she taught maths and science instead of English—since she was the one to hand us our certificates of graduation a year later, the one in our year six photos, and even the one who wished us a good journey into high school. By that time Ms. Waterson was on her own journey, but her legacy did not die with her. It remains, and breathes still today—her legacy exists in me, in all those she had taught, all those who joined the camaraderie that shook the classroom four years ago.
Inspired by her lifelong emphasis on human connections, I came to adore its incontrovertible beauty. It has been a year since I left Sydney, again stepping my feet on the soil of Taiwan; I have forgotten the bird calls that came in the morning, the kookaburras at dusk laughing at home-coming children, and even how the birds-of-heaven backyard of our house looked—but those connections I never forgot. I still dream of laughing, not at others, but with them, and teaching others to laugh as well. I have been searching, and only until four months ago did I find how to acknowledge those connections and make new ones. At a local library, I took up the job as a “storyteller,” though not the typical one with fancy voice changes and dramatic gesticulations—I told classics in both Mandarin and English to those roughly of my own age, who were not able to read as finely as us city kids. It was in them that I saw my own reflection, that of the first day stepping into class—I was at the other side of the desk, teaching others, but that did not change anything: our connections were mutual, I to them, they to me.
Every time I went into the glass dome of the library, I remembered how much Ms. Waterson cared, and then felt that connection we had built together again rising in me. She had succeeded, I knew then. She had succeeded in that she had made her spirit and her belief immortal through the connections she had formed. This is what connections between human beings are—they are like chains, linking every heart on earth, through space and through time, never less.
Jonathan Huang, 15, is a junior high school student in Taiwan, with four years of experience living abroad in Australia. He speaks English and Mandarin fluently, and is currently studying French, taking interest in literature in all three languages.