Today, Nga Htu was freed from jail. Na Htu Gyi spent most of his life in the jail. He has expected that he would end his life in the prison. When the Prison Authority called him for informing his freedom from jail, he felt that he was sentenced to go to hell.
“Now you became an independent commoner. You can move freely in the outside world. Well, Ko Htu Gyi, forget your committed sins in the past. You’ve paid your evils. You take it as ‘already washed’ with new spirit stay calmly by taking an honest career. I’m really glad for you.’
Those are the words spoken by the Chief Jailor before his departure. They gladly informed his amnesty as a result of nationally celebrated function. On the other hand, Nga Htu Gyi wavered why the authorities were pleased in precipitating a person into trouble.
In fact, Nga Htu Gyi came into the den of trouble soon after living the jail-gate.
This is not the jail which he had entered thirty years ago. During those thirty years he had been transferred two times from one jail to another. This jail was located in the town which he had never been.
Nga Htu Gyi walked along the street absent-mindedly. Sometime after, he came to the crowded place. By observing the pedestrians, coolies and in-and-out vehicles he came to know that it was a ‘bazaar’. He could not understand the way of trading or the fixed price on the goods. He touched his pocket considering about the money. Knowing the moneyless situation the Chief Jailor had supplied him with a bank-note. That note was found in his pocket. He picked it out. As he had passed so long a time without using any money Nga Htu Gyi scarcely knew the value of money.
Nga Htu Gyi unfolded the note. He was shocked at the sight of the figure, ‘500’ and ‘Ngar Yar Kyat’ in words. Too much, indeed. The amount of 500 could purchase a man’s life-span. His life has been purchased at that price of ‘500-Kyat’.
“Will you do it for 500-Kyat?”
He had confidence in the offer of the red-faced man in an eddy tone. The job is just to pull a string for 500-Kyat. Noticing his suspicion that man said, “Take this 200-Kyat, now”. That man showed his generosity. Ten-Kyat notes were twenty in number, when he counted. Real 200- Kyat! 200-Kyat in hand called for another 300-Kyat. In retrospect, Nga Htu Gyi made a deep sigh.
He became hungry. He wandered about the snack-shops around the bazaar. At a certain place he saw a ‘Mont-hin-ga’ shop. As the shopkeeper stirred the soup-pot the sweet smell goaded the nostrils of Nga Htu Gyi. He took the front seat.
“One for me”
Nga Htu Gyi enjoyed the snack which the shopkeeper had prepared. He took it leisurely fearing to finish.
“It is 200-Kyat”
“Oh! It’s too much. Is it real? It’s 4-annas in our boyhood. With fried snack it’s only 30-Pyas.” “What!” hissed the shopkeeper before her complaint?
“Don’t be sneering. Don’t be maddened. Oh!, the audience! That chap took Mont-hin-ga for 4- annas. Hay guy, if you fear to pay, don’t be sneering. If you starve, be a beggar! I would strike with the ladle. What do you think of me?”
“Oh! No, no. I’ve been just freed from the jail!”
“Do you think, I’ll fear a convict? If you fail to pay….”
“I’ll pay. I do pay. Take it.”
Nga Htu Gyi paid his 500-Kyat note immediately out of his pocket.
“Alas, Oh my God! One plate of Mont-hin-ga for 200-Kyat. Was the world upset? While I’m in the jail.
If so, that eat 500-Kyat is nothing. It won’t last long. I’ve to search for meal. Chief Jailor advised me an honest career. What’ll I do? With the exception of jail-jobs I could do nothing. Only at a plantation I could work.
Nga Htu Gyi wandered through the town on an expedition for the job.
Somewhere in the town he found a leather-cutting job. He enquired for a job. One worker pointed him to a bald-headed man. “Over there is a owner.” Nga Htu Gyi respectfully asked for a job. The owner observed him from head to foot. He swung his head uttering,
“Impossible go away… away”. Thus he was driven out.
The whole day, Nga Htu Gyi hunted for a job. Thus the evening came near. Hunger came further.
Nga Htu Gyi recalled the prison-life. There was no need to worry for the meal. Eating time and sleeping time are regular. Doing the job in time is that all. Tiredness is nothing. Nga Htu Gyi missed for the prison. He is willing to go back there. While sitting on a shady brick-step he recalled for his mishaps.
He had a hard life in his infancy. Mother died soon after his birth. Father, on the other hand, became desperate and left the village. Actually he had not seen his father and mother. His elder-uncle adopted him. It was not a generous adoption. Elder uncle had to bear his wife’s impatience. It was not the fault of uncle’s wife. They already had five children of their own. Nga Htu Gyi was a big burden.
