“The Boy Who Loves New Year Eve’s”
My name is Jalee. I’m twelve.. No.. No.. I think I am thirteen now. Let me think again. Oh Yes.. I am thirteen.. Yeap.. Thirteen. How do I know my age? My sister told me before she disappeared 3 years ago. On that night, she said that I was ten. Ten plus three is thirteen.. Am I right?
As you can see from my dirty pale clothes, you can tell that I am homeless. Oh? You can’t? How about the smell? The yellowish teeth? Stink breathe? He he.. Now you know.
I lived in the back alley of a somewhat place people called “Bukit Bintang”. I think for most of my life, I spent it here. Places where people in many shape and size and colour and voices and genders gather. Why are they here? I actually have no clue. Shopping perhaps, working maybe. I don’t really care.
I cannot read but I counted bloody well! I know it has been 3 times now that people goes crazy, spraying white foam on each others, screaming Happy New Year from the top of their lung, and of course, drunk till they can’t pee straight. It was 3 times of that marvellous night I love the most since my sister left. I like that night because people seems to be more generous in these kind of night, especially old man with beautiful daughters holding their arms. The only thing I do not understand was why they have to kiss, hugs, and touches each other in weird way. I never saw my dad did that to my sister.
My family, I really did not remember much. A father, a mother and an older sister name Meena. All I know, I have been following my mother around since God knows when. Holding me in her right hand, and a can in her left, asking for spare change. That is how things go as far as I can remember. My dad will take my sister. Same routine, different partners. We do switch partners now and then. Personally, I like hanging out with my mom more. She is nicer, and she usually filled her can faster that Dad. The faster the can filled means more time for me to play then.
Few years ago, we were living in house made of boxes Dad and me collected. It is never comfortable. Not one bit. If its raining, heavily, we will all be soaking wet. When the rain ceased, Dad and me has to walk around looking for more boxes to replace the ruins. It was never easy, but somehow I enjoy that moment Dad spent with me.
Things are the same for few years, boxes, can, streets, rains. Until one night, Dad wakes us up with a scream. He told us to run. As fast as we can. I don’t know why but I just do what ever the man says. He looks so afraid. I don’t know what I’m running away from, then I realized that Dad was not among us. Mom headed back to our boxes. I wanted to follow her back but she told my sister to take me away. To safety, she said.
The next day, my sister and I went back to our boxes home, seeking for Mom and Dad. They were not there. Nothing was there beside scattered boxes everywhere. My sister told me to ask around, so I did. Mamak stall, parking boys, who ever I think knew what happened that night. None. No one can answer me. Then I started to ask anyone. Everyone. Still, I get no answers.
Few days later, it was my sister that came with the answer. She told me that the mamak boy told her that he heard from the basking guy, that he heard from the burger guy that he overheard some bad gangsters spoke about clearing the back alley and killed some “rats”. Dumping their bodies in a river somewhere. It was for “business” they said. The mamak boy told my sister that “rats” actually meant for homeless and beggars. I still didn’t understand what happened. Its my parents I’m looking for. Not RATS!!
Things are just the same after my parents gone. Now its me and my sister. Can in our hands. Asking for spare changes. Meals? Depends.. If the can filled with coins, then we can go on for three or four days with roti canai, nasi lemak. If not, there are always bakeries around. All I have to do is to wait for the night to come. One of them will throw away the old bread (they taste great to me). If I’m lucky, there’s this Arabian restaurant (how do I know it’s Arabian? The 7-eleven girls told me so). But I have to ask from the guy at the back of the restaurant. If he’s in good mood, I’ll get some food. Sometimes there’s meat, the most delicious food I ever ate.
Years goes by, I rarely think about Dad and Mom now. Survival come first. I’m beginning to spend time more by myself now. Splitting way with my sister. She’s a big girl now. Beautiful girl even in that dirty clothes and dusty hair and stained faces and stinking smells. She is still beautiful. To me she always are.
If you wonder how it felt to hold a can and asking for spare change from people you don’t even know. My answer is simple. It is pretty tough. You have to master the skills. Facial expressions, timing and picking the right group of people is very important. You have to look miserable. It is better if you get that “I haven’t eaten in days” look on your face (even if you just had a roti canai). The best time will be weekend or holidays. How do I know it is a holiday? Simple. I just look at ten first faces I saw. If nine of them were unfamiliar faces, then it is a holiday. The right group of people? Never the foreigner, tourist or people who worked nearby. And teenagers. Consider yourself lucky if you can get twenty cents from this crowd. Try families. Malaysian family. Malaysian can be very generous. If its night time, try old man walking hands in hands with his beautiful daughter. They always give you some. I don’t think its out of sympathy. It’s more like to get rid of me. I don’t care. Their money that counts, not their reason. Like the bad gangsters said, it is for “business”.
