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Manoa 16.1 (2004) 99-102

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Today our workman has squatted down in the shade of a kapok tree by the curb outside the store. There he waits. The morning moves along at the pace of the shade as it shrinks close to the tree trunk. Our young man stands up, stretches out his legs, and leans back against the trunk.

He is the new workman on the block, looking to hire out his labor. He first showed up yesterday, taking in the scene, occasionally chatting with another workman on break. He is back today, hoping to join a team. This is the busy season for workmen. The new crop of rice has been baled up and loaded onto trucks for sale and resale through the network of wholesalers and retailers. Adjoining the central market, this block houses a handful of wholesalers.

Our young man has just finished his lunch: a big scoop of steamy rice wrapped in lotus leaf topped with a small piece of grilled smoked fish and drizzled generously with chillied fish sauce. The lady who sold him the lunch is doing too brisk a trade to notice that she is no longer in the shade of the kapok tree.

At the commotion caused by a truck making its way decisively toward him, our fellow springs to his feet. Two workmen hanging on to the sides of the truck call out to the street vendors to make room for them. The men hop off while the truck is still moving. Swiftly, they help the vendors remove the last of their wares from the curb.

Then, combining energetic hand signals with verbal instructions, they deftly direct the driver to back onto the curb and between two cars, and then to stop. The driver shuts off the engine and walks around to the front.

The space is narrow, and the truck is parked at an angle so that a good part of its nose sticks out into the flow of traffic. Satisfied that there is adequate room to offload the cargo, the driver approaches his wholesaler.

The two have a brief exchange, and pen and papers in hand, the wholesaler starts checking off the cargo of rice. The driver turns to the workmen and assigns each a role in the offloading operation. In addition to the two he has brought with him, two men from the store help.

He pairs up one of his men with one from the wholesaler's and has them [End Page 99] climb inside the truck. Each picks up a hook and proceeds to position the sacks so that they can be heaved onto the backs of the other men.

The driver now calls out to the wholesaler and confers with him earnestly. The wholesaler nods, and both turn to our young man, motioning with their heads toward the store. Our fellow quickly falls into step behind them. He comes back out shortly, stripped down to his boxer shorts, just like the driver and the other fellows.

Our workman now takes his turn. As he walks up to the truck, he exchanges a greeting with a boy: a quick lifting of eyebrows and a little tossing back of the head. The two had chatted briefly the afternoon before and gotten along well. Then our workman presents his bare back to his first hundred-kilogram sack of rice. It's obvious that his skin lacks the seasoning of physical labor under the sun.

Facing each other, his workmates plunge their hooks into the front corners of a rice sack and heave it onto the workman's back. They try to align the heavy load with his center of gravity. He teeters, steps forward unsteadily, and walks to the store, the rice sack balancing awkwardly on his back.

Now it is the driver's turn. He throws an empty bag over his shoulders before taking on a rice sack. Though he may be small, he carries his load with a sure step.

The driver is the shortest, stoutest, and darkest of his work team. He exudes the most authority and commands respect from...


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pp. 99-102
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