Today our return route brought us to a stretch of road work in progress. Half of the road has been patched with extra 10 cm of metal-framed cements, and the other half was undergoing similar extension. The traffic through this road was heavy; they had to take turn passing the available half of the road. And having our cart queuing along with other motor vehicles didn’t help putting drivers’ mind in ease. In fact, the vehicle right behind us kept honking, chasing us in haste. I felt bad, but honestly we had no option. We couldn’t possibly hitchhike a mobile pickup or a truck just to get us by faster. Loading our cart on board would be much of a trouble.
Anyway, as we hustled in between motorcycles and cars, and all the irritated eyes around us, my attention was drawn by rows of barefooted workmen digging and shoveling concretes on the other half of the road.
An instant reflective moment overtook me, “Why are they barefooted?”
Considering the hazardous work they were doing, I was puzzled with the fact that none of them had shoes on their feet.
“What if they are accidentally hurt by their fellow labourer’s shovel swing?”
“Isn’t stepping on the rocks painful?” I continued wondering.
I was walking along the road, closely following my rushed cart and franticly running family members, in awe of what I had witnessed (of the barefooted workmen). Suddenly a contradiction presented — a snobbish looking, plump man, wearing a stylish pantsuit appeared at the scene. He seemed to be giving them instructions.
“The one with the ‘money’!” I thought.
Not only I felt skeptical about his unmatching presence, I hated to see the huge social divide but relieved noticing the emotional gap. He, looking stressed in his condescending heeled shoes and helmet protection, and the completely unwearied slaves in their minimum gears.
“How in the world someone with much money could look more depressed than us, the low life?”
My question was left unanswered as we passed by another scene.
The road was still only half available for us and other vehicles to pass through, yet the side episode was quite different than before.
Yes, the traffic was still heavy, and yes, we were still rushed and blasted on. But, this second set of workmen I saw were in different activities than the earlier ones. Yes, they were barefooted still. But apparently, they were having a short break. They were sitting in line on the pavement, stretching their legs; some enjoying simple 500 rupiah snacks they bought at a nearby kiosk; others had refreshing cold drinks obtained similarly; and the rest just rested in wonder, watching the crowded traffic passing by in front of them.
My eyes caught the empty gaze of a skinny, old man in shorts and unpatched shirt, looking as frazzled as his darkened face.
I wonder, “What was he sad about?”
“Was he thinking of home?”
“Of his children?”
“Of his wife?”
“Was he thinking about life in general?”
“Is he happy?
“Is he thankful?” I certainly hoped everyone is.
Frankly, I wished I could just sit down next to him for a while, hearing about his life story and what was troubling him. But, who am I to do just that? Besides, my parents wouldn’t have agreed. We still had a few more kilometres before we reached our humble shack.
So, I gave up my wish and sent him a lovely prayer from my heart instead.
“O Allah, make these barefooted men happy and thankful, as much as how You have constantly made my days, or even more. O Allah, eliminate their difficulties and give them unexpected gifts and rewards from Your Bounty. For they are filled with humility in their barefooted state.”