there’s a crazy man in my neighbourhood. he wears a white singlet that reeks of stale vomit and a pair of khaki shorts. in my childhood memories he has a shock of uncombed grey hair. he has a pot belly, thin arms and a set of yellow buckteeth.
he sometimes stands on street corners, pointing and muttering indiscriminately at the vehicles that pass him. other times he wanders the neighbourhood aimlessly, talking to people who cross the road when they see him approaching.
no one knows why he’s mad. it is rumoured he had a daughter who died of dengue fever. others say that his wife left him and he when he fell into depression, he turned to drinking, but it did not keep him from losing his mind. whatever the case, it doesn’t seem like he has a family to go home to.
i remember clearly one incident involving the crazy man. i was 11 and it was sports day at my school. the tents for students were set up at the side of the field which faced the road outside. the man came and stood near the fence separating the field from the road. he started talking to himself, occasionally pointing at us. most of us took no notice of him.
all of a sudden, a group of boys started shouting at the man and threw stones at him. they let loose a string of profanities at him and encouraged everyone else to do the same. pretty soon there was a sizable group of primary school students throwing insults and pebbles at the man who, despite his efforts at returning the favour, was thoroughly beaten.
for some reason that incident has remained etched in my memory. perhaps it was my 11-year-old mind picking up what certainly must have been my first experience of man’s cruelty to one another. it’s unsettling that young children could be capable of such injustice, doling out punishment on a man who probably didn’t know better. come to think of it, his pot belly could indeed be evidence of a drinking habit, his thin arms of a malnourished life fed by alcohol.
i saw him again today. he looks the same as he did 14 years ago, minus the head of grey hair. i was suddenly struck with fear, as if he would recognise me as one of the students who was there that day, who watched as he endured abuse and did nothing. then i drove past him towards home while he remained there on the corner, saying things no one could or would hear.
although i know i should forgive my 11-year-old self for not recognising what that incident really was, i still feel guilty for wronging him by being like everyone else – afraid of what we don’t understand, reacting in violence or passivity to what we’re afraid of.
sigh it’s just easier to pretend we don’t have an ugly side than to admit we do.