Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Keropok Seller


Tusk, a human-like creature, was stirring in his sleep, making noise which startled Tom and Alice who were sitting not far away.
"Tusk is having a bad dream," said Tom.  "I wonder what nightmares Tusk have?".
"Humans, probably" replied Alice.
 - Seventh Son


Every night since his return he has been occupying a portion of the walkaway near to the entrance of a building, as he has always done in the past. The spot he chose is rather strategic for the building houses a petrol kiosk and a bank, and is the main entrance to the ATM lobby. Even then, the man is humble enough not to let his piles of goods nor his very presence block anyone's path. His absence has gone unnoticed. His presence, some may find disturbing. He acknowledges that by never offering anything to anyone but making sure his goods are displayed well to be noticed.

Occasions have been few but I have had the luck to observed men stopping by, not to buy his keropok (crackers), but just to chat with him. Each time a man does, I notice a big smile on his face. It is as if he values a small conversation as much as he does a sale. Sitting there each night he must have seen or felt  the silent insult of a few of the throng that pass by. A simple wave, a nod, a smile, and especially a small chat, could perhaps mean that he is acknowledged as another human, amongst the sea of humans he see. A sale then, would perhaps bring him delight and deep gratitude - the pittance spared by a stranger, could mean a live-hood for his family back home. On rare occasions, a stranger would slip a large note into his pocket without taking anything in return. "For your meal (or coffee)" the stranger would most probably have said, leaving the man ceasing his small protest and mayhaps, with a tear in his eye.

He is not a beggar, the man. He is plying a small trade, the only one he knows, to make a decent living for himself and his family. But perhaps, the word 'decent' is already luxurious here. From the few trips I have had, many of the houses I have seen, a simple straw mat may serve as the wall of their houses. At best, it work as a flimsy defence against the elements of nature, and that is all they can afford.

That night, I joined the few that have kept him accompanied even for a short spell. I asked about his long absence and was greeted by an almost teary face.

While trying to help a neighbour with their power supply, he was mildly electrocuted. Even so, he has lost sensations of some of his body parts and the medical treatment from at the local government hospital has not improved his condition at all. He was in bed for slightly less than a month. Soon as he was up, he began plying large tins of sands scooped with his bare hands in a riverbank near his village and pedalled to a contractor in a town some 2lm away. Apart from being able to provide some, he was hoping to stimulate his nerves and muscles - both did not worked out as he had wanted. Finally, he contacted his agent again, which soon found him back at his familiar spot. The man, like perhaps the millions as reported in many dailies, is one of the illegal foreign workers(or PATI as they are known) here in Malaysia.

 They come from Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, The Phillippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and a few other countries including from Africa. We know them and we see them daily. Sadly, some chose not to.

My writing this is not because of anything but understanding their plight. Many of them due to poverty at home with a few caused by political oppression. It has to be admitted though, yet a few more are taking advantage of the whole situation. While the man above would be listed as a beggar by the authorities. I would prefer to think him as a PATI for he is selling his keropok that is made in Narathiwat. Above all, I would prefer to call him simply by his name.