Mr Henry

It seemed like it’s been raining for 30 days and 30 nights. The Sun snuggled behind the clouds, trying to get a glimpse of Mother Earth. 

Rain had to pour, to make the Earth drink again. Quench its thirst after a long spiritual drought. I had my raincoat on and I ran from shelter to shelter. 

I was running errands in town and I decided to take a bus home since I was stuck at the bus stop. 

I chose to board a bus I used to take when I was younger. The Number 12 brings back really good memories. The familiar route was just what I needed to spark nostalgia, back to a time when life was simpler.

I recall a form teacher back in Primary school, a nerdy looking chap, in his early 40’s, about 5’8 medium built, he had an old man’s pair of hands. I noticed it whenever he writes on the blackboard, I was seated in the first row. 

He’d write till the chalk broke in half or he had run out of space. I never really knew his first name but let’s call him Mr Henry.

He was stern and ran a no nonsense class. Some hated him because he was so strict with his rules and regulations but most of us understood that bad behavior had to be dealt with. Well, he was part of the disciplinarian team anyway.

He was my math teacher primarily. He’d be in school way before anybody was. Mr Henry was meticulous and always wanted his students to excel.

I knew there was a softer side of him and so whenever I spoke to him, I added in a tease or two just to hear him giggle cos he’d usually just frown all day long. That must be tiring to do. I couldn’t tell if he hated his job or was just a plain old grouch.

One day, I came to school earlier than usual, to catch up with some reading. And I went up to class to put some of the heavier books at my desk. 

That morning, I saw for myself how hardworking my teacher was. He wrote all the mental sums and class notes on one side of the board and the other “side bar” which was just a line drawn to separate, he’d write down math problems for our homework. I’ve always wondered how the blackboard is covered with Math problems by the time we get to class first thing in the morning. I thought he’d stayed back after school the day before,to do this.

The maintenance personnel were very familiar with his hours before and after school. I got to know from other students too that he’d spend at least an hour prepping for the first period even before any student was seated down at the hall for our daily “silent reading” sessions. 

So Mr Henry didn’t hate his job after all.He was so passionate that he’d add that extra hours just to ensure that we get enough math practice as possible. Math is about practicing anyway. 

Though I’ve never loved Math, he made it a little easier to understand. He made it a little simpler for me to cope with Primary 6 Math. 

Ironically, that final year, I really fell in love with Algebra and it was all because of him. Of course now, I’ve lost touch with it and have to relearn everything but yeah, he did make me love Algebra eventually. Only Algebra. 

Mr Henry was always well groomed and presentable, fresh and ready for the day. I don’t recall ever seeing him look sleepy and unkept in class. I did catch him yawning though, but that was after class and in the teachers room. 

I never knew if he was married or had any kids or a girlfriend or hobbies. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. Maybe his job was his Life. Maybe ironing the crease in his pants and starching his collars was the highlight of his day, I really would never know. He just loved everything to be neat, tidy, proper and precise. 

You may ask why this bus ride suddenly sparked a memory of him ? 

Because the bus route drove pass his house which was just a block away from where I used to live. 

When I was about 17, I bumped into an old school mate of mine. He told me that he still visits our Primary school to catch up with his class teachers. 

I asked him if Mr Henry was still teaching there. He responded with an empathetic sigh. “Mr Henry passed on a couple of years ago.” 

I didn’t know how to react. I was just stunned and exclaimed “Whuuuaat?!” The news really made me wonder if he was suffering any disease when he was teaching us. Was he all alone fighting his battles? Was he struggling all this while or was this a sudden death? It was hard for me to wrap around the idea of him dying so young. 

Mr Henry died from a heart attack. A man who overworked his heart to the edge of its capacity. He was a very dedicated teacher and I’d always remember him as that. 

I could just picture him standing at that bus stop waiting for the bus. Eager to reach school. Eager to teach. 

Whether he lived a life he truly loved, I would never know for sure, but he did a splendid job showing up and making it count, every single day. 

You will always be remembered. 

Thank you Mr Henry. 


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