I was looking for a place for lunch when a distantly familiar voice called out to me. Like a voice from the past, I heard someone call me 阿兵哥 or soldier boy. I turned and saw a smiling auntie outside a chicken rice stall. It took a while before I recognised her. She was the canteen girl at Changi Village selling chicken rice 30+ years ago when I was a recruit doing my BMT at Pulau Tekong.
“Ah, it’s you!” I said, feeling a little embarrassed that I never knew her name. Let’s call her Ah Lian.
“Want to eat chicken rice or not? The usual?”
“No. I can’t stomach 2 plates of chicken rice like I did at 18. One plate will do.” I said as I sat down.
“Ei, self service.”
I got up and waited at the stall. I remembered she used to serve me at the table. The chicken rice soon arrived. Instinctively, I pulled out a $1 coin and a 50-cent coin.
“Yao mo gao chor ah, uncle? You think this is still Changi Village 30 years ago, chicken rice $1.50 meh? $3.50 now hor.”
She called me “uncle”. What happened to 阿兵哥? Her words felt like a slap on the face. I was rudely awakened from my dream. I am no longer 阿兵哥. She is now an auntie and no longer Ah Lian or whatever her name was.
“Never mind lah. For old times’ sake. $1.50 can or not?”
“I served the nation leh. You don’t appreciate my effort meh?”
“Your name is not Baey Yan Tao leh. Maybe last time I see you yan tao I can give you discount, but now you not already. Last time I called you 阿兵哥. My sister even called you 帅哥, but now you’re an uncle. $3.50 please.”
© Chan Joon Yee