The power of observation

April 26, 2017

In the moment of my youth I didn’t talk at all. Most of the time I seemed to be in my own world, spaced out from all worldly affairs. Or so that was how it must have came across to most people.

The truth was I had nothing much to say….but all the while I observed those around. I learnt to wear an expression like a frozen smile of dolphin whenever those around me spoke as if I wasn’t even there. I witnessed first hand their indifference, cruelty and callousness.

One day the school bully asked me for my pocket money. I gave it to him. On the following day he did the same and this would continue for as long as I could remember…..so long even that I had grown accustomed to going hungry during my lunch breaks.

I can’t remember what it was…maybe it was the color of the bully’s bicycle that drew me to it….I remember it as a deep metallic blue like paraffin.

That day I spoke for the very first time in my life, I told the bully in a stammering voice – I would very much like to have his bicycle to keep…you see in my known understanding of the world – this was really quite normal. Just as I had handed my pocket money to the bully every time he asked….I just thought if I asked him for his bicycle…he would do the same….instead he looked quite shocked when I spoke and at first he didn’t know what to do.

But you need to understand. You see I just didn’t look at him – but I really really looked at him if you know what I mean….with very unusual eyes that day that could well have burnt holes like laser beams into bricks….it was a look that even he knew somewhere in his pea sized brain, if he had said, no….it would certainly have been a very colourful for him.

I don’t remember very much else after that, but I do remember that I was very happy to ride that blue bicycle for many many years.

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‘In the moment of my youth. I had great difficulty in understanding the way of the world. For instance I could never quite understand why whenever I worked, all the boys were paid except me….even if I was paid…usually I only received a fraction of what they were paid despite putting in the same hours.

One day thru the influence of one of my relatives who worked as a clerk in the dockyards. I managed to secure a position as a kennel janitor in a sprawling rubber warehouse depot. My job required me to clean out the kennels, bath the dogs and cook for them.

The chief supervisor of security didn’t like me very much…he used to murmur to the other dog handlers….that boy is a weirdorama, but he has a way with dogs. They like him too much. So during pay day he would usually take seventy percent of my salary.

One day when the supervisor caught me training a German Shepard to play catch – he got so infruriated he held me by the collar. When I cried out the pack proceeded to tear furiously at him. The other dog handlers rushed to the scene but even they were powerless to stop the carnage…there were too many of them…and they were all very angry.

I just looked on impassively.

After that the supervisor was hospitalised for a very long time. I remembered visiting him with my Mother in the hospital. He looked like an Egyptian mummy. It was hard to say whether he was happy to see me. All I could remember was his eyes darting around frantically like pin balls from side to side….maybe that’s his way to signal to us how happy he was to see me – after all it was an awlfully long journey by bus just to be by his side in his hour of need.

To cut a very long story short soon thieves descended on the warehouse and proceeded to cart of rubber bales by the ton load. Eventually the owner approached one of my relatives asking whether I would like to fill the vacant position of the supervisor.

It seems after repeatedly advertising…there were still no takers although a Russian emigre who once worked in Moscow circus did apply, but since he could only communicate in sign language. He was deemed unsuitable. Despite upping the salary substantially….still no takers…it would remain one of the enduring mysteries of my youth.

This man who interviewed me was a planter who wore a handsome Savile Row bush jacket, smoked a briar pipe and wore sunglasses which he rarely ever took off – they said he wore a glass eye and had once fought valiantly against the communist during the Malayan emergency deep in the jungle in Grik.

The great planter looked briefly at me and after a few puffs he patted me on the head and said,

‘Pay day is on the first Wednesday of every new month. Be there to make your mark.’

I worked hard, keeping the kennels clean like a whistle, let out the dogs at night, slept in the pantry and in the morning counted in the dogs and went to school….soon all the thieving stopped.

Every Wednesday of every new month. I would stand in line with men taller than I as a heavy table was placed under the shade of a sprawling ficus tree and when my turn came the planter would always ask me to make my mark on a ledger while an Indian clerk counted out crisp notes grudgingly all the while complaining quite openly what an unheard travesty it was for a boy to earn a full wage of an adult and every time the planter would ignore his ramblings and hold out his hand smilingly whereupon I would kiss it as a sign of utmost respect to his person and institution that would eventually be my benefactor.

Thereafter he would whip out a Mars bar from England lean towards me and pat my head with the words…good boy…carry on.

I can recall vividly even today, the planter had the faint aroma of ancient wood.

At the end of my first year of employment I was voted by all the dock managers as the most diligent worker and won a Telenfunken Color TV set.

These were my only lasting observations in the moment of my youth….it seems we all learn to live by just observing.’

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