Fix it. That's all I hear these days. Over the counter, scores of people stream in to get their shoes mended. I don't know how Pa does it. Nobody expected this small business enterprise to last, let alone become a household name in Singapore ---Mr Fix-it Store.
Pa's grown so very thin over the years due to the running of this pipeline of his. He's a very accomplished man. It all seemed like yesterday. I can still picture the day when he announced to us all that he was never ever going to have to answer to anyone ever again. He was going to be his very own boss! He had his eye on this dying trade, so radiant and full of life, bursting with energy from above. You should have seen the sparkle in his eyes when he broke the news to us all in the living room. I still recall the cartoon over the tube that very October morning. It was a public holiday. Tia was playing marbles. Jie was busy cooking and we three television addicts glued ourselves to the TV set with our all-time favourite, Tom and Jerry. None of us kiddos had any clue what he meant but we all clapped anyway. Pa even did a mini jig on the spot to delight us. We could sense his immense joy. I was eleven then but I could sense Ma's silence that day. I watched her and I knew she was none too pleased with the announcement. She simply nodded at Pa and continued toiling on the pieces of garment to help make ends meet. Ma was always the practical one. But she never ever disagreed when Pa decided on things. Ma knew what for-better-or-for- worse meant when she took her marriage vows. Pa said Ma was the beauty of his 1 kampong. They had met during a matchmaking session arranged by his parents. She was just 19 when she was received into the Tan family.
The image of Ma stitching away is deeply etched in my mind till this blessed day. Her rocking chair I clean as a daily ritual keeps me reminded of her presence in my life and in this very house even though she's long gone. For a woman with hardly anything to say, she most certainly took centrestage in everyone's hearts. No one spoke much after Ma's passing. Not Pa. He just worked and worked daily. He would ensure that Jie got her breakfast before she left for work. We boys were fortunate to have an elder sister who so naturally took over Ma's duties when Ma was taken ill. Upon her passing, Jie wanted to help Pa with the household expenses. She sacrificed her university opportunity to help out in the family. Everyone had chores to do. I, being the eldest male, felt the burden on my shoulders. I knew I had to study real hard to ensure I got a scholarship. Our only ticket out of poverty. Pa never let us forget how important having a good education is.
"Fix it. Can you?" I looked up just in time to spot the prettiest smile ever. That mesmerizing gaze melted me like butter. I knew it was love at first sight. After that faithful day, I never failed to drop by Pa's side right after school, hoping to spot this sweet young thing again. I regret going all red that day and for having asked to be excused to hide my boyhood excitement. Upon my return, she was gone. I tried searching for her along the streets. I remember running along every single back alley in 2 Hougang, bobbing into every shop, only to be overcome by dismay. I never saw that my goddess ever again.
Although not one of us five Tan-siblings truly understood why Pa did what he did, quit as a shoe store manager for this vanishing trade of toil- and- snares; we respected him dearly. Pa never let us ever go hungry, not even for a single day. The day when Ma shut her eyes for good, Pa fixed that too. He remained strong for us, and told us to rally as one for the days ahead. Little Tia was barely nine. Time has been kind to Pa. Despite his frail seventy-five years, Pa is still the old friendly neighbourhood cobbler. I love this man. We all know when all things break, Mr Fix-it will be there for us. Till this day, he will always "fix it". My Pa, my inspiration and my hero.
1 kampong: a term to mean "village" in Singapore in the early days.
2 Hougang: Hougang is the pinyin version of Aū-káng, a Hokkien and Teochew name meaning"river end", as Hougang is located upstream or at the back of Sungei Serangoon Singapore.