Posted on 08.5.2020 | 12:00 AM
To many of us, family meals are a time for togetherness. But for Mr Ong Soon Teck, it meant sitting separately. The front of his house was reserved for his adoptive parents and their children, while he and his adoptive grandmother shared meals at the back.
Adopted as a baby, Mr Ong grew up with his adoptive parents constantly bickering about him. Once they had their own children, however, Mr Ong was no longer a source of their irritation, he instead became a victim of intentional neglect.
“They never took care of me. My grandma was the one who fed me and brought me to sell candy with her,” he shared.
He knows neither the reason for his unwanted adoption nor abandonment. “I have two elder sisters, according to the karang guni* who works in our neighbourhood. He saw my birth mother giving me up at the door,” he said. But Mr Ong never thought about finding his real family, so he never did.
In dreams where you fall, the fear jolts you awake. But you know it was just a dream. For Mr Ong, however, that dream became his nightmare reality.
At 22, he left the house he could never call home. Without his grandmother’s guidance, Mr Ong turned astray and started collecting illegal 4D bets. But his stint was short-lived, as the law caught up with him and meted out a year’s sentence.
In his 30s, Mr Ong got married. But his marital bliss did not last. After his son was born, his marriage began to mirror his adoptive parents’. The couple constantly argued about their son, and called it quits when their son was four. Later, Mr Ong was asked to move out of his own matrimonial house.
After the divorce, Mr Ong lost contact with his son. “If he wants to find me, he will,” he said defensively. As the conversation proceeded, Mr Ong’s mind, however, lingered around the thought of his long-lost son.
“You would think that over these 20 years, I would have bumped into him (my son) on the streets, but well...” he added, leaving a trail of bitter-sweet hopefulness in the air.
Abandoned by three families – his real, adoptive, and chosen family – Mr Ong was alone again. But he was never truly alone, because he had the unfortunate company of a disease called diabetes. And after 40 years as a diabetic, Mr Ong met with even more unwanted guests: hypertension, coronary heart disease, and kidney failure.
“I remember it was on my birthday in 2011,” Mr Ong recalled about his bypass surgery that had depleted his Medisave. After recuperating, Mr Ong resumed work as a dishwasher until one faithful afternoon in 2015.
He fainted in a coffee shop.
He awoke on a hospital bed later, and learnt that his kidneys had failed, causing his body to retain 15 litres of water. He needed to be dialysed immediately, but without a home address to register under his name, he could not be discharged nor begin dialysis.
When a social worker found him a one-room rental flat, Mr Ong was relieved. He was discharged but faced more financial issues. Unable to work, and his savings depleted, Mr Ong had no means to pay $165 for his rent, much less $2,000 for dialysis.
Given his situation, Mr Ong was referred to KDF and is currently receiving fully-subsidised dialysis at KDF. Besides dialysis, Mr Ong also requires medication, “in one day alone, I have to take about 20 pills,” he explained.
Even with an elderly lady as his co-lessee, and a subsidised rent of $26, Mr Ong still struggles financially. He receives $360 of financial aid monthly. “Food is about $10 daily, and transport is $50 monthly, how is that enough, what about utilities?” he questioned.
61 years have passed, but Mr Ong still has not found a place he can ever call home. After living in many different houses, he seems content with the current company of his elderly co-lessee. Perhaps an elderly woman reminds him of better times – sharing a warm meal alone with his grandmother – and it makes it a little easier to get through life.
Perhaps, this is the closest Mr Ong may ever get to a home.