"Mama, I'm sorry" - A writer celebrates his mum

"Mama, I'm sorry" - A writer celebrates his mum

While at the ATM, a writer recounts his mother's struggle to raise him and his siblings through tough times

The ATM

I stared at the ATM screen for a few moments after withdrawing $200 for the weekly groceries shopping. The account balance of $2.90 flickered on the screen for a few moments and I thought to myself "Not again". Feeling kind of down, I settled down in a coffeeshop and asked for a Milo Dinosaur to perk me up. While sipping my favourite drink, the balance of $2.90 kept appearing in my mind and set me pondering.

For about 2 decades, home had been a 3-room flat in Bedok. Like most families who stayed in HDB flats in the 80s, we had a basic setup–a CRT TV with antenna, a saggy sofa, worn out dining table, etc, however that serve us well.

Those were the days when we bathed from buckets filled with cold water. On rainy days, mama would scream at the top of her voice, nagging at us to come out from the bathroom as soon as we could, which obviously fell on deaf ears.

Those were the days of hardship.

We struggled to make ends meet. There were numerous occasions when Mama and me would queue behind the POSB ATM to withdraw money. Nothing peculiar except I wonder why did we deliberately come out of the house, walked 15 minutes to the ATM and stood in queue right before midnight when we could do that any time in the day. I remembered seeing Mama heaving a huge relief after the withdrawal on one occasion and I curiously asked her why we needed to queue in the middle of the night.

Wrong move!

My query was brushed aside and instead was bombarded with strings of questions regarding my homework and studies. I was not a big fan of books then and thus, instinctively I did not probe further at subsequent trips fearing the counter and ferocious interrogation.

Many years on, I would find out that the salaries of Mama would be credited at the stroke of midnight on those nights.

Before that, my parents practically exhausted all their finances. The money withdrawn was to pay overdue bills, finance family expenses and to dispense as daily pocket money to us, etc. During that time, I was too young to comprehend the emotional roller coaster that my parents would have gone through and the hardships living from hand to mouth.

Despite the odds against them, Papa and Mama were not stingy with their love for us.

I recalled they would bring all the three of us to this provision shop within Bedok North Road market every few other months and asked us to pick a toy each. The only conditions were the toy must be one that we like very much and affordable. Otherwise, it would be rejected.

Naturally, we love most of the toys displayed in the shop but our buying power was limited.

We had a game among us to see who would be the first to get his/her toys approved by our parents. It only took us a few trials before we know the golden limit - $10.

Although deep down, I hope that the trips could be more frequent and the limits to be raised or even better - infinite, I gradually realised that money did not come easy for the family. I believe my siblings would feel the same way too.

I did not strive to be a millionaire so that we can lead a life of abundance or aspire to buy a 2000 sq m house for my parents since living space was a constraint for most years in their lives. Papa and Mama did not cultivate those thoughts nor plant those desires in me. Instead, they had a "Do whatever you like as long you are happy but do not break the law" philosophy for us since young.

Although I am not earning a lot now, I count my blessings that I have my weekends for my family, Papa and Mama and that I am able to contribute a decent amount together with my siblings, to provide an allowance to my parents that enable them to live a life free of financial worries during their twilight years.

I am also contented that I need not drag my children to queue with me for the ATM in the middle of the night, thanks to the Neighbours first, Bankers second bank's credit facility.

I wish all mothers a Happy Mother's Day and may you be blessed with happiness and good health and thank you for all that you have done for the family.

Mama, I am sorry, I could have always done more and better. Thank you for giving me life and all your contributions in the family. I love you.

Chin Hock

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Written by

Tan Chin Hock

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