Chasing Footprints


My parents brought me and my siblings up with books and books and books. Books were our companions and our guides. Books were everywhere in the house; be it in our playroom, our bedroom, the living room or the kitchen. We never had a room designated as a library, but you are bound to find a bookshelf or two in every room.  

My parents taught us to love and appreciate books since the moment we could crawl around and play. They flipped through picture books with us and pointed out colours, numbers and shapes even if we couldn’t understand much at that age. They instilled a curiosity to discover the wondrous worlds waiting to be explored in the rows and rows of books which line up the walls of our playroom.

My father would read and act out the many books which were too hard for me to read but wildly exciting as they tell of great adventures across the seas or a simple but thrilling tale of a gingerbread man being chased around town. Sometimes our toy bears and rabbits were little actors as they played out the tale he was telling.

When I was turning four, my mother sat me down and made me read Ladybird’s “Phonics” series as a past time activity until slowly but surely, I unlocked the door to the many lands and seas and realms only books can bring me to.  

Reading became a fun activity which wasn’t much different from playtime. Whenever we started to grow bored as we visited the grocery store, my parents would place us in their trolleys and give us a book to read. Even when we visited our grandparents in Terengganu, we will visit the bookstore ran by my family, “Alam Akademik” (or “Keda Buku Pok Loh Yunang” as it is fondly remembered by many), where my siblings and I will sit in the cozy reading corner at the store with a stack of books we have chosen to read.

My grandfather had a beautiful library in his house with books that my father will always encourage us to read. However, most of them talked about concepts my siblings and I found to be too difficult to understand. There was a day when my sister and I were ecstatic to find a few books which seemed simpler, but they were written in Arabic and thus we could only try to make sense of the story from the illustrations and with the few Arabic words we have learnt at school.

Despite my inability to understand the books, my grandfather’s library was my favourite room in his house as I found a sense of familiarity and comfort.  

In more recent years, one of my favourite past time activity was to read a book with my father early in the morning while we have our breakfast. We shared a similar interest in book genre and topic which made for interesting discussions. Whenever I found a concept to be confusing, I would often ask my father as he was always able to break down complex subjects into clear explanations. He would also give me sticky notepads to mark interesting pages or to leave some notes in the margins.

However, there were also certain books, such as fictions and retellings of real-life mysteries and unsolved cases, which I enjoyed reading but he didn’t read them as much. He said that he used to read some of them during his university days, but there were other books which fascinates him more as he grew older.

This is when he said there is a choice in reading—in choosing books. The wondrous worlds hidden in books are knowledge; discovering them is learning. And with the limited amount of time that we have in this world, and with the responsibility that we carry on our shoulders to better ourselves and those around us, we need to also learn to evaluate the importance of a book and which of them should be read first.

But there isn’t a fault in reading light materials from time to time, he had said, and thus I would read these books on my own in my room on days when I wish to wind down from a hard week. 

Three years back, my father had planned to rearrange some of the books in our living room. The books were arranged according to topic and there were some titles which were not kept in the right place; either in a rush or because we couldn’t quite decide which section it would fit in best. There were also some books—stacked in a corner, which were either taken out of the bookshelves to be read yet were never kept back in their places, or simply never found their way inside the bookshelves.

However, he passed away before he could see his plans through and I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it on my own. There were moments when I wanted to, and I was about to, yet I didn’t. For when I glanced at a book and read its title, or flipped through one which piqued my interest, I was harshly reminded of the loss that I feel without him. To this day, I would still automatically think of asking my father for an explanation whenever I stumble upon a new concept or theory or a confusing piece of information.

And it hurts when I couldn’t. 

What pains me the most is a sense of disappointment in myself. I would be reminded of when my father encouraged me to read my grandfather’s books which I thought were too difficult to understand, yet I never quite tried. I would be reminded of when my father recommended a certain book for me to read, yet I decided to put it off for a while as I was reading other books which I thought were more exciting. I would be reminded of his advice on understanding and evaluating the importance of a book in comparison to another.

And only now do I feel a sense of urgency to try and learn as much of the things he knew and tried to teach as I could. To hunt for as much books which he had read and left annotations in the margins. To chase after the footprints he left in the sand which are being blown away as the days pass by. 

But there is no use crying over spilt milk and wasted time and ruined chances.

Thus, dusting myself off and restraining myself from falling into the wallows of disappointment, frustration and feeling of incompetence, I finally decided to arrange the stack of books in the corner back inside the bookshelves and (albeit partially) rearrange some of the books my father had intended to.

And though I couldn’t quite keep out the voices in my head which refuse to not cry over spilt milk and are insisting that I am incompetent and a disappointment, I picked a few titles from my grandfather’s collection (which now resides in our home) and tell myself that even though I may have thrown away the opportunity to learn much more, I can still learn to unlock the door to the many lands and seas and realms of knowledge I so wish to discover—slowly but surely. 

This piece was written a year ago and I decided to keep it in it’s original state without changing the “three years back” to “four years back”.

I couldn’t quite bring myself to publish it when I wrote it and so it has been collecting dust in my drafts folder for a year. Publishing it now on a whim.


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