I was driving to class today, sunglasses armed, blocking the rays of the sun as i drove in the narrow street from my house. I parked the car at the side of the road as my friend went in a shop to photostat todays learning issue. I hummed to the music of my broken cd player, hand tapping the sides of the window. Casually, i glanced at myself in the rearview mirror, adjusting the reflection to mine,a black Mercedez was parked behind me, obscuring my view to the back of the car. I pulled the loose strands of my hair as my gaze wandered to this old man walking alone, his clothes hanging loosely from his thin body.
I looked at my watch, it was still early, the tutor would not be there yet. I was fretting to myself about how my scholarship money was going to finish and how soon i would be out of money..Again, i strained my eyes in the mirror, searching for that old man. There was something about him, i just couldnt put my hand on it. He had stopped walking now, his face pouring with sweat in the hot sun. His face was deeply tanned, dark lines creased his small frame and he sat down slowly on the side of the road.
`Bakso, bakso`, called the bakso seller to no one in particular. The old man waved and called to the man pushing the cart full of large meatballs. The old man got up and took a look at the cart. His right hand jingled his pockets in search of the right amount to pay for the bakso. I had lowered the window screen to my car by this time. `Pak, 1 mangkuk bakso pakei mee, pakei tahu cuman rp6000`, the man shook his head. `Kalau gak, pakei bakso cuman rp3000`, again the man shook his head side to side, he was quivering, holding a rp1000 in his right hand. The bakso seller got angry, `kalau gak bisa bayar, gak usah aja!!`.
I did not know what i was thinking, or i wasnt thinking at all, my hands turned the knob to the car door and i made my way to the scene. The angry man was fuming by now. Silently, i handed him the last of my cash, rp6000 i had taken from the car, and asked the man to give the whole bowl to the old man who was by now burying his face in his hands. My friend had not come out of the shop yet, so i sat down diligently by the side of the old man as he managed to crinkle a smile.
`Terima kasih neng` he said as he offered me some. I was motioning to the old man that i had to get back in the car, in my forgetfulness, i had left the engine running. He told me, stay awhile, and listen to what he had to say. I pointed to my watch and told him i was in a hurry, eventhough truth be told, it was a good half hour before tutorial started. Absentmindedly, i kept on sitting there, half acknowledging the awkwardness, half wanting to listen to what he had to say.
He gestured for me to come closer and started the tale in Indonesian~
`I was from a very rich family once, believe it or not`, i nodded, disbelievingly. His eyes twinkled a far away look as he went on. `I had everything i wanted, and i was one of the richest man in bandung at the time. i had married well, to someone living right here in Jatinangor.She is very beautiful, she is, and she bore me 3 healthy sons. I was never at home much, always abroad, keeping the company going. and if i had a holiday, i would rather play golf than spend time with my family. This went on for a long time, until.... there was the fire, oh, you should have seen it. It grazed down the whole house in minutes. I lost everything in it, all the money i had worked so hard to get, was gone, not even a penny was spared.
At first i blamed God, I hated the way He took everything from me and nothing was spared,` he said as he heaved a heavy sigh and looked away for awhile.
`But then one day, I came across this stall selling bakso, it was kind of like this one, except that bakso seller did not come today.Before i went to work in the paddy fields everyday, i would buy an empty boul of soup from him just to fill my stomach. He wanted to feed me for free as there was nothing in the soup, but finally relented and charged me rp500 per bowl. That was all i could afford. It was tasteless and it did not amount to much, but i couldnt buy anything else . My family at home needed to eat more than me, I would rather starve than hear them crying at night out of hunger~
It was my routine to buy this as my meal day in and day out. The years passed and i still ate the same empty bowl of soup. one day, i asked the bakso seller to put in some kicap to the soup, and it tasted really good. Suddenly the soup was full of taste and it kept me full atleast for half a day as i worked in the hot sun. The day after that, i tried adding chilli sauce to it, and it tasted even better. I couldnt remember the last time i tasted something so good. I felt thankful that eventhough it was just an empty bowl of soup, it was delicious to me~
I did not understand~
He gave a rueful smile, his mouth was filled with gaps where pearl white teeth used to be. `After a while, i finally stopped blaming God. I realised everything had a reason, every life has a meaning and every soul has a purpose. Eventhough i lost everything in the fire, i did not loose my family. I did not treasure them much before, but now, they are all i have and i would do anything to keep them safe. Like this bakso here, it was tasteless at first, a bit bitter perhaps. But then, as we go on, there would always be things to make it taste better. Life is like that, we have to find other ways to solve our problems. God has his ways of opening our eyes, and he opened mine just in time.`
My friend came out of the shop at about this time, and i was getting up to say goodbye. The old man wiped his mouth with the tip of his sleeve and motioned for me to wait awhile. `Let me walk you to your car` he said as he patted the dust of his faded pants. We walked silently to my car, both thinking of the past, the present and everything else.
I opened the door to my black car and slid into the drivers seat, the old man gave one last smile as i tugged the handle to the door. Before i could close it, the old man said,`I have something for you,thank you for helping me` I declined the dirty brown envelope he held in his hands, but he firmly placed it in mine. My friend pulled my shirt, it was getting late. I hurriedly thanked the old man and took the envelope. I changed the gears and swerved quickly from the side of the road. I had to hurry, it was 1 already
From a distance i glanced at the rearview mirror.
The figure of a thin man, a shadow in the dusty road.
The old man was standing beside the black Mercedez.
The door to the car was open.
I remembered the envelope, i ripped the sides of the envelope.
There was Rp 1, 000, 000 in it~
** This story was both based on facts, and fiction~
**I really hope you enjoyed it~