Coming to school at the crack of dawn and leaving long after nightfall might describe the life of a law student during term time, but is mere routine for the custodians on our campus. As we pound away at our laptops and pore over pages of readings, we are perhaps careless to let them slip out of our notice. They trundle their carts tirelessly alongside us throughout the day, in and out of corridors and classrooms, straightening the mess we leave in our wake.
Aunty Tara is one of these special individuals who do so much to make our lives on campus pleasant. When I find her, she is sitting in the sliver of space between classroom 4-2 and the washroom, obstructed from the corridor’s view by her cleaning trolley. She is in charge of the 4th and 5th floor classrooms and toilets and this is her little nook where she retires to during her breaks for some quiet time alone. And although I have interrupted her break, she is more than happy to share about herself. Law students might feel that we lead hectic lives, but Aunty Tara’s typical day will make us rethink that. A Johor Bahru resident, she wakes up at 3.50 am to begin the arduously long commute across the Causeway and into Singapore. Quite incredibly to us, she is sheepish to add, “Sometimes when I want to sleep a bit more, I will wake up at 4 instead.” Her workday in BTC commences at 7 am and officially ends at 7 pm, but Aunty Tara unfailingly opts to works overtime until 10 pm every weekday to earn that little more for her sister and her 3 children, whom she lives with. And after she hangs up her uniform, it is time to make the return trip back home in darkness. The journey is a tedious one–a factory bus takes her to the customs checkpoint at 11.10 and after clearing immigration, it is another bus ride and a walk before she will reach home. By then, everyone is asleep and so she unwinds alone by watching a little television before hitting the sack at 1 am and commencing yet another day in a few hours’ time. It is on Saturdays that Aunty Tara gets to knock off in the afternoon and have time for simple pleasures like window-shopping or watching more telly.
Before beginning work here on campus 11 months ago, Aunty Tara’s previous job was at an elderly home. She started coming to work in Singapore in 1984, and began as a factory operator, progressing to become a lab assistant after learning the ropes on the job. England called, and she shifted over for a period to help out in her aunt’s shop and enrolled in a part-time business management course, even finding the time to help out at an elderly day-care. On the topic of life abroad, Aunty Tara’s wanderlust comes through clearly–she muses about returning to visit England during Christmas, and to visit the USA with her brother. This coming January, she’s considering going to Sri Lanka. “When you go overseas, you can see how other people live. You all are young, should go to other places and see the world.”
Things turn for the more light-hearted when Auntie Tara recounts the funnier incidents that have occurred to her while on the job. They include people entering the wrong toilets, and male students who use the washroom unaware that she is present. “For me, I’m an old woman, not embarrassed. But they will look very embarrassed and quickly go out”, she says, giggling heartily.
As our conversation rounds off, what becomes striking is the depth of Aunty Tara’s magnanimity. When asked if there is anything students could do to make things less difficult for the custodians, her answer is truly humbling: “No la. This is my job. I know the students are very busy, always got to think a lot, and do many assignments so sometimes will forget, not their fault. Spill a little bit, it’s okay”.
She pauses, and gently proffers this suggestion, a reminder of what we may have come to forget: “All of you are very blessed, can come here to study. Next time, when you all are free, or when you start working, can go help at the old folks’ home, make them feel happier”.
Thank God for our cheerful and helpful cleaning staff – they really do make this school a conducive place for us to focus on our studies; but let’s not forget to reciprocate their kindness and greet them whenever we see them each day!
Article By: Vanessa Chiam (Year 1)
Photo by Choong Jia Shun (Year 1)