AN elderly lady struggled with her shopping bag on the bus to the tube station last week after beating the earlier closing time at a local supermarket.
She had done her shopping in anticipation of the quarantine order and she spoke to anyone who would listen about the predicament the whole world is facing. I learnt that her husband died four years ago and how such movement restriction would send her round the bend.
At the station, I learned more about her as we took the tube to central London. We sat a seat away from each other, as is the decorum with social distancing. A young lady in gym attire seated across from us took out her hand gel, which caught her eyes.
By this time, I learnt that this elderly woman is 85 and is originally from Ireland.
She wanted to know where the young lady got it from, as she couldn’t get one anywhere. Hand sanitisers seemed to fly off the shelves together with toilet rolls, she said. The lady said it was an old bottle that she had always kept in her bag.
When we were nearing our stop, I offered the only bottle that I have in my bag. She looked at me, almost in tears, as she wondered if she should give me a hug.
“Awww, I really want to hug you, lovey, but I can’t. I will offer you a prayer instead,” she shouted as the gym lady and I got off at our station. The gym lady was so touched that she took our picture together but I have yet to receive it.
Cut a few days later, the doorbell of my house rang. The lady from a delivery company pointed to a big box she had placed in my front garden, keeping a safe distance from me. I took the box in, opened it and voila! There are about 30 bottles of hand sanitisers for me to distribute and share with the Malaysian community in London.
The big box was from none other than someone who had always reached out in hours of need — be it students in financial difficulties, Malaysians who found themselves ill and stranded in London and more.
The sender was the Permaisuri of Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah, who had ordered the much-needed items online after learning about the plight facing many people here. It must be said also that Tuanku is looking into the problems of shortage of masks and sanitisers faced by local hospitals back home.
“We need a bit of kindness during these difficult times,” said Tuanku. “Please share.”
I couldn't believe that when I parted with my last bottle of sanitiser — here I was being rewarded with many more.
These bottles that were entrusted to me soon found their way to the hands of Kak Puteri Zakiah, an 84-year-old member of the Malaysian community in London who lives on her own. She had not heard about the impending curfew and had planned to go out shopping. Luckily friends living close by had seen to it that she is well stocked.
Some bottles also went to people who are in contact with Malaysian students, as well as members of the public who are in need of them.
People like the 85-year-old Irish lady and Kak Puteri were on my mind lately, especially with talks about the restrictions to be imposed on their movements.
Many are still spritely and living on their own. Many too would brush off any form of help as they feel they could still do things by themselves. However, most of them have underlying health issues and are thus vulnerable.
When I did my own shopping I saw many people older than me buying whatever they could carry. However, with the panic buying resulting from so much uncertainty in the government plans, many just couldn't cope.
A picture in the local paper of an elderly man pushing an empty trolley with a shopping list in his hand, while the aisles around him were stripped bare by other more energetic shoppers, still haunts me.
Now, some supermarkets are already providing certain hours for the elderly people and their carers to shop. And there’s no shortage of volunteer groups who will shop for them.
Their vulnerability doesn’t stop just at health.
Covid-19 has indeed brought out the best and also the worst in people. Some senior citizens have been victims of conmen who knocked on their door pretending to be health officers. And then they were robbed.
Last Friday was the last day of school, as announced by the government. It came with a warning that grandparents should not be allowed to look after their grandchildren for fear that the little ones would pass on any infection to them. It sounds cruel to grandparents like us.
This is indeed to prevent them from getting infected because if they are, the National Health Service, which is already overstretched, will consider senior citizens low in their priorities.
In Italy, where the death rate from Covid-19 is increasing at an alarming rate daily, we read reports in newspapers here that those over 80 “are left to die”.
Two days ago was our 5-year-old grandson’s last day at school. His grandfather, as usual, had packed two brioches with humus as he did daily before going to fetch him.
Along the way to the bus stand and during the journey home, they’d talk about his day at school, play “I spy with my little eye” and do sing-alongs. Tuk Wan is never one not to answer his thousand and one questions along the way. These are now our routine activities that we do around the dining table.
Last Friday, children from a local school stood at a safe distance in their courtyard and sang a song of farewell to their elderly neighbours living in a flat opposite the school.
When everything else looks grim, such simple act of kindness brings so much joy. Covid-19 may forbid us from physical human contact, but that should not stop us from reaching out and touching other people’s lives with however small it is.