a community of singaporeans

A stranger, my friend.

Posted by theonlinecitizen on December 21, 2006

By zyberzitizen

He sleeps there every night – rain or shine. Everytime I get home from work, I see him there. Sometimes, he stares into space while drawing on a cigarette. Other times, he is already sleeping.

A cat nearby keeps him company, sometimes laying above his head as he sleeps quietly, oblivious to the cold or the warmth. The void deck has been his home for a while now. Actually, for as long as I can remember seeing him there. What he has for blanket is a thin towel which hardly covers him, and a pillow so dirty none of us would ever use.

The concrete bench is his bed.

I pass him by each morning when I leave for work. Sometimes he’d look at me but say nothing. I would look at him, give him a smile. Others would look at him too, go their way and turn around to stare again.

He never gave anyone any problems. He just sits quietly by himself, smoking his cigarette (when he can get one from strangers), eats his dinner and then sits there from morning til night.

I too let him be.

Until one day, he started singing to himself. People would stare as he sat there singing his favourite songs, like the Beatles’ Hey Jude. All out of sync of course but he seemed happy when he sang it. I didn’t mind that he jumbled up all the lyric. But it worried me because he was not just singing to himself, he also began talking to himself – sometimes shouting for no reason as well.

One day, about 3 months ago, he suddenly disappeared.

No one knew where he went. He was gone for a long time – about 3 weeks. I wondered if something untoward had happened to him but those I asked had no idea too. I would think about him when night fell. How was he? Where is he? Is he ok? Did he eat today?

I made a vow to myself that I would at least talk to him and be a friend to him if ever he came back and I saw him again. That I would not be afraid to approach him – even if he is ‘mad’.

Thus, it was with much relief that I saw him sitting on the same bench again one morning. I smiled at him, he smiled back but I had to rush because I was already late for work. I made a mental note to buy him something when I got back that evening. Maybe a pack of cigarette.

He was there at the bench when I returned that evening, at about 10 pm. I took a deep breath as I approached him to pick up courage and be ready for whatever comes. I strode up to the bench, sat down and asked him if he has eaten his dinner. He said he has and asked me if I had a cigarette.

I smiled, reached into my bag and took out a pack. $9.80 worth of More menthol. 20 sticks. I passed it to him and asked if he has a lighter. He eagerly reached into his pocket to produce one.

I laid down the loaf of bread which I had bought from a nearby shop and gave it to him. “Eat it if you’re hungry. Sleeping out here all night is cold and you will get hungry in the middle of the night”, I said. “Is it cold here?”, I queried.

“Ya, very cold here”, I was surprised at how soft spoken he was. “Rain every night, very cold.” I made another note in my head to bring him a thicker and bigger blanket and a cleaner pillow.

He didn’t say much else. He didn’t offer any further information about himself and I didn’t want to ask. I took a cigarette from the pack and sat there with him. The two of us somehow in the same space sharing the little we have – a chinese and a malay.

Then he asked me, “Just come back from work huh?”

I said,”Ya, just come back from work.”

“You live here?”, he queried.

“Ya, I live here but it’s my friend’s house. You live here?”

“Ya, sixth floor. But brother don’t like.”

“How come?”

He kept quiet.

I didn’t probe.

I sat with him for about half an hour and had to leave. I was glad we broke the ice – with a cigarette.

It was later that I learned from a neighbour that he had been warded to IMH (Institute of Mental Health) for that 3 weeks when he went missing. I don’t know if that is true. I also learned that his brother didn’t want him at home because his brother was worried about what he might do when they’re not around or in the middle of the night. I suppose he was afraid he’d start a fire in the house or something, perhaps.

From that first meeting on, we talked more but still, we didn’t talk very much about why he wasn’t working, or why exactly he was sleeping at the void deck every night. Most of the time, we just sit, share a drink or food, and a cigarette. Chit chat a bit about mundane stuff.

But he’s gone ‘missing’ again.

I haven’t seen him for 2 weeks now.

This post is also featured on Littlespeck.



12 Responses to “A stranger, my friend.”

  1. Dr.Huang said

    Hi ZZ,
    Your heart is in the right place.
    Keep it up.
    Because of you, this red dot will be a little more tolerable for the have-nots of our society.
    Merry Christmas and keep us updated about your friend.



  2. Adam said

    Yet there are more such people sleping around the blocks.

    I dun know how to help them. Those I noticed are old women and sometimes men.

    It is so sad considering this is Singapore and not some Third world country. Brings hard reality to our apparently pleasant looking island.

    Whatever good you can do,
    Do it today
    For you will never pass this way again.


  3. The_Latest_H said

    The sad thing is that the government, in reality, refuses to help them. Our society, by large, also ignores the problem.

    Poor people will continued to be neglected and ignored if the government refuses to recognize reality. And society will also follow, by large, by the attitude of the government.

  4. JT said

    The world can be a cold and lonely place full of strangers. Offer strangers a little smile, a short chat and the world seems a little brighter and warmer.

    “There are no strangers but unmade friends”

  5. huckerby said

    ZZ, you’ve got a good heart.

  6. goldiesplaceorg said

    You see what some others don’t see, and responded to your calling to help. That’s wonderful.Please read my blog: .
    It shines hope on this subject. Thank you very much.

  7. suburbanlife said

    I admire your ability to share love, in the true sense, with a complete stranger, no matter what his status in life is considered to be. Each life is important!

  8. visceral said

    Kudos. perhaps there is some hope for the fief

  9. puttu said

    u must nevr under estimate anyone… k… singapore is a rich country… n it has its own status… but u cant blame the stangers cs he sleeps whervr he likes… instead try to help them…

  10. […] under the void decks of your public housing flats, their numbers more than you can imagine. These vagrants could no longer afford HDB apartments and would go lay their heads wherever they feel safe to lie, […]

  11. […] under the void decks of your public housing flats, their numbers more than you can imagine. These vagrants could no longer afford HDB apartments and would go lay their heads wherever they feel safe to lie, […]

  12. Rebecca said

    Who would have known that the people living in a HDB apartment could be poor. I was poor once. Poor until we couldn’t afford to pay our electricity and gas bill anymore. I begged the authorities not to cut off our supplies because I have a baby to take care and I haven’t got money because I haven’t got a job and because I have a baby to take care, you know the chiken-n-egg thingy…

    Now that I have a job, I swear I will not go jobless in my life(if I have a choice) so that I could keep my babies warm at home, with electrical and gas supplies so that the maid could cook, bath and take care of them. I miss taking care of my own babies, my own child. I yearn to kiss the little hands that way goodbye to me every morning when I leave for work, I yearn to be the “primary care giver”(whom I have to put my maids’ name whenever I have to fill up forms regarding my child).

    For this man who has a home but have no home to go to is the paradox in life, but most importantly God still loves and takes care of us despite the situations we are in, He will not put us through what we could not bear. God bless Singapore and the people of Singapore.

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