Thus at the age of 6, he was sent to the village-monastery. Elder uncle gave him the name, Nga Htu Gyi.
The abbot had sympathy on the parentless child. He regarded Maung Htoo on the same level with other children. He taught to read and write. But Nga Htu Gyi could not pass the basic course……. “Thin-bone-gyi”. He finished the course finally. No more learning after that.
The abbot used him as an errand boy. He let the boy carry the meal-casket on his way for asking alms. Even on any errand, Nga Htu Gyi was unreliable. As a result of failure in errands he was nick-named by the abbot as ‘Mr. Ignorant’, ‘Fool’ or ‘Idiot’.
Instead of calling him ‘Maung Htuu’ meaning ‘Mr. Special’, the abbot changed his name as ‘Maung Htu’ i.e. ‘Mr. Ignorance’. When he became grow-up he was called ‘Senior Nga Htu’ meaning ‘ignorant’, ‘dull’, ‘clumsy’, ‘dull-witted’ or ‘Knive’. A composition of good-for-nothing.
One day a guest-monk from the town came. He was a monk-student there. On his return he had to fetch Nga Htu Gyi.
The abbot requested the guest-monk to find any job for Nga Htu Gyi. He added that Nga Htu Gyi could do any hard labour. Then he said,
“Nga Htu, you obey the monk. Behave yourself. Don’t be foolish.”
Thus Nga Htu Gyi came to the town. Being a town with rail-way line Nga Htu Gyi was given the job of coolie at the railway station thanks to monk-student.
Nga Htu Gyi honestly did his work. He worked hard. He behaved as the abbot instructed.
It’s once only. He committed foolish activity only once. That is just to pull a string for 500-Kyat. He never thought of becoming a foolish person by pulling a string.
Due to that ignorance he became a foolish person by pulling a string.
As he saw man with reddish face three of four times in a day, he noticed his movement. He was aware that the red-face man was watching him. At noon that red-faced man came near him.
“Follow me as I’ve something to consult with you.” He was surprised.
He brought him near to the common toilet. Then he asked if he could pull a string. He promised 500-Kyat for that job.
“Will you do it for 500-Kyat?”
As he was aware of his suspicious facial expression the red-faced man gave him 200-Kyat. “Now you take it.”
He was quite generous. It was twenty ‘ten-Kyat notes’. It is real 200-Kyat.
“I’ll show you what to do. Come on.”
The red-faced man brought him to a faraway place from the railway station. It was a place, passing the warehouse at the railway station entrance beside the avenue at the foot of railway slope. There he found a string. The string was steel-wool. He did not know where the string ended.
“You pull the string toward you when the train comes in. That’s all. You’ll receive 500-Kyat.”
“You understand! You must pull when the train-engine head came in front of the warehouse. You remember!”
He waited till the train came. He must be dutiful. He had taken the advanced money of 200- kyat.
The train came in. It passed the place where he stood. While he was watching the train-engine arrived at the godown. As the red-faced man told he pulled the string toward him.
The sound of high explosive burst out. He was alarmed. Running train-luggage was blown upward. Hellish cries rose. The earth was quaked.
At the side of sudden change Nga Htu Gyi was amazed. He could not understand the link between the crumbled luggage and the string, he pulled. That was why he stood still.
A crowd rushed in. They saw him holding the string. They seized him and sent him to the police-confinement. What are they doing? What is his fault? He could not understand.
At the Court he was charged with many accusations. Damaging the public property. A massacre. Bomb bursting. High Treason. Linking with the insurgents.
Actually he never committed anything. He had pulled the string for 500-Kyat which was promised by the red-faced man. Even then he never received the full 500-Kyat. He confessed what he did honestly.
The judge sentenced him 40-years imprisonment with hard labour.
While he was nodding the smell of fried snacked him. The past memory faded out. The smell of fried snack awakened him. The past memory faded out. The smell aroused his hunger. He became too hungry. By touching his 300-Kyat note in his pocket he went to the snack-shop.
“How much for a snack?”
This time he got the idea of asking the price. “One for fifty.”
Nga Htu Gyi had to consider the price…. Fifty Pyas or fifty Kyats. He dared not ask the shopkeeper. Fifty Pya is impossible. One plate of Mont-hin-ga was 200-Kyat then. So he picked out two snacks of ‘ba-yar-gyaw’. When he gave 100-Kyat note the shopkeeper snatched it without giving any change. The shopkeeper kept it under her sieve. Surely, one for fifty Kyat.
Nga Htu Gyi went back to the brick-step. There he took the snacks…. ba-yar-gyaw. Tiny snacks were gone with two bites. Nga Htu Gyi was not satisfied. He became hungrier. He was in need of money.
