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Not everybody walks a similar path as one another - by M.J.K.

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'N' Level student-inmate from institution TM1

Consolation Prize

Not everybody walks a similar path as one another. Some have it difficult while others have it as easy as they want it to be. Talking about difficult, there are many things one can deem to be difficult. To me, it's not about how difficult the challenge may be, but rather it is about how one chooses to face it. Some people say that the first step is always a step closer to success. Yet I still see many others crumble and fall. I am a father of eight, an ex-convict and for as many times I can remember, this is my hardest fall. Up till this day I am still fighting to get to the end of the tunnel, but as compared to before, I can safely say that I am beginning to see light at the end of it.

Being in and out of prison for almost ten times, there is a point whereby even I myself am starting to get tired of it. I finally decided that I had enough of ‘this life’ and this will be my last time coming out of a place like this. I told this to myself prior to my release in 2010. I kept telling myself that this time round I want to live a happy and blissful life with my wife and five kids at that point of time. I was a happy man during the first year of my release. What I assumed was that things were finally about to fall into place especially with ‘number six’ coming on the way. Well, little did I know how naive I was and how foolish I could be at that point of time.

My wife and I own a hawker business together with my late father-in-law. It has been running even before I married my wife. Like normal beings, running a business consists of its own ups and downs, good and bad moments and I was aware of that. Before I served my sentence, I was sure I left things in good hands and even after my release things seemed to look that way. Like I said, I thought things were going great and with me was my lovely wife who shared my pain together with me. It was during her pregnancy that I found out about things that even I myself could not come to believe.

My wife is a very responsible woman. Throughout my visits to prison, she was the one who always stood by me, visited me and even brought our kids to see me. She never complained nor put up a face doing so. She sometimes can be a little too responsible, especially towards her siblings and parents. Never has she neglected them no matter how hard life is for her. In her family, it was always about money. Always not having enough. I did my part to help them but I too have my own family to take care of. I know what my wife will do just to help her family and to others it may be wrong and selfish but I never once blamed her because I know all she was trying to do is help her loved ones.

Behind my back, my wife started making debts just to support her family. Initially she would come clean to me and I would just pay them off but slowly things were starting to get a little off hand. Out of nowhere, she would disappear from home and sit under the void deck for hours at a time saying that she needed some fresh air. People whom I did not recognise started appearing in front of my stall looking for my wife and it just kept getting worse. So bad that one day, my wife took off, leaving me with my kids.

I was lost at the moment. All I wanted to do was find my wife and for weeks I tried to do so. My kids were worried sick about her and we did not have a clue where she went. She would call once every few days at random timings just to make sure we were alright and then she would disappear again. People whom I said kept appearing out of nowhere in front of my stalls started asking for money and when I accumulated what my wife owed, I almost gave everything up. I too wanted to be like her and just leave everything all at once. It was because of my kids that I kept all I had in me to keep going. One year after my release, my wife accumulated a debt of more than a hundred thousand dollars and the funny thing is that we did not even own any cars to require such a lump sum. Where did the money go? To her siblings and parents of course and I am the one who has to repay them all. Why? Because even her family fled and left her. It took me some time to relocate my wife and bring her home. It took a lot of coaxing to make her stay.

It took me about two years to clear off more than half of the debt and I told my wife that this time it is really it. That we are going to live a happy life from now on. A few days later a friend of mine came to visit and I told him about what happened. All he told me was, “this is just the beginning. Don’t underestimate what God has planned out for you.” I did not really care about the advice he gave me because I was too happy celebrating the end of my family’s misery.

A few months passed and business was not going well. I began to have health issues but I still manage to clear off more of the left over debts. I managed to save up for my family and even planned on buying a new house. Money was no longer an issue at that point of time and I did not even bother so much if my wife ever asked me for lump sums of cash to help her family. I gave her what I could and she in return gave me reassurances that things are going to be fine. It only lasted for a few months before I discovered that once again my family has another debt almost a hundred thousand again.

When all this happened, my wife was pregnant with my eighth child and once again she fled the scene. What made things worse was that I was to be blamed for the debts that I have no knowledge of and I was accused of every possible mistake there is. I can only bear so much because I too am human just like everyone else yet again, I stayed. I told myself if I were to give up now, everything I’ve accomplished would be gone and my kids would be devastated.

It took me weeks to find my wife again and this time round I made sure she stayed right where she should be. I consulted my children and told them what was going on and to my disbelief my son who was in Sec 2 and daughter in Sec 4 dropped out of school just to help me at the stall. Of course people laughed at my family but that did not stop us from striving forward. Eventually when things were better, I made sure my kids got the education they needed.

My son even came to me and said, “Sometimes, when we ask for a flower, God gives us a cactus. If we were to grumble and throw it away, it only shows how impatient and fussy we could be. But if we care for it and take care of it, eventually it will bear a flower. Just imagine how difficult it is for a cactus to bear a flower? We need to believe in his plans and be patient.” I was taken aback by his words as tears rolled down my cheeks. I will never forget that day of my life and all the hardships we went through as a family.

Today, I am just an ordinary man with stories to share with his grandkids. I hope that whatever value life has taught me and my family will be passed down with great care. I am living on a prayer hoping for a better tomorrow each day.

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