I was at home the whole weekend recently when he came to our house. When I went to the front door to answer his call, there stood Ah Chong with both his hands resting in between the metal gate grill. He was always in his usual: worn out short pants, faded blue t-shirt and that thing on his head that could either be a very old helmet, half a coconut shell of a cross of both.
"Halo, halo," he said while smiling and waving his hand at me. "Want to collect newspaper fee."
"Hello, Chong," I said while opening the gate for him and allowing him to enter the shaded part within the house perimeter. It was sunny outside, and it was very unkind to let him stand in the hot sun. Once in, he took off his half a coconut shell helmet and placed it on a chair we occasionally used in the evening to sit on and relax. His shorts was torn at some parts near his knees. He was about to sit down when I held his hand up and asked him to get inside the house instead.
"No need to go inside lah," he said. "Here also can."
"It's alright la Chong," I told him. "Come get inside, it's comfortable than here."
He constantly refused to follow me into the house for sometime until he finally gave in. My dad appeared at the main door and greeted him with a handshake. He later proceeded to invite Ah Chong to sit on the sofa, from which he constantly refused to and wanted to sit on the floor instead, only to in the end gave up and sat on the sofa after my dad told him that he won't get the newspaper money unless he sits on the sofa.
My mom later came to the living hall with a large jug of chilled water, a large kettle of coffee, three empty glasses and a plate of various traditional Malay kuehs all carefully arranged on a tray. She later served them all on the thick glass coffee table. The standing fan was spinning moderately.
Ah Chong was again refusing to drink and eat anything but again gave in when my dad told him he won't get his money unless he takes something up. After all it was just coffee, water and kuehs. Ah Chong drank up his coffee and later a cup of chilled water and then another after he finished eating two pieces of bingka ubi. Clearly the man was hungry and thirsty from all the traveling he did in the hot tropical weather. He then laid his back into the sofa and said thank you to my dad, who was sitting on another sofa next to him, and to me who was sitting on the floor at the time. I preferred the cold marble tiles better.
"How's work, Chong?" My dad asked.
"Like that lah boss," Ah Chong replied. He always called everyone boss. "Morning time I sell newspapers, evening go back home and rest, tomorrow do the same thing all over again."
"You have been selling newspapers here for almost 20 years, Chong. Don't you get tired or bored?"
"No lah boss," Ah Chong replied with chuckles. "I can only sell newspapers."
"I don't believe you lah Chong," my father said while making a thinking expression on his face. "You must be doing something else too."
"No lah boss. Nothing. I only sell newspapers."
"You better tell the truth la Chong. I am your customer for 20 years what?"
Ah Chong laughed for a while and in the same time patting his own hips slowly. He then looked at my father's face and then at mine.
"Okay lah," he said. "But you don't tell anyone lah, hah? This I share with you only."
My father nodded to his request and waited for him to continue.
"I have been selling newspapers for 20 years, right? In that 20 years also I met my wife, who also sold newspapers at the time in front of Giant supermarket there," Ah Chong told us as his hand went up pointing to what he thought was the direction to Giant but was completely the opposite.
"Then we got married lah. Both of us sold newspapers then. That time I only have a motorbike. That motor outside your house lah! I still use until today!" He laughed hard as if he was amused by the motorbike capability. I started to think that his half a coconut shell helmet aged almost the same as the motorbike.
"So using the money I collected from the newspaper selling, I bought her a van so that she can pick up a lot of newspapers and I can send them to the customers' house, your house."
"Then after some time, I used the money I saved to buy a roof factory in Puchong. That factory makes the clay atap lah! But I don't know how to sell the roof so I asked my nephew to help. I still sold newspapers at that time."
"Then one day of my customer asked me if I wanted to buy a supermarket. He doesn't want the supermarket anymore because he needed money, so I bought the supermarket using the money I collected from newspaper selling and the roofs also. But then again I don't know how to handle supermarket business so I employed a guy lah to take care of the business. That supermarket in Kepong area there lah."
My dad was by then in total disbelief. I was already regurgitating blood from my mouth.
"Then what else?" My dad asked Ah Chong.
"That's all lah. Where got anything else? Hahaha," replied Ah Chong.
"Come on lah Chong!"
"Okay lah. I bought some land lah back in the days using some money I saved. I keep some vegetables and fruits lah in the land. And some belut lah! Send to Hong Kong there. People there like belut so much!"
"How big lah is the land?"
"I also don't know. You ask my wife lah! I never remember also. But there got around 20 kolam lah for belut. I have to buy a small lorry lah to carry the belut to ship. The 3-ton lorry."
3-ton lorry is small?
At this point my father went speechless. All he did was to look at the guy who was in his mid fifties, in torn shorts and faded t-shirt, riding in a fossilized motorbike while wearing a half coconut shell helmet collecting newspaper money from house to house in a hot midday sun every end of month and supplying newspapers to almost all houses in the neighborhood as early as 6.00am in the morning every other day. I on the other hand was given a CPR by my mother.
"Eh okay lah! I still need to collect money from other customers. I have to move now la hah!" Ah Chong said in his loud, friendly voice. My dad handed him an RM50 note and an RM10 note without a single word, still stunned by Ah Chong's story.
"Okay ngam. Sorry ah disturb you today. Thank you for the money, tomorrow I send you newspaper again as usual. See you all ahh! Keep buying newspaper from me ah. Thank you, thank you," Ah Chong spoke to all of us while nodding and laughing, sinking his eyes all in every time he smiled. He then proceeded to the chair outside the house, wore his half a coconut shell helmet, kicked-start the motorbike and left slowly while waving his hand at us with smiles. We all stood by the gate looking at him leaving, while my mom struggling to hold me up as I was by then losing all my motor controls over the shocking experience I had with Ah Chong's tale.
Not a while after that a car passed by. We all recognized that black Mercedez Benz. It was driven by the neighborhood poser who always talked about nothing but himself. He rolled down his window and we all could see him completely in a black suit with necktie and black shades. He then greeted us, and my dad asked him what's up.
"Nothing lah uncle, quite busy lah now! Million dollar projects, too much to handle! I am now going to discuss with some Dato's over some land transactions. RM500 million, uncle! So I go first okay uncle, see you!"
He rolled up his window and left. All of us watched him left the road without a word being said.
We all know he works as a driver for a Dato' somewhere in KL, and that the car he was driving belongs to the Dato'. Everyone knows.
"Orang kita," my dad said.
p/s: I was driving the other day in Puchong and saw Ah Chong's van parked at a roadside in front of a supermarket. Then Ah Chong and his wife came out from the supermarket with a plastic bag full of oranges. He and his wife then gave some passing school kids who were at the time going to the nearby school on foot an orange each for free. He then gave a bunch of keys he found after digging deep in his torn shorts pocket to his wife. He patted his wife's back and laughed before getting into his van and left alone. His wife then left in a freaking red Ferrari.