The first time I saw him, he was picking through the garbage can near the school soccer field.
I remember that day very clearly.It was baby’s first day at school and I was feeling very miserable. After all it was the first time I let my precious child out of my eye sight. I went through in my mind all the things I must tell my child. Things about strangers, teachers, bullies etc..
I hoped baby would remember everything I had told her. I hoped she would remember what she should do, if anyone approached her. I wanted to protect my child and 20 feet in front of me was this stranger, wearing old and ill fitting jacket( most of the down was coming out of the jacket), holding on to a stick for support and checking the garbage can for pop bottles. I wasn’t sure what to make of him. He didn’t look like a drug addict and I wondered why then was he collecting pop bottles?
With a suspicious eyes, I watched the old man, as he checked the contents of each and every garbage bin the school compound. I wondered if I should report him to the school authorities. He clearly didn’t belong to the group of people that comes to school to fetch and drop children each day.
But it was Baby’s first day at school and I wanted to be there for her, though she clearly didn’t need me. I remember her walking to her class, holding her back pack and talking to her new found friend. She didn’t even say good bye to me.
The next time I saw the old man, it was in the evening after the school was over. He was holding a back pack. I wondered if he stole that bag. Probably some kid must have left the bag in the soccer field and the old man must have taken it. I watched the old man, making sure that I knew where he was going, so I could tell who ever lost the bag who took the bag!
Then I heard someone yelling
“Grandpa” and old man stopped in his track and turned around. He said something and I thought that sounded like Tagalog.
He is a Filipino?
I have lots of Filipino friends in Malaysia, suddenly the old man ceased to be a stranger. There was a sense of familiarity. Filipinos and Malaysians shares so much of history! ( not to mention love of macaroni salad and Tagalog songs(Freddy Aguilar).
I saw the old man most evenings. He would come 15 to 20 minutes early, so he could check the garbage cans. I learned from my other Filipino parents that the old man is not eligible for Canadian pension for another 2 more years and he was too ill to work. So he collects cans to recycle.
I was worried what would happen to the old man when the school closes. Where would he go to collect all the cans?
We don’t drink much pop at home. I collected the juice boxes and occasional pop cans for over 8 months. There wasn’t much and I told the old man I would leave the bottles for him outside my house and he could pick it up any time..
He came just now.. but the bottles and the cans have gone..
And the old man is still looking..