This post has previously been published on GarfieldNyan and is reproduced with the permission of the author. This is Raffael Lim’s first article on LoyarBurok.
On the way back from KL, I saw an old Indian lady, dressed in a somewhat shabby dress, in the LRT. Her appearance was one of great hardship, exemplified by the undulating creases lining her face. She was sitting alone on the seat, her tiny eyes never raised upwards, with two bags (whose contents I could not decipher) on the floor. She started to doze off, her extremely frail hands supporting her haggard, pristinely confused face, and her head gradually continued to fall downwards till her knees, as if she was caught in a restless stupor. One cannot be faulted to assume, a priori, that she was deprived of much needed sleep. Even the occasional intermissions during the journey did not wake her up from her slumber; even if she was aroused, it was only momentary, so as to scan for dangers in her surroundings with her brazen yet sympathetic searching eyes.
When we finally arrived at our destination, she was still oblivious to this fact. Somehow, reality prodded her, and she arose from her seat with great difficulty, took her bags and slowly walked out. It was only when she stood up that I realised how short she was, for the crowd around her was at least twice her height. She exited to the carpark with trepidation in her steps. Having found a shady spot under the overhead railway, she proceeded to sit on the sidewalk. I admit I was interested to know her and hesitatingly followed her. I circled around the carpark, acutely nervous, and almost wanted to escape from her presence. But I just couldn’t. Meeting her, I gave her some spare change and bowed down, she too bowed down in return. I thought this was the end. I shall just move on. My task (if any) was done. But curiosity overwhelmed me. I returned to her.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Oh, I just live over there,” she replied, her hand pointing to a certain direction.
I was honestly shocked. I didn’t expect her to reply with such calmness. Her tone was lucid and measured, and from our subsequent conversation it was obvious she had a decent command of the English language. These were some of the information I managed to rummage from her.
She was a retiree, having previously taught English and Mathematics at a local college. She was just coming back from a temple and just wanted to rest in the shade, contented with the breezy winds lashing against her body. She couldn’t bear being alone in her house with nothing to do, she was one who actively seek life and socialise whenever possible. She had a son who was working in a bank and a daughter who’s currently studying in a public university. All in all, she was a very different person from what I expected her to be i.e. a victim who fell through the vast gaping holes of our country’s social safety net, suffering from the plights of poverty.
We could have talked more but I needed to catch the bus so we both bid each other farewell. But I returned home with a great lesson – never judge someone by his or her appearance. As cliché as it may sounds, if I never cleared my misconceptions of her, I would have remained ignorant and continued to believe in my own perception of her. This error of judgment may be a harmless one, but if replicated in the public sphere (in the form of hasty, prejudicial, sweeping statements unfortunately common nowadays), the repercussions would be even more damaging. Only when one sincerely intends to know one another, from one human to another human, that this issue could possibly be resolved.
Oh, before I forget, she also mentioned she didn’t like watching television. I wonder whether I should believe her about that (misconceptions die hard!).