SINGAPORE - For years, a frail, grey-haired figure was a fixture outside Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, selling tissue paper, instant noodles, sardines and other budget items laid out around her on a piece of tarpaulin.
Madam Tay Yeow Kwee, who was in her early 80s, never married, and lived alone.
But after she died from colon cancer on Tuesday night, she was mourned by many who had seen her plying her wares near the popular mall.
To them, she was Aunty Cineleisure or Zheng Po Po (Granny Tay in Mandarin).
One customer-turned-friend, Ms Shermaine Tan, was with her at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to hold her hand during her last days.
Ms Tan, 20, a psychology undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University, first spoke to Madam Tay in March last year. Since then, she has visited Madam Tay regularly, sometimes taking her for dinner at coffee shops, and sending her home to her one-room rental flat near Tiong Bahru.
Ms Tan rushed over to Madam Tay's flat on June 3, after reading on Facebook that she was ill.
Mr Terence Han, 22, who works for the Navy, wrote on the social media platform that he had seen Madam Tay vomiting, and that she had refused help and would not go to hospital.
Neighbours told Ms Tan that Madam Tay had been hospitalised, and she found her that night at the SGH accident and emergency unit.
"She still remembered me, and I became the only point of contact for doctors," she said.
As Madam Tay had no listed next-of-kin, doctors turned to Ms Tan for advice regarding her health.
Ms Tan was at the hospital every day.
And she remembers vividly the last day she had with Madam Tay, who slipped into a coma on Sunday.
"She was very happy because we brought ice cream and chicken soup for her," said Ms Tan, adding that Madam Tay slipped her $450 to cover funeral expenses.
The cremation at Mandai Columbarium on Wednesday was attended by a small group of Ms Tan's friends.
Singaporeans who knew or knew of Madam Tay were saddened by her death, and some netizens even started threads on forums to talk about her.
The former Chinese teacher deflected questions about herself with a smile, said Mr Han.
And although she was on public assistance, she refused to stop working because she wanted to be independent.
Mr Elson Soh, 25, who wrote a tribute to Madam Tay on the social outreach site, Project Awareness, said: "The Aunty was someone I held close to my heart."
A mat will be placed where Madam Tay used to sell her items, from next Monday to Wednesday, for mourners to leave flowers and cards.
This article was first published on June 14, 2014.
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