The Man With The Pamphlets
As our car drove in to the parking lot, I saw him for the first time. He did not look any different to me from far. A neatly dressed man giving out restaurant pamphlets. I did not bother giving it a second thought. I was too occupied with enjoying every bit of my time with Ashik after a crazy week of work (for him, that is). And then I was about to watch Harry Potter later in the evening. So, there was nothing that could spoil it. I happily stood with Ashik while he was buying the parking coupon and was smiling my way through the night when I saw him again. This time my heart leaped out of my body at the sight. He was no regular college kid giving out pamphlets to earn some extra bucks. The man standing in front of me distributing pamphlets was an old man with shaky hands and a kind smile. If I would say tears swam in my eyes at that sight, I wouldn't be exaggerating. Nevertheless, like every other time when I turn my face away from such heart-piercing sights convincing myself that it is fate and there is nothing that I could do, I walked past him making sure I take one of his pamphlets. I also urged Ashik to take one though it was completely irrational. I walked away without giving him a second look chanting fate but my mood had definitely taken a turn. I felt bad for quite a few minutes. Eventually I adjusted to it and had begun enjoying again.
Since we had the pamphlets from the old man now advertising a restaurant, we went there for dinner. Things were going smoothly when my heart sank again with another sight. It was the same man walking in to the restaurant to report end of his duty. He stood awkwardly at the door waiting for someone to approach and then sat quietly when the manager asked him to wait. He looked tired yet there was smile on his face. This time I did feel tears in my eyes. What in the world forced this well dressed man of such age to work so hard in a foreign country? Where were his children and how did he end up here? Ashik was equally affected by the sight and our appetite had definitely gone for a toss. We discussed the same between us, cursed his kids who could leave him this way and thought there should be more comfortable jobs for people of that age if they so have to work. Yet it did not lesson the pain in our heart. We both wanted to help him personally but we knew there was nothing really that we could do. And then it struck me. Is it really true? There is nothing we can do? While I was on this thread of thought, Ashik, no longer able to contain this torture asked me if I could talk to him and see if there was anything we can do to help. I was shocked but at the same time raring to go. I really wanted to do something to make things easier for the man. I finished off my dinner fast to not miss this opportunity.
He was still waiting for the manager when I approached him. Funnily I wasn't afraid even though there was a good probability that he would shoo me away with anger in a public place. The public humiliation did not play any role at all in my mind. I walked to him casually and said hi to him. He looked up surprised and smiled. I introduced myself as someone who took the pamphlets from him and hence came to this restaurant. He nodded happily. I tried doing some small talk on how good the restaurant is, etc but I couldn't wait longer to jump to the real question.
Suddenly I blurted out, "Aren't you tired? How long have you been standing there giving out pamphlets?"
"Oh not much. I was with these people since 5 in the evening. Before that, i was distributing the dentist pamphlets. And before that...you see the car shop there. I was distributing theirs" he replied with a smile.
"For how long were you on the street?" I asked aghast and recalling how I was complaining that the say was too hot and AC not too cold.
"Since 11 in the morning"
I had to pause before I could speak again. I needed that to compose myself again and not burst out crying. I smiled at him and said, " Is that OK to stand all along? Why don't you search for a more comfortable job?"
"Oh....this is nothing. I stand under the shade there" he said pointing at a closed shop opposite to the restaurant.
"and then, I am over 65. I cannot get a job in any company here" he finished with another of his kind smiles which tore my heart this time.
He was above 65 years of age. He was exactly the age of my grand mother and just about 5 years younger to my grandfather. I know for a fact that neither of them could stand for more than an hour without feeling tired and mind you, they are the fittest people I know in my family (including youngsters).
Slowly it was anger that got hold of my heart. Why is he here doing this in the first place? Is his family so poor that even he has to resort to earning? That was my next question and no prizes for guessing. This old man was turned away from his daughter's house in US for they did not need him anymore! This daughter owns a convenience store, and 2 motels in New Jersey. She is not a poor kid needing helping hands. She just did not have space to accommodate her father who raised her ensuring she had this secure future. Mind you, this was the way I thought about his daughter. For him, she was still a sweet daughter who is not able to keep him with her. He went on to narrate proudly about the motels and convenience store she owns with her husband while I tried hard not to show how disgusted I felt at her. I came to know that he lived nearby the restaurant alone and his routine starts from about 10 in the morning till 9 at night. I ached to do something for him and asked if he knows how to work on a PC. Unfortunately he did not but he became quite interested to know how I could help him. I did not want to give much hope at a time when I did not have any. However, we exchanged phone numbers and asked him to get in touch with us if he needed any help any time. It was quite difficult leaving him and trust me, I had half a mind to get him home. It was difficult for Ashik to listen to it later and we spent the rest of the drive to the movie theater in silence. He just said one thing before this topic was finally closed. He said, "His children are going to get back the fruits of their actions in this birth only. That is justice that God delivers. Let us do something for people like him".
He said exactly what I felt. I resolved then and there that I would do something for people like him. I do not know what. But for the first time, I feel a purpose within me. I always search for start-up ideas, how to build a company and become an entrepreneur and earn loads of money. In spite of so many brilliant ideas, none of it really took flight. Because it lacked heart. Today, however, I feel the purpose and heart to make a difference here. The best part is I am not thinking about money at all. I just need to make things easier for them. I cannot erase all their pain but there must be a way I can help them. Through better jobs, better shelter, or better food? Some small or big way that would help them endure this humiliation and hard time with better ease.
The people I am talking about are not ordinary people. They are in their golden age. They have more than half a century of experience behind them. They have seen and felt things that we haven't even begun to comprehend. They have seen the ups and downs and are now wise enough to take further hardships of life with a smile. But they do not deserve it. This age is their time to rest. To lay back and enjoy life for haven't they worked enough since the last thirty years? Haven't they sacrificed enough to ensure we have a good future? Haven't they toiled enough to bless us a happy today? They have and we need to give it back to them now. The man I met yesterday deserves every bit of respect and comfort and I would like to help him and others like him somehow. Right now, I do not know how. But I am determined to do something about it. I hope God helps me in this.