The Other Malay
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“War has been declared; call all of them... even from the next kampong. We all shall meet today afternoon at our usual place” Razali giving the commands. “Make sure the message goes out to all… we must respond to their threats… we must defend our rights…….”
10pm. She heard them came back earlier and each went into their respective room. She waited for a while then got up and went into the kitchen. The food still on the table remains untouched. Sadly she kept them in the container about to place them in the refrigerator when her step daughter stopped her. “They don’t like my cooking” she lament to herself quietly. Even when she did their washing, his youngest son doesn’t like it. He told her not to do. His daughter too said the same… no need to wash her uniform. “Why not? What did I do wrong?” she continues to question herself. She wants so much to be a good step mother to them but how. It’s very difficult to interpret their action. They don’t talk much especially the younger son. He always looks grumpy. Hardly see him smile. Oh! Well, she sight to herself, maybe it’s his job. He is an engineer… maybe he is having problem at work. So I should not bother him further with all these silly things.

He has been very kind to her. Since their marriage, he told her that she doesn’t have to work anymore but she insists. She have been working almost her whole life, to suddenly stop, will not do her any good. “Okay... then don’t have to work so hard. If you’re tired or don’t feel like going, don’t go. Rest at home” his advice to her few days ago. She doesn’t want to complain to him about his children. She doesn’t want his relationship with his children turn sour because of her. So it’s best for her to keep all these to herself.

At first she was doubtful weather they would receive her in the family. So far his other children with exception to the second eldest son have been very courteous towards her.

“Mak Cik … you’re still awake. I thought you’re asleep” the youngest step daughter asked her. She is still in her nursing uniform.

“I can’t sleep” she told her “clearing away the food. I thought you and your brother will be back and will take dinner…..”

“No… don’t keep… I will eat it”

“It’s already late…. You have eaten outside?”

“No I’ve not… I’m not hungry… but since you have cooked I will eat them… its okay. Leave the food on the table. Have you eaten?” She nodded.

And there she sat; she knows the daughter is doing all this to make her happy. She doesn’t want to hurt her feelings…

“I’m so sorry... I should have called you not to cook for me… but the ward is so busy….. We even didn’t have the time to go out for dinner. How’s your day today” the daughter asked her, trying to start a conversation as she sat on the table facing her. “You look sad, something the matter?”

“Nothing…” she tried to hide but before she could do it…..

“I know, it’s about my brother right…..Mak Cik…….. You have been very good to us especially to my father…. I really appreciate it…” stop for awhile….. And look at her sympathetically “okay… if washing my uniform means a lot to you…. Go ahead... but do not mix with the other clothing. I always wash them separately. About my brother…. Don’t take too hard on him….. Leave him alone. If he doesn’t want his clothing or bed sheets to be change and wash, let it be. He will do it for himself. That is how we’re being brought up Cik…… our mother was sick when all of us were still very young... and we all learn to take care of each other and do our own things….it will take a while for us to adjust…give him time”

“baik lah” she gave a soft response. She is still trying to understand… maybe in due time she will gradually.

“You still go to the other lady house for ironing?”

“Yes…. the amount of cloths getting bigger now. My hands getting tired already”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want…. Why not take lighter job like helping in the kitchen at the hawker center or just cleaning or serving the food?”

“Let me think about it. I did tell them I want to stop ironing but they keep on calling me again and again. I don’t know how to say to them. All these years they have supported me….. Now suddenly I want to stop. What will they think of me?”

“I got an idea…… why not you and dad go and take a trip… visit my sister in USA for couple of months. That will give you an excuse. You need the rest. What do you think? You have not seen my sister in US right… and her daughter” She remembered his second daughter in USA. The day right after they got back from the Syariah Court for the solemnization ceremony, she called and they spoke for a while on the phone. She was very please and welcomes her to the family.

