Moments with Strangers: The Nestum Lady

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Every other weekend, I’d go grocery shopping on my own at Tesco. It’s one of those errands I love to do on my own that I find therapeutic. You make a list, you go to the grocery store. You push your cart, and start walking aimlessly and forgetting the list of items you came to look for. The cart is a magical thing. It somehow guides you to where your conscience or your heart feels like going to. Taking a stroll anywhere, and grabbing anything you think you need.

As I was letting the cart take the wheel, it somehow led me to the Tea & Coffee aisle. I knew I didn’t need anything there. but I went anyway. At the end of the aisle, was an elderly woman in a white uniform, a matching orange apron, and hat, holding a tray of ready-made hot Nestum drinks in mini cups.

The “come-try-our-new-product” stalls. The kind you normally would avoid by pretending to look at other packed products on the other side. Some would just turn their cart around in order to avoid having to reject their offer. We all do that. But on this particular day, with this particular old lady, I somehow found myself feeling curious. I knew what the product was. I knew it was just a simple 3 in 1 breakfast drink. The kind I barely take in the morning. But I just had to stop at this stall.

She looked mixed race. Like mixed English and Asian. She had tired eyes, yet it looked full of wisdom. Grey hair tied in a bun, fair skin, white latex gloves and black bata sneakers. ‘Adorable’, I thought to myself when I saw her sneakers. Who’s grandma is this? Why is someone as adorable as her standing here promoting a 3 in 1 product in Tesco on a weekend?

She put the tray down on a table at her mini Nestum Stall at the corner. She turned towards me, started arranging the Nestum packets neatly on the shelf. I don’t know why but I somehow started browsing for 3 in 1 packets. I knew there were free stocks at the office. And I didn’t need more at home cause anyone at home drinks it. Not Adis kinda drink.

As we got closer, me – browsing. Her – stacking.Our eyes met. I smiled and nodded.She smiled back. She spoke with a British accent. The tone of her voice reminded me of a fictional character. A wise old woman who lived in a cottage in the forest and had many stories to share. Someone like…Gandalf’s grandma.

Although I didn’t stand close enough, she looked like she smelled of old photos from a trunk in the attic. The kind you just wanna look and browse through and sit in the attic for hours reminiscing. Feeling at home for some reason.

 “Good Morning, my dear. How are you today love?”

“Good Morning to you too. I’m fine, thank you. How’s your day going Ma’am?”

“Oh My, such lovely manners from a young lady. You must be well brought up my dear. I’m doing wonderful, thank you for asking.”

I smiled with a little bit of blush and love for the woman. She continued saying while gently touching my arm, “Please dearie, help yourself with a hot cup of Nestum.”

“I’d love to! Thank you, Ma’am.”

She smiled widely and started to make me a fresh cup of hot Nestum.  As she was pouring hot water into the cup. A middle-aged woman who looked like a Stock Manager or Supervisor walked up behind the Old Lady. She was looking at the unstacked bunch of huge Nestum packs on the floor. The old lady had stopped stacking to make me a drink.

The manager then spoke in the rudest tone.

“Wei! Wei! Hallo. You pandai cakap melayu ah? You pandai cakap ah?” 

Aunty Nestum kept quite. Ignored the tone, and continued stirring my cup. I wanted to stop her and gesture that its ok for me to stir it myself. But I also didn’t wanna make her look bad for not doing her job. “Wei Wei!”

 She rudely continued addressing. Aunty Nestum turned to her slowly, and raised her palm gently and said”Please give me a moment. I will be with you shortly”, and continued to stir.

 While she was doing so, the Manager glance at me and then at my Nestum cup in the process. She let out a short tiny mini huff under her breath and looked up and down at the shelves.”How come got all this packet here on the floor? Cannot leave it like this you know? Put all the Original Flavour on shelf 3 and the Nescafe ones on 4. Need to clear all this today!” Aunty Nestum did one last stir and handed me my cup with both palms, smiles and said

“Here you go my dear, I hope this fills your day.”

“Thank you so much, Ma’am. You have a great day.”

She smiled widely but then it slowly faded as she turns to the manager who was still talking about the packet arrangement. Aunty Nestum said nothing and nodded to whatever she was told to do and continued re-stacking the packages. I walked away. I wasn’t sure if I should have said anything. But I did felt like I wanted to tell that Manager off.

A few weeks passed, and I found myself back at the grocery store again. Looking for baking ingredients which include Nestum. I was hoping to see the Aunty Nestum again. I came by the Tea & Coffee aisle and saw her there. Holding two huge Nestum packets in each arm. Approaching customers that passed by, promoting the products. Each of them ignoring her existence. I walked up to her and was about to greet her. Until she turned and saw me first. Just before I opened my mouth, I somehow saw a different person.

“Hello! Would you like a to purchase our new promotion packet? Buy 1 free 1 of any flavour. Do you like Nestum?”

She seemed… forced. And She clearly did not remember me. She looked more like she was pleading for someone to buy a packet than just doing her job as the hours’ pass by. She looked like, she needed someone to say yes and buy a pack. Worried eyes. Worried crease on her forehead. She looked more worried than tired. It was as if she was a totally different person. Her pleasantness was gone. I asked myself in my head – ‘Did the Manager did this to you?’I looked at her again, and the packets she was holding in front of me. Nope. She doesn’t remember.

“I like Nestum. Please tell me more about the promotion.” I smiled.

“Oh yes, dear. I see you have some baking ingredients in your cart. Do you like to bake? well here, you can use Nestum Originals for baking as well. Cookies, Cakes and all kinds…”

I let her go on. She sounded like she had memorized this script and practice it at home over and over again. She even paused trying to remember what to say next to convince me to buy. As she frantically was trying to figure out her lines. I took both packets from her arms.

“You know what, everything you said made me feel like I should go home and give this a try! I’ll take these. Do you have Honey Oat Flavour?”

“Oh yes child, I do! Here, I hope you have a fun time baking with these. Thank you, my dear. Thank you!”

She thanked me with both her fist under her chin. I felt like giving her a hug, but her colleague called her. So she left and walked over. As I was holding these two packets, I wondered what made Aunty Nestum so determine to hit that sales quota? I’ve worked as a promoter for odd jobs before but something about this felt like she had to sell something by today. But who knows? I went to the counter and as I was paying, I could see Aunty Nestum still trying to sell her products.I did a small prayer in my heart, hoping that Allah blesses her with good things her way.

A month later,I made Nestum Cookies.

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