The early morning promised the whole day would be a scorcher. It was not quite half past seven yet but the old man could already feel the sting of the golden rays from the clear blue sky. The gully winds failed to turn up in the night, leaving the old man certain of one thing that laid ahead; a tortuous day with no reprieve from the blazing sun.
He was thankful he didn’t make any rash promises to his absent neighbours about fixing the ongoing weed problems in their garden. Although he felt capable of surmounting the challenge himself, he had second thoughts that his nebulous idea to pour concrete over the weeds would stop them from spreading on the strip of land once and for all. The useless land sat some three feet above the garden on top of the retaining wall that bordered the neighbour’s property on the higher side and a bank of rainwater tanks on the lower side. Pred, their back neighbour, who owned a professional garden landscaping business said they didn’t have the resources to help. A Sri Lankan who arrived in Adelaide just a few years earlier, Pred was already adept at being vague when he had to be. Sounding more and more ocker, his Aussie drawl must have been acquired by many a visit to the local pub in Norwood, just a stone’s throw away. Instead of saying the task was too challenging even for his company, he merely promised to get a contact number of someone from another business that could help.
“You’ll be right, mate. I’ll getcha the blouck’s number,” he said. Aussies don’t say bloke, they say blouck.
With a heavily cropped haircut mostly covered by a red baseball cap and a set of pearly white teeth that wouldn’t be hidden behind smiling brown thick lips, I could tell the dark-skinned man was at least three decades younger than the old man. The old man’s Mrs adored Pred’s five-year-old son. Danny was no ordinary boy, even at his age. Chirpy and bright, the boy was often seen leaning over the back fence looking at his neighbour’s activities.
“Why do you always come out in your pyjamas?” the nosy parker asked The Mrs.
“Hello! What’s your name?” she asked.
“My name is Danny! D A N N Y,” he replied.
Not knowing what shyness was, he introduced himself to The Mrs. “We are your new neighbours,” he said.
“I’m going to school this year,” he said in his loud chirpy voice. His big round eyes lit up with excitement as he began to imagine what life in school would be like.
“I’ll have lots of friends… we will play cricket and basketball everyday!”
“Did you have a good Christmas?” The Mrs asked.
“Yes. I got three presents.”
“Did you like your presents?”
“No. I wanted a truck but dad gave me a puzzle instead.”
“Oh, you’ll have to pray harder next time, ok?”
“I will. I have already started!” the little boy exclaimed before quickly asking The Mrs if she would like to meet his grandma.
“Sure, I would like that,” she said.
“Grandma, grandma!” his young voice sounded with urgency over the fence, loud and sharp. It then trailed off into a string of foreign words that the old woman did not understand.
“Hello there,” his grandma said, as her face appeared from below the fence. “Danny tells me you want to see me.”
“Yes, he wanted to introduce his family to me,” The Mrs replied. One by one, their heads popped up from their side of the fence and that was how they all met The Mrs. In her pyjamas.
A few weeks passed but Pred did not give the old man the blouck’s number. But, just when the old man had given up on another empty promise, he stopped combing through his contact list on his phone for gardeners and landscapers when he heard Pred’s voice shouting from the back.
“Hellooo. Hellooo there. Anyone home?”
The old man could see Pred’s head over the fence as he stepped out of his house. From that distance, the only thing really stood out was Pred’s set of white teeth. The old man’s vision had always been poor. Bespectacled since his teens, he never did any ‘rough’ sports like jiu-jitsu or basketball. Although the epiretinal membrane on his left eye had not deteriorated, the news from Professor Weng Chan was not good. The old man’s visit to the Pennington Eye Clinic a few days ago was a downer for him since.
“Your cataracts are more obvious,” the professor said.
“But it’s not urgent. We can do that any time.” He smiled to reassure the old man and wished him Happy Chinese New Year.
“Gong Xi Fa Cai,” the old man replied. His new year’s greetings did not address the concepts of happiness and good health. Typically Asian, it was all about congratulating someone for their prosperity.
The casualness in the professor’s voice was reassuring. No need to worry. The old man beamed a fake smile to hide his anxiety. He admired his eye doctor; how intelligent one must be to be a professor at such a young age. Efficient and effective, he did not dilly-dally and make small talk. The celerity of his actions showed him to be very distinguished and successful.
Another loss for Malaysia. The old man lamented quietly at the brain drain his motherland continued to suffer due to the ugly politics of racial discrimination and religious fanaticism. Whenever the ruling class favours nepotism and corruption on a grand scale, the fabric of society will surely decay over time. Those who are fortunate enough to leave will leave or at least have everything in place for a quick exit strategy. A friend recently posted a Youtube video by James Jani who espoused his blinkers-on opinion about Crypto (including Bitcoin) being the world’s greatest scam. “Bitcoin is a ponzi,” he said.
