Between My Gadget and The Old Ex-Janitor Beside Me

I was on my way to Jakarta from my  hometown, was intended to stay there for a night and then go back again. I took the train Serayu and had to sit down in the train for 3,5 hours ’til my arrival. Before I leave, I planed to not wasting time only sleeping in the train for 3,5 hours. I had deadlines, and I decided to work in front of my laptop while sitting down in the economy train… my economical way of thinking said, that the electricity in the train is available to be used by the passengers too. So I brought my laptop too.

But I didn’t use my laptop in that planed 3,5 hours. I didn’t even use my own cellphone (except for contacting my sister and her husband in Jakarta to catch me up in the Jatinegara Station). I didn’t touch my deadline…. didn’t touch my to-do-list. Everything planed was ruined… ruined by somebody that sat beside me.

In front of me were two boys, sat down on the chair with their faces and bodies directed right to me, holded their smartphones and played their motherfinger on it… all the time… eventhough they knew each other. They didn’t talk with each other except asking, “Where are we now already?” I would say, 98% of their time in the train were spent for scrolling-down on their smartphone.

On my right side was an old man. He wore a T-Shirt with a crumpled jacket, and a black trouser. He had a white hair and was very thin. Under his seat were some cartons tied with some strings of raffia. His foot were covered with black slippers. He was eating his proviance: white rice and tongkol. He looked at the window while chewing his food. By the way, he ned a lot of time to chew a spoon of rice and tongkol. I would say, he chewed more than one minute. That was why, I guessed that he was at the age of 77 or more. The older a man is, the slower he chews. (I knew, this guessing was only based on his chewing-activity. I didn’t feel important to see him on the face and calculating how old he is)

While chewing, he always said a statement that no one knows where it was directed to. He didn’t ask one of us (me, or the two boys in front of me) to hear him. He didn’t question something, that could usually start a conversation between strangers. He only stated things that no one wants to know about it. It was almost like a self-talk reality. I am sure that the boys in front of me had heard the old man’s statement, but they kept their eyes to the smartphones. So if I were the old man, I can see that somebody refuse to talk with me.

I thought of taking my laptop out of my bag and start to work in front of it. No one used the electricity, so I could be the first one who use it. But hearing the old man stating statements continuously without getting any respond, even after he finished his food, has stopped me to open my bag. “How cheap to have a house-made food in the train” he said.

So I thought, maybe I could be the first one who respond to his sayings. I put my bag under the chair, and started to wait until he state his mind again. (because responding to his statement about the cheap food was like too late)

Surprisingly, in a few seconds, the old man started to ask the boys where they would go. “Pasar Senen“, said one of the boy with a little smile on his mouth. I was happy to hear that, because finally the old man asked a pointed conversation to somebody. “I see. Almost all people here wanted to go to Pasar Senen. Me too.” he said. And the boys were smiling a little with their eyes going back to their smartphones, and the smiles were slowly fading out. Another refusal the old man got.

So I thought maybe I could ask the old man why he would go to Jakarta. Maybe he would feel better, because finally, somebody cares to him a little bit. But before I asked him, he asked me, where I want to go.

So what happened next was a conversation between a 23-year-old female-passanger and 71-year-old male-passanger. It was not a usual small-talk that almost all strangers did. He told me about how happy he is for having the chances working in different cities and different offices in Indonesia…… as a janitor. He showed me that he is not able to judge how the life was before the Indonesian’s independency, because he was too young to live that life (he was born in 1976). He told me how he felt very lucky as a young boy to had a school right in the near of his house, because in the past time, a lot of students had to walk for hours to reach the school-building. “We were able to count the school building on our island with our finger. Some of parents refused to let their children in my age to go to school because it was so far away.”

We talked for 1,5 hours, and I felt very inspired and tired in the same time. It was because I had to sit down all the time without letting my legs having rest for a couple of minutes. So I said, (hopefully politely) that I had to take a rest for some minutes to make myself better. The old man said, “Please.. Sleep… When we are there, I will wake you up”. I smiled, and closed my eyes slowly. I was not thinking that I would sleep that long, because I had several questions in my mind that I would like to ask him. If the old man cannot answer my questions about the colonialism era because he hasn’t been born yet in that time, he would be able to tell me how the communism era in our homeland… he was a fresh-blood-man in that time…

I woke up by myself and found that the old man was sitting down in silence, heading his face into the window. As I tried to be fully awaken up, I didn’t hear any kind of statement coming from his mouth. In fact, it was after that harder to start a conversation again with him. He seems enjoyed his time looking through the window by himself.


An old man, that lived his life without gadget, would maybe think that the best way to not wasting time is to ask a stranger to talk with him in the train, having conversation and sharing his ideas… maybe getting information too.

A young boy that lived his life with gadget would maybe think that the best thing to do in the train is to scroll-down some websites on the gadget.

A young woman that lived half of her life with gadget could maybe think that the best way to not wasting time is to work in front of the gadget and get the deadlines done… but if there is somebody who loves to share and exchange the information in the train, like the old man is, how could the 3,5 hours journey being called as a time-wasting ?!


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