He stepped onto the ferry as he once did so often a few years ago. It hasn’t changed much. Just the seating orientation was different from how he remembered. It used to be rows lined up as if the passengers were all there to watch a movie or a staging that was supposed to happen at the front of the vessel. Now it’s just two pairs of columns of chairs lining up almost all the way back and all the way to the front of the top floor of the ferry, each set of chairs in the pair facing the other. A lot more standing space, a lot less seats.
He made his way right up to the front of the ferry. There was a slight breeze, but not strong enough to blow his fedora off his head. He still held it in place while pacing to the bow though, for lack of anything to do with his hands more than anything. He led the congregation of strangers making their way back to the island of the orient. Or was it the pearl or something? Ah, he couldn’t be bothered. It’s not like it was his hometown or anything. He just studied there.
Right up to the front side on the right wall of the vessel was what looked like a bench that wouldn’t be out of place in a garden of a bungalow somewhere. He rested his weary backside on the far right side of the bench, placing his black Country Road duffel bag to his left so that no one gets too close. His eyes roam the mixture of people before him. Mostly tired-looking people, most probably on their way back home after a long days’ work. He checked his watch. 8:02 p.m. Yeah, they’re definitely from their work places.
Before his eyes could have another go over the light crowd, two men approached him from his blind spot. He only noticed them after one of them said “Duduk sini ya?” He wore a uniform. One of those corporate button up shirts. Must be a ferry worker.
While taking his seat, the other man replied, “Terima kasih.” to which the man in the corporate shirt gave a slight smile, turned on his heels and walked back in the direction he came from.
The other man was blind. He held a walking stick and was glancing all over the place without really seeming to look at anything, even with his eyes wide open. Damn, thought fedora man. Did I just sit on a disabled-people seat? He searched the wall behind him for any signage that would confirm that he was being a douchebag, but besides the wording “Pulau Angsa”, no sign of a logo denoting that it was a “special area” was to be seen. Phew.
The ferry embarked on its 20-minute journey to the island soon afterwards.
He shifted his eyes to the man beside him. Slim. Shirt and jeans; his kind of guy. Looks around his age too, maybe a little older. Besides his walking stick, he had a plastic bag in his hand. Fedora peeked into his plastic bag to find what looked like some Tiger cookies, kuih kacang tumbuk (if that was what they were called) and some other thing he couldn’t quite figure out.
Suddenly the blind man put his hand in his pocket to pull out a phone, one of those old Nokias that had polyphonic ringtones. He unlocked the phone and put it up to his ear, the screen facing outwards. Fedora observed him doing this in suppressed fascination.
He could see that the blind man was on the message page. Rows of texts from “Sayang” could be read when he entered his inbox. Fedora briefly raised his eyebrows. This dude’s blind and he has a girlfriend? God I’m such a loser.
The blind man clicked on his texts and seemed to be listening to them. Fedora did try to eavesdrop on the phone, but he couldn’t get his ear close enough to the phone without seeming creepy, so he sat back. He never knew that phones had a “read text messages for me” feature. Even his iPhone couldn’t do that, as far as he knew.
The blind man continued listening to his text messages for a few minutes before putting it away in his pocket. He then felt around in his plastic bag of snacks and took out the packet of Tiger cookies and sniffed it. Fedora, again, fascinated, wondered if he should offer a helping hand at opening the packet. I want to help the dude, but I don’t want to insult him. He could very well do it on his own, seeing that he’s an adult. Would I be insulted if someone offered to do something I had been doing myself for a long time? I probably would.
While he mulled over the idea, the blind man put back the packet in the plastic bag and took out the packet of kuih kacang tumbuk and sniffed it. After a couple of good long sniffs, he felt around with his fingers the tip of the packet and bit down on the plastic. He tore it open with his mouth, ever so ungracefully, but effectively nonetheless. After a few bites and spits later, his finger went into the small opening he made for himself and opened the hole a little more. He took out one kuih, unwrapped it and ate the thing in two successive bites. While chewing on the kuih, he put the packet back into the plastic bag.
See? Thought fedora. He is perfectly capable of feeding himself. He withheld a chuckle before his eyes again ventured around the not too crowded ferry area.
It is good that Fedora was able to see the dude's ABILITY after knowing what his disability was.
This is a reminder that people do allow the latter to overshadow the former at times.
Thanks Anwar Hadi.
~ Joy Lipao
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