In this modern era when most of the families are very dependent on domestic helpers, my situation is no different.
With three kids and the living expenses that would have drowned many without a sustainable income. The expectation of woman now is not just to be a wife who stays at home managing the household chores, taking care of the kids as well as the elder folks. A woman is expected to bring in the bread, hands on with the kids and be the dutiful wife, mother and daughter-in-law.
I was blessed to be left with my grandma whom I called as “Ah Mah”in Cantonese when my parents were working when I was young.
Ah Mah spoke mainly in Cantonese and was a firm and no nonsense lady. She had so much love for me that she would nagged at the whole world meaning my Ah Gong, Auntie, Mom and Dad BUT not me till the day she died. This was how much she held me close to her heart.
Ah Mah lived in a rented one room flat facing the current Redhill market which was demolished years back to make way for newer HDB. This was a place that I spent my childhood from birth to about 6 years old. The only place which I felt so close to and known with so much love embedded because of Ah Mah though it’s run down, bricks structured, filled with “old people’ stench and the silent sadness as you witnessed the units getting more quiet as the old folks passed away.
There was the daily Ding Ding sweets on sale as I would called it as the old uncle would use a metal tool to cut the white candy in small pieces. On a lucky day, Ah Mah would give me money to buy from this uncle or the from the Kacang Puteh Indian uncle with his display of nuts and sour plums. I would use the 5 cents to buy these treats wrapped in paper.
Those were days where I spent time going to the Redhill market with Ah Mah drinking my Milo or Horlick poured into the ceramic saucer to cool down the drink and later sip from or use the spoon. After which, happily trotting behind her as she buy her stuff from the wet market before we head back.
Life was simple but that was all the happiness I needed in my tiny world. My meals are mainly white porridge with the preserved beancurd with an occasional meat to add in as bonus. I would be massaging my Ah Mah on her shoulders which she never grew tired off and standard on her holding on to the window grills to give her a miniature Thai massage on her legs and back.
When it was time for me to go to Kindergarten, Ah Mah held me in her warm hands and her smile always ready for me to the school. Occasionally, Ah Mah brought me along to her mahjong session where we would be taking the trishaw which was part of the transportation without the loud music and fancy decor of course. Just a strong lean old man with a white short sleeve shirt and straw hat and beaming a toothless smile at times. She had warned me never to ever get addicted to gambling which I heed her advice and kept this promise.
When I was promoted to Primary 1, I became the “key holder” child, which meant I would be holding the key of the place and proceed home myself after I alighted from the school bus. I took care of myself with cooking simple lunch, household chores and homework before mom came home in the evening.
Through the years, I would always make a point to visit Ah Mah regularly. She grew weaker, laden with illnesses and Alexandra Hospital became my next hotspot to see her. She later moved to stay with my Auntie in Jurong West but as my Auntie always not home, she moved to a nursing home in Choa Chu Kang. She was only there for a week before she passed away.
I was the last one to see her before she go. She held my hands really tight refusing to let me go but I was having a bad gastric that I need to leave. My heart sank when I heard the news next day that she had left me.
I felt like I am the worse person on earth, which I still felt I am. That I should have felt her unwillingness to see me go and never able to see me again. My tears still flow when I thought of her death each time. She had became such an integral part of my life that I could never let her go. I kept thinking that if there is such a thing like soul, she could sleep beside me and allow me feel her presence. Her first two weeks of death was so traumatic that I could not eat at all, purely surviving on packet drinks and never ending chain of cigarettes (I was a smoker then). I almost thought I could not carry on living.
It had been 14 years since she passed away but her love still stayed on in my heart. Never left me and I learnt to transfer the love to my kids.
I still MISS you madly Ah Mah. Thank you for being part of my life.