Just To See Granny Smile

Granny at Tiong Bahru

If everything happens for a reason, somehow I must have been prompted to take that seat at the front of the Subway restaurant in Tiong Bahru and to witness granny trying to sell tissue to passer-bys.

For half an hour, I watched.

Granny held three packets of tissue between a thumb and forefinger and another three packets between two other fingers on the same hand. She held out the tissues to people coming towards her, and people approaching her from the back.

It was a Sunday afternoon, after all, and there was no lack of human traffic. Granny had also picked a supposedly good spot just outside a convenience store and near the taxi stand.

But most people treated her as if she had an invisibility cloak on, or perhaps they could see through things and people. Granny even began flailing her arms in the hopes that she would be noticed. Teenage boys walked past her chatting on their mobile phones, oblivious.

Ladies flaunting the latest threads, the pretty bags and high-heeled shoes hurried past.

Granny would occasionally feel tired and take to leaning against a pillar nearby for a quick rest. Her legs seemed to be hurting as a raised pant leg revealed a palm-sized medicated plaster commonly used for relieving aches and pains.

Then some 15 minutes later, a gentleman presses a dollar coin into old granny’s palm, politely refuses the tissue and walks away. Then another. And another. Each time someone took some tissue, granny would quickly get some more out of her bright green recyclable bag on the ground next to her. It was a constant cycle – sell, replenish, sell, replenish.

Only men took pity on old granny?

Then a Muslim lady came by and bought some tissues. Business was picking up for granny!

Then more people came by and refused to stop. Granny tried selling tissues to the ten people waiting at the taxi stand – none bought any.

A little boy came into sight, followed closely by his mom and dad. Granny waited expectantly as she’d thought he was pointing excitedly in her direction. But no… he went right past her towards Subway… and me. Junior’s Mom and Dad had just lost a precious opportunity to teach him about caring for the elderly instead of his stomach.

Then a man stopped in front of granny, wanting to buy some tissues. He gave her a coin and wanted to take 3 packets but granny refused and held up one finger. He had given her less than a dollar, it seems. So he took just one packet and left.

As I sat in that chair in Subway, I wondered what it would be like to be in old granny’s shoes. I wondered if I’d be able to stand in that corner and keep holding out tissue to passer-bys, hoping they would stop to buy some. I wondered what it’d be like to have people keep holding up one palm to signal that no, they did not want any tissues and that I should keep away. I wondered what it would be like to face rejection after rejection. I wondered what it would be like to stand in a corner while my old legs ached and threatened to buckle under me.

Just half an hour watching granny sell her tissues felt like an eternity to me. I learnt so much about the person I want to be, and the person I’d like to be for my future kids. I’d want them to run towards granny to give her the coins in their pockets and when they run back to me, I’ll pat them on their heads and tell them they have been good.

One day, I hope to be able to give an old granny a hug, without me bursting into tears and embarrassing her and myself. 🙂

When it was time to go, I reached for my wallet, took out the biggest note I had and went towards granny.

She held out an arm with three packets of tissues held in her fingers.

I pressed the folded note into her palm, telling her in Mandarin to “keep it well”.

Her face lit up.

She brought her hands together, like when little children say “gongxi gongxi” at Chinese New Year. Her mouth opened as if to say something but no sound emerged from her seemingly toothless mouth, and no words were needed.

I walked away, and tears welled up in my eyes.

Whether it’s the biggest note in your wallet, or the smallest coin in your purse… when you next walk past a granny selling tissue, give it to her with a generous spirit. Trust me, when you see granny smile, the smile goes straight to your heart.

Grace Tan

14 April 2013


10 thoughts on “Just To See Granny Smile

  1. Dear Grace,
    Really touched by what you have shared and what you have done:-) If everyone of us were to slow down our fast pace a little, take notice of some needy folks around us, contribute our caring effort…這世界就會變得更美麗!

    • I do my best. 🙂 Sometimes, I am so busy and rushing from place to place that I fail to see the people who need help and our support too. 😉

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  3. Never judge a book “look” by its cover regardless of age “whatever variables” and take pity especially on the street where there are make liars/fakes wanders.

    btw the pic shows the aunt in clean clothes/skin and able to replenish her big bag of tissue, what could be wrong? She got $$$ for replenishment beside meeting daily needs.

    Pity and help these in real needs such as these old person living alone in 1-room flats “plenty of these behind redhill market” whereas they cant moved and depends on volunteers to feed them at fixed timing.

    • Hi Joe,

      As there is absolutely no way I can be sure of whether the auntie is really in need of assistance, or a “fake” as you say, I’d rather be WRONG than to walk past an elderly person in need of help without lending a helping hand, like all those people I saw treating her as if she were invisible.

      Tissues aren’t that expensive after all, so I won’t fault her for having a “big bag of tissue”. 😉

      I can’t possibly help every single person in need (like all those in 1-room flats) but I do my best whenever I can. If it is your calling to help those who are immobile and require regular visits, I hope you do so.


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  5. If everyone is like you, this world will be perfect. Unfortunately, this is an ugly world. To the seller (grannies, etc), lots of “ugly” stories circulating around, like syndicates behind them and stuff. To the buyer, the people, thoughtless, not kind enough, etc. In my opinion, at the end of the day, I see them around, i buy tissues from them, the smile that they give … priceless! It will make my day, it will make their day.. Everyone is happy 🙂

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