Yong couldn’t believe how quickly his life had changed. Two days ago he had a good job, he was engaged to a girl his parents had found in the neighbouring village, and he had a lottery ticket that could make him rich. Now he was sitting in a cheap, make-shift bar with no future.
He looked around him; the shack was put together with frail, dirty wooden benches and tables that had seen more years than they were meant to. The air inside was unpleasant and bitter, much like the aftermath of a sour burp; a heady concoction brewed with sweat and cheap alcohol.
Yong wasn’t alone in this miserable place, all the men from his shift were here; where else would that go? As the night wore on, the crowd grew louder and rowdier; the ugly bar owner and his fat wife cast a weary eye across the room, but continued accepting their money and filling up the glasses.
Yong was a simple man; he had never cared for what happened with the world as long as he got paid for his work, had his smokes, and ate three meals a day. His argument was, why worry about people and places he has never seen, and would never see, when he had enough on his own plate. Till yesterday these words had an aura of naïve wisdom about them, but today everything had changed.
Yong was a good worker: he worked hard and kept out of trouble; and so he was greatly surprised when the supervisor asked him to report to the big Boss. Once there, he was told there was some trouble in a country called Sudan. The trouble had spread like a bushfire. “You know how these things work, Yong.” He didn’t, but he nodded anyway. “Now, many countries are upset. We’ve just received official communication about the Ban.” Yong looked confused. “They’ve banned soft toys Yong. All of them, but especially the Teddy Bear.” Yong was sure he hadn’t heard right, but he remained silent. The Boss continued, he said something about it being insulting, a symbol of all things going wrong, and children needing something tangible to hold on to or something like that. The Teddy Bear – the soft pretty white things that he spent twelve hours a day making.
Yong was sure it was joke. He wondered if he should laugh. But the Boss looked serious, even troubled. Yong decided not to risk it, and play along. He told Yong orders had been cancelled. He told him he had no choice. The Boss said he was very sorry. And just like that Yong lost his job.
He had called his parents later that night, but they didn’t understand. They were sure it was his fault. They asked him why he had done it. They lectured him about his duties to them, the loans that needed to be met, and the ancestral farm, which they would lose now. They also told him to forget about the girl. She would surely say no.
Yong usually didn’t waste time on newspapers. There was nothing in it for him. But today he read every word. Sitting in that dank, smelly bar, he read out all the details. The Boss hadn’t lied after all. It wasn’t just a silly story for the stupid workers, it was all true.
Yong had never been religious. And now he cared even less; it had cost him his job, as well as a wife. Yong ordered for another bitter glass. As he reached for the money in his pocket, he felt the crumpled edges of his lottery ticket; and in drunken hope he thought, “Maybe, just maybe, it’s not the end.”