I came to Malaysia four years ago to work as a security guard. I guard condominiums and sometimes have to accompany visitors to their floors on the elevator. But I do not step out of the elevator. We are not allowed to.
I paid for my tickets to come to Malaysia, and my employer deducted 1,000 Ringgit over the course of two months from my salary. It may not sound as bad as what other migrants pay for these jobs but it was the deal I had struck with my agent.
He had previously sent me to Qatar as an electrician and after five months of not being paid, I returned. He deemed it cheaper to send me to Malaysia as a security guard than to repay the Rs95,000 I had paid for the job in Qatar. It took me 10 months to haggle with him, but it worked out eventually.
Every day for the past four years, I have worked for 12 hours, 30 days a month. I can send home over Rs40,000 a month, which for my family is a lot.
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But I realised the fragility of our lives when my roommate, also a security guard, died a few months back.
Let’s call him Shiva dai.
We had been roommates for over two and a half months. We shared a room but we only saw each other for an hour or two every morning given our duty hours.
From the onset it was obvious that Shiva dai came to Malaysia to grind. He had a singular purpose of earning as much as he could while here. Perhaps we all come to the Gulf or Malaysia with the same aim, but Shiva dai was a different breed. He worked two jobs, which meant he worked 20 hours a day, every day.
“We are here to work, to earn money, so I will do whatever it takes to earn as much as I can,” he used to say. And he did. “Why don’t you take up another job or extra shifts?” he used to ask me. I didn’t think it was physically possible for me, 12 hours was more than enough.
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Shiva dai was nice to me. We cooked separately but when we made good food, we used to share it with each other. I had gotten used to our mornings when we cooked and chatted as we ate. I used to ask him not to work so hard, to take care of his health. He used to say he got to sleep at work, on his chair during the night shift when everything was quiet and there wasn’t much to “guard”. In fact, he used to be annoyed at me for not taking advantage of such easy opportunities but I resisted. By his standards, I might have looked idle to him.
One morning, Shiva dai was cooking: boiled eggs for breakfast and chicken soup for his lunch and dinner. He asked me if I could stir the chicken while he took a shower. I agreed. The soup was looking good that morning, especially as I had just come back from a 12 hour night shift.
When Shiva dai came out of the shower, he complained of a backache and that his legs felt stiff. He asked me if I could help apply Vicks on his back. He looked like he was in grave pain. As I helped him, I asked him if this has happened before, he said twice. Next, he was unable to move his leg. I got scared and called my boss. By the time paramedics arrived, Shiva dai had passed after having what looked like three rounds of seizure. The police came, took him away.