Like a mother hen
Many have walked below it and some have climbed it to pluck the tamarind/assam jawa pods (I can produce the eye-witness!). I would like to refer to this tree as a she – because, like a mother hen, she extends her wings to give shade, to produce, and to reproduce (yes, I have nursed three of her babies, now toddlers!). Her outreaching branches and leaves have served as a shelter for many birds. The oriental magpie robin, the common iora and the yellow vented bulbuls love her, and these birds’ songs inevitably bring joy to those sitting around the table under this fruitful tree.
And it was around this old seasoned wooden table that many a conversation has taken place – tales of past glories and laments, of Covid uncertainties, of birds and flying termites, of udang galah and high tides, and of places I have never heard of. Tales of regret, of hope and fears. A table that has seen plenty: contending chess games and humble meals, simple or spicy. The now shaky benches (due to loosened screws) have been sat on and slept on by many a weary worker after a long exhausting day.
It was around February 2021 when I began to notice the people hanging out in this mini-playground across the road from my apartment, where this tree and table are located. This place serves as a stop-over for people on the way to and from the shops and the roadside stalls. Some walk hurriedly past, some stop to catch their breath, with just enough time to say hello, to give a nod, a wave or a smile, even though hidden behind masks! There a few regulars who commune with food around that table, and a special one sleeping on the single bench, as that is his day-home. A shared common humanity.
Let me share with you an encounter I wrote on 2 June 2021 (also found here), at the beginning of MCO 3.0.
“People are scared!”,
the nasi lemak Makcik said, looking sadly around (she echoes so much truth).
“I didn’t set up stall for two days already, but tomorrow I will start selling again,” she said with a tinge of hope. She has to sustain her livelihood, to feed her family. MCO 3.0 is taking its toll; only one out of six stalls opened this morning.
It is good to talk about our fears, as in this small community of strangers, that stops over at the playground table, even for a mere 2 minutes.
AW is a new regular. Homeless since CNY 2021, she is one feisty lady. She has been having her breakfast here these past two weeks.
“Stay at home!” – what does this mean for those with no home to go to?!
How will MCO affect their regular means of finding food? Who will help get them vaccinated?
For AW, she is positive (in her spirits, not Covid 😉). She chuckles as she lifts her drink to toast the gang: “We have to laugh and enjoy life, you know!” It takes someone who is homeless to cheer us up!
Yes, we need community (even temporary ones).
Yes, people are fearful, but sharing our fears will lessen the burden…
Yes, we are not alone, we are in it together.
Indeed, “Community is the highest form of Creativity”
(William Monty SJ), for…
Together, we become courageous
Together, we create strength and hope
Together, we bear each other’s burden
Together, we can embrace and are comforted
Together, we can defeat the virus.
Together, we can. #kitajagakita
Then the “People are not so scared.”
Since that meeting, AW has gotten her first vaccination jab, and so did three others! One had dengue-like symptoms, tested twice for Covid-19, quarantined and thankfully emerged negative. Then out of the blue, Sarah appeared (like an angel) offering to provide cooked lunches for three of them, six days a week, but had since stopped due to poor health. I am so grateful for two friends who provided money to buy cooked meals, medical aids and living expenses, at least for the short term, to weather this Covid storm.
There is this tiny sparrow which waited for me almost every morning for a fortnight last month, at the common area where I watch the sunrise. This feathered friend reminds me that God is the One who feeds the birds in the air, and shelters them in times of storms.
Surely HIS eye is on the sparrow.
Surely HIS arms embrace HIS lambs, which we are called to feed.
Under the Tamarind tree!