Excellence Award in the 'The Inside Story 2020' competition

The wooden door opens sluggishly revealing a man whose face is etched with lines of experience and despair. I pray that today will be easier, that today my face will be familiar. Yet I see his eyes, vacant and distant, he sees right through me.

A feeling of sadness and longing creeps down my back. The years of joy and laughter, that formed the fabric of my being, faded. ‘I am your daughter, Lucy.’ He stares at me blankly, confused and searching for answers. His furrowed brow grew deeper as his memories were snatched unfairly, like a sinkhole. He was getting much worse, this disease was taking hold like an avalanche with no stopping it. I follow the usual routine and pull out some old photos to remind him of Geylang Bahru and his family, his home, his life, his essence.

The stamp folder in my hands slips to the floor with a thud, he was startled yet a curious gaze filled his eyes, as if the empty cup was being slowly filled. There was knowing hidden behind the disease, the empty carcass did contain life, there was treasure still, I just had to find the key.

He beckons for me to bring the stamp collection over and starts browsing the old album. He looks at the many stamps with inquisitiveness, the way I did when I was a child. His wrinkled fingers delicately putting the stamps back into the album. His fingers hover over a few select stamps, the ones that bore the image of his homeland. He is trying to make sense of the tapestry, but it seems like he is only seeing the back of it, the jumbled mess. He couldn’t quite piece together the memory. Tears cascade from my eyes, falling on the hard floor. All of his vast memories and experiences vanishing along with his personality and maybe even his soul.

He continues to browse the album with his learning fingers, questioning. I answer and guide his fascination just as he had for me. Now I’m teaching the teacher. This cycle of life is painfully beautiful. He picks up a stamp and looks at it intensely, it is the famous orange kangaroo stamp from 1937, the rarest stamp in his collection. His eyes flicker, tears run down his face with overwhelming grief. For a moment his love for stamps returns, as did his precious connection to me. He squeezes my hand tightly, with divine acknowledgement of the situation. I wanted to bottle this moment, to keep this piece of treasure as a beacon to guide us in the dark tunnels that lie ahead.