In the early 90s, I frequently travelled with my aunt and uncle from Malaysia because at that point in time, I was the youngest and had yet to attend school. I often thought of myself as a brave kid – I had simply followed two individuals whom I probably met twice yearly, to another country. But at that tender age I somehow understood that there was a longing for a child in their marriage and I was happy to play the role.
Mama Yati isn’t my blood aunty but she cared enough to protect my little heart from hurting. As a Muslim woman, she is proper when it comes to respecting elders, greetings before meals, and speaking with “real words” – no slangs, no short forms and certainly no swear words. My uncle was a boxer who, naturally obsessed over Mohammad Ali, mimicking his moves at every opportunity. They are a good match, and I was a very disciplined kid. At least during the time I stayed with them.
With more than a decade of trying, they were finally blessed with a child. I remember feeling happy for them, seeing her in her mid-90s maternity wear, bump clearly visible. I had not known how far along she was but remember feeling confused when I met her next to see her belly flat and there wasn’t a baby in sight. A curious cousin asked, “Where’s the baby, Mama?” To which she smiled, with tears pooling in her eyes and said, “The baby is no longer.”
But her faith allows her to mourn and drive to keep on keeping on. Perhaps it’s true that “good things come to those who wait” – and persevered if I must add. Not long after, they were blessed with a daughter – a replica of herself, forty years younger. It was a celebration, a beautiful gift and one that she and her husband truly deserve.
I look up to Mama Yati for being one who always tries to improve herself. I remember her taking up driving when she was in her 50s and how proud I was to see her drivie to Singapore from Malaysia, with her kid in tow. It’s amazing to see how much courage she had to pick up a skill where most of her peers have already conquered.
One of my fears is seeing my older family members and loved ones become unwell. Some time last year, I was told that Mama Yati was not doing well and had to go through bouts of radio and chemotherapy. When I think about fortitude, Mama Yati comes to mind as an example of having courage in pain or during an adversity.
Earlier this year, I headed back to Singapore from Australia where I currently reside, to visit some friends and relatives and thought of Mama Yati. We had a short video call, where she cheekily rubbed her head - now skin and shine due to the Big C. I smiled and quickly asked how she’s feeling, before passing on the phone to someone else.
Perhaps I lack the courage to cry in public. Perhaps I did not want to know more than I already do. There were so many feelings that were going on when I had that video call. But one thing’s for certain, deep down I know there’s none other like Mama Yati.