He sleeps there every night – rain or shine. Everytime I get home from work, I see him there. Sometimes, he stares into space while drawing on a cigarette. Other times, he is already sleeping.
A cat nearby keeps him company, sometimes laying above his head as he sleeps quietly, oblivious to the cold or the warmth. The void deck has been his home for a while now. Actually, for as long as I can remember seeing him there. What he has for blanket is a thin towel which hardly covers him, and a pillow so dirty none of us would ever use.
The concrete bench is his bed.
I pass him by each morning when I leave for work. Sometimes he’d look at me but say nothing. I would look at him, give him a smile. Others would look at him too, go their way and turn around to stare again.
He never gave anyone any problems. He just sits quietly by himself, smoking his cigarette (when he can get one from strangers), eats his dinner and then sits there from morning til night.
I too let him be.
Until one day, he started singing to himself. People would stare as he sat there singing his favourite songs, like the Beatles’ Hey Jude. All out of sync of course but he seemed happy when he sang it. I didn’t mind that he jumbled up all the lyric. But it worried me because he was not just singing to himself, he also began talking to himself – sometimes shouting for no reason as well.
One day, about 3 months ago, he suddenly disappeared.
No one knew where he went. He was gone for a long time – about 3 weeks. I wondered if something untoward had happened to him but those I asked had no idea too. I would think about him when night fell. How was he? Where is he? Is he ok? Did he eat today?
I made a vow to myself that I would at least talk to him and be a friend to him if ever he came back and I saw him again. That I would not be afraid to approach him – even if he is ‘mad’.
Thus, it was with much relief that I saw him sitting on the same bench again one morning. I smiled at him, he smiled back but I had to rush because I was already late for work. I made a mental note to buy him something when I got back that evening. Maybe a pack of cigarette.
He was there at the bench when I returned that evening, at about 10 pm. I took a deep breath as I approached him to pick up courage and be ready for whatever comes. I strode up to the bench, sat down and asked him if he has eaten his dinner. He said he has and asked me if I had a cigarette.
I smiled, reached into my bag and took out a pack. $9.80 worth of More menthol. 20 sticks. I passed it to him and asked if he has a lighter. He eagerly reached into his pocket to produce one.
I laid down the loaf of bread which I had bought from a nearby shop and gave it to him. “Eat it if you’re hungry. Sleeping out here all night is cold and you will get hungry in the middle of the night”, I said. “Is it cold here?”, I queried.
“Ya, very cold here”, I was surprised at how soft spoken he was. “Rain every night, very cold.” I made another note in my head to bring him a thicker and bigger blanket and a cleaner pillow.
He didn’t say much else. He didn’t offer any further information about himself and I didn’t want to ask. I took a cigarette from the pack and sat there with him. The two of us somehow in the same space sharing the little we have – a chinese and a malay.
Then he asked me, “Just come back from work huh?”
I said,”Ya, just come back from work.”
“You live here?”, he queried.
“Ya, I live here but it’s my friend’s house. You live here?”
“Ya, sixth floor. But brother don’t like.”
He kept quiet.
I didn’t probe.
I sat with him for about half an hour and had to leave. I was glad we broke the ice – with a cigarette.
It was later that I learned from a neighbour that he had been warded to IMH (Institute of Mental Health) for that 3 weeks when he went missing. I don’t know if that is true. I also learned that his brother didn’t want him at home because his brother was worried about what he might do when they’re not around or in the middle of the night. I suppose he was afraid he’d start a fire in the house or something, perhaps.
From that first meeting on, we talked more but still, we didn’t talk very much about why he wasn’t working, or why exactly he was sleeping at the void deck every night. Most of the time, we just sit, share a drink or food, and a cigarette. Chit chat a bit about mundane stuff.
But he’s gone ‘missing’ again.
I haven’t seen him for 2 weeks now.
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