“No! Auntie is not home!” He turned his empty eye sockets towards me, and groped for his walking stick. Slowly, he lifted himself into a hunch, his rotting legs buckling under the hefty body weight. Then, he began the long, painful journey towards me, one quivering step at a time.
“No need to come to the door!” I pleaded repeatedly, but he continued. I felt myself sinking. All that separated us was a few steps and a rusty gate, and all I could do was stand and watch like a helpless fool.
When he finally reached the gate, he was panting. His legs were swollen, and pus was oozing from a recent wound.
“Sorry, I don’t have the keys.”
We exchanged a few pleasantries. I tried to sound happy, but he couldn’t see my smile.
I watched him as he made his long, return journey. Along the way, he lost his walking stick. He bent down, hands on the floor, and crawled his way back to the sofa.
Only a few months ago, I had photographed this man and his wife. They looked so happy. At the exhibition, people told me, “Your photos are so full of life!”.
This couple had already given up on life. Every time we visit them, the wife would laugh, but this wasn’t the laughter of happiness that people see. This was a laughter in resignation.
“Just let it be. If the legs rot, cut them off. We’re old and useless now. Day by day. Until we die.”
The blind man and his wife live within the idealised system of working for the country, getting married, buying a government flat, having children, funding their education, having three generations under one roof. They are the perfect Singaporean model of intergenerational harmony.
If only life were as beautiful as our gorgeous-looking system.
They have a home, but they find no peace. They see their children and grandchildren everyday, but they find no joy. Years of bitter differences tore them apart. The family still lives together, because that’s the most practical thing to do.
What good are policies if there is no heart?
A man in the dark doesn’t need money, doctors, or cold, hard incentives. He needs a light, and a voice that understands.
Elaine and I visit them often. We couldn’t solve their problems, but we listened. So much anger suppressed, so much sadness within. Ultimately, we are nobodies who care, but what we offered was strangely missing from all the help and incentives they could get.
For more than a decade, I photographed beautiful people who already felt beautiful. Now, I dedicate my work to finding beauty among the lonely, the poor, and the ostracised.
I shorn a light for a lonely man, and in the darkness, I found my way.