People who beat all odds, people who do unusual things in their lives, and people who make a difference. They are the ones who have made it to our pages every Sunday. And this weekend, readers can look forward to a refreshed read with our revamp. Here, we highlight some of the stories that have made a difference, in our lives, in your lives and in our newsmakers' lives.
It was an accident that gripped Singapore. The sight of Madam Suliani Ang wailing at the scene, where her sons had been hit by a cement truck in Tampines. Their broken bodies were next to a mangled bicycle. She bravely recalled the traumatic episode to The New Paper on Sunday.While she broke down in tears during the interview, she said that her anger at the driver had turned into forgiveness. Her reason? Because he must be suffering too.
This story was first published Feb 03, 2013
It’s a day she will never forget. Ever.
It was around 7pm last Monday evening. Madam Suliani Ang, 38, had just started her shift at the counter at a fast-food restaurant in Tampines Mart, not far from the flat where she lives with her husband and two sons, Nigel and Donavan Yap.
Picking up her mobile phone, she noticed that there were several missed calls from her husband, and a text message in Chinese.
It read: “The Traffic Police called and said our two boys have died in a traffic accident.”
Speaking to The New Paper on Sunday in her first full media interview last Friday night (Feb 1, 2013), Madam Ang recalls tearfully: “My heart went dead then.”
In a two-hour interview at her family’s four-room HDB flat in Tampines Street 44, Madam Ang, born in Indonesia and now a Singapore citizen, recounts the events on the fateful day when her two boys were killed when a cement truck rammed into them at the junction of Tampines Ave 9 and Tampines Street 45 as they were cycling home from school.
Her elder son, Nigel, 13, had volunteered to pick his brother Donavan, seven, up from school after the younger boy’s wushu class.
Madam Ang had planned to leave for work only after the boys had come home that evening.
She recalls: “I waited but they had not come home, so I sent a text message to Nigel and told him, ‘Mummy is going off to work. When you’re back, please remember to teach Ah Di (little brother in Hokkien) his spelling’.
“I thought since it was Donavan’s first day of wushu class, he could have been delayed in school.”
Madam Ang reported for work at about 6pm. But as the minutes ticked by, a feeling of unease began to play on her mind. Eyes brimming with tears, she struggles, takes a deep breath, then says in a voice choked with emotion: “My heart was beating so fast, and I just kept praying and praying over and over again.
“Somehow by then, I knew that something was terribly wrong.”
Half an hour later, she couldn’t wait any longer. She asked her manager for permission to make an urgent call. She called home using the restaurant’s phone. No one answered. She also called her husband, Mr Francis Yap, 39, to tell him that both children were not home, and asked that he check on them.
The Singapore Armed Forces regular was on his way home from work at the time.
“All this time, my heart raced erratically. I just knew something was totally wrong,” she says. Thirty minutes later, she told her manager she needed to make another call. “I went to the locker to get my mobile phone, and it was then that I saw the missed calls (from Mr Yap) and the text message.”
Her heart went cold, and her mind went blank. Madam Ang dashed out of the room and told her manager: “Something happened to my children.” She says: “I didn’t wait for the manager to respond, I just rushed off to get my bicycle and pedalled down the road (towards Street 45).
“The wheels seemed so heavy, it almost drained all of my energy just trying to get there.” When she reached the accident site, she saw a group of people. She had reached the scene before her husband.
Says Madam Ang in small voice: “At first I was wondering where they were. I couldn’t see them. So many people were milling around. “But I broke into a half-run, dragging my bicycle along with me, and pushed through the crowd.
“I heard someone shouting at me, I shouted back ‘I am the mother!’ I just didn’t care.” When she finally reached the spot and identified herself, a policeman asked if she wanted to wait for her husband.
“I said no, I want to see my children first,” says Madam Ang. “When they lifted the flap of the tent (used to cover the boys’ bodies), I saw there were two (of them). I said, ‘wah two, ah?’ “That was my first reaction.”
And here, the mother grieves again. Silently. She struggles to regain her composure, then says: “I saw my younger son first. It was like he was sleeping. I tugged at his legs, calling out to him to wake up.”
Her voice trails off, and she breaks down: “But my older one...he’s so pitiful. Really so pitiful.” Nigel had suffered severe head injuries from the accident. “You know, two children gone at one time, just like that. No choice... really nothing I can do.” The days after the accident had been a blur for Madam Ang and Mr Yap. But the couple seems more composed during the interview on Friday.
She shares that they had picked up the boys’ ashes that afternoon and placed the two urns in a niche at Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium. “They were so close in life. They died together.
They now have each other as companions,” she says. During the interview, the couple is interrupted by a stranger who has come to offer her prayers and condolences.
When we resume the interview, Madam Ang says: “We are very touched by the outpouring of encouragement and support from people all over Singapore.” Her spirit seems to lift a little when the topic turns to what her boys were like growing up.
Madam Ang admits that she had a harder time with Nigel in the earlier years, right from the start. “Nigel was late by a week and his birth had to be induced. As I was working then, his paternal grandparents helped to look after him,” she recalls.
