I visited North Bridge Road Market & Food Centre for the very first time with a friend who frequents there. When we went to buy coffee, I remarked to him how elderly the stall owner was. He told me “This aunty has a very hard life. She is never happy; I have never seen her smile.” Intrigued, the happy-go-lucky me probed further. I wished I hadn’t, cos’ what he told me was so tragic, I thought only existed in a TV drama serial like Oshin.
The feisty lady started her life with a beautiful family of 4 children. Until the 2nd World War killed her husband and she had to work at a brick factory to support her family. One son passed away. 2 sons are mentally challenged and unable to support themselves, thus relying on her to bring back the income. She has severed ties with her daughter who only wants money from her – she would come help out at the stall for a short while and take the entire day’s earnings which the elder needed badly to support her sons. Once, the elderly lady resisted and was threatened with a knife. By her own daughter.
At this point, I could feel a lump in my throat as I fought back tears. While we are actively engaging financial consultants to plan for our future retirement, this is a lady who can never retire, for the sake of her family. While we are having $60 wagyu steaks, this is a lady earning her keep, cup by cup. She must be in her eighties, and worrying what would happen to her sons when she passes on.
I was so touched, I went to buy 10 cups of coffee and bread. That’s the least I can do. I can’t change her life, but I can at least make a day better for her. She silently worked behind her stall, preparing the orders, emotionless. She was pretty intrigued with my dressing though, and I could see a slight smile. Finally – my crazy dressing made someone deservingly happy. Maybe I will get her some clothes for New Year too (not mine for sure) – I noticed she was wearing a man’s shirt. I suspected she was sharing her sons’ shirts for economies of scale…oh my gawd.
The next time you are at North Bridge Road Market & Food Centre, why not get a drink from her (there’s load of good food there too)? The coffee’s really not bad, and it’s one of the few places who offer steamed bread with kaya (coconut jam). And very affordable too – I have not seen a 70-cent coffee for a long time in Singapore ($1.20 on average). And hopefully, cup by cup, we will put a smile on her one day.