His wheelchair and my phone number

After the SDP rally on Saturday, Joel and I were trudging through the 100 PSI haze and the unfamiliarity of Commonwealth to get the Two Chef’s zi char kopitiam. We nearly reached there after much pain and anguish, just in time to get food before it closed, but were flagged by a man on a wheelchair requesting us to help him get to Commonwealth MRT. And so we did just that.

Joel walked a little in front to find the way while I pushed his wheelchair and chatted with him. He didn’t seem socially normal (and I say this without judgement).

His name was Victor, he lived in Tiong Bahru with his brother and his 80-year old dad. He was in Commonwealth for a getai performance which unbeknownst to him was indeed a far way off from the MRT. He asked about my religion, if I was attached, what I was doing at Commonwealth, where I lived. He praised my character and proclaimed it was rare. And then he asked if I would make friends with everybody – disabled or not, to which I said yes. He asked if I look down upon the disabled to which I said no. He asked if I would be friends with him, to which again, as if caught up in a motion things, I said yes too. I had the same answer when he asked if we should keep in contact.

When he asked for my number, I knew the chickens had come home to roost. I gave him the wrong number. I knew he would call the number as a test, to which I quickly said my phone was out of battery, upon which he got the message. Bitter could be an expression for what I felt then.

It was one of those moments where you know would repeatedly come back to haunt you for days.

I knew he was testing me. And somehow or other, I had deliberately failed it. I had been patronising him. Maybe I should have had the sincerity and courage to have just said, “Victor, I don’t give my number to strangers” instead of lying outright. Maybe I should have instead channeled my anger at him for putting me in such a position.

Raag once told me that as part of the preparatory course for volunteers before they get to work with HIV patients, volunteers are, through a series of discussions, made to empathise rather than sympathise. And then I look at myself and wonder, am I even capable of sympathy, let alone empathy.

Or is my moral sense just simply motivated by a guilty conscience?

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