The story bellow is a short story I once wrote for a short story competition, and was published in July 2009. I’ve once posted the original version, in bahasa Indonesia (click here), but then I thought I need to re-write this in English, so voila: the English version. I don’t think I suck at grammar and structure, but I’m not so sure myself about the structure I use. Feel free to correct my tenses or vocabulary ;) I’m still open to critics and suggestions. :) Happy reading guys!
Lia was on the way to campus when she saw the old man. The usual old man who always sits at the back of the campus area was wearing his usual dirty shirt, with his dirty hat and worn out pants. His forehead was full of sweats and his dark skin was burned by the heat of the sun. He sat while holding a long stick, and in front of him was an empty plastic glass. The last one was a container for the money that was given by passerby.Every day Lia saw the old man while she was on the way to campus, and every day, she felt sorry for him. Many times she thought about giving the old man some money, put it in the plastic glass, but then she remembered something else, and so she walked pass the old man without doing anything. She was in a rush and there would be another chance for that, she thought.
Dodi was walking out of the ATM while putting the money that he just drawn from the machine into his wallet. His monthly allowance was about to run out. If he had not started to save some money soon, he would probably spend the last days in that month fasting. He walked to the front of the campus, waiting for a public transportation called “angkota” which would come by, looking for passengers. When he was still waiting, an old woman with a hunchback came to him, selling some snacks.The hunchbacked old woman was really skinny, and her feet were worn out with wounds. No wonder, the sandals she was using was terribly torn out already. Only God knows where in the world she had been travelling to sell her snacks. Dody pitied the old woman right away.Then Dody saw the “angkota” he had been waiting for from afar. He felt pity as he saw the old woman’s face, but the “angkota” has come closer. There would be another chance tomorrow, he thought. So he shook his head, rejecting the old woman and went inside the “angkota” which had stopped in front of him.
Michael was working on his thesis when he heard his cell phone rang. His friend, Joseph, sent him a sms:
“I’m having dinner w/ the others. R u in?”
Mike heaved a sigh. Then he starred at the clock on the wall. He had been working on his thesis since noon. Suddenly it was dark already and it was about time to have dinner. Taking some time for a short break would not hurt, would it?
“I’m in.” He typed a reply and sent it back to Joseph.
He turned off his computer, wore his jacket, and grabbed his motorcycle’s key to join his friends.
Mike parked his motorcycle and saw his friends were waiting for him. Joseph, Lia, Maia, and Dodi were already there, along with two empty seats for himself and for another friend who had not come.
“Oy! Mike!” Dody called him.
Mike waved his hand and approached them.
“Who else is coming?” he asked Dodi, pointing to an empty seat next to him.
“Albert is catching up. He’s still at work,” Joseph answered.
“Well, that’s him!” Lia shouted.
They all turned their head and saw Albert was approaching them.
“Let’s order our food before I starve to death, waiting for these two idiots,” said Maia. She passed some menus to her friends.
“Are we gonna share the food or are we ordering the food for ourselves?” Mike asked the others.
“Let’s share the food,” Joseph answered.
“OK then. Let’s order,” said Maia. Then she waved to call the waiter.
“Could we have a sapo tofu?” asked Lia.
“Geez, could we eat some Chinese food together without you ordering sapo tofu all the time?” Joseph protested.
“What’s wrong with that? I thought everyone like it. Come on, I wanna have a sapo tofu!” Lia begged.
“Fine. Sapo tofu, then. Anything else?”
“Cah mushroom chicken,” said Mike.
“Aaanndd… cah kangkung ,” Albert added.
“Sapo tofu, cah mushroom chicken, and cah kangkung, with six plates of rice, and six glasses of mineral water,” Maia repeated the food ordered to the waiter.
“Don’t you think we order too much?” Lia asked.
“No way!” Maia answered. “We’re eating with those carnivore boys! They’ll eat everything and leave us nothing!”
“You girls should be thankful that you can still eat today. At least we left you some leftovers!” Albert teased both Maia and Lia. “We’re nice guys, you know. If we were bad, we would eat all the food and made you girls pay everything!”
“Tsk. Guys, as cruel as ever!” Lia complained, but she laughed.
“Heeyy, we mean it! You girls have to be thankful!” Mike also protested.
“Know what, I remember the old man who sits at the back of the campus building every day. I pity him,” said Lia.
“Which old man? The one with beard and an old dirty hat?” asked Maia.
“Yeah. Now that I think about it, he’s been there ever since I was a freshman,” Lia answered.
“Really? Well, it seems he’s been there a long time. He’s already there when I was a freshman, too,” said Mike.
“Really? This afternoon, I saw an old woman with a hunchback selling me some snacks. I thought she’s very skinny. Too bad I didn’t like the snacks she offered, so I said no. Has she been in the city a long time as well?” asked Dodi.