“…to America….” She wanted to laugh….. Suddenly the idea frightens her. Just yesterday she watches TV of an airplane crashes… no survivors... now she will be up there on the plane…..but if her children and husband wants her to go, she have to listen to them. But what about her other sons especially the younger ones and the other two in the center? What will they do without her.?

“I will go with Zawiyah... to the center to visit them… if that makes you feel better?” She looks at her…
She slowly makes her way to the bus stop. In her head, the codes are still alive, swimming all over…”now where did I go wrong?” she start to question herself. She did all the testing with the data, the program runs beautifully and then it goes berserk. The whole output are all wrong… Wanted to stay there longer and go through again, but she is feeling too tired. She could feel her mind all exhausted. She has been spending almost 10 hrs in the computer lab today. They have been kind to allow her to use the computer for such a long time and luckily for her there does not much student want to use the lab, but its time for her to head back home. No point in trying to seek the mistake, she will never find it. Her mind is too tired. She needed the rest and tomorrow she may have to come back again to the lab again. She can work for another 3-4 hrs before going back to the wards... There are no more classes as its project time. They need to submit the projects by the end of the month. She have already competed 3, this is the last project then she is done and can take a rest before commencing on her revision.

She almost had forgotten about the interview earlier. As soon as she’s done with her interview, she rushed back to the lab. She didn’t want to waste anymore time. Since she is not so serious about this interview, she didn’t pay much attention to it. She just wants to get over with it. But now when she reflect back the whole interview was rather odd. The questions they ask have got nothing to do with nursing altogether and there’s so much laughter.

Three were four of them. She knew the other 2 ladies, both Chinese. They’re from the School of Nursing and the Ministry of health. The Indian guy is from the public service commission. But she didn’t know the third lady who is definitely Malay. As she sat there answering to the questions being asked, she could feel that she is being observed by this Malay lady who would be seen scribbling something in her note book.

“I’m impress... you got a full cert in you’re A-Level” the Indian interviewer commented as she deposit herself on the chair facing them. “How do you do it with the shift duty and all?”

“Time management” she answered him. The four of them look at each other.

“So in application form here, you said your hobby is star gazing…you would like to tell us more about this star gazing?” And so it goes. She spends the next 10 to 15 mins just talking about the stars, about the black hole... about the Milky Way and her most favorite topic the comets. All the different comets and their path...They look amuse as they listen attentively to her. .

“So where did you go for star gazing… you have your own telescope?”

“I usually go to the Singapore Science Center… I do not have any telescope. To get a good one is very expensive... I can’t afford at this moment…. So the center is the best place”

“Did you apply to further your studies… in Singapore University for e.g.” asked the Nursing Tutor from School of Nursing.

“I did, but didn’t get it. It’s okay... I’m not upset. I have other plans” she answered her

“And what they are, may we know?”

“I’ve plan to go to UK to continue with my nursing studies there”

‘Oh!” and they all look at her

“I’m puzzle…. For most Malay girls at your age, they would already be married by now or at least engage, but not you” the fourth lady asked her.

“Yes!” the others interrupt “do you have a boyfriend” the man asked her again.

“No special boyfriend, just male friends for me to hang around with. My parent is very open about it. ….marriage is still no in my agenda” A healthy lie definitely but would they know the difference.

They all laugh… “I like that term… to hang around with”

“You know what… I think this girl is more interested in gazing at the stars than at guys…” and they all laugh again.

She felt the sharp pain. She tried to push it away but the pain keeps on coming back. Almost 2 years now and she thought she has forgotten about him. She thought she have got over it. She has immersed herself in her work… and in her studies, the only way she knows how to forget. She wanted to forget, but it is too painful.

All these things she does, is like the painting on the walls. People would come and watch will only say “such beautiful painting”. They will adore, will give favorable comments, not knowing behind those paintings where the cracks are, hidden from others.

