Ranee was her name. This much I gathered in a somewhat
rambling conversation one day. Everyone in my neighborhood, however,
called her the "Mad Woman." She lived alone in a one-room flat in the block
opposite mine. Once in a while, I could see her in the corridor outside her
flat. She would invariably point at the sky and chant the same refrain, "Shanti,
you cheat. I curse you." She would repeat this, again and again. No one knew who
she was - not even the neighbors. Frequently, folks would see her
scrounging for leftovers at food centers or
searching in the rubbish bins nearby. Once in a while, some folks would pity her
and go to her flat to bring her some food. However, she would scold these kind
souls and fling the food out onto the corridor. She would shout out to all and
sundry that she was not a beggar.
One Saturday, my friends and I were slated
by our school to do some charity work. We were asked to visit some old folks. We
decided to visit Madam Ranee out of compassion for a lonely soul. However, we
were dreading the thought of her scolding us when we knocked on the door.
Therefore, we were astonished when we heard a sweet voice welcoming us in. She
thanked us for the food parcel we brought her and in the conversation that
followed, we realized that we were talking to her in one of her sane moments.
However, after ten minutes had elapsed, she started shouting at us and chased us
out of her flat.
This much, however, we gleaned from her past. It seemed that she had an only
daughter, Shanti, who had cheated her of her life savings. Shanti had run away
from her home with her lover. My classmate, Mary, and I were wondering how to
help her when suddenly Mary asked me.
"Li Lian, didn't Madam Ranee mention that Shanti studied in SMK Convent
I nodded in the affirmative. Then we realized that Shanti, her daughter, had
studied in the same secondary school we were now in. We decided to try to find
her. To do this, we paid a visit to Mrs Low, a teacher, who had been teaching in
our school for decades. When Mrs Low was briefed by us on the situation, she
tried her best to help. From Madam Ranee, we gathered that Shanti would be
twenty-six years old by now. Mrs Low decided to look through some old school
magazines some ten years ago, around the year that she would have left school
after her SPM examination. As she was flipping through some old, musty pages,
our old teacher suddenly shrieked, "There she is!" We stared at the page and saw
a class photo. Mrs Low was pointing at a name below, "Shantimani a/p Rajah".
"So where do we go to from here?" we wondered aloud. Suddenly, I had a
brainwave. "Why not go through some telephone directories to see if we could
locate her there?" It was a faint shot, but we got down to it eagerly. I then
suggested that we look into other issues of the directory. We struck lucky with
Directory 1993 - there it was: "Shantimani d/o Rajah" and the telephone number.
With beating hearts, we waited for a response when Mrs Low called up the number.
When we saw Mrs Low's face brightening up, we knew that we had succeeded in
contacting Shanti. Mrs Low spoke to her at some length.
Later, we learnt from Mrs Low of Shanti's joy in learning about her mother.
She had tried frantically to contact her mother the day her lover left her. On
that same day, she realized the enormity of
her sins. She had tried contacting her mother to repay the money she had taken
and to express her love. She was now a successful businesswoman. It was
fortunate that Shanti's maiden name was listed in the directory as she had not
Shanti was soon reunited with her mother. The joy of seeing her long-lost
daughter restored Madam Ranee's sanity. As for Mary and me, we were commended by
our principal when she learnt about our kind acts. Shanti donated a sum of money
to our school and later brought Mary and me out for a special treat.