CONVERSATION WITH A SENIOR CITIZEN: Uncle Ronnie, a changed man

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He is 56; like more and more senior citizens, Ronnie is on the streets. But this unmarried uncle has a different story to tell.

Ronnie is seated on a stool outside the washroom at the Buona Vista MRT Station, with a distant gaze at nothing in particular.

He cleans the washrooms for 8 hours a day, but he claims that that it is not a difficult job. Taking home less than a $1000 a month after his CPF contributions, he says the only way to survive is to keep working.

“As long as I have the energy, I will continue to work. Work is good.”

We talk about his earlier days.

“When I was in my teenage years, I sold electronics at Queensway Shopping Centre. But I stopped a while later.”

“I went to prison,” he said with remorse.

“After I was released, I became a sales coordinator at Bukit Merah for 3 years. I sold lighting, electronics and I went door to door to sell circuit breakers. I sold almost everything.“Then I started stealing. And I was still addicted to heroin at the same time.

“I was in and out of prison. In and out, in and out,” he repeated, gesturing with his hand to emphasize that he had been a seasoned man at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre.

He said it was during his army days that he got acquainted with drugs.

“I was a lance corporal in the 3 SIR and everyone there was doing heroin–it was cheap, $5 for a little packet,” he said, positioning his fingers as if he was holding an imaginary matchbox.

“A good friend pushed a pack in my hand and asked me to try it.”

“He’s dead now. Jumped off a block and killed himself,” he added, with a voice that was eerily dispassionate.

As soon as the topic of death surfaced, an air of negativity seeped in. I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a less morbid topic. I got him to talk about the turning point in his life instead.

“I stopped taking drugs after I was locked up for the longest time in my life – three and a half years. I knew I’ve had enough.

“I was getting old.”

He is now a religious man.

“I have been a Christian for about 5 years now.”

“One day, God appeared and asked me to follow him. Everything that happened was part of his plan. He knows what we are doing.”

He paused as if he had words to add, but silence ensued. I took the cue – it was time for me to go.

As I shook his hand and wished him well, he said, “When you are young, you must get married. If not, you will regret it.”

“I knew many girls back then.”

“But I lost every one of them to drugs.”