Many a times she blames herself for the breakup. She is not good enough for him that is why he goes after those University Girls. She is just an ordinary nurse. She loves him. She will always love him. Even now despite the hurt and pain he has cause, if he were to walk back into her life, she will still accept him. Many a times she wishes it will happen. He would come back, asking for forgiveness and wanting to start all over again... like in the movies they have seen many times together. But it didn’t happen… her escape is her work and her studies which she took up right after the break up. She wanted to prove herself that she is also capable. She felt lonely at times…. But she push it away as she have push aside several others guys who came along with the same promises. She has heard them all. .

“Maybe it time for us to take her in then….what say you all” They all nod in unison…

“Thank you for the short seminar on astronomy, I’ve enjoyed it” the fourth lady suddenly spoke to her in Malay and gave her a wink.

Whatever that means “take her in” she is not interested. All she wants now is to go home and sleep it over. Her head needs the rest, so that she can continue again the next morning.

There are not many people at the bus stop. She could take the MRT train, but that means she still have to walk further to the nearest station. She prefers the bus because there are not many people talking the bus. She can go up to the upper deck, sit at her favorite spot in the bus, the left seats near the window. And get lost in her own world as the bus make its way towards Tampines. He was there sitting, also waiting for the bus or it seems. He turned and smile when he saw her walking towards him


“I've been waiting for you… I know you’re in the computer lab, I called your mother and she told me so.. But I don’t want to disturb you” so he has been waiting... for how long? Thinking to her self

“Can I join you …” he asked again…

“Yes of course…”
They are all there gathered not at the community center but at the local playground in the village called Kampong Ladang in the District of Paya Lebar, where the community center was located. The name Paya Lebar comes from the Malay words paya meaning "swamp" and lebar meaning "wide" - thus "the big swamplands", an apt description of the area in its early days. This was an extensive and notorious squatter district, whose inhabitants engage in cultivating market produce, including pig and poultry rearing.

During the period of 1828’s onwards the whole area being developed as plantation estates, dominated predominantly by Chinese settlements, with the Malay are more spread out but mainly more inwards into smaller pockets of families of 7-15, Kampong Wak Tanjong was where the majority of Malays were located. Lorong Tai Seng was the main road that leads to the settlement, was once known to be notorious secret society hideout. Despite that, the villagers – Chinese and Malay have been living there peacefully for generation. They took care of each other children when the parents have to go out to work in factories and plantations. When racial riots broke out, the Chinese villagers have been the one to protect their neighbours, the Malays, taking care of their houses and livestock’s while the Malays are being moved secretly to the nearby Malay settlement where they will be safe until the end of the riots. That is how it has been. Hari Raya, Chinese New years and wedding celebrations were grand affairs, rich with music and color and everybody were invited. Food trays were exchanged during the festive seasons.

Lorong Ternak was another major road which link Kampong Ladang, and Kampong Dalam, where the Surau was. Neighbor to these two Kampongs was the landing strips of Paya Lebar Airport, the first International Airport in Singapore. The villages could actually see the extended wheels of each airplane as they passed by the villages below and when Concord first landed in Singapore, almost everybody in the villages were there to witness the historic event.

The community center is one of the initiatives initiated by the Government as part of their community development process and ever since has always been the center of activity in the village. That is where the public kindergarten classes were held usually in the mornings. Almost all the children in the village and the neighboring villages attended the kindergarten. Evening were meant for recreational activities such as badminton, table tennis, board games and they have TV too for villagers who don’t have TV’s at home to gather in the evening to watch. It have become such a popular place the even those who do have TV’s they still come and join in the crowd. The center too play host to the MP’s during their meet the people session.

The playground where the gathering was held was in the middle of Kampong Ladang. That is where the children play not only during holidays but all the days especially in the evenings while the adults and elderly gathers at their veranda or windows, and laugh watching the children play their games of Bola hantam or roundes or galah panjang or the baling selipar, reminiscing their good old younger days, as most of them too have been growing up in the kampong.

They have declared war on us, Razali, the oldest amongst them and without a doubt the leader, voice could he heard. All the boys from Kampong: Kampong Wak Tanjung, Kampong Ubi and Kampung Dalam were all there. The news indeed has spread far and wide.

