It’s amazing how people who don’t know you or have nothing to do with you can change the way you look at life. It does nothing to them. They don’t gain or lose anything from it, but they just feel like doing something good. And they do it. On the 14th of November 2008, that happened to me.
I was walking back home and this random guy I know (who I assumed was a trishaw driver) asked me if I would join him for a drink. I said alright since I hadn’t had one in a while. So then we started drinking. He asked me to play the guitar and then he started pointing out how I was messing up some bits. He was saying it was the cigarettes that were making my fingers shiver. He then went on to talk about the difference between alcohol and nicotine. And then he told me “Do not smoke cigarettes or marijuana or arrack.” If you have to just have a beer once in a while and maybe a cigarette or two with that. He said that’s all I would need. He told me to stop smoking and if anyone asks say “I don’t smoke”.
He told me that there isn’t much in this life but you have to make the best use of it. He told me to live for my family; for my brother and my mother, father, for my wife and my children, that I can go far if I give up all this. He said he was just trying to do good by showing me the way. We were both smoking at the time. I had finished mine. He then lit up a cigarette and passed it to me. I said “I don’t smoke”. I promised him, swearing on the lives of my mother and father, that I would quit.
His name is Jagath. He lives close to my house. He works at the courts in Mount Lavinia as an apprentice to a lawyer. He hopes to move to Dubai next month. He’s trying to get a job as an ambulance driver. I hope he does get it. He asked me if I could just help him with one thing. Find him a cheap phone. All he wants is to get a call once in a while. I asked him what he wanted most about this life. He said “I hope that in my next life I will be able to build my own home and raise a daughter. That is all I want.” He was so genuine throughout the conversation. He had doubts as to whether I would smoke again. I tried my best to convince him I won’t. My parents must have told me not to smoke a thousand times, but the way this guy said it was just… I can’t explain it. It was just so genuine. I wish I had recorded it. It was so unexpected.
Two years passed, and I hardly see much of Jagath save for when we cross path once in a while. There’s not much to speak about, I had quit smoking for only 2 months before getting back to it, but I never smoked in front of him again.
It was the 13th of April, 2010, myself and my brother come across Jagath on the way home. He looks distraught, standing alone under the streetlight, the orange glow of the sulphur lamps making his stance seem all the more dramatic. He waved at us, so we walked towards him and said hello. He took his hands together and greeted us, and he wished us a happy new year. He told us that he would be going to Korea soon, I didn’t believe him. “Boru boru”, I said. “Aththa aththa”, he assured me. He didn’t seem as excited as he was the last time he told me about his plan to leave the country. At that point I wondered if he was going to ask us for help, financial assistance or something, but he went on instead.
He spoke of his mother, he had never mentioned her before. He told us how she had fallen gravely ill, I couldn’t understand every word of his Sinhala, but I could make out that it wasn’t at all a good thing. He then told us about his father, how he had injured his foot, at least that was all I could gather from what he was saying. He was still holding each of our hands throughout this entire time, his eyes moving from one to the other, sometimes unable to hold his gaze. His voice changed for a split second, as he told us that he has no new year this year, “mata awurudu nehe”. It was then that I realized both his parents had passed on. He told us that he no longer had a will to live, he told us that he wouldn’t be alive much longer. He looked on to a light-post behind us and said that soon we’d see his face in black and white up on that very place. He told us that he had no one now, no one to go back to, “budu saranai”, he said.
I couldn’t even mention the word “God” or even the concept, to someone who doesn’t believe in the existence, to someone whom their parents are the only thing they have, “God” would probably sound redundant. I kept quiet. I let go of his hand and he rubbed his eyes, I’d never seen his eyes tear before. We asked about Korea, what chance he had of getting a job there. He said it could go either way, he was uncertain, but there was very little hope in his voice.
He told us of the work he was doing here, the salary he earns is gone within a few days. But before this it didn’t matter, as long as he had someone to return to. He told us that he’s alone. He told us he’d be leaving at 5.45 in the morning, he didn’t ask us for anything. Before we went my brother only said one thing, “for your good heart, I’m sure you’ll get a job”. And with that we left him, not knowing if we’d ever see him again.
It is the 22nd of July as I write this, and Jagath is still alive. He didn’t get the job.
You’ll find him sitting around at the trishaw stand near my house, wearing a black hoodie that I gave him by request. I don’t understand why he wanted a hoodie in this sun, and quite frankly, I doubt his sanity. He often asks me for financial favors these days, and a lot of the time I’m quite hesitant to give in. Sometimes he admits it’s for alcohol, other times I have no idea what it’s for. I know for a fact that he doesn’t abuse drugs, but I can’t be sure. He looks either inebriated or just very distraught. Maybe it’s the emotional trauma, maybe he’s turning into a junkie. Either way, it’s sad to see him this way, and as much as I’m ashamed to say this, I try to avoid crossing path with him. And I hate that.
Is it a human limit, or an effect that social conditioning has on us that makes us look down at people at one point? I used to admire Jagath’s sincerity, now I doubt his sanity itself. Who am I to judge? So what if he’s on the lower end of the social strata, if his needs in life are booze and clothing, I can’t say mine are much better. It’s all subjective, but I just wonder if he has the choice anymore, or if he feels compelled to go down the path he’s stumbling along. Maybe he needs help, maybe we all do. Maybe we should set aside these inhibitions that keep us from talking to fellow humans and helping them when they’re clearly in need. Maybe we should help each other. Or maybe I’m insane.