“She was right there, just a few feet away from me. She entered the train and no one else seemed to notice but me. She hadn’t noticed me yet so I quickly turned away, hoping that it was just a bad dream and that I would wake up soon enough. It wasn’t. She was headed my way. The end was near.”
It was a Saturday morning and Saturday mornings are one of my favorite times of the week. It was the day where a few friends of mine and I would go to a community center and teach underprivileged children English and Maths. That Saturday, it was just Annabel and I that went to the center to teach.
At about one o’ clock, after we had finished having lunch with the rest of the volunteers at the center, we headed to the LRT station to go back home. It was a short walk to the station and we boarded the train towards home in a few minutes.
The train ride usually takes about 20 minutes from the station nearest to the place we taught at and the place we live in. I got out a book and started reading while the train slowly but surely brought me closer to home. Everyone else in the train seemed to be either busy tapping away at their mobile phones or listening to music through a pair of earphones. It was quiet in the train amidst all the screeches the train seemed to make as it traveled quickly along its rails.
The train stopped several times at different stations along my journey home. It was two stations away from the one I stopped at when the incident occurred. I was still reading when I saw the “lady” out of the corner of my eye. She entered the train through the doors that were directly linked to the section of the train I was sitting at. Thankfully, the seats along where I sat and across me were filled.
She walked towards me and then turned sharply and headed to the adjacent section of the train where she found a seat to be settled in. She seemed like she was in her mid-60s, her skin wasn’t fair but nor was it dark. It was the color of chestnut brown. She put on a pair of glasses which were similar in build and shape to the ones elderly women wore. She took out a newspaper roll from a small hand-crafted basket she had carried with her into the train, unfolded it to its originally ginormous size (like the Chinese newspapers we see our grandparents pour over in their homes daily) which blocked my view of her actions or facial features and started reading.
She looked exactly like my former piano teacher, Teacher Iris. Sadly, she had passed on a few years back, hence the supernatural scare of sorts that I got when I first saw the woman on the train. She didn’t look exactly like Teacher Iris, but the resemblance was close enough that I almost peed my pants.
After the initial scare, what struck me the most was how much I missed Teacher Iris. It was around the time of her birthday too. My family always remembers her birthday as it lies between my sister’s on the 10th of March and mine which falls on the 30th of March.
Having taught me music since a very young age up to the time where I completed my Grade 7 ABRSM Piano Exam, Teacher Iris was a woman who played a big part in shaping the person I have grown up to become today. Having found out about her through word of mouth, my parents had sent my sister and me to be taught by her from a very early age (I was about 7 if I’m not mistaken).
Meeting her once a week for lessons meant that we spent quite a bit of time in her home where she taught. I remember my sister and I crying, complaining and wanting to give up after the first few lessons seemed too tough for us and the fact that we were lazy to spend time practicing the piano daily. Teacher Iris seemed to be the witch who had found this new form of torture that prevented us from living our care-free lives.
But, don’t we all feel the same? When you first learn a new language, musical instrument or any other life skill, it’s always tough at the beginning and we all feel like giving up at one point or another (I’m learning Spanish now at the age of 19 as part of my pre-university course and I still feel like giving up at times, we will never get too old to escape feeling that way it seems).
Thankfully, Teacher Iris was a wonderful woman and teacher. After figuring out why she was strict about certain things such as practice times, fingering and punctuality (she wanted to teach us discipline and work ethic), my sister and I had a good time learning how to play the piano from her and both of us have now completed our Grade 8 exams.
Teacher Iris was also a motherly figure who cared for us and showed us that teachers can truly do more than just teach a student; they can touch the life of a student. She would give us goodies during festive seasons such as Chinese New Year and she would get my whole family our own separate and unique gifts during Christmas which we celebrated together as believers of the same faith. Her generosity in gift-giving is something which I always remember her for and I try to emulate in my own life.
She was also a faithful pianist who would serve in Wesley Methodist Church by playing the organ for worship on most weeks. Being a single woman, she also devoted her life to caring for others and the impact she made in the lives of her church members and community members cannot be measured in numbers or percentages. She would do visitations and helped transport people around in a time where Uber and Grab were not available and Melaka did not have LRTs.
Sadly, she passed away on November the 2nd, 2015. Now, when the 20th of March approaches every year, I remember her life and her ministry. I thank God for placing her in my life and using her to help shape mine.
(teacher Iris, the woman in the red blouse, during the Christmas season of 2011)
Written by Da Ruey in March 2017.