“Cikgu Tina! Tua! Cikgu Tina! Tua! Hahaha!” The sound of laughter following the reference to my age invaded my ears that late morning. I was walking up the stairs from which I was visible to the students in this particular room. I picked up my jaw, went to the afternoon teachers’ staffroom, put my stuff on my desk and—with both my chins up—went to look for the person who had called my name.
|In Form Four at sixteen|
The students watched as I marched down the corridor to their classroom. It was obvious they hadn’t expected a banshee to go barging into their territory. There was no teacher there. All eyes were on me as I stood by the open door and asked calmly, “Who called me?” This was met with dead silence so to make it easier for them I added: “I heard a boy calling my name. Who was it?”
Some of the boys started looking this way and that but no one had the guts to own up. I had a fair idea who the culprit was but throwing accusations would just be wasting my time and breath. I only wanted them to know that I heard and that I found the behaviour unacceptable. I think they got the message although it certainly wouldn’t turn them into angels or even stop them from mocking other old timers like me.
|At 33 and mum of two|
I also wanted to tell them that I was lucky to get to be as old as I was. How many in that roomful of young people would be as fortunate especially when today many lives are snuffed out prematurely by cancers, criminals and car crashes?
The humiliation was almost six years ago. It was on one of the last few days of my life as a teacher, a life dedicated to help improve the lives of others like these Form Four students (some of whom had been in my classes when they were in Form One and Two.)
|With two chins at 55|
I was so irked and offended by the boy’s insensitive remark that I mentioned it when I was asked to say ‘a few words’ during the year-end staff dinner. Some of my colleagues were appalled but some were hiding their smiles behind their hands. These could afford to snicker. They could still run up
. Their unblemished faces were
still porcelain-smooth; their hair was still thick and luxuriant and decades
away from turning silver. Mount Kinabalu
My own hair was beginning to have a touch of white. The black that should have been on my scalp was now splattered on the face that used to be as clean as a boulder lying in the
But, although I have never been pretty, a fact my mother repeatedly pointed out
during my childhood, I have once been young—like you and those students, the
students who must have thought I came into the world as old as their
grandmothers. Tempasuk River
|At 61...BWGS community project 2012. (Pic credit: Andrew)|
Dear former student, how could you make a woman the source of your jokes just because she has lived much longer than you have? Isn’t old age something to be grateful for, to be appreciated, to be respected? We are all heading towards Old Age, even you! Look closely at your parents and grandparents because, if you’re lucky to survive middle-age, you’ll look just like them. Meanwhile, do good deeds, make your family proud, keep your nose clean and hope that when you get to be fifty-six you’ll look as good as I did when you laughed at me and called me Cikgu Tina tua. Oh, and pray that when you’re old and grey, younger people will not humiliate you just because you’re old. Yours sincerely, Cikgu Tina.