Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Waiting in Lorong Haji Taib

From parents to sex workers, the residents of Lorong Haji Taib all wait for their own reasons.

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In Lorong Haji Taib, the kids kick water bottles because they do not have a ball to play with. As they play, they eye the shaved ice stall, perhaps waiting for it to close so that they may rely on the sympathy of the seller to give them the leftovers of the day.

Their parents sit on the curb of the street, waiting for their children to become too tired to play anymore, huddling around the shaved ice stall that closes at around 10pm, talking endlessly to each other about the small universe of the street in which they reside.

They talk of how their children are growing up so quickly and how the streets are too small to contain the kids who will soon outgrow water bottles and shaved ice. They also talk of how the migrants infuriate them – “They are taking our jobs!” they claim as they finish the last contraband cigarette, bought behind the counter of a mamak restaurant.

The migrants are fast asleep in their small units above the shop lots. They are tired from the long and hard day, unaware of the locals that badmouth their presence in the streets. Maybe they are aware of the xenophobia towards them but they are nevertheless unoccupied by the hate.

The clash between the locals and the migrants is one-sided. The hate received is never reciprocated because it cannot be. The influx of migrants aims for only one thing – to find work. Even if they do steal jobs, the employers ought to be blamed for it. But some of them are not so lucky, losing jobs in the pandemic. With no security, they await inevitable homelessness and begging.

At the bus stop, the homeless wait endlessly. For what, no one knows. Some wait for the end of their homelessness, some for the kindness of a passing stranger to hand them coins and blue notes, some for the children who said they would come back to get them. They wait from sunrise to sunrise again, sleeping only when they are too tired to wait, eating what is begged from the leftovers of others.

Sometimes, the homeless carry tales. One, a lady in a black dress and thinning flip-flops, tells the tale of when she was rich – the richest in Lorong Haji Taib with cars and lovers all waiting for her affection. Until one day a lover introduced her to drugs, and now all that is left for her is to wait for her fix.

In front of the wholesale store, the Minang people wait for the people who may pass by and are in need of their service. They are known in Lorong Haji Taib as the massagers. Their grind starts at night because when the sun is shining above, they are just like any other migrant, working at the wholesale store, at restaurants, at the Chow Kit wet market. For some, their job is not only massaging for they also sell ubat kuat and other sexual paraphernalia to customers that may need the services of sex workers later.

The sex workers wait by the stairs. When they spot authorities passing by, they scurry into the darkness of the unlit stairs. Later, they come out again, still waiting for customers for their meagre daily payments. They come from all around the world, but many are from Medan, Indonesia. They flock to Lorong Haji Taib which promises a better livelihood than they had where they came from.

In the small universe that is Lorong Haji Taib, the lives of the residents are interwoven with each other as all of them wait for their own reasons – for customers, for kindness and for the inevitable circumstances. And they will continue to wait for the promised gift of tomorrow.

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