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February 22, 2019

When are we our brothers' keepers?

POWER OF CHOICE: You can choose what to eat or drink. Choices have consequences.
POWER OF CHOICE: You can choose what to eat or drink. Choices have consequences.

“Life is a bowl of cherries. Some cherries are rotten while others are good; it’s your job to throw out the rotten ones and forget about them while you enjoy eating the ones that are good! There are two kinds of people: those who choose to throw out the good cherries and wallow in all the rotten ones, and those who choose to throw out all the rotten ones and savor all the good ones.”

 ― C. JoyBell C.

He was lying like a log in the middle of a trench full of wet human waste. Several people were standing beside him talking in whispers.

Out of curiosity, I approached the spot where the man lay motionless. As I got closer, the stench became stronger and I felt a strong urge to throw up.

I did not want to embarrass myself, so I stopped to regain my composure. After a while, I got used to the smell of the burst sewer running through the small trench, and got closer enough to see the figure in the trench.

 He was a man of middle age. He was dressed in a torn jacket that had lost its original color from age and dirt. It was a good guess if you say the jacket had never seen water, other than rain or such sewer water as it was in now. Inside the jacket, there was nothing.

No vest, no shirt, nothing on except that semblance of a jacket. Below that, I had to squint to see what it was he was wearing as a trouser.

Most part of his lower torso was naked. But he was wearing something that tried to cover a bit of his thighs, breaking off at the knee and appearing again just above the ankles. In short, the man was barely clothed.

 I stood there with the rest of the people without talking. They were wary of my presence but did not seem to worry too much about what we were all looking at. I could sense some sort of “déjà vu” among the congregation. This was not an unusual sight in the lives of these slum dwellers. I probably elicited more interest that the man in the trench. They knew him. I was a stranger.

 Someone stepped into the smelly sewage drainage trench and lifted the man’s hand. He felt the pulse on his wrist and nodded to his friends on the roadside, to indicate the man was alive.

Some of the people watching the second man in the trench smiled at him. I thought they were congratulating him for braving the stench to save their neighbour. I was wrong. He was merely communicating in a language only understood by the slum dwellers. He seemed to have asked a question by simply looking at them, and the smile was an answer.

The second man lifted the face of the man in the ditch using the collar of the torn jacket. He gave him a slap on one cheek, turned him over and gave him another louder slap on the other cheek. He was trying to revive his neighbor from a drunken stupor, and he was failing miserably.

He let go the collar and the body went splash back into the smelly mess. One by one, the people who had gathered around the drunk left for their homes, leaving me alone, still staring at the stillness of a figure of a once upon a time, a man. Although he was not dead yet, he was not far from it.

 It was evident to me that the people had lost hope for the man a long time ago. He had chosen a path for himself without coercion, and he was living his life the way he wanted to. His neighbours knew his demise would not affect much of their lives. He would just become another statistic, and life in the slum would continue as if nothing happened.

All this was happening right at the doorstep of an administration police camp. Out of sympathy, I approached one of the police officers within the camp, who was watching the scene from the safety of his house.

 “What can we do about this man?” I asked

“Did you send him to drink? Did you give him the money? Was he forced to drink the alcohol?” he asked in succession.

 “No I did not,” I answered.

 “Neither did I. let the dead bury their dead,” the policeman answered in a strict finality and closed his door.

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