At night he would need a sleeping place. Oh my God! Where may I sleep? That is the trouble in the outside world. Such would not happen in the jail. It is better to stay in the prison. It is better to go there.
Meanwhile a long siren was heard. This is the train-siren. The siren was regularly heard in the prison.
Nga Htu Gyi went toward the siren-sound. Soon he found out of the station. He rushed in. He had heard the siren which this train produced. When he came in, the train had already stopped. Passengers were descending.
Nga Htu Gyi rushed to a nearby luggage. He asked a passenger if he needed a coolie. “May I curry your loads? Is that all?”
At that moment his neck was snatched from behind. He turned back and saw a railways man in uniform.
“Hey guy, what do you do?”
“I’m acting as a coolie.”
“What don’t you understand that you need a membership? Go away!”
Nga Htu Gyi had to retreat. He wondered. He could not understand.
Nga Htu Gyi sat helplessly on the bench in the station. Darkness fell. Tonight he had to sleep on the bench in the station. He was nodding on the bench. He lay down to sleep.
“Hey guy. No one was allowed to sleep in the station. Go away. No one was allowed to stay here.”
A man on duty drove him out.
While working along the street he came to the bridge across a drain. On the arm of it he took seat. He was sleepy. He was hungry. Sleeping would fade out hunger. Where will I sleep? There was no such worry in the jail. No worry at all in the jail.
Meanwhile, with the help of the light of the passing car he saw the bottom of the bridge. Drain is wide. Can he sleep in the drain under the bridge?
Nga Htu Gyi did not think long. While there was no witness, he slide downs the bridge. Less water in the drain. Slight water along the middle of the drain. As the drain was covered with walls on both sides he could lean to it. He sat on the ground. In spite of being damp it is comfortable there. It is not so bad to sleep there.
Nga Htu Gyi recalled warmth and secured position of the jail. There was nowhere better than prison for him. If in the jail he would have a sound sleep. He wished to go back to the jail.
He awoke only when the day broke.
Although he had slept in leaning position against the wall, he found himself on the ground in the morning. His body under the waist was wet with moisture due to lying on the ground the whole night. His body suffered pain. Such situation for an aged person could do easily. No choice but to go to jail.
After pissing in the drain Nga Htu Gyi climbed back the bridge.
A boy of 12 years old standing on the bridge was watching him climb up. The boy holding a stick fixed with pointed nail was shouldering a Penang-bag. With other hand he was eagerly eating a fried dough stick. He was a collecting boy gathering pieces of plastics, pieces of paper and the like. At the sight of eating boy Nga Htu Gyi became hungrier. His muscles were shaking with hunger. He became dizzy because of hunger. His heart was full of missing the jail.
As the day broke fully shoppers, trishaws, horse-cart and hawkers appeared on scene. Nga Htu Gyi was still hungry. He became short-tempered. Plastic-collecting boy left for the litter-place eating the fried dough stick with the mouth stuffed full. Nga Htu Gyi became jealous of the boy. The boy was stirring the litter with his stick. He was mourning a song.
Nga Htu Gyi followed the boy who was busy with the litter. Nga Htu Gyi had determined to do something.
He looked around. He snatched a wooden stick beside the litter. Holding it firmly he approached the boy who was busy mourning a song. When he came near the boy he struck the onyx holding the stick with both hands. The boy seemed knowing nothing. Without a murmur he fell down on his chest in the rubbish. Falling down was not enough. He must die. His wish would be fulfilled, only when the boy was dead. He continued the strike.
A trishaw-man and hawker saw the scene.
“Alas, killing, killing!”
“Help, help. The child was being tortured.”
The whole environment became noisy. Men rushed in. Nga Htu Gyi never turned back.
He looked at the boy with bloody head. The blood was terrible. The boy suddenly shook once. Then he did not move any more. Nga Htu Gyi threw away the stick into the drain.
He unfolded the boy’s grip and took the fried dough. He rubbed the sand on the dough with his ‘pusoe’. He ate it greedily.
Men watched Nga Htu Gyi. Nobody dared to seize him. They blocked his movement. They were observing the cold-blooded murderer.
Soon the policemen came.
“Hey, don’t run!”
Nga Htu Gyi never. He had no intention to escape.
Nga Htu Gyi stretched his hands to be handcuffed. The approaching policeman locked the handcuff. Then the policeman took Nga Htu Gyi roughly and toughly.
Nga Htu Gyi who was roughly pulled in handcuff made a satisfactory smile at last.
Written by: Saung Luu Lin
Translated by: Htay Oo Maw
Is that Foolishness?,