The day after she found out that her neighbour’s daughter had died, Madam Nekmah Mahadi, 45, went to her neighbour’s side and asked: “Are you okay?”
Her neighbour, Madam Yap Bie Keow, 81, placed her wrinkled head on Madam Nekmah’s shoulders and said: “Sad. Mei Mei is gone already.”
Putting her arms around the retiree, Madam Nekmah told her: “Mei Mei is in a better place now. “Don’t be sad. I’ll be your Mei Mei from now on.”
She understands the pain.
And it was also she who made the grisly discovery when Madam Yap asked her last Wednesday morning why her daughter had slept for four days straight, without waking up to eat or drink.
She found Madam Yap’s daughter, Miss Cheng Ah Moy, 55, dead on the mattress where she usually slept.
Miss Cheng, Madam Yap’s youngest child, shared the same room with her mother at the two-room flat.
Madam Nekmah told The New Paper: “I met her at the void deck that morning and she (Madam Yap) had just returned from the market.
“When she told me (that Miss Cheng) was so lazy and that she had not moved for so long, I did not suspect anything.”
Along with her 14-year-old son, Madam Nekmah followed Madam Yap into her flat, where Madam Yap’s son, Mr Cheng Ah Jee, 60, also lives.
Said Madam Nekmah, a primary school canteen operator: “She told me, ‘Look for yourself, she’s so lazy!'”
But when she opened the bedroom door, she was shocked.
The first thing to hit her was the putrid stench from Miss Cheng’s dead body in the room.
She had to break the sad news to her neighbour: “Aunty, Mei Mei no more already.”
The police received a call at about 11am and when they arrived, they found Miss Cheng lying motionless in the room, a police spokesman said.
She was pronounced dead by paramedics. Police have classified the death as unnatural and are investigating.
After the body was taken away, Madam Nekmah stayed behind to help clean up the house and pack Miss Cheng’s things.
She communicates with the Teochew-speaking Madam Yap in a smattering of Teochew, Malay, Mandarin and a variety of hand gestures.
The next day, Madam Nekmah returned to further clean up the place and help Madam Yap with the funeral arrangements.
She said Madam Yap had told her to stop cleaning the flat because she was embarrassed that her neighbour had to do it for her.
Said Madam Nekmah: “I told her, ‘I’m Mei Mei now, you said so that I could be Mei Mei.’ After that, she let me do it.”
She said: “Their place is very, very dirty and unhygienic and it took me a long time to clean everything.
“It has been tough on her as Miss Cheng is intellectually disabled.”
When TNP visited the home last Thursday, Madam Yap and Mr Cheng welcomed us into their dimly lit flat.
Mr Cheng showed us where they slept and where his younger sister’s body was found.
“The radio is broken. The TV has been broken for years,” he said.
We saw a home which had unwashed clothing and cooking utensils and plastic bags filled with odds and ends scattered all over the stained floors.
All of Miss Cheng’s belongings were packed into a black trashbag.
Madam Yap walks with an unsteady gait and suffers from cataracts.
“My legs are weak. I can’t see out of my right eye but my left one still works,” she said.
She spoke to us while cooking a simple meal of gruel and kailan over a makeshift charcoal stove on the floor.
This has been typical of their meals for the last few years, she said.
When asked about her daughter’s death, she said: “What to do? She’s dead.”
She did not realise that anything was wrong, despite having shared the same room in the flat with her daughter for more than 30 years.
She said: “She never said she was sick. I thought she was sleeping.”
Mr Cheng said he sensed that his sister wasn’t feeling well on Oct 10, the day she had gone to sleep. When asked why he did not call for an ambulance, he said: “We have no phones.”
Madam Nekmah had also just started work in recent months and her visits had become less frequent. On her visits, she would normally have a quick chat with Madam Yap. Sometimes, she would bring food with her for the family.
Madam Nekmah, who has four children and six grandkids, said she got to know Madam Yap by chance and took pity on the elder woman’s situation.
She added that when her children were younger, she would encourage them to drop by Madam Yap’s flat to play with Miss Cheng.
Despite being so helpful, Madam Nekmah said she can’t help feeling responsible for not checking up on her elderly neighbour.
“I used to visit thrice every day, but not recently. Luckily, I had taken leave that day to visit Madam Yap, otherwise no one would have known about the death,” she said.
TOO POOR TO AFFORD DAUGHTER’S WAKE
“No money, no money,” was all Madam Yap would say when asked about her finances.
Her husband died 25 years ago and both Mr and Miss Cheng were unemployed. Mr Cheng said he would do odd jobs, but earned a paltry salary.
Said Madam Nekmah: “She has an eldest son too, who lives elsewhere, but he’s not close to the family.”
However, he visited Madam Yap last Thursday to help them with the funeral arrangements.
He told Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao that a decade ago, he would give his mother $200 each month.
He is unable to do so now as he earns a monthly income of $1,000 and has to support his sickly wife.
Madam Yap had to survive on a $450 grant money that his sister received, he added.
As the family couldn’t afford it, there was no wake held for Miss Cheng.
Madam Yap also told TNP that she used to work in a hotel two years ago, earning around $500 a month.
She retired because her legs were too weak for the job.
She does not have much savings as most of her earnings were spent on family expenses, she said.
She has repeatedly refused help from social welfare groups because she is “paiseh” (Hokkien for embarrassed), she said.
Mostly, help comes from Madam Nekmah, whom Mr Cheng described as a “good person”.
Said Madam Nekmah, who also volunteers at the nearby residents’ committee (RC): “I would bring up the topic of Madam Yap during RC gatherings. (RC members) have tried to visit her several times in the past, but she has always turned them away.
“She only lets me into the home.”
She is now helping Madam Yap apply for aid from the South East Community Development Council.
She said: “That was why I was waiting for Madam Yap at the void deck on Tuesday. I had wanted to get a copy of their NRICs (for the application).
“If I hadn’t gone into her flat to check, I don’t know how long it would have taken until somebody found out about (Miss Cheng’s death).
– See more at: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/elderly-woman-sleeps-next-dead-daughter-4-days?page=0%2C2#sthash.89f8ti9X.dpuf