In the same week (as the previous Uncle #1), I got a ride with another uncle. Possibly the same age as my very own parents, so around his early 50s. He seems strict and with deep wrinkles sitting on his weathered face.
We started talking, since he initiated a conversation and I sat in the front passenger seat.
– Girl, how old are you ah?
– 23 this year.
– Wah, so young. Good lah. Uncle old already. So you in university?
– Yeah, I am.
(At this point, as I have mentioned, I always just assume a role and don’t feel the need to be strictly specific about what I actually do.)
– Uncle also thinking of studying. Got accepted already. For a Masters in Project Management. Don’t know want to take a not.
– Oh, that’s nice. Why you want to take Masters?
– You see that building? I inspect one. I am a building safety officer. So some projects are given to me, and I check the building standard.
He then goes on to wave his hands animatedly as he points out all these buildings we are passing. All the details. What companies, from which countries, who’s the bigger company and why so many condominiums are growing on our land. He spoke with so much passion and I could feel his spirit.
But then he quietens down for a while.
– But now, sometimes, no projects. The last six months, nothing given from the association. I ask them why, they just tell me. No budget. Have contract also no use. No jobs. Then his little centre compartment of his aged Honda clicks open. A little lanyard is lying in there, slightly faded. – That’s my Tour Guide license. I do that on the side, but also nothing. No use. All overseas one and big companies do now.He clicks the compartment together a couple of times to make sure it remains closed for the rest of the ride.
I didn’t know what to say, so I just stayed silent and nodded whenever he is saying something.
– So, girl, I ask you. What field good to study now?
– Hmm. A lot of people going to do Business degree. Most transferable. Opens more options I guess?
– I have two children. One law, one doctor. But now law also very difficult. Too many lawyers so little jobs. How? Like me also. My diploma project management, go take masters in project management at least 50k gone. After take already, also don’t know got job or not.
Traffic light: red. I turned to look at him. He stared off at the roads ahead, mind no longer here. His eyes grew redder, as if reflecting the light. He wiped them and looked down at his lap.
– Nevermind. Uncle just work lah. Drive Uber now, since got car. Just work. Work until I cannot work anymore. I also don’t know how.
My heart broke when I heard his voice on the verge of breaking yet succumbing to resignation. The sense of helplessness with a lack of fight, but driven by perseverance and family.
He went on to pick up two other passengers, who shower no interest in his talk about their respective condominiums and eventually the ride was driven in silence. Even my responses weren’t enough to spur him to speak again.
I was the first rider to get off. I was actually hoping to be the last, just to get a chance to say something back. Not let the conversation we had end so abruptly and with heaviness.
But as I stepped out of the car, with the two ladies busily fumbling with their phones, the uncle looked at me.
– Okay, thank you girl. Good luck with your future. Keep trying.
I smiled and nodded.
– You too!
And the little old Honda drove away to Mandarin Orchard.
I really wanted to cry but I guess that’s just life. I wish him well, and I hope he knows that he is not alone.