THERE he walks, one unsteady step at a time, one hand holding an umbrella, the other clutching a bag. The sun is bare and bold, neither clothed by clouds nor cares, and onto him does it pour the rawness of its rays.
The large and kindly trees on either side of Jalan Mulia afford him some shade, but soon does their cover fade as Ben shuffles into the main road with effort so great.
He is a big, bull-necked man with a square face. And a little nose perched above wispy lips. One eye is wide open, the other is in a perpetual squint. One arm goes up, one thumb is upraised. He wants a lift.
I am in the Lady. I wave. And holler. He sees, but he does not. He hears, but he does not.
I step out of the car and stride towards him. “Ben!”
He sees me now. “Davey boy,” a wide grin breaks out. “Man, I am glad to see you.” He trundles along, and heaves himself into the Gen2.
Ben is the nightingale which cannot sing, the sparrow which has lost a wing, the eagle which is no longer king.
When I am with him in the dim corner of our usual mamak joint, regret and remorse are the mournful raiment of his voice. I struggle to help him escape from the darkness.
But “night” wasn’t always his fate.
A little over 20 years ago, he was on the verge of graduating from a university in the northwest of the United States. Only three months remained to fulfil his dream and his parents’ hopes. Life had been a very beautiful song.
Then, one day, he got on a motorcycle and rode into a different future.
He pictures the moment well enough. It was a quiet road and a wintry day. He was riding without a helmet. A car leapt out of a junction and into him. His head hit the vehicle hard.
There he lay under the car. He remembers the grim tyre, inches from his face, staring at him. He remembers hearing the driver restart the car, as if to flee. He remembers snowflakes falling about his legs.
He knows that he screamed. He knows that some souls, sent by God or by chance, pulled him out from the gates of death.
But, of the next 18 months he knows nothing. Not the flowering of spring, the breath of summer, the melancholy of autumn and the whiteness of winter.
Ben was in coma for that long. His parents made the long and despairing journey from Malaysia to his hospital bedside, and stayed with him as he travelled from one month to another, neither seeing nor hearing, but maybe dreaming. Of the long episodes in the ethereal world, even he cannot remember.
When he finally awakened, it seemed to him that life had gone to sleep. He could open his mouth, but no words would fall out. He could feel his legs, but no strength lived in them. An eye was damaged, as was an ear and an arm.
His troubles flowed from the fountainhead of all movement and thought — his brain. It was hurt beyond repair.
But, the physicians did not yield to bleakness. Neither did Ben’s poor parents.
Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. An unforgiving mountain was somehow climbed and a measure of speech returned to his lips. Anguished words, at first.
Then, to Malaysia and great uncertainty he returned. He could not walk, his mind was in a maze and a mess. He remembered the distant past — the days of growing up, in school and at home. But, he could not remember what happened last week. Or yesterday.
The souls most troubled by Ben’s condition were his dad and mum. They gave him everything they had and did everything they could.
It was, I believe, by God’s grace that he regained the use of his legs. But, that’s a story for another time.
Twenty years after the accident, he can walk and he can talk. He sees a little with one eye, hears a little with one ear. But, his movement is clumsy at best. His memory is poor. His mind struggles to comprehend what others easily understand.
His dad died a few years ago, tormented to the last by Ben’s fate. Now Ben’s frail mother and siblings care for him. Mercifully, they have the wherewithal to overcome what must be endured.
In our moments together, Ben often says this: “I made a big mistake in my life. I had always wanted to repay my parents for what they had done for me. But, I have made them suffer. I am a useless son.
“Davey boy, I can’t get a job. Nobody understands me. I can’t have a girlfriend. I don’t know why I am alive.”
Such is his sorrow. He did not lose his life in the accident, but of his spirit, who can say?
Yet, he keeps on walking. Every day. One hand holding an umbrella, the other clutching a bag.
Is there good in sorrow?
Is there hope on the morrow?
’Tis wise to know the answer,
Else life will be but a torture.
The writer has been with NST for more 20 years, and possesses a keen interest in history