There is a man who waits by the Nasi Lemak line. You know, the famous one. The one that’s made it to the papers, books; the one that’s gone viral. The one that has everybody going crazy for that spicy, tummy-churning sambal.
Never mind if it’s only a quarter of an egg and 5-6 anchovies. Never mind if there are no roasted peanuts. It’s the spice they all come for.
Not for the man though. His worn-out stomach linings can’t possibly handle the spice. But for those who can – one packet is never enough. Two, at the very least; more for friends, family, and another bite to go around.
They come from all over, with business attire to traditional wear, to wannabe hipsters back from their Penang-Caribbean vacation.
Malaysians doing Malaysian things – a vision of pride and identity.
Amid all this determination and perseverance in the heat; of line cutting and cop tempat, and one person placing orders for 15, there is a man. A man who every day is seen in grey knee-length shorts, a checked shirt, and a red cap. With a thin beard – probably the most it will ever be able to grow.
And he stands, and he sits, and he stands again. He waits. With palms placed together at anyone who passes by. Even if you don’t look him in the eye. The ever-lingering presence, in the peripheries of a boundary that is the Nasi Lemak line.
A packet of Nasi Lemak costs between RM 1.10 – RM 2 depending on what proteins you choose. I imagine between large sums of money in leather wallets, or ‘just-enough’ change, if everyone gave him RM 1, by noon he would make RM 150-RM 200. By the end of the day, he would at least have RM 400-RM 500.
Yet in the hour that has passed since I have been here, he has only made RM 11. Not many bother asking him whether they could buy him food, or drink. Most of them barely look each other in the eye to begin with, what’s to say they’d pay any attention to him.
Then comes this family, with a child. The father sits with a friend and they start talking about politics. The mother busies herself scrolling through Instagram. So like every child who is bored and has to create worlds of their own, he gets up, leaves the tables, and starts running in the shop.
Up and down he goes – from the first stall on the left, down the step, past the Nasi Lemak line, and straight into the arms of the man, who catches him, turns him around, and sets him off his race. As the child runs away, the man turns back to the line. As the child runs towards, the man shifts his stand, ready to embrace the outstretched arms of the child.
In those moments he is both unseen and seen. In those moments he is someone who needs to be cared for, who at the same time, chooses to care for another.
There is a man who waits by the Nasi Lemak line, the gentlest of souls; the quiet voice that calls. The one who looks after.