“No, fiat money is a ponzi scheme,” the old man replied, adding spite in his tone to show the level of his annoyance at online influencers who promote fake news through wilful intent or gross ignorance.
James Jani is a white Englishman who doesn’t understand how desperate people in other less fortunate countries are; they are the unbanked, without banking facilities, or without affordable banking facilities. If his country’s currency were to debase at 75-99% per annum, such as Lebanon’s, Venezuela’s or Argentina’s, would he say those fiat currencies are ponzi? What would he do then? And if his country were to be at war and his countrymen had to flee as refugees, what savings and assets would he take with him? What could he take with him that would not be easily seized from him?
“G’day, Pred,” the old man greeted his neighbour, teleporting himself back to the present.
“How ya goin’?” the new Aussie replied with his new drawl.
“I found ya some bloucks, as I said I would,” he said.
“If ya like, they can start right away.”
Half an hour later, Deng was at the gates. Deng came with two other mates. A big and tall bloke, he had a very Chinese sounding name but he was all black. African black, to be precise. I immediately thought of Deng Xiaoping, China’s one time great leader who opened up the country’s economy to the global market. The speed of modernisation and technological innovation in a single generation had led to the rise of another superpower. The Deng in front of the old man was no Chinese though. The size of his thick neck showed how strong he was.
“How did you guys flee your country?” the old man asked.
“With difficulty!” Deng replied.
“I hope you didn’t lose everything,” I said.
“We lost a lot, but luckily we got some Bitcoin just in time.”
James Jani, where are you? I thought to myself as I drifted to the metaverse.
“I can show you how to fight off a lion,” Deng told the old man.
His speed and agility surprised the old man. In a blink of an eye, he was crouched low, as if ready to strike with his spear. There was no spear in his hand, of course, just an imaginary one.
“See the pointy end of the spear?” he asked.
“Lions are afraid of the sharp point,” he explained.
“They won’t attack you if you aim at their eyes.”
“The lion will scrape the ground with its paws vigorously and create a dust cloud to make itself invisible. Be careful, this is not the time to run!” Deng continued teaching the old man.
“If you turn your back and run, you’re dead,” he warned.
“What should I do then?” the old man asked.
“Keep waving your spear sideways; make sure the lion knows you’re ready to strike.”
Simple advice. Just appear to be strong and brave.
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Deng and his two cohorts did not just appear to be strong and brave. They were strong and brave! In the four hours that they braved the searing summer heat, they transformed the strip of thick overgrown bushes and weeds into a barren path of pebbles. No weeds anymore!
They arrived from South Sudan three years ago. I remember reading about their misery and the bloody massacres with guns and machetes and that young kids were kidnapped at gun point after their parents were murdered; how the girls were forced into prostitution or taken as ‘wives’; how little boys were made into child soldiers and brainwashed into fighting their own people. Many were victims of ritualised killings for the pleasure of the rebels. I hadn’t heard of Juba, their capital or bothered to look at the map to find where the country was located in Africa. I read with sadness about their wretched lives and their constant fear of being attacked and tortured, and how women had their lips cut off if they did not obey their cruel ‘husbands’ and the agony and horror of forced female genital mutilation without anaesthesia. No knife? Never mind, they used scissors, glass, sharpened rocks, and fingernails even.
“Why do they practise FGM?” I asked the old man. “Is it a religious requirement?”
“Those parts are said to be unclean; girls should be clean,” Deng said as the old man looked at him with mouth agape.
Coincidentally, the old man watched the movie ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ that night. He picked it not because he had read the movie’s plot but simply chose it because he saw the main actor was Gerard Butler. Movies starring Butler, Liam Neeson, Jason Statham and Keanu Reeves always got his nod.
“Why, I asked?”
I need not have asked. I knew him well enough to know he was a sucker for action-packed movies.
It wasn’t until the end of the movie that the old man discovered it was based on a true story about a violent ex-con who turned to God when he was at the most dire moment of his life. Sam Childers found God and almost immediately his life miraculously turned wonderfully good after a hurricane demolished his town. The destruction in and around his neighbourhood led him to start a business as a builder/roofer. Business boomed and soon God was calling on him to build a church for everyone, not just for the good people but for the bad ones too. As if that was not enough to satisfy God’s plan for him, he flew to Africa to save the young kids of South Sudan. He sacrificed all he had, including selling his business when he could not raise any more money to build and run an orphanage in Nimule. Sam and his wife Lynn founded and still operate Angels of East Africa today.
If your child or your family member was abducted, and if I said to you I could bring your child home, does it matter how I bring them home?Sam Childers