It was raining that night as I left the office at around 9.00pm. The traveling time from my office at Taman Setiawangsa to my house at Taman Melawati was only around 15 minutes.
I reached the roundabout that connected Keramat AU3 to the MRR and stopped at the traffic lights. From out of the car window I saw a man holding an umbrella walking towards me. He reached the driver's side of the car and tapped gently on the window. I rolled down the window but only a quarter of the way, just enough for me to see the man's face and hear what he has to say.
The man was perhaps in his late fifties and neatly dressed. He initially greeted me in Malay and then proceeded to tell me that his car broke down and he has run out of money to call for a tow-truck. He asked if I could help him by giving some cash.
The sceptic in me immediately doubted this story and I could've queried him on details. But he looked a decent enough old man and standing there in the rain made him look even more pitiful. As if to convince me further, he offered to take note of my address and send me back the money. This last part he spoke in fluent English.
I was already tired from a long day's work and was eager to get home. I therefore gave him the benefit of doubt and handed over some cash. No need to send it back, I said. He thanked me profusely and the appreciation in his eyes seemed genuine enough.
It did cross my mind that the man could be a trickster and that I've just been conned. On the other hand, I pictured myself in his situation... facing some misfortune somewhere and honestly hoping for a stranger's help. Is it not a kind thing to help a fellow human being in trouble?
In situations like these, I have a simple rule... if I do not wish to help by giving money, then just decline... no need to ask any questions. Otherwise, just hand out the cash and hope that I've done the right thing. If the guy is not telling the truth, then so be it. In such cases, I believe the money was not meant to be mine in the first place. Bukan hak saya tapi hak orang lain. This way, it helps keep my conscience clear... and more importantly, it makes me feel less a fool.
The above incident happened around 3 years ago when I was based in Kuala Lumpur. Fast forward to the present... last week to be exact.
I was again in Kuala Lumpur and on my way to visit a friend whose daughter had undergone surgery (see previous post). It was around 8.00 pm and the earlier heavy rain had slowed to a drizzle. I stopped at the traffic lights at the turn-off from MRR to Jalan Ampang, near Ampang Point.
From the corner of my eye, I saw someone approach my car and then gently tapping on the window. I wound down the window and an elderly Malay gentleman greeted me by giving the Salam. He then told the story of how his car had broken down and he has run out of cash. Could I help him by donating some?
It was when the old man spoke in fluent English that I realised he was the same person who asked me for money three years ago...
"I'm on my way to home to Seremban when my car broke down," he said, "and I don't know anybody here in KL. Can you help me please."
What the f@*#! It's the same bloke I `helped' three years ago! By trying to sell the same story, it confirms that he's trying to con me.
I slowly wound up the car window and ignored the conman. He continued to tap on the window and buat muka kesian. The traffic lights changed to green and I drove off.
I wound up the car window not because I was afraid to tell him off, but rather to prevent things from getting ugly. Otherwise I might have reached out, grabbed him by the shirt collar and shout out a few profanities. Not a nice thing to do to a senior citizen.
As I drove away, the incident of three years ago played again in my mind. What are the chances of the same conman trying to play the same trick twice on the same person, three years apart? Not very likely, right? As the English saying goes... Fool me once, shame on you but fool me twice, shame on me.
Here's something else for you to ponder... If the conman works for about two hours that night, he could probably try to pull the trick on about 20 drivers. If we assume a 50% success rate and each kind-hearted driver coughs out RM10, then the trickster would end up with RM100. Not bad for a day's taking based solely on selling a sob story.
And so, my friends... if your are driving in the Keramat AU, Ampang or maybe even the Melawati areas and a stranger comes up to you pleading for help because his car broke down, you know what to do.