Then another voice shouted “hey why is she here….. This is not for girls”. All eyes turn to her. She was standing together with the boys from Kampong Ladang. Razali was from Kampong Dalam.

“She should not be here… this is only for boys”

“who said…? Abang Razali said I can be here and join in” Everybody looked at Razali

“Yeah…. She is one of us, why can’t she be here” the boys from Kampong Ladang supported.

”Its okay. Let her be... did you see how she hantam the ball at me the other day... I can still feel the pain” He took out his shirt and showed them the mark on his back “you see the blue black still there” he look at her and wink. She blushes. It was an accident. They were playing bola hantam... she got the ball and hit the ball at him because he is the nearest around her. She didn’t know she has thrown the ball that hard. It’s a hard rubber ball, locally made from the stolen rubber milk at the nearest rubber plantation...

“Okay... okay let proceed with out strategy... how we are going to tackle those Chinese boys we must take action to claim our rights. How can they deny us of our rights to use the center? One of our spy told me, they are going to sabotage us. We cannot let this happen. Now this is what we must do…. We must be there first before them so that we can use the place and dominate it’ He then put up the plan “look here the center is located right at the edge of the kampong. The Chinese boys all stay on the outskirt…. We have the advantage because the center is right inside of our kampong area. So this is what we should do…..the Chinese boys have to use this road to get to the center” he point to the path shown bypassing the Kampong center “we must put a blockage here and hear. Prevent them from using this road to go to the center. They will have to use the longer road... by the time they get there, we all will already be there first…so everyday we must have one person to stand guard at this point… we can have our snipers too hide somewhere….. If the Chinese boys try any thing funny or try to sneak in… while the guard not around. The sniper can shoot to distract them and another can alert the others. Boys go and start making the guns……. Make one for our sister here too”

“She! Why she needs the gun…… no we refuse make one for her….. Girls don’t carry guns” exclaimed one the boys from Kampong Dalam.

“Don’t worry I can make one for you sis” Rosli, her neighbor responded

“No need, I can make one myself and my gun will be better then all of you. I’m going to get the best young cherries fruit and will not tell any one of you where I got it from”… Razali turned and looked at her. She knows he is impressed. ‘Gosh he is so gorgeous” thinking to herself. Her heart almost melt when he turn and smile.” She couldn’t keep her eyes off him as he stand there giving the direction to the others.
We felt hungry, bought fish and chips then walk head on towards the park. It was a beautiful sunny day. The sun shinning bright but I did not feel hot at all. It’s like being in air condition room. Unlike back home, at this time, we all will be soak wet with sweat. I’m beginning to like the weather here. We were at the British Museum and the Library earlier. I’m overwhelmed by the library. It’s so big and so many books. I don’t feel like going out at all. I’ve already plan out the books I wanted to buy to bring it back home several of them are in the list of books ban in Singapore. I don’t think so I will find it difficult to smuggle it in without being caught by the immigration. I’m getting pretty good at this. That is one of the many purposes of my travels, to access to stuff I can never get back home.

Come to think of it, since the first day I step foot in London, it’s more like a cultural shock for me. For the first time I feel conscious of my self. Suddenly I am being surrounded by so many Caucasian. They’re everywhere. You do see Asians, but still compare to the number of Caucasian, it took me a while to come to term with it. Back in Singapore, you only see the Caucasian in certain place like orchard road or in tourist area. Where I’m staying, you don’t see them at all. Even at work, we hardly have any foreigners admitted to our wards. You only see them at the private wards or the private hospital.

A Caucasian guy on a bicycle came by to chat with us. “Hello Ladies……. Nice weather eh!”

“Indeed very nice” we both answered simultaneously. The next few moments we talk of nothing with this friendly stranger but about the weather. Now I’m beginning to believe when they say, the Brits are obsessed with weather...

“So you both from Singapore... Nice place”

“Do you know where Singapore is” She asked him

“Of course I know… its somewhere in China right.” We looked at each other amused.

