It was only a 15-minute chat. A conversation we had because we were both there at the same time.
“You’re very lucky. Not many get to enjoy clean food prepared with love every morning.” She started in the Malay language, thick with the Indonesian pronunciation. The r’s tend to roll longer.
I nodded as I chewed on the salad and ham. I managed a weak smile with my mouth full to show my appreciation of her remark.
“I should know. I’ve worked as a nasi lemak seller and my customers were mostly people like you rushing to office in the morning,” she continued.
I raised an eyebrow to show interest, still chewing a mouthful.
“So many of them. Not as lucky as you.”
That was my first lesson of the day. A reminder that my dear better half prepared breakfast for me almost everyday, she never complained and she was always creative with the presentation. I realised I’ve taken this for granted. Still chewing. Still nodding.
“Do you know how unclean the oil is when we sellers prepared the nasi lemak? Oh, trust me, it’s horribly unclean, recycled from frying every single ingredient over and over.”
She was reinforcing my lack of an appreciation for the breakfast right in front of me. Clean and healthy, satisfying.
“How many years were you selling nasi lemak, Kakak?” I asked, genuinely curious now. She was wiping the counter after cleaning the mess I had made before when making my coffee.
“Oh, about.. what? 16 years? Yes, 16 years in Brickfields. I used to know many Indian families then. You can see it that I get very comfortable with people like you?”
I nodded. I’ve finally gulped my last morsel of the salad.
“I came to this country in 82. I was merely a teenager. I had to work very hard to survive. Selling nasi lemak helped me with raising a family of 5 children!”
That was my second lesson of the day. Most of us lead a charmed life and we still complain about the things we don’t get to make life ideal, or at least what we think is ideal.
“You must be very proud, Kakak. What do your kids do now?” I was interested to know if she’s still supporting them.
“Oh, two boys married and have their own businesses. One of my daughters is still back home taking care of our home…”
“Back home?” I asked.
“Surabaya. Our home is still there,” she smiles as she took a break from cleaning the office pantry. As she straightened her uniform, she whipped out her smartphone and showed me pictures of her twin granddaughters.
“They’re beautiful, Kakak! But wait, you said your boys are now on their own. And you’re a grandmother! Why do you still work here, Kakak?”
Here comes my third lesson for the day.
“As long as I can work, I want to take care of myself. As long as I can earn a truthful living, I’d rather not burden any of my children,” she says with a clear sense of pride.
I could only smile and nod showing my appreciation again at the amount of sense she’s just spoken to me.
“I’ve got to go now. The toilet cleaner outside has no access to the pantry to get a drink of water. I’m going to fetch him some now. It’s a pity-lah,” she scurries out with a bottle of water filled from the dispenser in the pantry.
And that was her final lesson for the day. No matter her predicament, she was still caring for someone else all the time. At times, in our daily rat race rush, we forget.
Sometimes, the simplest of lesson come from the simplest of conversations.
- Kakak means elder sister in Malay.
Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all (Asia Samachar, 11 Oct 2019)