The Pioneer (Phenomenal) Woman

I was just walking to McDonalds this morning — the ever-ubiquitous Kanken and blue Nalgene bottle in tow — to get their new McWrap when I saw her again.

The aunty with the hunched back that protruded awkwardly from the back of her hip, the aunty with stringy greying hair and coarse, wrinkly palms. She seemed to be wearing the same shirt she always had on — the pink oversized button-up one tucked untidily out of her large navy pants. She was squatting down , her face pained yet unreadable, surrounded by a heaping pile of cardboard. Her trolly of sorts that transported the cardboard was still; immovable. She was, too.  I do think she was just taking a break from her cardboard collecting — because I always see her around my neighbourhood — and the sight of her just broke my heart in the most unfathomable way.

(At this point I’m drawing contrasts between circumstance. Seriously, I complain too much about studying and taking A’levels in general. I’m currently corresponding to this girl from Italy and my long-winded complaints about sitting for A’levels only incited a graceful, polite response to ‘take care and not give up’ even though she’s in the same situation — sitting for A’s in her prestigious foreign language school. I was duly embarrassed after that.)

My dad chanced upon the aunty once, too, when she was having difficulty pushing her cardboard heaped trolly transporter. He did go up to her to offer help, but she staunchly refused any form of aid, preferring to maul the damn thing herself. Her sense of pride.. the notion that no one owed her anything, the strength and dignity that shone through with this simple resistance.. really clung onto me. I would say it was somehow inspiring, but I don’t want to utilise her (very much unnecessary) plight to derive motivation nor inspiration for myself. Because — in all honesty — she’s more than that. She’s more than anything or anyone we attempt to edify or put on a pedestal of honour. And I wish (and perhaps) she sees that.

So the focal point of this year’s National Day rally was the Pioneer Generation Package accorded to Singapore’s seniors. And I think that’s freaking great. But I do wonder if there are circumstances where aunties like her are very much unaware of what they are entitled to in the Package they so deserve on the fundamental basis that they simply don’t know . (I’m finding it quite difficult to write on because I’m pinning SO MANY ASSUMPTIONS on her situation. But then again, as in ceteris paribus in Econs, I’m just gonna continue) And so, maybe she doesn’t know. Maybe no one let her know. And here I’m starting to kick myself for only thinking of this now because maybe I could be the one to tell her, you know? But then again I’m a wimp who finds it painfully difficult to talk about issues like these to people that evoke a sense of raw humanity in me. Basically… I’m just worried that she (and others) would be shortchanged due to this information and knowledge gap.

And thus, here I am reduced to writing about this instead of DOING anything about it and this annoys me so so terribly much. I can’t do anything but write in this regard — which calls to mind Thoreau’s statement of being vain to sit to write when you haven’t stood to live.

Awhile ago in literature class we did an analysis on Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Woman’, and here’s a super pertinent part I thought suited the aunty perfectly:

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

And I do hope she’s okay.


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