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The man stands before you on the Second Class coach and says something in a low voice. It sounds like Thai but it could be "Can you help me?" Certainly that's the meaning. You understand that much from the crutch, from the skinny stub of a leg hacked-off below the knee. You understand too the out-stretched hand and the steady eyes, the eyes you cannot meet. The words may be only a string of sounds: Thai to you, English to him but you understand his leg quite clearly. It's well-exposed to produce maximum discomfort, to elicit maximum sympathy and you resent his tactics though certainly you don't envy his position.

"Do shio?" you hear in another foreign language. Your friend asks it. "What should we do?" she means. "Just ignore him, he'll go away," you say. You resent being put on the spot just as, perhaps, he resents your affluence. He mutters the string of sounds again and waits, looking at you. You look away. He reminds you that you're overfed, over-weight, overpaid so you won't reward his gambit even though you probably have more money in your pocket than he'll go through in his short and difficult lifetime. You wait him out, wait a long time, but in the end he must hobble off and you fall into discussing his ruse, making excuses for not sparing 10 baht or so just to get rid of him. It's not the money, you contend---a mere 50 cents in your currency, a paltry 50 yen in hers -- no, it's some kind of wounded honour at work that won't let you give even a pittance to a beggar.

The train pulls out and you forget him. Your thoughts turn to the scenes of poverty scudding along by the tracks. The train slows down again and the legless man reappears, imploring you again with his string of sounds, his searching look. "He's still on the train," you say aloud, surprised. You look away as the discomfort returns and, mercifully, he turns, hobbles off into the next compartment.

"He jumped off before the train even stopped," your lady friend says. "What?" you ask. "He jumped off onto the platform while the train was still moving. He's pretty genki." So that's it, you think. He works the trains between these two stations, back and forth, making his sounds, his plea to all the foreign pleasure seekers then hopping off before the conductor can make the rounds. "It's his job," you say, dismissing the subject once and for all as the train picks up speed once again.




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