The Art of Giving

There was one shot too much in my coffee.  Slightly more bitter than usual, I hardly consume more than two shots of caffeine.  But it didn’t matter, I had great company.

Buying coffee for a friend is a luxury.  Because it means there is someone who is willing to spend that extra time to talk about everything under the sky or even just silently sipping that dose of richness with you.  It can be an expensive treat, depending where you are, but it’s one of the best ways to cheat Time.  Although, Time isn’t fooled easily.  From one topic to another, next we found ourselves in her car waiting for my ride to go home.

6pm bus rides from Ipoh to Penang normally aren’t packed.  I usually would have a 2-seater all to myself, but that evening, it was a full-house.

A man in a food-caterer’s uniform stood near my seat with his briefcase on the floor.  He politely asked me if the seat was taken, and by his accent I knew he was not a local.  I shifted my backpack and offered him the empty seat.

Since I cannot read in a moving vehicle, and my mind was rather awake from all the coffee, I plugged in my earphones and listened to the soothing voice of Diana Krall.  I was adrift in my thoughts as the tinkering of the piano and deep bass swayed me into a relaxed mode.  The man next to me was fast asleep.

I couldn’t help but wonder why would anyone be working on a Sunday, and catch the last ride to another state on the last day of the week when the next day is an even more obvious working day?  I took a closer peek at the man deep in his sleep and noticed the dark, heavy circles under his eyes.  His hair was disheveled yet despite his tired outlook, his uniform was nicely pressed and clean!

He woke up all of a sudden, to which I pretended to look away.  He reached his hands into his pocket, as though frantically searching for something.  He pulled out a white envelope and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  Staring intently at his document, he removed the staples from the envelope and slowly unfold its content.  A small curve was formed at the corner of his lips.

It was his pay slip.

I forgot how rude it is to stare, and felt slightly embarrassed when he turned to look my way.  The tired-looking man said, “I got my salary today.”  And then he showed me the slip.

That figure felt empty and hollow.  RM600 is not a large amount.  Appreciating his odd gesture to show me his salary slip, I asked, “Do you live in Penang?”

He told me that he works in Ipoh, but his wife and kids are living in Penang.  He’s from Bangladesh, but he has heard from his friends that Penang has better schools.  I wanted to tell him we’re all unfortunately under the same education system but I didn’t want to discourage him.  Then he said that he goes to Penang the same day he gets his paycheck.  He could easily bank in the money to his family yet he wanted to give the slip to his wife personally.  They have better dinner on pay day.  He works 7-days a week, but would take a day off to see his family every month.   Tomorrow evening, he will board another bus back to Ipoh.  And the same routine has been going on for the past eight months.

It wasn’t long before my foreign friend fell asleep again.

I thought about my coffee session with my dear friend.  I thought about my pay as an intern and a scholar every month as compared to the man sitting next to me.  I thought about the people in my life who have given so generously.

Some people don’t have much.  But they have the heart of a cheerful giver.  I still remember the wrinkles that formed at the corner of Kirman’s tired eyes when he smiled as he told me about going home to see his family as he held onto his pay slip.  And a friend who would tirelessly send me morning texts to encourage me when I was fasting.  Or my mom who would bake with a heart of love every, single time.

It’s an odd cycle, designed to sustain mankind and deliver a little bit of kindness.  Each of us possess the ability to give.  Not just because we can, but because sometime back, perhaps we don’t even remember, someone along the way has given us enough.

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