Saturday December 24, 2011
Joy to the world
By ALEXANDRA WONG
An encounter in a taxi reminds our columnist how things that mean very little to one could mean a whole lot more to someone else.
IT’S been a good day, and not just because the article about my mum is published today.
After cutting out the article and filing it away, I head out into the sunny morning and brace myself for an action-packed day: TWO slap-up lunch treats await me at posh hotels!
One comes courtesy by Saliza, the plucky founder of a security firm I’d met at an awards event. The second one is an invitation by Dr Jay, another chirpy soul.
I arrive just in time. Saliza crushes me in a bear hug, then hands over a doggy bag. It contains the usual press kit, a canister of mineral water, and ... a muffin? Unusual, but okayyyy.
“Oh wait, there’s one more thing ... very special!” her eyes blaze excitement. She thrusts an umbrella into my hand. Uh-oh.
It was the long slim type, rather than a foldable girly brolly – not exactly the most practical item to lug about. But I say thank you anyway and join the others. Unable to resist the sumptuous Hari Raya buffet, I wolf down quite a bit before excusing myself for my other date.
Just my luck. I end up in a cab with a meter that’s out of order. The taxi-driver is a kopia-wearing haji with Buddha-like patience. In low, languid tones, he explains that getting a taxi meter replaced is a red tape-riddled process. “The queue is very long. I was told I had to wait a few months before it was my turn.”
Where was this going? Did I need to know this? I wonder impatiently.
“How much do you usually pay for the distance between here and Prince Hotel?”
“Err, about RM10?” I wager, puzzled.
“Ah. This is what I do in the meantime. I ask my customers how much they usually pay for the route, then I charge the same rate. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Like there was this one time, this girl told me it would cost about RM6.50, but there was heavy traffic. So she paid me RM7. I was so happy.”
He actually takes his customer’s estimation at face value? Despite myself, I’m intrigued – and impressed. Honesty is already such a rare commodity these days. Trusting other people’s honesty, even rarer. His story draws the memory of another incident from the recesses of my mind.
Mr Y, a client, once invited me to be his guest on a train-ride so that we could work on an article. A free bun and hot beverage were part of this premium RM45 package. Since Mr Y had eaten breakfast, he gave me his bun despite my protests. I took it resignedly and stashed it in my bag, intending to dump it after we alighted; the bun looked dry and unappetising.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when he said: “If you don’t eat it, give it to somebody else. I’m sure there is somebody who could make use of it.”
Was he a mind reader or what?
Shock was followed swiftly by shame. So what if the bun was less than RM2? RM2, RM200, RM2mil – it’s all relative. As the incident replays in my mind, my eyes scour the width and breadth of the taxi, noting the clean and empty seats.
“Uncle, do you have an umbrella?” I ask.
There is an infinitesimal pause just before he says: “Err, I might have one in my boot.”
That split second makes up my mind.
“Uncle, I would like to give you the umbrella I got from the press conference just now.”
There is a long pause before he asks in halting tones: “Why don’t you use it yourself, Miss?”
“Uncle, I once met another uncle who taught me a useful lesson about material possessions. If I take this home, it will just lie useless along with the other umbrellas I have. So why not give it somebody who will benefit from it?”
The haji reacts in the most extraordinary manner. He covers his face with the palms of his hands, then run it down his face.In a voice shaking with emotion, he says: “Alhamdullilah, semoga Tuhan melimpahi kehidupan cik dengan rahmat (May God shower you with grace).”
“Thank you, uncle,” I say gravely, bereft of anything wittier.
My eyes fall on the doggie bag. It’s barely noon, and the cabbie will be driving around in the hot sun trying to earn three meals. My next appointment is another decadent lunch.
“Uncle, do you want water?” I pull out the mineral water canister. Once again, it elicits the same face-cradling and string of holy words. The haji insists on dropping me right on the doorstep of Prince Hotel. He braves several hairy near-misses to achieve this.
“Miss what about your umbrella?” asks the porter who opens my door.
“It’s not mine.” I smile.
As mentioned, I wrote all this way back in September. It could have ended there, but something told me to wait. Before I knew it, Christmas season was upon us, and I knew the message was perfect for the occasion.
On the day I made the decision, I took a taxi to my appointment. When we reached my destination, I glanced at the meter and handed the driver a RM10 note. He handed me back RM6.
“Err, it’s RM4.30,” I pointed out.
My taxi driver smiled and waved his hand airily. “It’s ok, Miss. Once in a while.”
Shivers ran down my spine as deja vu took hold. I knew exactly what to say.
“Terima kasih,” I said. “Semoga Tuhan melimpahi kehidupan encik dengan rahmat.”
> Alexandra Wong (bunnysprints.com) wishes warmest festive cheers to you as we reflect on our blessings. May all of you have a happy and meaningful year ahead.