SINGAPORE - Devotion is a word not often used these days where love is the common currency of expression between a man and woman. If you want to truly understand it, you need to read this story.
When 70-year-old cobbler Ng Ah Bah's wife of 44 years suffered a stroke 10 months ago, leaving her immobile, he could not bear to leave her alone in their home.
So each day, he takes her in a wheelchair with him as he leaves his three-room HDB flat at MacPherson Link to go to work.
Slowly, painfully, he pushes Madam Yap Guek Neo, 67, to the bus stop to take service No. 135 to Marine Parade. There, he pushes her for another 10 minutes until they reach Katong Plaza, where he sets up shop.
Madam Yap sits and watches as her husband starts his work for the day.
Mr Ng told The New Paper in Hokkien: "Before my wife suffered her stroke, she was the one taking care of everything at home. "We'd then go down to the stall and work together. Those were happier days."
As he thought privately of those times, his eyes suddenly filled with tears and he wiped them quickly with the back of his hand. He said in a voice choked with emotion: "She is a very good wife, you know.
"This is the worst time of our lives. My wife and I, we used to be so happy. We may be financially poor in some people's eyes, but our lives weren't so hard then.
"But I have not thought of giving up, I cannot give up. Every road leads to Rome. If this one does not work out, we will just have to take another route. No one will starve to death."
He refused to consider sending Madam Yap to a nursing home.
"She will not be comfortable in the care of strangers and she won't be happy," Mr Ng said in a determined tone.
"She is my wife. I am responsible for her and I will take care of her until the day I die."
That includes changing and bathing her twice a day, helping her to the toilet and cleaning up after her, as well as feeding her three meals and sips of water. All these on top of doing the household chores, like cleaning up the home and doing the laundry.
When we visited Mr Ng last Thursday afternoon, he was wheeling his wife to the foot of a staircase leading to the second storey, where the toilet was.
He parked the wheelchair, half-lifted Madam Yap and slowly eased her up. They made their way up the stairs, one step at a time, gingerly. It took them 10 minutes to climb just eight steps.
Mr Ng said he has permission from the building management to allow him to accompany his wife into the woman's toilet and that he is grateful the other tenants don't mind.
Devotion part 2
After Madam Yap was done at the toilet, they were making their way down the stairs when Madam Yap suddenly went limp and slid. There was a look of sheer helplessness as Mr Ng tried to lift his wife, but to no avail.
Even this correspondent's colleague, photojournalist Benjamin Seetor, who dashed up to help Mr Ng, could not lift Madam Yap.
It took the three of us and a passer-by to carry her to the wheelchair. We quickly drove the couple to Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Emergency Department.
Mr Ng later informed us that his wife had to be hospitalised as she had suffered a stroke - her second in 10 months.
She remained in the intensive care unit for two days before she was transferred to a normal ward on Sunday afternoon. Her condition has stabilised and she is confined to bed.
Physically weak, Madam Yap is also incoherent and insists that she will die any time.
With his wife hospitalised, Mr Ng now has to shuttle between his home, the hospital, his workplace and back to the hospital by evening.
He could not afford to miss a day's earnings, he said. "And I cannot just leave her there without visiting for the day, she will be worried and so will I."
'I feel so useless'
Earlier, before the incident at the staircase, Madam Yap spoke to The New Paper about her husband and what he did after she had her first stroke.
She said in Hokkien: "I was sure I had died... But strangely, I saw 'lao eh' (husband) and he just kept talking to me.
"So I woke up and there he was at my bedside. I think he didn't want to let me go."
She paused for a few seconds, then said: "But you see, now I end up giving him so much trouble."
Mr Ng looked up, dismissed the statement with a wave of his left hand, and said: "This woman talks nonsense. Your time is not up, so how can you go?"
The stroke had affected the use of her legs and she needed help moving around.
She said: "Sometimes, I feel so useless because there is nothing I can do."
The couple have two sons, aged 42 and 41, and three grandchildren, one aged 18 and the other two 16. But the couple are adamant about not wanting help.
Mr Ng said: "They are good people. But we don't expect them to take care of us because they have their own family commitments. They are also trying to make ends meet and we cannot be selfish."
The couple have not applied for any financial help.
"I don't know how to do that, I don't even know who my Member of Parliament is. But even then, where do I have the time to take a number and see my MP? There's so much to do," he said.
He works from noon to 5pm from Mondays to Saturdays, and up to 4pm on Sundays.
Rent for the stall was initially $500, but it was too steep. Thankfully, the management reduced the rent to $300. (See report above.) "I charge about $6 for a pair of ordinary shoes, and if I am lucky, I get a pair of expensive shoes to repair and I can charge more," he said.
After his wife's condition deteriorated, takings dropped because it became "a one-man show".
In good months, he can make about $1,500 but such times are few and far between. Most months, it's a few hundred dollars. In the past, he could sometimes earn up to $2,000.
"But shoe repair is such that you only get customers when their shoes are damaged," he said.
"Sometimes, kind passers-by or customers will buy us food and that means we save money for the day."
Help at hand
What Katong Plaza says:
Mr Steven Tang, the building management chairman, said they had agreed to keep the rent down for Mr Ng because they sympathised with his situation. Mr Tang told The New Paper that they had explored the option of building a wheelchair ramp at Katong Plaza, but found it not viable.
What the Social Service Office at Geylang Serai says:
Ms Peggy Lim, a management support officer, told TNP that Mr Ng can approach them for assistance.
She said: "Once we have his particulars (such as his home address), we will make home visits to interview him and understand his situation. From there, we will look into the areas where we can best help him.
"One of the most immediate and possible arrangement is for his wife to go to a nursing home, where she will be taken care of by professionals. This can ease Mr Ng's mind so that he can focus on his work."
This article was first published in The New Paper. Get The New Paper for more stories.