Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Why did I procrastinate?

This incident happened on a Monday evening after my Open House duty at HQ, Syed Alwi Road. It affected me for days and it also left me with regrets. In life, people come and go so do certain incidents, but there is just no way to forget them.

The time was about 15mins to 10pm as we made our way to a nearby coffee shop for some beverage after the Open House. There were 4 of us including myself. I remembered we were discussing about a durian trip which was organised by the Welfare. The place was not packed, only about 3 tables including ours were occupied. 30 mins later, it happened.

Due to our seating position, I was the only one that witnessed it. A man with white disheveled hair, over-sized chequed blue shirt and a pair of knee-length faded black bermudas, sat down. He called out to the coffee-shop lady who was standing just about a metre away from him. He was barely audible to me.

Very soon, the lady came back with a bun, a small one. When she placed the plate on the table, the man who was probably in his 60s, put his hand into his bermudas to search for some money. He took quite a while and finally he had his hands out with some coins in it. The lady then took whatever she needed and left the rest intact. The old man then put his hand back into the pocket.

At this point of time, I was not paying attention to the discussion. What came next, was something that I could never forget.

He brought the bun to his mouth and bite into the steaming hot bun. The look he had on his face when he ate the bun was..... I .... I can feel tears welling up in my eyes.

He did not eat it hungrily or quickly. Instead he enjoyed the small little bun, he ate it as though it was a delicacy. He took his time to chew and enjoy his meal, which could probably be his dinner after hours of begging on the streets. However I can tell that he had problem swallowing his food.

I quickly looked away when he took the second bite. I could no longer take it anymore. I knew that if I looked on, the tears which I was trying to control would definitely roll down my cheeks. I was at a loss for words, I... don't know what to say and even right now as I am writing about it, I had to fight back tears.

Then a thought came into my mind, maybe I should get him a hot tea or milk, or whatever for him to drink. But I had second thoughts about doing it. What will the old man think? Will he think that I am pitying him? Will he not want to accept it? I took out my purse, turned back to look at him, he was gone.

Why? Why did I not do what I think? Why did I have so many questions? Why did I procrastinate? I regretted not buying him the drink which I wanted to.

I could not stop thinking about him as I made my way home, I was silent throughout the journey. That night when I slept, I cried as his look came into my mind again. I felt so sorry for him and at the same time I hated myself for not doing something.

Is he married? His children had abandoned him? His wife? Or probably he is single? CPF? Savings? Work? Why?

Despite knowing that he is one of the many out there that is homeless, it affected me badly. How will you feel if this happens to be your grandparents?


Anonymous said...

Very touching story indeed. Next time if you see such happenings, don't hesitate. It is not a matter of plight. Care and help can be given graciously. One good way to reach out is to go over and start a conversation and be caring with your words. No old forks will reject such jesture. Unfortunately, in today's world, the younger generations are more self-centred. Blame it on stress from work? It's a personal judgment call. If everyone would just take a moment to reflect, I think the world will indeed be a better caring society. Just that one short moment can make a lot of difference to someone.
By writing your story, it already shows that you do care. Don't feel bad about it. You can make it up the next time. cheers!

sandy said...

What you SHOULD have done was to buy him that drink. The next time you see him, he may be lying dead in the gutter. There are many poor in Singapore, if you are in position to lend a helping hand, stretch out without hesitation. Once a beggar came to my table at a hawker center. It was second day of Chinese New Year. Flushed with ang pow collection, I gave him a $5 note. The amazement and gratefulness on his face is a pleasure to recollect.

Anonymous said...

Lilian, you hesitated because: 1) You were afraid of hurting the self esteem of that man not knowing his real background and 2) You had respect for him and didnt make assumptions.
Perhaps you can do your bit for another charity in lieu to free your conscience of the event. The SS

Anonymous said...

Nice story. I was touched by your vivid description. Don't feel bad about not buying him a drink. Be careful as it may cause him to develop a crutch mentality.

From another perspective, this man could have squandered all his money in gambling, abused his wife and deserted his family and basically an idler and refused to stay in the job, even if given one.

Instead of giving the man a fish to ease his hunger, show him how to fish to fend for himself in the future. At 60-ish, he still has many years to go, so it's not too late to pick up a new skill, like helping out in the kopitiam...

theonlinecitizen said...

Hi Lilian,

Andrew Loh here. Your story tells us so much - not about the man but about ourselves.

I too have been guilty of procrastinating when I see elderly folks struggling. One of these days I am going to get up enough courage and help one of those old ladies push her cart of cardboards. :)

Little by little we'll get there and be a spontaneously caring people.

Don't feel too bad about not buying him that drink, yea? There's always a silver lining to everything. :)

Perhaps not buying him that drink has taught you more about yourself. And when it happens again, when you meet a needy person again, you'll know what to do. :)

You're a good person. :)

Andrew Loh

Kelvin Lim said...

The fact that you bothered to regret already spoke volumes. I doubt many Singaporeans would even take notice of the needy around us.

asychee said...

I too had a similar experience to sahre - back in mid 2006, a couple of days before We migrate to canada for good. I was doing my last round of enjoying local food in chinatown. As I grew up in Chinatown - i do know some of the old folk by face. That day, i met this old man whom i knew. He ordered a plate of food (around $2.00) when he bring it back to his table - i saw his wife and him sharing this plate. I went over to speak to him, he told me "times are hard" i can only afford to this plate for 1 meal and i share it with my wife. I took whatever spare cash i have in my wallet and insist that he keep it. In my heart, i told myself, i will probably never see this nice couple that watch me grew up and my eyes always well up in tears whenever i think of this incident.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a person with great compassion. I wish there are more like you. Next time if I met with a similar situation, I will not procrastiate...

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