the torn and tattered blue backpack

i stood behind a teenage boy while waiting to board the bus. unaware of my surroundings because of the music streaming into my ears and my mind wandering far far away, i only realized that the boy standing in front of me was blind when he held up the queue because he needed a bit of time to talk to the driver about when he needed to alight.

i don’t consider myself an unkind person but i’m always a bit clumsy and lost when it comes to helping strangers. i guess it is because i’ve been so accustomed to people being independent and expecting people to be self reliant that it takes a few seconds (maybe my reflexes are just really slow) to respond and a few more seconds to turn the frown into a smile.

this is what i did when i realized the boy was blind – squashed between him and the impatient crowd behind me, i made my way out of the queue and proceeded to the nearest seat on the assumption that it’s probably where the boy is going to sit – he did – i figured i could at least make sure he is looked after during the length of the bus journey.

i watched him throughout the bus ride – out of curiosity, out of admiration and out of concern. what caught my eye was the blue backpack he was carrying. it was literally falling apart and it looked like he has been carrying since he was a kid. immediately, i thought of the brand new blue backpack i got for free from my gym – the brand new blue backpack i was going to give away because it didn’t look stylish enough. i had the urge to ask him whether i could give him my blue backpack but i wasn’t sure how weird that would sound to him and i wasn’t sure if that bag was still lying around somewhere at home.

the disparity between the torn and tattered bag he was carrying and the brand new bag i didn’t even want was too huge. one cannot help but feel slightly ashamed or guilty. in the course of a few minutes, a lot of things seemed less important – it didn’t matter if his clothes added years to his age, it didn’t matter if his bag was falling apart, it didn’t matter if he couldn’t see – because despite not having a lot in my eyes, he seemed to be getting around fine – he could converse like a normal teenager in both English and Chinese, he could move around without anybody’s help and he was a boy who had a place to go. that’s all we need for a dignified life, isn’t it?

i asked him where he was alighting and informed him when it was time to alight. coincidentally, we alighted at the same stop – he alighted from the front door and me from the back. for some unknown reason, i stood at the bus stop and watched him alight on his own and watched the people waiting to board give way. no one offered a helping hand but i couldn’t help but wonder, perhaps, he preferred it this way?

i hung around and watched him made a few calls on his cell phone because i wanted to ask him whether was there anywhere i could walk him to. when i finally had the chance to ask in between his calls, he said “i’m just making a few calls and it’s ok, i can move around on my own.” hearing that made me glad and i couldn’t help but think of the people in his life and our transportation authorities who have in one way or another contributed to assisting them in making their way around independently easier. i was once again hit with the realisation of how little i am contributing to my country and the less fortunate people.

i left him saying “alright! be careful!”.

be careful!?!

i wished i said something a little more intelligent and meaningful.

continued watching him from across the road just to make sure he gets to the other side safely. all that watching – perhaps, all i wanted  was to register life’s re-cap of it’s more important lessons in my mind a little more fully.

thank you, young lad, for this moment.


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