Twenty seconds

It took all of twenty seconds to lose sight of my father in the crowded hawker centre. (Photo: WOHA)

Twenty seconds. Twenty seconds was all it took for me to lose sight of my seventy-five-year-old father with dementia in a bustling Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre. Twenty seconds was all it took for him to disappear from me for the third time of the week. Twenty seconds was all it took for anguish to inundate every ounce of me.

It took all of twenty seconds to lose sight of my father in the crowded hawker centre. (Photo: WOHA)

There was never a day that went by when I found living with a father with dementia a bliss; for as long as I could remember, it was agonising. Trips to the police station became a norm, and being under the roof with him felt like a chore. He always had a way of pulling my hair out, and most of my nights went as dark as coal when I found out he had dementia. 

Trying to spot my father in the crowd at Kampung Admiralty. (Photo: MyNiceHome)

The crowded situation over at Kampung Admiralty did not succour my situation the slightest bit. Every corner of the hawker centre was swamped with the young and old, all busy having light-hearted conversations with their loved ones as they devoured scrumptious local cuisines down their throats. Laughing, joking and all having the time of their lives, very different as compared to me. There I was, in a sea of people, searching for a short, old Malay man, panic-stricken and not having the time of my life at all. 

Just as I was about to scurry to the nearest police station, I saw him at the corner of my eye a couple of metres away, sitting down with a middle-aged man and his son. 

I stormed my way to the table and before I could roar my pent-up anger at him, I noticed the interaction between the father-son duo, which rewinded so many memories from the past of my father and I. 

The middle-aged man feeds his son prata with fish curry, much like my father fed me. (Photo: Singapore Heritage Festival)

The middle-aged man pulled out a small piece of the soft Prata, dipped it into the scorching hot fish curry and fed his son. He slowly pulled out a piece of tissue paper, and wiped the fish curry off the corner of his lips, the same way my father always did when I was a child. 

My father smiled from ear to ear and said, “I still feed my son too! Every morning at Ayer Rajah.” 

Those words eroded the fury off every edge of my heart. I looked at the duo another time, and instantly remembered the times my father and I sat at Ayer Rajah Hawker Centre every morning to have a good prata together. I remembered the precise way he would feed me with his bare hands, and how he never complained about it. 

I gazed at the ceiling of the modernised Kampung Admiralty and instantly juxtaposed it to the old Ayer Rajah in the past, and thought of how much life has changed, but what never once changed was my father. Even with dementia, he was always a loving man and the thought of me resided in him everywhere he went, and I instantly regretted the fury I’ve felt for him all this while. 

Twenty seconds. 

Twenty seconds was all it took for me to realise how some things have never changed, and this man has always loved me, despite my shortcomings. 

This colour writing piece was written for the M314 Feature Writing module in 2020.