"You know I used to own three shops" said the taxi driver as he negotiated the Peugeot 407 round a left turn. "I imported leather jackets from Italy," the driver added as his left hand pulled at the leather sleeve of his right hand which stayed on the wheel.
The taxi driver was driving me back from the airport to my apartment after my Algeria trip. I had recently dropped off my colleague who travelled with me. We started a conversation of small talk and then the topic drifted to this.
"Then the war came and I lost everything" he continued, "They bombed all my shops. I lost about 500,000 dollars..."
I looked at the driver wondering how I should respond. He looked in his 60s, well groomed, mild mannered and spoke decent English. He must have seen better times but now he's driving a taxi.
"When a man falls down, he can get up again. But in a war, when he falls, he can never get up again. Halas! I can never recover what I had." he said with a tinge of hopelessness in his voice.
To a man who had lost his hope and future because of a meaningless civil war that ended 15 years ago , what should I say to him? Finally I managed, "Is your family still with you?"
Bad move. What if someone in his family was killed in the war?
"I have two children, a son and a daughter. My daughther is in the university, my son is in school. My mother stays with me and my wife" He said. I was lucky. I successfully steered the topic from material losses to focus on the intangible wealth that he still possess. "Well at least you have you family with you. That's is more important than money, right?" I offered. He agreed. Perhaps he had already made peace with the past...but would he have brought it up if he had?
The taxi driver has not lost any loved ones but only his fortunes. A victim of war nevertheless.I felt pity for his hopelessness and I hope his family is happy.
The taxi made a turn and ended up at the entrance of my apartment block. I paid him, got his card and promised to call him if I need a ride to the airport the next time.
Can a Singaporean, accustomed to a sheltered and provided life, truly understand the pain and anguish of someone who had lost something precious to heart in a war? How does one deal with a loss that has no meaning to it? In the Lebanese Civil War where there were no victors or losers, a loss of a loved one or one's fortune can never be justified with any causes. As can be seen increasingly in recent wars, civillians are paying the ultimate price no matter which sides are winning. The question remains, can people truly let go of their feelings of loss and move on with their life?