Monday, May 09, 2005

des's story:The Boy with the Telephone Bill

I had a stack of bills to pay together with a cheque to drop off. I was at a mall in the west on an early Saturday morning and when it was my turn at the SAM machine, a boy, barely into his teen, appeared; carrying a grin that seemed to say everything is alright. He wore shorts and a simple T-shirt with no brands to crow about. As I turned my attention to the machine, he started to stand right next to me; so close that I could almost hear him breathing. I turned my head to see that he was smiling at me and looking at the screen at the same time. Then, I noticed that he had a telephone bill in his hand. Seeing that he had my attention, he began making incomprehensible sounds with his mouth and pointing to his bill and the machine. I wasn’t sure at that point what he wanted, but I could guess easily that perhaps, he wanted me to show him how to pay his bill, yet I could not see any Net card in his possession. On the back of my mind, memories were evoked of healthy looking youngsters at bus-stops asking for a dollar or two, a meal or a bus ride home. It was the way that they asked for it that left me disgusted; as if the whole world owes them something. Anyway, I thought I was entitled to my turn to pay my bills, so I gestured for him to step back, which he did, almost apologetically.

After I had paid my bill, I turned to face him still wearing the same grin and making the sounds without words. I thought to myself that he seemed too nice to be one of those bums. Furthermore, I had noticed that his bill came up to a full thousand dollars. How on earth would he expect such charity from anyone? With that in mind, I proceeded to scan his bill with him by my side watching closely. Shortly, the amount appeared on the screen and I took a quick look at him, not quite sure what to do. Thinking that he might have some lip-reading skill, I began slowly, “You have a card, don’t you?” He shook his head. The next moment, he mouthed something that sounded like “home” and at the same time, brought his fingers together to form a triangle; the roof of a house. I repeated the word after him unconsciously. With a hint of shyness, he took back the bill but not before offering an inaudible “thanks”. He was gone in a whirl, leaving me to wonder whether that was all he wanted. It struck me that he might have wanted me to wait for him while he gets his card and for a moment, I actually considered doing so.

I thought of the boy now and then. No matter how ridiculous it sounds, maybe he thought that by having me scan the bill, the debt would somehow be paid. And he was just telling me he was going home. Then, a sense of shame and guilt would take over. I would ask myself:” Is that all I can do to help?” I actually felt powerless in these instances. And the one thousand dollars suddenly seem to diminish in value and worth.

What have I learnt:
1) Facing others with prejudices – With bad experiences imprinted deep in our mind, we tend, at times, to react according to them without actually seeing with our eyes. It is hard to ignore this so-called “warning mechanism”. Not to sound too much like a cliché, open your mind and heart to each individuals you meet and you will discover the surprises in-store in them. Carrying negative thoughts will only serve to spoil the party that is life itself. I think that the boy never once assumed that I would see him in such negative light. And with that, I was willing to do almost anything for him.

2) Obsession with money – we are simply too obsessed with money given the power it warrants. Admittedly, it is our tool for survival, bringing us basic essentials like foods and shelter. However, money pales in comparison with the human’s spirit. The boy did not need my money and I was too blind to see that. One question remains: who needs more help? Me or the boy? The answer can’t be more obvious.

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