“No idea. I don’t even know which old woman you’re talking about,” Mike added, “I don’t think I’ve ever spotted her. Thesis is way more important, hahaha.”
“What about them who are screaming out starvation, and live only because of others’ pity?*” Dodi spontaneously sang a song he knew from a band called One Way, followed by his friends’ laughter. Not long after that, their foods were being distributed, and so they switched topic and talked about something else.
Lia checked her watch which told her it was already 9 PM. They were having a really nice chat while time kept passing by. Finally, stuffed and satisfied, the six of them walked to the parking lot together, intending to go home.
“Aaaanndd, I’m about to continue working on my thesis,” Mike grunted. “Wish me luck!”
“Guys, look at that,” Lia pointed somewhere across the street. All her friends were turning their heads to see what Lia was pointing at.A middle-aged fat man, with dirty unclean clothes was sleeping on the side walk with a newspaper as his only bed.
“What’s wrong? You’re intending to provide him a shelter?” asked Albert sarcastically.
“Nah, not really,” Lia answered gloomily.
“Well, then, let’s go home,” said Maia. Yet Lia didn’t move a muscle.
“I feel pity for him,” Lia whispered miserably.
“Nothing. I was just wondering, that guy has probably got nothing else in this world, right?” Lia asked rethorically.
Maia sighed as she approached Lia. “Fine. You feel sorry for him. So what? Are you gonna do something?”
“I don’t know. Is there something I could do?” asked Lia.
“You know what, here’s what I think: your pity and sorry means nothing to him. Why? Because you do nothing.”
“Yes, that’s what I think,” Maia continued. “You say you feel sorry and pity for him, yet you do nothing. Those beggars and homeless people don’t need your sorry or pity, you know. ‘Poor him,’ that’s what people say. And then what? Just that? They don’t need that, you know.
“People like them might not even understand things such as faith and hope. They don’t need us feeling sorry for them. What they need is our action, approaching at them with bags of gold, or food instead of empty words.”
“Geez, Maia. Slow down,” said Mike.“I’m sorry,” Maia sighed. “I just… I have been in the same position—well, not exactly the same—and people came to me, telling me they pity me and they feel sorry for me, yet they do nothing to prove how sorry they feel. What I needed back then were actions instead of empty words, because words wouldn’t help me get out of the trouble. And perhaps, the same thing applies to those beggars and homeless. Feeling sorry would not change their life, making them wealthy and stuffed. Feeling sorry, yet doing nothing is bullshit. So then I told myself, not to say I feel sorry or pity towards those people unless there is something I could do to help them.”
The other five were exchanging glands, with guilt in each of their eyes.“You know what, she’s right.”
“Yeah, we all know that. But still, we do nothing.”
The six mounted their motorcycles in silence, and one by one, they left.
Lia approached Maia who was starting her motorcycle, and hugged her.
“Thanks for telling me all those things. I feel really ashamed and guilty, but you’re right. Thanks,” said Lia.
“I just said what I had in mind. I’m sorry if I was a bit rude,” Maia replied.
The next day, as usual, Lia was heading towards campus, and again she was the old man. She had intended to give something to the old man today—either money or food, anything that she could give. She had to. Yet, she still felt kind of reluctant to do that. Besides, she was again in a rush. She had an appointment with one of her teachers for a consultation for an assignment which she had to submit in the next two days. Finally, she walked pass the old man again. There would be another chance later today, she thought.In the afternoon, after she was free from consultation and assignments, she headed back to her boarding house. When she was about to leave campus, she then remembered the old man who was sitting at the back of the campus building. She bought some food at the cafeteria nearby, planning to give it to the old man.
At the back of the campus, Lia approached the old man. As usual, the old man’s head was facing down, covered by his dirty hat. However, the old man was not holding his long stick as usual. Instead, the stick was lying down next to him, neglected.
Lia made sure that there were no one near her, and she squatted in front of the old man, saying,
“Old man, I have some food for you. Here, I hope you like it.”
The old man did not move or respond.
Lia took the old man’s right hand and put the take away food into his hand. Yet the food just slipped his hand and fell on the ground. He did not even try to grab it. Terrified, Lia took the old man’s right hand. His hand was as cold as a stone. Lia shook the old man, trying to wake him if he were asleep.
“Hey, old man! I got you some food!”
The old man still did not move.
Frustrated, Lia shook him harder.
“Hey old man! I bought this food for you!”
There was fright in Lia’s voice. She tried to be as calm as possible, but her tears dropped. She cried silently.
It was too late. If only she had had bought the food yesterday and gave it to the old man, no matter how busy she was. Maybe if she had bought the food earlier today, the old man could still eat it.
It was already too late. Nothing could be done. There was only regret—a deep regret—and hope that the same thing would not happen again. A wasted and missed chance.
* The original lyrics goes like this: “Bagaimana dengan mereka yang menjerit karna lapar, dan hidup dari belas kasihan orang s’perti kita?”