By Ng Jung Kian.
Jung Kian is a student at University of Southern Califonia with an intended major of Mechanical Engineering. He believes that national unity can be achieved via equal access to quality education for all citizens.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a black, wet bough.
It was Hari Raya Haji as I remember. I had little idea what that meant to me. It was only another holiday on the Malaysian calendar; a calendar that is filled with different celebrations. It would not be possible to get a bus ticket a night before such a key festival, but the urge to go home beat the ability to think rationally. So there I was at the bus station, anxious to get home.
A man was talking to an attendant trying to sell an extra ticket he had in hand. I was fortunate to overhear the conversation. But I was skeptical, simply because he was not of my race. However, thinking of home, I was left with no option. So I bought it from him. We walked together to the waiting area, but at times, I distanced myself from him. Why? Well, because I was uncomfortable walking with a stranger. It was a relief for me when we decided to walk our separate ways until boarding time.
Every single corner of the bus station was filled by people who were anticipating the arrival of their buses with much hope. So I joined them at a small little corner as I looked forward to the arrival of my bus. I rejoined the man in a human wave. They were pushing each other, squeezing just to get an inch forward. We smiled at each other and shook our heads. We took a step back, trying to separate ourselves from the crowd, thinking we were more civilized than those people. Indeed, we were.
The ticket in hand no longer guaranteed a journey home as time went on. The crowd’s anxiety level increased exponentially. To prevent a riot from erupting, the bus attendants had to lead us all out from the crowd. I felt like an illegal immigrant waiting for the next train to sneak across the border. Or like a war refugee, waiting for the next train to flee the country. Hope was raised when buses arrived. Hope was ruined when we realized they were not for us. The crowd burst out running when the right buses arrived after hours of waiting. My new friend convinced me to do the same. I ran so fast that I believed I could easily break the world record if somebody were there to time my running.
This friend brought me to the right bus and we boarded the bus that would promise us home. We sat down, relieved. But, things did not end there. A man warned us this was the wrong bus for us. It was all too late after we checked with the driver. Our seats were already taken. With the tickets and seat numbers, we could have gotten back our seats. But both of us did not try, for we knew it would be a waste of time.
The driver pointed us to the last seat available. I took the seat without a second thought. I took a deep breath, thinking I’d get home as soon as the sun rose the next day. The door closed, and the image of this new friend crossed my mind. I looked out from the window – he was already out there, standing along with those who failed to find their buses. He waved at me with a smile, as if telling me to take good care of myself on my way home.
I waved back.
I was like a big bad guy, waving and laughing at him before he walked away. He sold me the ticket; he got me into the bus. I wouldn’t be sitting in the bus if not for him. My eyes welled up with tears. He changed my perception. He erased the stereotype I had in mind. I learned that every race had good Samaritans and the converse of it. I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable with the difference of our skin color.
Good guys are hard to come by these days. And I had met one. I am still grateful to have met him. He had a reason to go home, a Raya to celebrate, but I took away his only chance to reunite with his family. I was so ruthless to have abandoned him. I wish I could go back in time and change what I’d done. He truly deserved the seat, as if his name was carved on the back of the seat. It saddened me even until today, though I know his calm face and his kind smile would fade away in time. I can only recall his silhouette and say thanks to him every single night.