I just got off work. I just got off the train. The sun was coming down and the tropical heat was subsiding.
The train station is not that far away from home and so I decided to walk home instead of getting on a bus or calling a cab.
I was not feeling that hungry but I figured, maybe I should get something light just in case. There was a Monday market nearby. I made a detour, looking for something I could munch on later at home.
The entrance was a narrow pathway with brick walls on both sides leading into a small square. Narrow, only because food vendors set up their stall on one side of the wall. They sold noodles, fruits, nasi goreng and other items typical in this corner of Asia.
Several beggars lined up along the opposite wall. The passing crowd had to navigate between the stalls, the beggars and those who stopped in the middle of the path, deciding what to buy, apparently oblivious to the foot traffic and the space constraint.
A blind old Malay man sat on an old worn tool wearing a white skull cap, ignored by the crowd. A foreign woman, possibly a Bangladeshi, in her Muslim headscarf, sat on the pavement with her palms extended out, not far from the old man. Her eyes looked down, seemed too ashamed to look up into the eyes of others. A kid, with lines on his face, sat farther away, hoping for a stranger’s generosity by selling ersatz serviette that nobody really needed.
I have been here before and I did not think much of the crowd, or the begging men and women. I was tired. I went on with my business. I walked past the crowd at the entrance, made a quick circuit in the square before deciding on a cheap meehoon for slightly more than three ringgit, packed in a white polystyrene container, apparently banned now. The seller placed the container into a flimsy red plastic bag before handing it to me. I said my thanks and he gave me a weak smile.
I headed out, passing the several beggars I mentioned earlier.
On my way out, a migrant worker was walking in. He stopped, reached out from his torn and worn wallet and pulled out a ringgit for the blind old Malay man on the stool. It did not look like he could afford to be generous, but he was generous to the old man anyway.
I walked on. I was tired and I wanted to get home as quickly as possible.
Halfway to home, walking up the hill, I slowed my pace. A sense of guilt filled my being. I felt so ashamed.
I felt ashamed for the rest of the day.
I wish I had pulled a note or two for those men and women. But no I did not.