Theng-Ning ran over to me with vomit dribbling down his chin.
It was nearing the end of my hour-long class and the rest of the students were still quietly coloring away on their worksheets.
Poor little guy; it’s hard to keep track of your bodily needs when you’re three years old. I wasn’t surprised by the vomit that was now dripping down his desk and onto the floor (I see a looooot of bodily fluids in preschool), but I also wasn’t sure how to deal with the mess so I peeked my head out into the hallway in search of this particular class’s Thai teacher.
She was on her way back from running an errand. I gestured, “Uh…student vomit.” She nodded perfunctorily and began dealing with the scene of the crime using old newspapers (paper towels are hard to come by in these parts).
She said something to Theng-Ning that I had to assume was, “Go to the bathroom, take off your clothes and wash yourself,” at which point his once almost-chipper demeanor turned into pure unadulterated temper tantrum.
His big brown eyes welled up as he screamed with panic, “MAI AOW!!!!!! MAI AOW!!!!!” His jedi-style singular skinny braid, an animated circle of hair on his otherwise clean-shaven head, swung with his cries.
I knew “mai aow” meant “I don’t want to” but I wasn’t sure what it was that he didn’t want to do. You don’t want to wash the vomit off of your face? Tantrums tend to be pretty irrational so maybe this was it.
His cries escalated as the Thai teacher tried to grab him and send him into the bathroom. Theng-Ning stood in front of me, tears and vomit all over his face, pleading with every ounce of his being: “MAI AOW TEACHA, MAI AOW!!!!” I said, “I don’t know what it is that you don’t want! I’m sorry I can’t help you…” with crinkled, sympathetic eyebrows.
He was so far gone his little hands were paralyzed with panic and all he could do was stand shrieking and glancing over his shoulder to see if the Thai teacher was coming for him.
Sure enough, she was still trying to nab him and drag him into the bathroom herself, but he took off running around the room instead. The chase became even more dramatic after she enlisted two other students to help her catch him. They were unsuccessful in their efforts.
The remaining students watched from their desks and began chanting Theng-Ning’s name in unison. At first I thought they were cheering for his escape from the Thai teacher’s grasp, but I soon realized she had instructed them to cheer for their classmate as an added social pressure to take himself to goddamned bathroom and rinse off.
It was the end of the period but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I finally took a deep breath to avoid breaking out into a fit of giggles; I gathered the students’ half-colored worksheets, and took myself back to the teacher office to report the absurd incident to my coworkers.