Let us talk about my favourite night. Night of all nights. People filled the streets. Laughing, giggling, and wishing Happy New Year to each other. Everybody seems to be happy. Not a glimpse of hatred in every faces I’ve seen. They light the sky with colourful, wonderful and beautiful fireworks. I almost forgot that I am not one of them. That night, I felt as equal as any. Next, my favourite part. There will be kissing, hugging, and touching scenes everywhere around me. Boys with girls, fathers with daughters, white men with local girls, local men with white women, boys with boys, fathers with sons (thou I always wonder why their sons always spoke in that sissy way). And if I went looking at the right places, I can even see some much more exciting scenes, some places has all the surprises. If you know what I mean. Hehehe..
That brings me to few nights after that favourite night of mine. Three years back. My sister came to me. She looks different now. Red lips. New clothe. I swear to God she looks like an angel. She even smelled good. She came to me with a fierce looking man. She told me that she is not going to be around me anymore and I must take a good care of myself. She also said that one day she’ll come back for me. I don’t really care of things she said. All this while, I seem to be doing well on my own. That fierce looking man tapped my shoulder and handed me few red notes. Suddenly he does not look that fierce to me anymore. I took the money, smiled and fled. Knowing that I won’t starve for the next few weeks. I left my sister and that not-so-fierce-looking-anymore man. At least she won’t be starving. At least that’s what I thought. At least. All I heard was my sister’s distant shout “Jalee, you are ten years old now, stay out of trouble!”, or something like that.
And so on, so forth. I continued my misadventure as a homeless street boy. I make friends with some of the boys whom shared my way of life. “The Misfortunate Clique” one of us said. But I didn’t befriend them for long. They steal things. Break things. Smoke things that smelled funny. I don’t like that, but I am afraid to one of them they called Man, a big boy with heavy punches. I know its heavy. Taste them for more than one occasion. After few encounters with his heavy punches, I started to pull myself out. It is not easy as they knew where I sleep and “works”. For this, I never stay long in one place. I move around in every few weeks. For two years, I’ve been doing that moving around thing. But I’m always back in Bukit Bintang to enjoy my favourite night. Something I would not missed, not even for Man’s heavy fists pouncing on my skull.
It is the third New Year’s night now since my sister left me. Here I am, in a place that makes me feel at home, again, ready to party with the crowd. The night is still early, so I strolled around, as the streets are not crowded yet. Searching for the best spot to enjoy that favourite part of the night I mentioned before. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice. Crying. Weeping. It’s my sister’s voice. I knew that for sure. I ran to the source of that voice and I saw a man, punching on my sister’s head (something like Man used to did on me). I am not a strong boy. That I know for sure. But I do know that my sister is even weaker. In a sudden, I felt weird, its like having this supernatural strength flowing in my veins. Trembling in anger, I charged at that man (not the man I met few years back, it’s a new guy), jumping, punching and kicking at him. He was surprised and for a short while, he just stood there. Stunned I guess. Then, he hit back. WOW!! His punches are ten times heavier then Man’s. He pummeled and I fell down hard. He then stomped his boots on my back, screaming in Chinese language that I do not understand a word at all. I didn’t feel anything soon after. I didn’t hear anything either. Not my sister’s voice. Not the crowd. Not even the fireworks. Guess my so-called supernatural strength doesn’t really work.
I don’t know what happen. Woke up few hours later and saw a face. A familiar face. The mamak boy (who told my sister about that “rats” thing). Then I saw nothing but pitch black darkness. Fainted again. Open my eyes in the morning, inside the mamak boy’s kitchen, aching all over, and hungry as hell. He brought me a place of roti canai, a glass of water. Its hard to eat, yet I ate it all still.
Few days goes.. I heard nothing about my sister. Why do I care? Its no like I know where to find her. She can take care of herself I guess. I better think of myself now, I am thirteen. I am a big boy who was beaten by a man twice my size. How many thirteen-year-old boys can stand that?
Time flies. Now I have a job. Yes! A real work as the dish-washing boy. Where? Where else? Mamak boy stalls. Well, its not his stalls actually. It’s his Dad’s. His father offered me a three meals, RM5 a day salary. And the best thing was, I don’t need to sleep on the street anymore. He let me sleep in the kitchen. Working from 6 am to 9 pm. Everyday. His father doesn’t let me out much. He said that I don’t have an IC and working permit. Police will catch me and jail me for that. I obeyed his order not because of I am afraid of the Police thing. I just like it there. In the kitchen. I like the smell of that detergent I use. And the bubbles too. And I’m looking forward for my next New Year night. This time I will take the mamak boy with me. I’ll show him what he’s been missing all this years. I don’t really care about the IC or working permit or the police. Who cared about that. Heck! I don’t even know what they are.