Monday, December 24, 2007

Kassim and the One Legged Trishaw Driver

In the fifties most of the kids went to school in trishaws.

These three wheeled vehicles were commonly parked outside the Chinese Temple in Pulau Babi, the Lido Cinema, the Rex Cinema and the Palace Cinema. A few were found in the Lau King Howe hospital. There were probably about ten taxis.

Life was slow paced and perhaps we knew almost everyone.

And best of all, we were always looking out for each other.

Not many families had their own car. My father did not own a car until he started working in Bukit Aup where my grandfather started his brickyard. He bought his first British made Land Rover. For a while we kids were not too happy with the purchase because we would rather have a sedan, not a multipurpose one but any way we got used to jumping in and sitting at the back. We would also squat down and look out from the back. We loved the canvas flipping in the wind.

Kassim the driver took my sister and I to school. So we had the nice cushioned seats all to ourselves as only two small persons could occupy them. A larger person would take one whole trishaw to himself or herself.

I sort of looked up to Kassim because he would tell us little stories, some without beginning and some without ending, just to entertain us. He could speak a bit of English. But it was the funny, mixed up ,punctuated with some Hokkien,Pasar Malay ,that we learned from him. But .we also we noticed that he had a whole range of moods. He could be very happy one day and very sad another day. But basically, he was a very caring person. On rainy days, he would take his umbrella to shield me from the rain, and carry my sister on his arms, right to the school.

One day he told us the story of a Malay man without a leg and how he pedalled a trishaw with all his might just to feed his family of six, including his old parents.
I developed so much sympathies for the handicapped as a result, thanks to Kassim.

At that time I was too young to know that this Malay man was actually diabetic and had lost his leg to the disease. Many years later I worked at the hospital as a volunteer selling basic necessities to patients who had no visitors like orange juice, toilet tissues, sanitary pads,etc I came across this very old man without a leg. I was told that he was a trishaw driver and I realised that he was the very one-legged trishaw driver we had in Sibu.

Trishaw drivers, and taxi drivers formed a very special breed of breadwinners in Sibu and they were all from the various races. Whenever they grouped together, under a big angsana tree or a banyan tree, to play a round of cards, or a game of chess, these men would be so happy and chatty. They were all darkened from the tropical sun.

As a child it was fun to watch them. And one very endearing sight was when I caught sight of them falling asleep in their own trishaw or taxi. In my innocence I had no idea how hard their life was, how much worries they had and how long their hours were.

But Kassim would also be in my mind as the role model of a great and caring trishaw driver. He was part of my life for a few years. In such simple ways of story telling and chats, he made me see from different perspectives. And the one legged, diabetic trishaw driver would be the saddest image in my mind for ever. Life is not fair! Perhaps it was Kassim who helped me soar above the ups and downs of life later.

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