SINGAPORE – Every night, Sugunan Shanthi would wait for her son’s call so that her worries about his contracting Covid-19 would be eased.
Nearing midnight on Monday (April 19), Sugunan Sudheeshmon’s call to tell his mother that he was safe and had just got back to his dormitory in Tuas finally came.
That was the last time the construction worker spoke to his mother.
Sugunan, 50, was worried about losing her son to Covid-19 but in the end, it was a road accident that took his life.
Hours after their last conversation, her son, 28, was travelling on the back of a lorry when it crashed into a stationary tipper truck on the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE). He died on Thursday night.
A distraught Sugunan, who is from the southern Indian state of Kerala, told The Straits Times on Saturday morning: “I used to pray ‘Please don’t let him get a fever,’ ‘Don’t let him get Covid,’ and then this happened… He came through all of that only for this to happen.”
The domestic worker added: “I never expected to take him back as a dead body. He had so many dreams; I wasn’t expecting them to be shattered.”
Her son, who leaves behind his wife and 18-month-old son, had hoped to make enough money to buy land and build a house that the family could live in, she added.
Sugunan, a widow, had to leave her two sons behind when she moved to Singapore to work 13 years ago. Her son was then 14 and his brother, 11. They both lived with an aunt after Mrs Sugunan left.
Sugunan, whose husband died before she came to work in Singapore, said: “I had to leave my children and come here and I didn’t want his son to grow up in somebody else’s house… He wanted to make enough to build a house and go back and I wanted that family to stay together.”
“He didn’t need to look after me,” she added.
Her son pawned family jewellery to pay for his broker’s fees to join his mother and work in Singapore about 2½ years ago.
He hoped to one day redeem the jewellery but he still had outstanding loans to pay.
The mother and son would meet on their days off, even when Covid-19 restrictions only allowed them to do so for a few hours a week.
Sugunan recalled how her son’s roommates would make fun of him because his mother still bought him clothes and food.
At their last meeting a few weeks ago, her son was teased because he insisted on holding his mother’s handbag for her.
Sugunan recounted how the pair went to Bugis to buy lottery tickets, which her son held on to. She said: “He never expected to die here.”
But at about 6am on Tuesday morning, he was travelling on the back of a lorry with 16 others to a worksite in Woodlands when the lorry collided into a stationary tipper truck on the PIE towards Changi Airport before the Jalan Bahar exit.
Another worker, Toffazal Hossain, a 33-year-old Bangladeshi, died in hospital on Tuesday. Five other workers remain in hospital.
Sugunan’s employer, Veena Cherian, 50, had gone with her to see her son while he was in the intensive care unit (ICU).
“She was so hopeful. When we prayed at the ICU, we both just had this feeling he was going to come back,” said Cherian, an administration manager, who recalled how the pair had visited her son hours before he died.
Sugunan has been speaking to a counsellor with non-profit organisation ItsRainingRaincoats.
She returns to India on Saturday night and is aware she might not be able to return to Singapore soon in light of Covid-19 restrictions. As at 11.59pm on Friday, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors who have travelled to India within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter Singapore.
But she has decided to be with her family and her other son.
Following the accident, Sugunan hopes that more can be done to ensure that workers are transported safely.
According to the Land Transport Authority’s One Motoring website, lorries are currently allowed to ferry workers between their lodgings and workplace. However, they must not travel faster than the road speed limit, or 60 kmh, whichever is lower.
Among other rules, workers carried on the carriage deck of lorries must be properly seated “in a manner that would not cause them to fall off the vehicle” and the lorry must not carry more people than permitted based on the measure of a minimum deck space requirement of four sq ft per seated worker.
Sugunan called for the rules to be tightened to protect workers, for example, by making seat belts mandatory.
She said: “I hope they make better measures… so no other mother will have to lose a child like this.”
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.