Street stain

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A young adult in Singapore reflects on a past incidence of her being unkind and what he/she did about it

Submitted: November 16, 2017

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Submitted: November 16, 2017

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Likewise to a cynical cat, my first reaction was to look upon him with distaste.

I saw him often as I played the role of a passing stranger in plenty of his days. He would wander and hover and bug people to buy his tissue papers, buzzing about while staying in his unmarked territory, anywhere near the entrance of the mall 'Jsquare'. Resorting to being in people's way, was how he made his sales, how he made his living on foot. 

In Singapore, he was a typical tissue seller, old, in his seventies, wearing clothes that are not new but not exactly worn out, probably can't or won't find another job, selling the tissue papers he bought in cheap bulks, kept in a reusable shopping bag large enough to hold a few sleeping bags. 

His price was also typical: one dollar for three packets to big-hearted passer-bys who are willing to spare some change. And by change, it's usually fifty cents for one packet which original price was probably half of that or less; thus to buy tissue paper from a random auntie or uncle in the street can be considered a 'donation' and a reason for the sellers to have the dignity to not be labelled as beggars. Which I usually support, you'll never know when you'll need a tissue paper, and everyone needs some form of dignity. So, that's how it is in Singapore, where even poor people are somewhat high-class, at least selling tissue papers instead of plain asking money for nothing in return like in many other countries.

Tisue paper sellers are common in Singapore and the sellers would usually have some disability; wheel-chair bound, blind, injured limb. And that fact made this seventy-ish-old man not typical; he was perfectly fine and walking! That made no sense to me! Sometimes I would spare a dollar for the physically-disabled people because they might really need it, but this guy? No chance.

I heard some hearsay from a presently ex-friend, Sally, about how this man grabbed my friend just to catch her attention, and I heard this in the typical, may-be-condescending tone us Singaporeans love to use when we complain. That could-be-degrading-but-I'm-just-commenting-negatively-and-I'm-just-being-honest-that's-all tone. Sally, the one who describes strangers she's irked by, including tissue paper sellers, as 'street stains'. I know, if I were you, dear reader, I would be wondering out loud, "Why would you even waste your time with an ex-friend? With someone nasty like that?". Simple, gossipers are entertaining and some of them may speak the truth like Sally. Besides, she was my friend at the time just not now, thankfully. So, with her juiciest part of her news being said, Sally peppered in her opinion of how she suspected him to be mentally not quite right in the head. To finish off, while Sally was at it, she added the fact that he is not disabled like the normal tissue paper seller in her as-a-matter-of-fact voice.

As a stupid, somewhat impressionable teenager, I thought, 'I should really listen to my wannabe politician of a friend since I'm always so blur like sotong, because I'm not street smart or observant like she is.' So naturally, I grew to dislike that man. Not only he is as annoying as a fly loitering around my lunch, but he is also bad in this way and that, nevermind that I'm nitpicking; my stand on my judgement of him is 'valid' because 'trustworthy' Sally supports it, right?

Boy, was I wrong. All those mean, condemning glances I tossed him; those weren't justified, those looks could be classified as bullying. That one time I ventured to avoid him by jerking my body out of his reach. Those times I had myself walk on the dirty, grassy path, instead of the pavement just to get out of his way. I was wrong, and I saw that.

I saw that the day he had to bring himself a chair, to sit down. Because the long hours of standing up were worsening his damaged, loose kneecap, I could tell from the cast on his knee that I never saw when he stood up.

I saw him sitting there, forlorn and alone.

He wasn't to be despised, far from it. He was probably just someone trying to survive on some sweet-hearted strangers' loose change. Or maybe he was bored of life and lonesome from his empty house. Or perhaps... I wouldn't know, I don't know his life or him, so why did I judge him so unfairly? That poor old man is a fellow human being, like my own grandfather whom I love, like me.

I was so wrong.

I stood watching him, from the supermarket nearby the mall. I had just bought three bottles of water at a discount, three deadweights in a plastic bag.

I noticed a packaged meal of chicken rice by his side, which was waiting to be his dinner. So I gave him a single bottle of water to go with it. Now, it was not the act that erased my guilt, it was the smile on his face when I did, it was the solemn promise i swore that I would never be outwardly unkind to someone like that again. Thus, I had cleared the stain on my conscience, after realising that the only street strains are not the tissue paper sellers, but unkind people.

I don't know about you or my ex-friend Sally but I was glad to break free from that habit of judging strangers, and I hope to stay that way.


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