When Nigel went to Primary 1, he was diagnosed as suffering from a hyperactive disorder. “But my in-laws felt that as a boy, it was natural for him to be a little mischievous,” she says. Nigel’s teacher recommended that he get professional medical help. By then, he had gone back to live with his parents because Donavan had come along and the family had a maid. Nigel was put on medication.
But after taking only half a pill instead of the prescribed one pill, he was listless and complained of being tired. Madam Ang says: “I was scared and worried. I went back to the doctor, who told me that it’s part of the side effects of the medicine. “In the end, I decided not to let him continue.”
Donavan came along after the couple had tried for a few years for another child. She says: “It was the first time I experienced what it was like to be a mother – to deliver a baby naturally.” Donavan was also precious because Madam Ang had to abort her second pregnancy when the baby, at 10 weeks, was found to have no heartbeat. The abortion happened during a time when Nigel was hospitalised at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
He had a fluctuating fever and blood in his stool after suffering bouts of diarrhoea. Mr Yap recounts: “It was the most difficult time then – Nigel was in the children’s ward and my wife was in the women’s ward.
“When we were told we had to abort the baby, we were filled with extreme sadness.”
Six months later, they started tryingg for another baby but it would be another few years before they succeeded. Madam Ang clarifies that the delay was not a result of Nigel’s condition. “We tried Western doctors, we went for traditional Chinese medicine but nothing seemed to work. Donavan was our miracle,” she says.
She quit her job at a factory when Nigel was in Primary 6. She shares how Nigel’s teachers had been worried that he would not pass his PSLE, and how he was later downgraded to Foundation class. “He had mood swings too, and I believe that it was because he gave himself pressure. But I kept reminding him that if he could pass, it’d be good enough. But if he didn’t, I told him it was still okay.”
She says: “I always told Nigel that I would be happy as long as he could pass. Nigel was ecstatic when he passed his PSLE, says Madam Ang with a smile.
She says: “He went around and announced to anyone who’d care to listen, ‘I passed! I passed!’
“When people asked him what his aggregate score was, he had no qualms about shouting out ‘121’.
“To him, it was more important that he passed.”
Nigel was posted to the Normal (Technical) stream. It was Nigel’s maturity that made her decide to return to work in October last year.
She says: “Nigel told me that he was growing up...to be a young man. “He told me he’d take care of Ah Di (little brother).”
It was a promise he kept when Madam Ang was at work. Nigel would help to warm up the food that she had prepared before she went to work from 6pm to 10pm. “When his father was home, he’d make a cup of coffee.
He’d wash the dishes, put the clothes in the washing machine and vacuum the floor,” she says, brimming with pride.
“He took over my role at home so that I could focus on my work.” She pauses for several minutes again, lost in her own thoughts, then says: “Nigel loved his di di (younger brother) very much. Di di always bullied his brother because he knew that.”
Still, the boys were close despite their six-year age gap. Madam Yap says it’s because of her husband’s fatherly touch.
Mr Yap says: “Our friends told us to be careful of Nigel’s feelings, given the age gap. So we were always mindful of his feelings.
“We made it a point to explain to Nigel that his younger brother needed more attention because of his age, and we also made sure that we didn’t neglect Nigel.”
Looking at the framed photos of her boys in the master bedroom, Madam Ang says the position of the photos represent the spots on the floor where they slept on mattresses. “I told Nigel last year that they should sleep in their own room, but he’d manja (“act pampered” in Malay) and said to wait until his exams were over.
When I reminded him after his exams, he asked me to wait until after the school holidays. “Then earlier this year, he told me, ‘I still prefer to sleep with you’.”
Nigel picked the spot nearer to the bedroom toilet.
Madam Ang explains: “He knew that his brother was afraid of the heat, so he offered to sleep further away just so that Donavan could enjoy the air-con.”
Madam Ang remembers the last family outing with her boys – a trip to Universal Studios Singapore as part of Mr Yap’s military unit’s family day celebration. It was two days before the tragic accident. She didn’t want to go at first. “We had been there before and I thought of giving it a miss since I had a church event at noon,” she says.
“But the boys pleaded with me because they really wanted to go, and despite knowing that I’d be too tired, we made it down as early as 8.45am.” She says: “And now, I am grateful that we had spent our last weekend happily, without any regret.” With the boys gone, Madam Ang says it will be hard to move on.
She admits that she was angry with the driver when she was first trying to cope with the tragedy. “And the truth is, I didn’t know that there were heavy vehicles at that time of the day. “Donavan used to finish school by 2pm,” she says with a heavy sigh. But she and Mr Yap have now chosen to forgive the cement-truck driver.
She says: “Hating him will not bring our sons back. And we are very certain that he too is suffering from the knowledge of what has happened, and from our suffering.”
She does not intend to have another baby. “I don’t think I can live with another loss, if I ever had to be put through another test,” she says.
“And having another baby will also not be able to replace my two beautiful boys.” Madam Ang admits that she has not given much thought about what the future holds for her.
But for now, she wants to donate the new outfits that she had bought for the boys for Chinese New Year.
“I want to share my sons’ love for each other with the needy,” she says.
“I want to keep only their school uniforms as mementos of the babies who had come into our lives and brought us so much hope, love and joy.”