It was cloudy and chilly. The kind of weather you’d get after it’d just stopped raining. I sat outside on the plastic chair. The wind was blowing softly, the trees and grass were following it’s rhythm. One of the perfect moments in life. I thought nothing could spoil it.

Until I saw her.

I was watching the leaves lying on the road. Brown, crisp, dead. Yet they’re still so pretty. Someone was sweeping them. Collecting them in small piles and sweeping them into a dustpan. Then the wind would blow and the leaves would scatter all over again. Lying quietly on the road to be swept by the same person. I thought whoever assigned that task to her was a moron. Leaves grow and fall off trees. Every single day. No matter how you sweep them, they would always be there. Even so, watching her sweeping the leaves wrapped me with an odd sense of calmness. I could feel she liked doing it. That it’s not merely a part of her job. It was like watching someone trying to pick up the remaining pieces of her life. One leaf to yet another leaf. It was like watching someone who made unintended mistakes in her life, and tried desperately to put it back together.

I saw her the day before. That day, I was sitting inside. And I saw her. She was going through the bin, collecting leftovers of people’s lunch. She put them in a tiny see-through pink plastic bag. I only saw rice, nothing more. Would that end up being her lunch?

Another time, I saw her standing, staring outside the glass windows. She stood there for a long time. Until it made me wonder what could she possibly be watching, or thinking. I watched her emptied the dustbins, picking up any empty can she could find. Watched her cleared the dirty dishes away, watched her wiped the glass doors. I watched her cycled home, her much-prized cans tucked neatly away in the basket attached to the front of her bicycle. What could possibly, a person like her, wanted more out of her life? Were they the same as mine?

Reach for the remote control and you could see people suffering in other countries. Pick up the newspapers and read headlines on those who are being terrorised. We do both. We donate. We show our sympathies. And yet we could ignore those that are happening close to us.

It was only a woman. Dressed in an old faded-tshirt. A tracksuit that was 2 sizes too small for her. Rubber slippers. None of which I would be caught wearing even at home. But somehow, somehow, something about her touched me. Here’s someone within my reach. Here’s someone I could offer my hand to. Even so, I still couldn’t pluck up the courage to do that. To buy her a decent meal instead of eating bin food. I didn’t have the nerve to talk to her, to question her, to understand her view on life. Here’s a woman who has to sacrifice her dignity, for a scrap of food.

A story of a woman who’d earned my respect.

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