“In a time when everybody had a chunk of the NGO influx, in a time when most rickshaw peddlers were able to afford installing motors on their rickshaws, here's this skinny dude, paddling his way through the hottest time of the day, looking for anybody who'd give him the chance to employ his services.
The fact that I had been standing under the midday sun for almost fifteen minutes made it look like it was not a bad idea to get on a traditional, manpowered becak. So I hailed him, told him where I was going and asked how much.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t bargain. Because the moment I got on that becak, I was horribly sorry that I felt sorry at all. IT WAS THE GODDAMN SLOWEST BECAK I’D EVER BEEN ON IN MY LIFE!
To make things worse, that’s when dozens of motor-powered becaks started sailing from every direction. Just to spite me for pitying some poor stranger on some street!”
[Maya took a pause; she sipped from her glass. Then continued...]
Every time a motor becak showed up, I struggled to remain seated. I took cursory glances at my peddler, and he was looking at me too. And the way he looked at me caught me off guard. You see, he wasn’t staring or anything impolite. He looked like he was wondering whether or not I was going to hail a faster becak and leave him midway to the office.
And I also saw that he wasn't having much fun either. I could see his ropey muscles working under his overly tanned skin. I could see beads of sweat rolling down his cheeks and chin. I heard him panting. By god, how I wanted to hop off then, this time just to help him push the becak!
But would he want that?
Like I said earlier, this is a time when every other becak driver made the job as easy as: Accelerate-break-clutch. The fact that my becak peddler is still pedaling meant that he didn’t get much of the NGO-Influx cake. The fact that he stuck to this unfair job, that he stood up to what was given to him, that he didn't quit his job just because everyone else got the easier part of it, floored me.
Every time an empty motor becak passed, the urge came back, you know, to hail a faster and more convenient ride. But, after the third empty motorbecak passed unhailed, something seemed to make the ride easier. For both passenger and driver. Something like an unspoken understanding. That this manpowered becak will deliver the job. That the man will keep his dignity and make his humble keep. And that the passenger – so far, the only one with doubts - will keep every part of her promise, given at the beginning of the ride.
And by the way, being stuck and forced to slow down made it easier to meditate. I smelled a breeze from the Indian Ocean, packed under a dandy shade from a passing cloud. I might've been under hundreds of shades before, and smelled the ocean enough times to sneeze seaweed. But I’ve never really felt it, you know? Not like when I couldn’t do anything else beside.
At the end of the trip, I stuffed a crumpled banknote in his hand and walked very quickly away from the slowest, proudest and most enriching becak ride I'd ever been on.
[She paused again. Looking at me with meaning.]
"Is that how much you gave him, fifty thousand rupiah?" That's five dollars to you, reader. That's how much something blue is worth in banks and markets.
Maya didn't immediately reply, save for her thoughtful gaze. Then, in the most endearing voice, she said, “How much did seeing that camera again cost? How much did having your mother around a little longer cost? How much does earning the dignity and pride from making our keep cost?”
Karma isn't a linear process, you see? And that's the wonderful side of blessing/berkah; that it is vastly inestimable. That the little things we do and cherish have the power to reach beyond their logical and linear means.
If, for once, we allowed ourselves the pleasure of gratefulness for the boring little things -- say, a cool shade under a cloud, a wheezing-but-working air-conditioner, or another day spent having a job (no matter how yucky)—we might then realize that, compared to the generous kindness we receive everyday from the world around us, our service to the world is incomparably weightless and humble.
PS: “Something Blue” is available here in PDF. Feel free to share.