It was one of those ho-hum hit-n-run Sunday lunches where speed was of the essence, as Daffy would be dropping by with her China goodies and coz JC had also asked to drop by — all around the 2.30pm-3pm block.
Yup, easier to eat at home to cut the hassle of going out and rushing back.
But as my aim is to get mum out of the flat and to a place where there are crowds at least several times a week, it was worth the effort to go to Great World City– which tho not the nearest shopping mall with a food court to where we live is preferable to Novena Square which is nearer but always reminds one grimly of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, its immediate neighbour.
We settled quickly, me and mum having noodles with Hongkong char siew and roast pork respectively and Picky Siti a vegetarian set. With a tight time frame, we concentrated on eating, rather than idle talk.
Which led my eyes to focus, as I ate, on the queue semi-circling Hwa Heng Yong Tau Foo, the stall facing our table.
Then I saw him. Thin as a rake. Dark. Slightly unkempt, overlong hair and shabby as in can’t help it shabby rather than eccentric shabby which is choice, not circumstance.
He looked out of place in the slightly upmarket GWC food court. Also, out of place was the almost empty Cold Storage plastic bag dangling from one elbow. He was helping himself gingerly to the pieces of yong tau foo, visibly counting.
I began to worry for him. Perhaps he won’t be able to afford the meal, since Hwa Heng sets a minimum order of 7 pieces or $4.20. Add 50 cents for noodles or beehoon.
The queue moved ever so slowly. I fearfully anticipated the denouement. The man searched his shirt pocket and came out not with $ notes but a small white square of paper.
I wondered whether this man was a Comcare or CDC beneficiary. Perhaps the paper would identify him as such and Hwa Heng would charge him less or give the food to him free?
I’m a bit hazy about the various feeding schemes our government has for the down and out in our midst.
At last the man’s turn came. He handed his bowl to the cook together with the slip of paper. The cook consulted the cashier and returned the paper to the man and cooked his yong tau foo.
Then I saw the man searching in his pocket for what seemed ages and came out with a crumbled note; I saw the green of a $5 note. Paid and got some coins in return. His order was a takeaway.
OK, so he was able to pay but I still felt uncomfortable. Perhaps that was his last $5. I just needed to do something and as I had already finished my meal, muttered a short excuse to mum and Siti who were both still eating and rushed after him.
The man was spritely. He disappeared quickly into the crowd as I searched my handbag for some small notes. I wanted to help but I’m not overly generous.
Then I saw him going up the escalator and rushed to get on to it to make sure I would be able to catch him on Level 1. Imagine my consternation when once he reached the top he turned around and went to the down escalator going back to Basement 1.
Surely he couldn’t have noticed me, anticipated what i wanted to do and was trying to avoid me?
Nothing of the sort. He hurried back to Hwa Heng and looked at the spot where he last stood, looking at floor, seeming to be searching for something. Whatever it was he couldn’t find it and came hurrying out of the food court again.
There I ambushed him and thrust my three folded $2 notes into his hand, whispering “Uncle let me buy you lunch”. He looked surprised and dubious. Saw what I gave him. Realised what it was and smiled. But be4 he could speak, i hurried off.
Reason: I can only help him with one meal. And others like him I run into occasionally. It’s a personal need. I feel lousy afterwards whenever I notice something like that and for whatever reason the chance of giving a free meal passes.
I count myself lucky today to have done what I wanted to do. How little one needs to spend to buy a lift to the heart and mind.
Hence I went home in a far better mood to entertain those related to me by blood and genes!