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Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 9:10:57 AM
by kee suat day
“WHY are you so forgetful? I told you to display those new shoes on the shelf yesterday!” Madam Leong, the lady boss scolded Lu-mei.
Lu-mei and I worked in a shoe shop in Pertama Shopping Complex, Kuala Lumpur, back in the 1980s. This was not the first time Lu-mei was reprimanded by Madam Leong. Lu-mei was a slack worker. Not only was she forgetful, she always messed things up – be it customers’ orders or by misplacing the stock. In fact, every other day, she got a tongue-lashing from the lady boss.
However, Lu-mei was always cheerful and easy-going. She liked to chat with me during working hours and while we were waiting for the bus. But I had too much on my mind to entertain her. I didn’t give a hoot about Lu-mei. Frankly, I had never even bothered to be her friend. Given the choice, I wouldn’t have worked with her at that shoe shop. But I had to, because I had lost my job as an accounts clerk.
After two months of unemployment, I still could not secure a full-time job. Besides paying my room rent and daily expenses, every month I had to send money home to my parents in Segamat, Johor.
My personal savings were dwindling fast and I had no one to turn to. Out of desperation, I had to take up this job as a shop assistant.
The salary was paltry. It was just sufficient to tide me over till the following payday. My biggest worry was not being able to save enough money to send back to my parents.
One night, while we were silently waiting for the bus, Lu-mei suddenly asked: “Suat Day, do you need any help? I noticed something is bothering you lately. Don’t be mistaken, I’m not trying to be a kaypo (nosy parker).”
I was astonished she was aware that I was having some kind of predicament and she so readily offered a helping hand.
“Thank you for your concern,” I said humbly, as I felt a sense of shame and guilt for being selfish and indifferent towards her all this time. Then I confided in her.
“Don’t worry, if you need a few hundred dollars, I can always lend it to you without any obligation,” she offered.
When I heard that, it took a load off my mind. As we talked, and as I got to know her better, I was both humbled and awed.
Lu-mei was five years my junior, and she had dropped out of school after she failed her LCE (Lower Certificate of Education). Since then, she had been working at various odd jobs, before she joined the shoe shop. Her parents were working illegally in Japan. (In the late 1980s, there were many illegal Malaysian immigrants working in Japan.) She had to live with her brother’s family in Ampang New Village, Selangor. Lu-mei told me she lived quite comfortably as she did not have to pay for her accommodation. In addition, her brother gave her pocket money every now and then.
According to Lu-mei, she wanted to help me not just because she could afford it but she believed in helping people, if she could. It stemmed from her own experience of receiving acts of kindness from other people, when she first started working in low-paid menial jobs.
Surprisingly, even though she was younger and less educated than me, I found that she had a more mature perspective on life.
As we continued talking, I discovered that she has an amazing optimism and resilience. Then it dawned on me, why she could bounce back so easily to her bubbly self, each time after she was reproached by our lady boss.
That night, not only did I find a friend, but I found myself as well, so to speak. I learned so much from that brief conversation with Lu-mei. Till today, she has so much influence on me – particularly her kindness, generosity and genuine friendship.
While we were working together, she lent me money – twice. After that night, each time after work, we hung out together at the mamak stall at the Selangor Mansion, along the Klang River. Those were memorable moments we spent talking and laughing over our glasses of teh tarik – warm and sweet.
After I landed a full-time job, I left the shoe shop, but we still kept in contact. We went out together a lot, especially to the then-popular Mimaland in Ulu Gombak. Incidentally, it was at this recreation park that she met her future husband, James.
In 1995, I went to work in Johor Baru, and we saw less and less of each other. A few years later, she wrote to me, saying that she had stopped working. She and James were getting married soon and they would settle down in Sibu, Sarawak. That was the last time I heard from Lu-mei.
Anyway, Lu-mei, wherever you are today, I’d like to say thank you for being my friend.
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Heart & Soul, friend, perspective
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