She claimed she is a student from Nepal. She approached me, asking if I am one? Many thought that I am still in my teen years, and so that question is legitimate. Those far older than me said I have a young face that does not age. Legitimate or not, I was on guard for deception. Why would a stranger ask me that?

Several exchanges of questions and answers later, it became apparent. She was soliciting for donation. A school in Nepal was building a library. No, it was not a physical library. It was an e-library.

My mind went to work. Why would a poor country like Nepal want an e-library? Why not just have a plain old library? Something did not seem right and I did not really want to entertain her. And if she was being truthful, it would be a stupid project.

I quickly said no to her. Politely of course. No reason for rudeness. She was kind enough to say have a good day to me despite the disappointment. I did not care of her disappointment. I suspected she was lying.

I have had many such encounters and I have mastered the art of saying no firmly. The train of thought ran cleanly to reach a rehearsed conclusion. Suspecting the solicitor was lying made it easier.

Later in the day, I found myself pumping gas into a car that I drove. It was just another day at the gas station until an old Malay man with some white hair probably in his 50s or 60s came up to me. I was listening to my iPod, trying to pass the time as quickly as possible and so, I did not really hear what he said when he came up to me. But he held up his two fingers and then made a gesture toward his mouth and stomach. I understood.

I automatically raised my hand to refuse. It was a reflex honed so well, that I did not think of what just happened. I felt nothing. It was a unthinking reflex.

Now, hours later, a pang of guilt is all over me. My conscience is rebelling, asking what if that was you?

I understand what it means to be hungry. I do not mean voluntary hunger or fasting. Despite what Muslims say of Ramadan, how fasting is meant to empathize the suffering of the less well off, the voluntary (in the sense you choose to adhere to the religious duty; it is a matter of whether you want it or not, not can or cannot) nature of it prepares one’s mind for the hunger.

Real hunger comes not out of volition. Real hunger comes due to circumstances that are out of your control. That happened while I was at Michigan. I was constantly hungry for one reason or another. Sometimes it was the cash, being too thrifty and all. Sometimes, it was the restrictive Muslim diet.

The worst was when I went on without eating for more than 24 hours while hiking deep within the Tuolumne Canyon, in the middle of nowhere. The circumstances were one out of stupidity, but it did not matter how it happened. It happened and that is all that matters.

The pain from hunger along with the exhaustion was unbelievable. I had not felt anything worse before, nor anything worse since. The stomach growled endlessly. The hands would shake in a way that shocked me. It was pain that reduced me to tears, I foolishly hoped those tears would make things better. It did not. Pure will and effort did it instead.

As I emerged from the other side of the canyon, a couple saw the state I was in. They took pity of me and drove me to the nearest food place.

It would be preposterously insulting to compare my experience to that of starvation elsewhere. My hunger then is not comparable to the more serious cases of starvation. Still, what matters is that I remember it.

I had forgotten of that experience until today. That experience replayed in my mind as I drove away from that gas station. He asked for a mere two ringgit to relieve his hunger. I said no.

In the rear-mirror, I saw a dejected face. His hunger looked genuine. Maybe out of the hunger, he decided to sit by the pump, trying not to think of it. My heart cracked, but I did not turn around. I did not notice it cracked.

I drove off and on my way home, I played various scenarios in my head. Was it real? Was he being lazy? Was he just lost? If I had given him the money, would he endeavor to prevent the same misfortune to happen again?

I understand the value of second chance. I had mine, multiple of times even, never mind a second chance happening multiple of times is oxymoronic. But it did happen and I cherished all those chances. I could have given his.

If I had given the money, would he ask for more? Justification after justification ran through my head, trying to calm my conscience down. I told myself, I do it all the time and I hate people monetizing pity. Many beggars purposefully display their pitiful state for many others instead of just investing a little effort to actually work. Real honest work. Observe the pity merchants in Bangsar or in the old part of Kuala Lumpur. The lies of it all.

It is all over the world. I have seen it to not naïvely buy whatever goods the pity merchant is selling. Pity is their business and that business is distastefully despicable.

I used that to starve off the noisy troublesome conscience of mine but it just does not want to keep quiet. It does not because the old man appeared genuinely dejected when I said no. He was not professional beggar. He was genuinely in trouble, hungry. I know he was not a pity merchant. He was real.

With that knowledge, my conscience is using my experience to punish me. The unbearable nagging continues. It is angering that it is continuing on so loudly and consistently.

To hell if the old man would beg again tomorrow till eternity. I do not care how perverse an incentive two ringgit can be to the man. I do not want to think rationally of the consequences. Two ringgit is cheap for a clear conscience. I could have bought a clear conscience. Why did I not buy it? I could buy it with my own.

A lot of others shamefully buy it with others’ money. Yes, they buy it.

I wish I had just given the damn two ringgit of mine to the old man. It is my money and no one else’s. It is my conscience and no one else’s. Fucking two ringgit for a whole lot of trouble is not worth it.

But it is too late now.

5 Responses to “[2448] That fucking two ringgit”

  1. on 27 Oct 2011 at 16:05 Bobby

    Wow, didn’t realise you were so easily consumed by guilt.
    When I was small, my mom would take me out on meals almost every other day.
    There would always be beggars (although there were noticeable fewer 30 years ago) coming around with plastic cups or outstretched hands.
    My mom would literally scream at them and make them embarassed just to be there.
    I never questioned my mom’s actions although I’m sure she could see my puzzlement without my saying a word.
    I think that she believed I was old enough and told me,”Look, it’s not that I don’t believe in charity.
    Does that Uncle have his 2 hands and 2 legs? That means he can move.
    That means he can WORK”.

    Don’t be taken so easily, Hafiz.
    If that pakcik didn’t get his 2 ringgit, his world and life will not end there and then.
    The harsher school of thought is that by giving these people money, we are actually encouraging them to beg.

  2. on 01 Nov 2011 at 11:19 Anonymous

    I always believed God will always pay me back whenever I gave money to beggars, whether they are selling tissues or not selling anything. Or whether I need to give my 2 ringgit 10 times a day….

    Lying, scam or simply lazy, it is not within my dictionary. It’s between them and their God.

    How lucky we are to have meals 3 or 4 times a day, to drink a cup of coffee with such unbelievable price, still can afford to use a car notwithstanding the price for petrol went up or down…


  3. on 20 Jan 2012 at 17:21 Che

    Give and you shall receive.
    The more you give, the more you shall receive.
    Everything we thought ours, are actually Allah’s
    Allah knows better!

  4. on 20 Jan 2012 at 23:52 Hafiz Noor Shams

    Maybe Allah didn’t want to give it in the first place…

  5. […] have been thinking about this for a long time now, ever since that man came up to me at a gas station and asked me for money. I refused him and I felt bad as I thought myself, maybe it was in a tough spot. I began to felt […]

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