Saturday, August 8, 2009

The night with the old man

June, 2009: Sydney

The night with the old man

I hate waiting. Every sensible person does but the odium I have for waiting is unusually at its crest.

That night, I had to do just that- wait for my bus to arrive. It is usually on time. What more, it isn’t this cold and freezing either.

Remember how Murphy stressed that law of his on things that can go wrong “will go wrong”? Well I never argued his point but hey, I didn’t need to be convinced either. Having to fight biting cold out in the dark, on a day I chose to wear just a tee, hungry and tired, waiting for the bus that never arrived. Murphy!!!!!!!!!!

My watch beamed past midnight. The Central station was deserted and why not? It was time for normal people to go to bed. As for me, the gracious act of procrastination I embraced left me with my assignments until the eleventh hour. And so I exited my university late. I shot over hundred glances at the bend far end, hopeful a bus would appear anytime soon.

Well it never did. Instead, after what seemed like decades, an old man carrying a rucksack came into view. He sauntered around before taking a spot near me. I quickly animated a smile and turned back, dodging any possibility of having a conversation with him.

From his fluffy grey hair, tanned and wrinkled face I deduced he must have crossed 50. His shoes and pants were soiled so he must be working for a construction. Breaking the silence after every interval, he coughed. Must be smoking, I told myself.

As my hair stood in an attempt to defy cold, forming goose bumps, I clutched myself hard. I gritted restlessly, more so because of cold. May be I should just give up the wait. So I geared to look for a cab. A rustle beside me stopped me from picking up my bag.

I looked up and the old man loomed in front of me. He was much older than I thought. While I was trying to find my voice to ask what he wanted, confronted by this abrupt encroachment, he slipped his coat off him and lifted it in front of my face.

“This will keep you warm until the bus comes,” a strong native accent echoed in my head.
It caught me off guard but I was quick to refuse, sounding very nervous. After an awkward silence, I managed to thank him for his gesture. For another minute he kept insisting on taking the coat and I kept refusing it. Inside my mind, guilt spawned remembering the shameless self-sympathy and hostility I displayed.

After the man put on his coat back, he took his spot, and coughed. I was dazed by the thought of a stranger offering his coat and not minding the piercing breeze himself. I was touched.

I couldn’t help but start a conversation thanking him all over again. In next 15 minutes, I learned the man lived a hard life, deprived of family and love, surviving on a minimum. He had never been to a school, did not have bank account on his name, and lived in hundred different places trying to make ends meet.

“Life is what you live out of what you have so I never felt poor,” he said, flashing a yellow teethed grin towards me. A lump formed in my throat and was too choked to say anything.

At that instant, a bus came roaring in and screeched stop in front of us. Before boarding the bus, I turned back to the man and thanked him for the last time. He smiled back. As the bus started moving, I was asking myself, is that what people call the “heart of gold?”

I don’t mind waiting anymore. Who knows what might happen?