The philosopher of grease

An airline pilot just 3 months ago, now greasing and adjusting rusty bikes

pic by AFP

“SOMEONE ate a bat in China and then I was unemployed.”

The interjection from the usually quiet bicycle mechanic caught me by surprise, not just because he’s usually about as talkative as a brick, but his pithy observation just about summed up what Covid-19 has been for most of us.

There were three of us in the bicycle shop, and while the mechanic nursed my decrepit pile of steel back to life, the conversation naturally turned to important stuff: Like how to survive in these accursed times.

“Are you a philosopher?” I asked.

“Haha, no lah. I read it somewhere, but it is true for me,” he said, not in a sad way but matter-of-factly.

Recognising our silence as a cue to elaborate, the mechanic volunteered his story since the pandemic began in earnest just 10 months ago.

Turns out, the guy putting grease on my Shimano was an airline pilot just three months ago. Like thousands of other Malaysians, demand for his highly technical skills has dried up. Gone, because the whole world has stopped functioning because of the virus.

Some people in his situation took the losses very hard, but the mechanic was not swimming in self pity by the look of it.

Just a couple of months ago, he was flying multimillion complex flying machines with thousands of lives in his hands.

Those same hands were now deftly and carefully adjusting my rusty bike, a less complex machine to be sure, but with the same gusto, I would imagine, driving his Airbus.

“It is what it is, and I’m at least getting paid for doing something I like,” he said without any trace of irony. “I can’t say the same for most Malaysians who got laid off.”

It’s alright, he said, people will survive because they have nothing else to fall back to.

“Just one thing,” he said, “I wish those people up there don’t act like there’s no crisis and people are not starving.”

By “those people”, he meant the tone deaf politicians who seem unable to look beyond their party affiliations for the sake of the people.

“Take this budget they’re twisting their panties about, for example. It is important to pass it for obvious reasons.

“One side presented a budget full of holes and gravy for cronies, so of course the other side won’t consider a blanket support for it when the vote comes, especially if it also means a little bit like giving the present government some backhanded legitimacy. So, where does that leave the rest of us with no jobs and a tanking economy?

“If only they can sit together and put the people first for once in their lives.”

As I paid the bill, he interjected one more profundity.

“At this stage, we either die of some bat virus or we die of starvation.”

“Young man, don’t let anyone say otherwise. You are a philosopher,” I said.