Mr Teh walked towards us, one slow step at a time. He had been waiting quietly for us. But there was no hurry. Not any more.
His days of youth are long gone.
As he slowly unlocked the gate, he apologised. “I’m sorry, my friend cannot be here today”, he smiled wryly. “He just jumped down from the building.”
There was no tear in his eyes, nor sadness in his voice. Death seems so normal to him. Even as we tried talking about brighter things, his expression was largely deadpan.
Yet, when we asked about his younger days, his eyes beamed, and his voice sprung to life. He spoke proudly about being the pioneer batch of policemen, and how proud he was to serve under a young Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He recalled death-defying feats battling gangsters and raiding opium hordes. The young Mr Teh was fast, strong, handsome, and a very proud citizen of his country.
Even a hobbled, aging Mr Teh has something he cherishes about himself. So does everyone patient who opened the door for us. An old lady smiled the sweetest smile when reminded of how beautiful she once was – and still is. A meek gentleman, carrying grave, emotional scars from an abusive marriage, stood tall and mighty on his ethics and hope for redemption. A paralysed man would rather live independently than ask for help – that was how he survived the toughest tests in life. Even in poverty and rejection, there is strength and humility not seen in many of us ordinary, pampered hearts.
As we age, when everything we hold on to fades away one by one, we return to ourselves. This is the only place left, but this is who we are, our identity, our pride. This is what keeps our hearts beating.