“She needs it more than I do, young man.”
by Chua Han Au
My mind was in a rush, disorientated, hasty.
1.32 P.M. I’m late for lunch.
I’m left with 28 minutes to eat, or perhaps I should just grab a bite, literally.
1.40 P.M. I’m done.
The sound of rain, getting louder and louder.
The raindrops were like a hail of bullets, hammering down on skyscrapers, smudges of light.
I lamented. Why now!?
I got out of the building, finally
The ominous sky was overcast with burdened clouds of mournful grey, the torrent coercing everyone to find shelter. The rhythmical symphony of falling rain, blotting out the tangerine-gold rays of the sun.
As I made my way to the nearest 7-Eleven, I saw an old lady. She sat by the corner of the store, her back was hunched, her ashen hair fell around her frail and bony shoulders, like the leaves of a willow tree. Her face was distinct with cobweb-like wrinkles. Her eyes, a symbol of melancholy and despondency. Hunger too. Her thin-lips lost its innate pink colour yet instead, displayed a colour of death.
The pang of hunger altered into a feeling of extreme desolation and sympathy for the old lady. Although she had a jacket on, it didn’t seem like it could provide the warmth that she required. It was ripped off by the shoulder, as though an aggressive dog had taken it for playtime. Furthermore, she seemed oblivious to the fact that she was actually sitting on a pool of water!
I rushed into the store, got a loaf of raisin bread, a bottle of fresh milk in an attempt to hand them over to the old lady.
“Hi Ma’am, I got these for you. You look like you’re shivering. Here’s my jacket, please take them,” I spoke to the old lady in a most cordial manner.
“Why don’t I help you up and let’s move to somewhere sheltered, shall we?”
She smiled, showing off her toothless gums.
“Thank you child. But it’s okay. I prefer staying here and accompanying him,” she responded in a voice that was so dry.
Him? Besides the both of us, there isn’t anyone here at all. Could she be seeing things?
“Why child, you run along now. It’s raining cats and dogs. You don’t want to get drenched in the rain and fall sick. Take care of yourself.”
“Excuse me Ma’am, pardon me for me being rude but may I know who is this “he” that you were referring to?”, I asked boldly, totally forgetting about the loaf of bread and milk.
“He? In case you were wondering, I’m not mental. I can’t see ghosts or spirits or souls hovering around. But I can feel him. My intuition tells me that his soul still lingers in this alley, where he was brutally murdered, stabbed,” she paused while streaks of warm tears started flowing down her sallow cheeks.
“37 years ago. We were so young then, wealthy, having nothing to worry. Living a life so carefree, full of love. Until that night, when a masked man tried to rob me. He was so brave trying to fight the man, but the latter was too strong for he was armed as well. He reached out, stabbed my husband and fled.”
Could she be living this life for 37 years?
“Child, please don’t make me continue this tragic story. I don’t want to go through all the torturous mental suffering again. Spare me,” the old lady pleaded in extreme desperation.
“I’m so sorry, Ma’am. I didn’t know. I’m really sorry.”
She looked away, allowing her tears to fall.
“Ma’am? I bought these for you. Please accept them. I’m sure your husband would most certainly like to see you being happy and healthy.”
“Thank you. But, can you see a lady by the alley over there? I heard that she hasn’t been eating for days. She needs it more than I do, young man. A kind soul has already given me a packet of rice the day before. So could you please, give these to her instead, for my sake?” the old lady asked.
My heart sank. Why would someone, in a situation like her, reject such an offer and instead, plead one to offer these food to another?
She was benevolent and magnanimous for her actions proved so. Although she looks haggard and crummy, she was a woman with values. A woman worthy of my respect, a woman worthy to be respected by everyone.
I insisted politely yet firmly and finally succeeded in handing over the bread, milk and jacket to her.
I thought then, what was my hunger compared to theirs?
It was imperative that I ought to make a decision myself and buy an additional set for the lady by the other side of the road for she, too, needs it desperately.
Many people often have the wrong perception that they don’t have what it takes to make a difference to the world. Truth is, you don’t have to be a celebrity, a philanthropist or someone big to do so. Even something as small as giving a smile to your neighbour or saying “thank you” to your daily postman can make his day. Making a difference to the world might seem like a mighty task. But it is in fact, a collective and collaborative effort of everyone’s contribution with the intention of doing good.
So, what about my lunch? Well, surprisingly, I discovered a cookie that I had left in my bag the day before. A cookie for lunch? Well, I can still survive, can’t I?