by Alison Kult
It was the most peaceful sleep I had in a long while. The distant echo of cars racing by was drowned by the sweet, calming sway of the December night breeze. Reassuring, encouraging me that everything would be okay. The bed was soft and comfortable. The pillow was even more welcoming. It was one of those nights when you realised how blessed and fortunate you were. I wrapped the blanket around my body and snuggled closer to the warmth of the bed. Feeling a strong draught teasing my toes, i wrapped the blanket tighter around myself. Securely. As if someone would grab it from me. Even in my deep sleep, i prayed the night would not end. But i knew that in a few hours, the morning sun would rise, and the beauty of the moment would be lost forever.
I must have fallen asleep after that, because I woke up to the deafening horn of a car.
‘Oi, Kirap ! Mi tokim upla ol disla line lo noken silip lo hia ya!’ yelled the owner of the building as he parked his 5 door land cruiser.
‘upla ol disla line’. Was I a different species? Or maybe a different race? I cursed the owner silently. The only difference between us were materialistic possessions – He had a loving home to go to at night- I didn’t. He was guaranteed a meal at night- I had to struggle for any meal. I was born into a bad situation. But I was a Human. Just like him, but in a different, much different situation.
I rubbed my sleepy eyes, forcing them to open and remain open, as i begin to pack. After shoving the laplap i used as the blanket into the bag used as the pillow, I discarded the thick box that had been my bed into the nearby bin. I stood up slowly on the cement in front of the trading store, my brain trying to adjust to the quick transition of my state of mind. The shop owner must have felt guilty at the unsympathetic tone he used, because as I was about to walk off, he slipped a K10 note into my hand and reminded me, in a less aggressive tone, not to come back and sleep in front of his shop.
I wandered aimlessly along the line of closed shops. Deep in thought, i nearly stumbled over the stairs of the BSP Bank. Repositioning myself, I asked the drowsy BSP security guard for the time. He ignored me for what seemed like hours. Thinking he didn’t hear me, I asked again for the time. He turned around, gave me the ‘get lost before I stand up’ look and kept starring into the morning air. As I was about to mumble something unpleasant, he finally took out his phone.
‘4.45’. he replied impatiently, more to himself than to me.
Aggravated at waiting for this simple answer, I scanned my escape route.
‘Thank you Bubu’ I yelled as i sprinted away.
‘Usait Bubu blo yu?!’ Yelled the Security Guard attempting to chase after me.
‘Oi go bek lo bank bubu, nogut ol rascal kum!’
Laughing hysterically, I ran off to the other side of the road and slowed my pace upon realizing the Security Guard retreated. Trying to catch my breath, I strolled slowly towards the main road and stood still, surveying the vicinity. It was silent and serene. It was hard to imagine that this was the 4 Mile bus stop, and in an hour or two, the station would be filled with buses and commuters.
As I passed a Chinese shop, I noticed an elderly man sleeping in front of the shop. Sensing intrusion, he raised his head and looked crossly at my direction.
‘Sorry stret. Mi no min lo kirapim yu’. I apologised.
‘Mangi, em hat lo lukim yu. Eye pas ya, but disla yau blo em sa sap stret’. A security guard called over from the next shop.
Stunned, I eased my pace to steal a glance at the old man. What I saw blew me away. The blanket he used to cover himself ended a few centremetres from where his knee cap should have been. Not only was he missing his eye sight, but both his legs. I stopped in my tracks with utter disbelief.
The security guard, pleased to have company, added, ‘Liklik Pikinini boi bilong em tupela save silip lo hia. Nau chol boy em kirap na go. Em ba kum bek klostu.’
I walked to where he was lying down, and absent-mindlessly pressed the K10 to his limp hands. The old man held onto both my hands and tightened his grip. Assuming he wanted to say thank you, I inched closer and gave his hand an affectionate squeeze. He lifted the back of my right hand slowly to his mouth and placed a kiss on it. There was a tear falling down his tired eyes as he let go of my hand. It was the most beautiful moment in my life. The old man’s gratitude and appreciation was expressed in a way words would never be able to.
I walked away a different person that morning. I begin assessing my own life. I had to forgive my parents for dying to AIDS and living me with no one that could provide the necessary care and affection a tender child of eight required. The 15th of August marked the third year since their death and the third year since I have been living with my mother’s sister, the cruel Aunty Rita. Regardless of the fact that her husband physically abused me whenever he felt like, or that sometimes I would go without a meal for two days, the encounter I had with the old men restored in me the hope and aspirations I had for a better future. From that time onwards, I promised myself to stop the practice of sleeping on the streets when the abuse at home got out of hand, and to focus on my studies at school. The old man’s genuine gratitude towards this simple act of kindness rejuvenated my perception of life itself.
Twenty years later, I am still grateful for that encounter. Despite running a law firm, or owning the fancy houses and cars, I will always be humbled by the gratitude the old man showed as it was his thankful heart that changed mine forever.