By Tan Kerng Ngee
What does a 65-year-old makcik and 40-year-old ex-convict have in common?
When Makcik (Malay for “auntie”) Nisah first met Max, all she could see was his tattoos.
She says: “Can he help me? Because it’s a stereotype that people who have tattoos are all gangsters.”
But as she got to know him, she admits that she grew to trust him. Explaining in a mixture of English and Malay, she says: “On the inside, his heart is pure. Outside, of course everyone can see (the tattoos), but inside, people don’t know.”
Max, or Max BoiMax, as the social media influencer calls himself, says: “ I believe that people can change and I really want to prove it.”
This unlikely pair came together after Max saw an online article about Makcik Nisah about how she has been diligently caring for other elderly residents of Potong Pasir despite her own difficulties in running her Malay food stall.
He says that when he read the article, he was really touched by her story as it reminded him of his own childhood helping out at food stalls. He understood the hardships of running a food stall, even more so now during the pandemic and decided to reach out to Nisah.
“So I’m willing to give my best and it’s the best time during Covid-19 that I can help people out,” says Max earnestly.
As a social media influencer, Max says that he promotes local stores and small businesses that he believes in through live streaming for a small fee. He hopes that through his live streams, these shops will get more customers.
“But for Makcik Nisah, I really can’t take a single cent.”
Max explains that he came from a poor family and had to find ways to earn money. At the age of 13, he was given a chance by a Malay family to sell kueh and goreng pisang (fried banana fritters) at the coffee shop at his HDB block.
Receiving kindness in return
Makcik Nisah’s passion for Malay food had kept her stall in Potong Pasir going for twenty years. Despite the challenging times during the pandemic, she continued to stay true to her heart, selling food at a cheaper price for the older crowd in Potong Pasir.
“People tell me that my food is cheap. I tell them that I won’t increase my prices because this area has all the old aunties and uncles, iI sayang (Malay for doting on) them.”
On days when there is food left unsold, she would give the leftovers to a nearby mosque or the poor.
During the pandemic, Makcik Nisah’s stall was badly affected — some days she wouldn’t have a single customer.
That changed when a taxi driver friend saw her difficulties and put up a post on Facebook to try to attract some crowds.
That post went viral and that was how Max got to know Makcik Nisah.
Kindness begets kindness
After Max did the livestream, business started to pick up, with a lot of people patronising Makcik Nisah’s store. The livestream not only helped her business but also gave her a sense of hope and the warmth from the community, she says.
“At first I was very nervous,” laughs Makcik Nisah. “I was so nervous! In the end, I felt that it was fun.”
Max adds that ever since he came out from prison, he has been wanting to prove to others that people can change.
“I’m willing to give my best and it’s the best time (to do so) during Covid-19.”
He’s married with a stepdaughter and he says: “My whole body, including my neck, is covered with tattoos. I worry about how people would judge me whenever I hold my stepdaughter’s hand. So I want to be a stepfather (that she can be proud of); I hope that she can follow my legacy of helping people.”
His drive to redefine himself as a positive influence to society is mirrored by Makcik’s Nisah passion to help others in her community.
Makcik Nisah says that she never expected so many people to come help her after the livestream. She laughs that her friends often pop by to help out at the stall for free.
“I didn’t expect that so many people would come and help me. Last time, when I helped a lot of people, I didn’t feel that people would help me, but maybe God might help me.”
“Now, that thing has happened (that help has come) — from Max.”