The simple coffin was placed on two wooden stood two feet above the ground and a recent photograph of Ah Kow was placed at the head of the coffin which was not sealed during the wake. As a timid person, I didn't dare to have a last look at him inside his coffin. I'm sure Ah Kow would understand and forgive me.
Foods, fruits, two paper "servants", an alter for burning of incense and two lighted white candles were placed infront of the coffin. We lighted incense, bowed as a sign of respect to the family and made a donation of a few hundred dollars to help the family defray the costs of the funeral.The donation money was a collection from all his taxi buddies in Jurong Central coffee shop. Each gave between $20 - $30.
"James, did you hear about Ah Ong, the taxi driver?," asked Roy, my best friend who had a lucky escape from a recent heart attack.
"Which Ah Ong?" I replied with a question.
"You know... the older guy with glasses, always smoking " Roy continued.
Roy could be describing about half the taxi drivers at the wake, including myself.
"Yeah, well, last week Ah Ong went to the doctor complaining about a back ache and chess pain. Turns out he had terminal lung cancer. He had maybe two weeks to live then" Roy said in a sad voice.
"Geez... really?" I was surprised with his revelation.
"For months he figured he was just stiff from driving long shifts. It got to the point he could barely stand up." Roy said as he demonstrated with both hand at his hips and a hunched back.
"Wow, how sad" I softly let off a grief.
"All they can do is give him something for the pain... He finished out the week driving, then went home to die." Roy said sternly.
"What? He decided to spend one of his last days on earth driving a cab and die?" I exclaimed loudly.
"What else was he going to do? He's been driving a cab more than thirty years. That's twelve hours a day, seven days a week, every week of the year. I've been driving nearly fifteen years and I don't remember him ever taking a vacation. No hobbies. No real friends. Just driving a cab and his family. He put his two kids through university, though!" Roy said as calmly as he could.
"How old is he, Roy?" I asked
" About 65, I guess."
"That's my age, Roy."
Now, I don't even know Ah Ong but this shook me up. Not because of the tragedy of his death, but because of the tragedy of his life. I wonder if 35 years ago, at 30 when Ong first started driving, what dreams he had for himself. At 30, he was strong, full of energy, with nothing but time and his imagination standing between him and the future.
Perhaps he wanted to go to night class, travel the world as a sailor, start his own business. Perhaps he figured cab driving was a part-time, something to tide him over. Perhaps he looked at all the other middle-aged men driving cabs and told himself, "I'll never let myself turn into that, God forbid!". But who knows the future?
Then he met a girl, got married, had one kid, then another, and suddenly all those doors closed. He had responsibilities, bills to pay, obligations to keep. All of his dreams evaporated like his breath on a cold morning. And maybe years later he looked in the mirror one morning. He saw the face staring back him with the graying temples and the thinning hair and the dark circles under his eyes and he asked himself, "OMG, where did the last thirty years went?"
But then, he may have told himself, he wasn't that old- only 65.. He could still have dreams. Maybe once the kids are grown-up on their own; maybe once the HDB mortgage is paid off; maybe once the wife and he can finally save a little money and time for themselves.
But first, he told himself, he got to go to the doctor and get his back checked out. Then came the shocking news of his lung cancer and his world shattered instantly. sigh!.
Life can take a sudden turn and we've no control over it no matter how we monitor our health and safety. We all have only one shot at life and nobody knows when it will end. So, before it's too late, let's take stock of our life now. Unfortunately, for poorer Singaporean like taxi drivers, there's no much stock to talk about, when faced with escalating costs of living, scarcity of suitable jobs, no welfare, no money. To us, life is a daily struggle to place three meals on the table, paying household & medical bills and keeping the roof above our head. Don't believe?, join the rank.
I asked Roy how he, himself got into cab driving. He explained that he started as technician in the construction of the MRT lines. After MRT completion, he went driving a cab at 35. Like the rest of us, he thought it would be a part-time thing. But, one thing led to another and fifteen years later, here he is, still driving his yellow cab and surviving two heart attacks!.
Does he ever think about doing something else? "Nah, I don't give it much thought. What can I do at my old age with only a secondary education. Be a guard, cleaner or junk collector? Money not enough. Must drive to live!" Roy answered scornfully.
That's the sad reality of living in the 6th most expensive country in the world. With a 30 years HDB mortgage, children schooling, PUB bills, expensive medicine for chronic illness, etc..etc...and no much help from the authorities, most Singaporean like taxi drivers had to work without retirement till they drop dead. period! I think the only consolation is seeing the children growing up, doing well in studies and hoping they have a good job and a brighter future than themselves.
Away from the depressing reality and morbid subject of death, we kept vigil at the wake for about an hour and tried our best to lessen the grief of Ah Kow's wife. Her two grown up children were asleep beside the coffin. As Ah Kow's family was poor, the length of the wake was a single day to allow for the offering of prayers. A few hours more, Ah Kow will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium.
I spend the rest of the morning in a kind of daze. I keep thinking about those lines: "Get busy living, or get busy driving and dying." and "while we are alive, do we know how to live?. In the end, I think "it matters not how long we live, but how well with whatever we have".
|"Our Model Worker. He'll works till his last breath & leaves his CPF to his children "||"Good. |