Growing up, you and I have learnt about how important it is to be right. We must do the right things, at the right time, have the right ideas, mix with the right crowd. Don’t we hate to be wrong! The word ‘wrong’ feels so negative, we would rather not tread its waters as much as possible. It seems to be so natural to want to be right all the time. But to my surprise, I discovered recently that once in a while, it’s heartening to discover that one was wrong.
In my home city of Kuala Lumpur, foreign maids have earned a rather notorious reputation. A great number of young parents work, leaving babies and little children under the care of maids. Virtually everyone has heard of unreliable maids – maids who sneak out when they shouldn’t, maids who steal, maids who quit without notice, abandoning babies and toddlers all by themselves – only to be discovered by horrified parents hours later.
One day I went shopping. I was about to grab a tray of eggs when a frail voice near me said, “How much are the eggs?” I turned to my right and saw a graying man with a worn shirt and an old walking stick. “My eyes can’t see properly,” he said. “How much are the eggs, please?”
“It’s RM12 per tray,” I said.
A look of disappointment flashed across his face. “It used to be RM10,” he muttered to himself, looking at the two five ringgit notes he held in his other hand.
“What about those?” he pointed unsteadily towards another stack of eggs.
“Oh, those are RM11,” I said.
“But they were RM10 before this,” he insisted, again looking at the RM10 in his hand.
I wondered, Should I help him? Then my mind went on total recall.
I remembered the lady who walked with a limp and begged for money. After I gave her some, I followed her secretly. To my shock, the moment she thought she was out of my sight, she suddenly walked upright!
I smiled at the old man and thought to myself, “Nope, I won’t be duped again.” Then I gestured at a smaller pile of eggs to his left, “Perhaps you would like to buy those eggs that cost less than RM10?”
Just then, a woman, who must have heard the old man’s last words, said, “Bapak mau yang mana? (Which tray of eggs would you like, Sir?)
The old man again pointed to the tray of eggs that cost RM12.
“Nah, Pak [Here you go, Sir],” the lady promptly took RM5 from a bunch of notes in her grip and gave it to him. “Ambil saja apa yang Bapak mau [Please take whatever you need].”
I helped the old man chose a tray of eggs, which he gingerly held to his bosom. The way he held on to it, as if it was a pot of gold, the most precious thing on earth for him at that moment.
From afar, I watched the old man’s benefactor walk to the checkout counter. She wore a simple and faded baju kurung. On her feet were slippers that had seen better days. And from her language? Yes, you guessed it. She was a foreign maid who worked somewhere nearby.
How honoured I was to witness the act of kindness from an unlikely person. In a split second, my hopes took a quantum leap. My belief in the better side of humanity was restored. I had a sliver of hope that, with lots of prayers and effort, more young parents who desperately need domestic help will be guided to honest, trustworthy maids, just like this beautiful lady, who could care for their babies, toddlers and young children as if they were their own.
Am I glad to be wrong. It never felt so good to be wrong.
One of the wonderful things about growing older is that, sometimes, being proven wrong about people, about life, can be far more delightful, and can bring more happiness and joy than when you are proven right. Now, that reminds me. When I was young, I admired pople who are intelligent. But as I grow older, I admire people who are kind. Isn’t life full of surprises?[ends]
This article was published on page 25 of the February 2015 edition of Alwasat, a bilingual Australian newspaper based in Melbourne. Read it online at http://issuu.com/alwasat2011/docs/february_2015