The Good Gas Attendant

I went with one of the gas attendants on his bike into the jungle. I was slightly afraid– anything could happen and I was again being forced to blindly trust someone. We drove along the dirt path past a field of small potted palms watered by a sprinkler. We pulled out onto a road and on the straightaway he took it up to 50 kpm. I imagined taking a spill and trying to roll into the grass but then I remembered that this guy knows his roads– he does this every day. At a small house he killed the engine and we got off. He turned and smiled, “This my home.”

We walked into an open empty room which led to a kitchen. There were two doors on the right. We walked into the closer one. A man was sleeping on the floor in the breeze of a ceiling fan. My “friend” invited me to sit on his bed. He took a towel and said he’d return. I sat on the bed taking in the room. On the walls were old posters, two of the same, from the Shell station. They were masking taped crudely to the wall. Behind them were pencil drawings, probably done by children who used to live here. The floor was clean. His clothes hung in a nylon hamper. A small bookshelf had been turned on its side to hold toiletries. Rice, tomatoes and potatoes sat next to it. A razor hanged in a noose near the lightswitch. I glimpsed a kitten through the ajar door. The shower went off.

He came into the room with a towel around his waist. He put on a collared short-sleeved shirt first, took a pair of underwear from his dresser and put one foot then the other into the underwear and pinched them up to his waist through the towel. A Muslim with beard and no mustache a taqiyah and taupe robe entered and said something in a language I didn’t recognize. Then he left. My friend said, “Osama bin Laden.” We laughed. Everyone in the world knows Osama bin Laden. He applied deodorant, blue creme he rubbed through his jet-black mullet, shook his head to get his hair to fall naturally, took some pants out of the room to put them on, came back in and said, “Let’s go.”

Osama was sitting on a moped outside and my friend helped him before he pulled away. I saw the mother cat and two more kittens. I got on the bike, he started it and we drove down the road. Roosters clucked, nicer houses had tile driveways, and we swerved around speedbumps. We parked in front of a small station where two men waited. We crossed the tracks to buy tickets but the machine was broken and no one was at the counter. “You wanna smokey?”

“No thanks.” I kept thinking how much I’d have to tip him for taking me to the closest station. He had gotten off work a little early to help me. “Where are you from?”

“Bangladesh.”

“Dhaka?”

“Dhaka,” he smiled. He was a handsome young man with fine coffee brown skin, a prominent nose, and big eyes. He was tall, too, and I noticed that the tip of his left thumb was missing.

“You miss Dhaka?”

“Yes. I go home soon. I work here six years.”

“How old are you?”

“23.”

“Me too.”
“I work everyday.”

“Every day?”

“Every day. Two days off each month. First and fifteen.”

“Wow. Nine to five?”

“I start seven, finish five.”

“That’s a long day.” I imagined the monotony, the routine and lack of freedom, but how it was probably much better than living and working in Bangladesh. “What will you do back home?”

“Business. Mobile business.” I nodded. At least he had a dream. Of course he had a dream. No man would work ten hour days at a Shell station if he didn’t have something to look forward to.

“So you have savings?”

“I save 500 ringgit a month.” His eyes turned distant as he exhaled his cigarette.

“That’s pretty good.” $175 a month to take home to Bangladesh.

The train was late. It was supposed to come at 535. It was 541 and the next train was 601. The train came at 548. “Come on,” he said. Almost all the seats were taken. “Sit down,” he said. We were going away from Kuala Lumpur. In ten  minutes we got off. At the gate they were checking tickets. I was afraid I’d be fined. He said “Go behind” and I followed behind him. He took out four ringgit and nodded back at me when he gave it to the guard. I tried giving him two ringgit but he wouldn’t accept. Just add it to the tip total. “Where’s the bus?”

“Taxi,” he said. Great. Then he turned and walked back to the station under a sign that said “Bas Terminal.” “You want eat?” he said. “No. You?” “No.” At the terminal we went to the bus company’s office. They said go to K.L. He called his boss to tell him, then handed me the phone. He told me to go to Pudu Sentral. I thanked him and hung up. We walked to the end of the terminal where the K.L. buses were. He said, “I go home?”

“Sure, thank you for everything.” I fingered the remaining cash in my pocket, less than five bucks. I tried giving it to him. He shook his head. I insisted. He grabbed my arm, holding it away. I could see his resolve was stronger than mine. I looked into his eyes, touched his arm and said, “You’re a good man. Thank you.” We shook hands and he walked away and I was amazed and reminded that some people in this world are good.

Published by Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel was born in Brooklyn, NY, and has lived in Portland, Oregon. He studied literature and philosophy at NYU and creative writing at Edinburgh University. He is finishing an MFA in Fiction at University of South Carolina.

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