By Hedy Khoo
AS he holds her hand close to his face, head bowed by her side, his wedding band captures the light.
The woman he loves is oblivious in her comatose state. Anxious and helpless, he can only stay by her side, hope beating fervently in his heart that she would wake soon.
They were to have been married on Christmas Eve last year.
But, in a cruel twist, she was hit by a lorry - barely half an hour before their solemnisation ceremony.
The accident occurred just metres away from the Residents' Committee Centre where the cermony was to take place.
The time: 2.20pm. The place: Jurong West 64.
The bride, Miss Dinh Thi Thom, 21, who is Vietnamese, was crossing the road to meet a friend who wanted to congratulate her before the ceremony.
She was rushed to National University Hospital in an ambulance.
She suffered a brain haemorrhage and has been unconscious since.
Her fiance, Mr Teo Boon Teck, 30, a newspaper vendor, has been keeping vigil by her bedside every day.
He calls her Chinese name forlornly, pleading for her to wake up, grasping her hand.
'Xiang, wake up, I am waiting for you to be my wife,' he says in Mandarin and breaks down in tears.
He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and continues to look at her, his face flushed with grief.
They had known each other for only four months, but it had been the happiest time of their lives.
They met through a Vietnamese friend. Photographs were exchanged and both liked what they saw.
Miss Dinh, who is from a rural area in Vietnam, agreed to come to Singapore to be his bride.
She arrived on 8 Oct last year, accompanied by the friend and, from their first meeting at the airport, the two hit it off.
Said Mr Teo, in Mandarin: 'I fell in love with her from the start. She is gentle, soft-spoken and she is also very respectful to my parents.'
Miss Dinh stayed with Mr Teo and his parents in their four-bedroom flat in Jurong West.
'She was very affectionate to me, always giving me a hug whenever I came home,' said Mr Teo.
'She always wanted to hold my hands whenever we went out.
'If I didn't hold her hand, she would glare at me until I did,' he recalled with a faint smile.
Mr Teo found it hard to believe that a pretty young girl would really love him.
'I know I am not rich, not educated. I am also not handsome, and I don't know how to romance a woman,' he explained.
Miss Dinh was aware that Mr Teo was far from well-off. He earns $800 a month from selling newspapers.
He also has to care for his wheelchair-bound mother and elderly father.
But his shy, quiet bride-to-be moved him with her heartfelt words one day.
'She said to me 'Lao gong (which means husband in Mandarin), I know you don't have much money, but I'm willing to take hardship as long as we are together.'
'If you eat plain porridge, I will eat the same. If you have rice, then I will eat rice.'
Mr Teo said Miss Dinh was undemanding and never once asked him for anything.
'She did the housework and even took care of my mother, (doing things) like helping her to the toilet,' he said.
But Miss Dinh was no pushover. 'She was very fastidious about cleanliness and if I wore my slippers into the flat, she would scold me,' he recalled.
'She also chided me for speaking rudely to my parents, which I sometimes do when they nag at me.'
Two weeks after her arrival, Mr Teo decided to propose to her formally.
'I got down on one knee, held her hand and asked her 'Would you marry me?' he recalled, smiling.
'She was very shy. She just nodded her head and told me not to be ridiculous since we had already applied to get married.'
The pair then went to a wedding studio to have some bridal photos taken.
'She was very happy. We wore our wedding rings that day,' he said, holding the framed wedding photo he had brought to the hospital with one hand, and clutching her hand with the other.
'She couldn't sleep the night before our wedding date. She went through the cupboard and took out all her clothes and kept asking me which dress looked best on her.
'I told her it didn't matter because she is the most beautiful woman to me. She jokingly scolded me again for being silly.'
Thinking about such times worsens his grief. He just wants her to regain her consciousness and return to the good times.
'It was the hardest thing to have to tell her mother what happened over the phone,' said Mr Teo.
'I promised her I'd take care of Xiang, even if she remains in this condition.'
They had made plans to return to Vietnam last month to celebrate with her parents and relatives.
Mr Teo said the doctors told him that if Miss Dinh does come out of her coma, she is not likely to suffer any brain damage or memory loss.
Take care of her
'But I am prepared to take care of her the rest of my life, even if she stays this way,' said Mr Teo, who is an only son.
His father, Mr Teo Soon Keng, 70, who has been taking turns with his son to keep vigil over Miss Dinh, supports his son's decision.
'She is like a daughter to me. Even if she cannot give me a grandchild, it doesn't matter,' he said.
'I don't need the marriage certificate to acknowledge her as my daughter-in-law.'
Mr Teo and his father have discussed the matter and said that, if necessary, they are prepared to sell their flat and downgrade or rent a three-room HDB flat to raise money for her hospital bills.
Former wedding solemniser David Loh, 61, who learnt of the couple's story when he conducted wedding ceremonies for other Vietnamese brides, has also been visiting Miss Dinh.
'I brought the other Vietnamese brides who were concerned about her to see her. They don't know her personally but have been visiting her to call her name and talk to her in Vietnamese in the hope that she would wake up,' he said.
Mr Loh, too, was touched by Mr Teo's devotion to Miss Dinh.
'It's very moving that despite her condition and the fact that they are not husband and wife, he is willing to stay by her side,' he added.
Despite not being legally married, Mr Teo said he put on his ring to feel closer to Miss Dinh.
'I hope she can wake soon. I want her to wear her wedding ring and go through the solemnisation ceremony even though, in my heart, she is already my wife.'
She was crossing the road to accept friend's congratulations
THEIR solemnisation ceremony was to be held at the Residents' Committee Centre at Block 664D Jurong West Street 64, near Mr Teo's flat.
Mr Teo had closed his newspaper stall near the Boon Lay MRT station around 2pm that day. Accompanied by Miss Dinh and his parents, he was walking home to get dressed for the ceremony.
At 2.15pm, when they reached the void deck of their block, Miss Dinh said she wanted to meet a friend across the road for a few minutes as her friend wanted to congratulate her.
Minutes later, Mr Teo and his father heard a loud bang.
Recalled Mr Teo: 'My father's first question was 'Where is Xiang?'.
When he turned around, Mr Teo saw a lorry had stopped in the middle of the road, but Miss Dinh was nowhere in sight.
'I started to have a sinking feeling in my heart and ran towards the lorry,' he said.
That's when he saw his wife on the ground in front of the vehicle.
'She was unconscious and bleeding,' said the devastated Mr Teo.
He also saw a crack on the lorry's windscreen.
Mr Teo said the lorry driver had a passenger who dialled for an ambulance.
Mr Teo hopes witnesses will step forward with information. Police said they are investigating the accident.
Anyone with information should call the Traffic Police hotline at 1800-547-1818.
This story was first published in The New Paper.