17 January 2006

The ring man of Jinah

ISLAMABAD - The young man had interesting jewellery on display. He spoke very little English and lapsed into Urdu at times, but we communicated with the help of gestures. I spotted an interesting ring and asked him for a price, and he kept saying, "Gift, gift". I thought he meant "Give, give" - as in "give a price" - but since I didn't know how to, I left it at that and continued looking at his jewellery.

When I saw another interesting ring, I asked for the price again. Again, the reply was "Gift, gift". I still assumed it was "Give, give", so this time, I decided to try my luck and plucked a number from the sky.

"One hundred."

Again, "Gift, gift."

I looked quizically at him and left it at that again. Meanwhile we chatted. I told him that I was from Singapore, was here for work, staying in hotel and leaving tomorrow. He told me his name was Izebel (sp?). He wanted to ask for my number and address, mentioning something about being friends. I smiled the most sincere I could manage, but shook my head. How do I convey that I am going away tomorrow, possibly never coming back, and just want this to remain a warm encounter between two human beings?

I was now prepared to buy one of the rings and asked once more for a price. I thought he would finally quote a price now that he didn't get my number. But he continued repeating, "Gift, gift." I insisted on paying.

Then he said firmly,

"No, not about pay. Friend."

At this point, to have continued insisting would be insulting to him and his kind gesture to a fellow human being. So I thanked him, many times over, and smiling the most grateful smile I could. He smiled back in return. I don't know if it was with disappointment, but if it was, I tried not to see it.

At this point, another customer came by and took his attention. With the ring on my right index finger, I said one last time of "thank you" and walked slowly away, bewilderedly touched by this act of kindness in a land as foreign as Islamabad.

Postscript: We had some time to go back to Jinah Supermarket on the last day. I had been feeling bad about taking a ring from someone who was probably trying to make ends meet, so I decided to buy something from Izebel. I picked out a pair of earrings and tried to pay him a customary Rp 100. At first, he refused and stuffed the money together with the earrings back into the paper bag, but I insisted. At long last he relented.

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