Monday, April 22

Kindness from strangers


I STARTED taking the KLIA Transit to work this week. This is the train service that runs from KL Sentral in Kuala Lumpur to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where I conduct training four days a week. The 35-minute journey cost RM38.50 after a 30 per cent discount for holders of the Kad OKU.

I did not know what to expect. I was not sure if I could manage by myself. However, I relished the thought of the independence that came with it. I could move around more freely. It was a refreshing change from being cooped up in the car for one hour.

It was only when I got down to the platform that I discovered I had to cross a three-inch gap to get into the train. This small break was as good as a chasm for me. If I were not careful, the casters of my wheelchair could get irretrievably trapped in between the gap.

I could do a wheelie to cross over but the manoeuvre was fraught with risks. The wheelchair could tip backward. To avoid any untoward incident, I thought about my options and decided to seek the goodwill of a commuter, who was also boarding to assist me in getting in. Likewise, when I arrived at the airport, I got another commuter who was behind me to help.

It was in this predicament of needing assistance that I discovered Malaysia is not lacking in people who are ready to lend a hand whenever the occasion calls for it. This I can say for sure because I have been the beneficiary of such kindness again and again.

All I had to do was ask. Never once did those I approached for help turn the other way. Many times, fellow commuters would offer to help even before I asked although all of them were rushing to get to their destinations one way or another.

This showed that no matter how busy they were, no matter whether they were in a hurry to get to work or home, they still made time to stop and help another fellow human in need. What I experienced the last few days truly warmed the cockles of my heart.

There were two memorable instances, which I feel compelled to share.

On Wednesday at KL Sentral, I had asked a young tudung-clad woman if she could assist me out of the train to which she chirpily said “Yes” to. As she was pushing me over the gap, two other young men who were waiting to board came forward and lifted me across.

I regret I neither got their names nor remember their faces. It all happened so fast. We were all in a hurry to be on our way after that. Nevertheless, that beautiful moment would be etched in my mind forever. There was no hesitation on their part. The synchronicity at which the three of them handled my wheelchair was as if they had been doing this all along.

The second incident happened on Thursday. The train was exceptionally packed. I was exhausted and nodded off several times. When it finally pulled into the station, I queued up to get off just like everyone else.

I noticed a lanky young man was looking at me searchingly. Then without even being prompted, he asked, “Do you need assistance?” while pointing to the door.

“Yes, can you help me out?” I replied, grateful for the concern.

After we got to the platform, he asked again, “Can I help you into the elevator?”

“It’s all right, I can manage from here. I just needed help to go over the gap.”

“I really don’t mind,” he insisted.

While he was waiting for the elevator with me, we made some small talk. I asked if he was working or studying. He told me he was studying at a university in Putrajaya. When the elevator arrived, I again reassured him I would be fine. As I got in, I asked for his name. I wanted to remember him for his kindness. In the din of the station, he did not hear me. We waved goodbye to each other just as the door was closing.

I was impressed that so many young people like him are proactive in offering assistance to total strangers, more so to someone in a wheelchair. They are not the exception. They have become the norm from what I can see. This makes my work in promoting inclusion so much easier as the things I teach in my workshop include how and when to provide assistance to disabled people.

They are the generation that will make our country a better place. I have no doubt about it. At the same time, I am comforted by the fact that I will never get stranded in sticky situations on my journeys to and back from the airport. I am privileged to have experienced human kindness at work every day. This is what Malaysia is – living up to our reputation as a caring society.