That afternoon my dad came back from work and we went for lunch. We settled for a simple coffee shop with multiple stalls, but most of them were already closed because it was past lunch hour. So we settled for chicken rice, which was frankly the only stall that was open by then.

She was wearing a simple t-shirt and knee length shorts, with an apron tightly draped around her. As she took our order I realised she spoke in poor Mandarin, with imperfect pronunciation and she was struggling to get the words out. Nevertheless we were patient and made sure she got our order right.

My dad and I found a table nearby and sat down, while I noticed a man – who was originally swiping away on his phone at another table while we were ordering our meal – walking towards the stall. It was obvious that both of them managed the stall together. He, without saying a word to her, took up two plates and started to scoop out some rice. I didn’t want to stare too much, so I looked away.

Not long after, the lady delivered our food to the table, collected our money, smiled and said thank you. It troubled me that she was smiling forcefully, as if she wanted to put up a front that she was happy but her eyes definitely said otherwise. I smiled back. I hope I didn’t give away the fact that I noticed something wasn’t right.

After a while she walked away to the other corner of the coffee shop, and then she was out of my sight.

Then I heard a loud and angry voice from my right, shouting something – I wasn’t sure what. But within seconds she came running back to the stall in such a great hurry, with an apologetic smile on her face, fear in her eyes more evident than before. I suppose the man must’ve shouted her name. My eyes followed her as she ran across the coffee shop – and they met with hers. The edges of her lips formed that forceful smile once more, but I looked away. Staring just didn’t seem right. Neither was smiling appropriate, because it seemed like she just got herself into trouble.

I couldn’t help but wonder what was the relationship between that lady and the man who managed the stall together with her. Did he hire her as a domestic worker? It would make sense as her command of Mandarin wasn’t that good. Or are they married? If they are, why is she so afraid of him? Is she working here by choice?

As we finished our meal and got up from our seats, I noticed both of them sitting at the same table the man was sitting at (and swiping away at his phone) earlier. Their chairs could be facing each other, as it was a rectangular table. But the man turned his chair to the right, as if he didn’t want to have any form of contact with her at all – and the lady had her hands tightly held together, rested on the table.

She noticed we were leaving and she said with a cheery voice, “Thank you! Please come again!” with an accent that definitely wasn’t local and the forceful smile, still remaining. The man did not budge at all, although his phone was no longer in his hands. I smiled and I thanked her too. I suppose that was the only thing I could do at that point in time. I took one last glance at the man and walked away.

I said a silent prayer for her, and in my heart I hoped that she knew Jesus – or would come to know Christ, and I hope she’ll be okay. I don’t know if my instincts were right, but it’s no harm praying for someone.

I really hope she’s alright.