Penniless, student resorts to selling fruits to pay university fees

Dec 14, 2020 | 🚀 Fathership

KUALA LUMPUR: Exactly one month ago, Vicneswary, 23, contemplated ending her life. Penniless and living without electricity and water, life had become too unbearable to endure.

She also still lives in the fear that she will have to abandon her degree in a local university as she owes them RM1,018.18 in fees – an amount she has no way of settling on her own with her meagre income.

However, as dismal as things are, she found the will to live and be strong for the sake of her recently widowed mother Puspa, 44.

Together, they run a fruit stall, selling cut fruit.

On this particularly scorching day, she hails an ice truck and buys a bag of ice cubes. Without it, the fruits won’t keep till evening.

And without today’s income, she tells FMT, they will barely make it through the next day, and have nothing left over to save for rent.

This is Vicneswary’s ‘new normal’ since losing her job as a waitress at a well-known hotel because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s been a good 30 minutes, and not one customer drops by despite the everyday hustle and bustle around them.

Vicneswary lets out a soft sigh but says, “This is normal.” She explains that even on a good day, the most the duo can earn is a measly RM25.M

Life is tough for Vicneswary. By the time she was only 18, she was already juggling the demands of studies and work because money was tight.

She tells FMT that her father was a heart patient and too sickly to hold down a job. Left with little choice, she decided to study only part time and take on a full-time job so she could help her mother earn a decent income.

Despite the hardship, she says, the family of three was happy. However, her father died of a massive heart attack in October last year. He was only 55.

Devastated by this turn of events, Vicneswary says her mother sunk into depression.

She however, had no time to grief and quickly assumed the role of sole breadwinner. She assured her grieving mother that she’d find a way to settle her family’s monthly bills.

“I knew the amount of hard work ahead but it was my responsibility to take care of my family, especially since my 82-year-old grandfather had moved in with us.”

“I wanted my mother to rest at home. She rejected the idea initially, but I managed to convince her that I was capable of doing this,” she says.

Vicneswary got herself a job and decided to pursue a Bachelor of Communications, majoring in journalism, at Open University Malaysia (OUM) Bangi on a part-time basis.

“It was also my father’s dream. And the prospect of being an investigative journalist sniffing around crime scenes sounded absolutely thrilling to me.”

However, her newfound happiness was short lived.

Not only did she lose her job in August because of the pandemic, their landlord served them with an eviction notice in November.

To pressure them to leave as soon as possible, the landlord cut off their water and electricity supply, forcing them to live for two weeks in total darkness save for the candles they lit at night.

For water, a tap located near a cluster of rubbish bins in the area was all they had to survive on.

She tells FMT that this was the tipping point for her and as much as it hurt her mother to hear this, Vicneswary told her she wanted to commit suicide.

“I applied for hundreds of jobs but not one came back with a favourable reply. We were living on tea and biscuits. I could survive but these were unacceptable living conditions for my mother and grandfather.”

Thankfully, they found cheaper accommodation. However, the rental of RM700 was steep and the duo had to figure out how to earn an income. So, they decided to sell fruit.

On the day FMT met up with Vicneswary, business was good and Puspa was clearly relieved. With everything sold out, they headed home to Taman Orkid.

Their home is practically bare except for a television set, a prayer altar, a fridge and a simple kitchen. She and her mother sit on the cold, hard floor and play with the two stray dogs they adopted.

“My father taught us the importance of taking care of animals. He would feed stray dogs and birds and we try to continue the tradition despite having little money,” smiles Vicneswary.

The fruits today may have sold out but Vicneswary’s worries are still very much present.

She tells FMT that she cannot resume her studies next semester in January, as she has an outstanding payment that she cannot settle as she has next to nothing in terms of savings.

“My dream is to be financially stable so my mum and grandfather are well taken care of. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve gone through.”

As if sensing her distress, Gori and Shiro lick her face, and for a moment, all is right in the world.

You can find Vicneswary and her mother at their fruit stall in Taman Suntex, Cheras opposite the Bank Simpanan Nasional from 11am to 5pm every day.

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