I saw him again. I wonder if he recognized me. The last time I saw him was two months before. I was waiting for a bus. At first, I just saw someone with an old straw hat wandering on that busy street, and then I recognised him. He was wandering with no purpose. Passersby intentionally avoided walking near him. He seemed unaware of this. He just went on walking forward and murmuring.
I did not know what to call him. Obviously, he is not a beggar. No beggar would reject the money offered by pasers-by. He is more like a stray old man. He is rather small and thin and had white hair. I remember the first time I saw him: he was wandering around the housing estate where I live. He was dressed in exactly the same manner. That old straw hat on his head is his symbol. It easily caught my attention. He is always in his dirty white sweatshirt and grey trousers. Interestingly, he always carries a bag on his back. I wonder if he had lost his way, if he had family, and what things might actually be in the bag.
The people in my neighbourhood originally though he might have been lost, so they informed the Social Welfare department. Social workers were sent to see if they could help him. However, he refused. Who was he? Where did he come from? How did he get there? No one knew. He only talked to himself. Gradually, we almost forgot his existence.
One cold day, I saw him standing outside a convenience store, drinking a cup of hot chocolate. It was a windy day. His clothes were thin and he was shaking. He slept in the subway nearby. Whenever anyone gave him money, he would throw it away. We were all puzzled by his strange behaviour. He rejected their charity, but he still had money to spend. I wondered if he kept a large sum of money in his bag.
One day, I surprisingly found that he accepted the money given by a man. The man gave him a twenty dollar note, but he did not throw it away this time. Instead he kept it and walked away. I was curious at that moment, so I followed him to see where he was going. He walked to one end of the subway. A street-sleeper with a maimed leg was lying there. I saw the man in the straw hat quickly drop the note into the other man’s tin box and leave at once.
Since then, I have not seen him for a long time. No one has mentioned him either. Today I came across that busy street. I noticed that the straw hat was walking in the crowd again.
~Eunice Lau (Hong Kong)
Return to Scenes: Poems and Stories of Everyday Life (Asian Voices)