“No No…. Singapore is at central Africa” she responded back. I stared at her, puzzled. Now what is she up to this time?

“Ah! That it Yes! Yes! Central Africa”

“We’re just a small little republic”

“Yes yes….. Now I remember. It’s in Africa” he look lost for a while and then “okay ladies, I have to make a move now… thank you. Have a good day”, up on his bicycle and move on.

“Singapore … in central Africa?” I asked her sarcastically.

She laughed “Now you see right not all white people are that smart... This is what I wanted to show you, only when you have been here long enough you will understand what I mean. It’s time for us to shed away this colonialist mentality! You see the … the confusion look. He will go back… look for his geography book and find for that tiny little island called Singapore. What happen during that process of searching? He will find out about other countries too, and he has learned. You understand now when I say how confusion sometimes helps. Instead of running away from it, you rationalize, you find the answer and you will emerge a better person”

She was lying down now on the grass with her eyes closed. I wanted to ask her something but decide against it. Don’t want to disturb her. Took out my journal and to make my entry…

I met up with Sharil’s brother, Shamsuddin who is studying in Oxford University. I went to his campus yesterday evening but he was not there. Left a message with the home supervisor and he called today morning. We agreed to meet up at Hippodrome which is located in Leicester Square and supposedly to be one of the popular disco clubs for tourist. You're more likely to meet a tourist from Spain, Italy, Australia or America, or anywhere else outside of England at Hippodrome.

Florence found a drinking partner, a Pakistani and was busy discussing about something. Shamsuddin and I choose the table facing the dance floor to catch up on things. Last time I met up with him was on the day he left for his studies. Instead of traveling all the way up to KL, he decided to part via Changi Airport since it’s much nearer to JB. Once in a while glance at the dance floor on a look out for my dear friend who was seen dancing away in the middle of the crowd. She seems to be having a good time. I don’t think so she is with any dance partner but somehow she is able to merge herself with the crowd. I saw her as one of the chorus line, kicking her legs together with them like the chorus girl you see performing at Broadway. They began to form a circle and was seen moving about the dance floor in a spiral shape with her in the lead. Suddenly she break away from the line, walked to the nearest table, and invited an African man who was seen sitting alone to join in the dance.

Shamsuddin didn’t stay long. He has to leave early as he got to go back to his campus. As soon as he leaves, I got up and wanted to join her in the dance floor, when she stop and grab me by the hand. “Time to leave…..”

“But…… I’m about to join you…missing all the fun…….. What’s wrong?”

“Got to stop. It’s Florence……”

“What about her”

“She’s drunk…… I sense trouble. Need to rescue her…… the Pakistani guy doesn’t look nice at all…... Let’s get her out of here”.

Florence was not at herself. She’s going to pass out very soon. We both held her on each side, while waiting for the taxi. The African man came running towards us… but by the time he got near us, we’re already in the taxi.

“Wait…….can I see you again…”

“Maybe………good bye” she shouted back at him via the window and wave at him.

“Who was that?” I asked her

“An orthopedic Surgeon from Nigeria…. On fellowship here”

“You know him?”

“Nope……. he looked so alone sitting here…. Had this feeling that he wanted to join in the crowd but don’t know how… so I went to him and invite him over... that’s about it”

“You’re going to meet him again?”

“Nope…….don‘t think so…but we might cross path again... who knows…….”

I looked back at the figure standing in front of Hippodrome, still waving as the taxi move ahead….

….suddenly there was a knock on the door. Gives me a shock, close the journal and put it back in my bag pack. It’s almost 2330hrs, went to look through the door peep hole. Oh! My…I forgot all about the note I send out earlier. He is outside now……. What shall I do?

If he said he will be coming at 10am he will be. She looks at the watch, another 10 mins. She knows the guy too well now. He is very punctual. Decided to check all the rooms again and they look okay. The paint has cover up all the marks on the wall. Just as in the contract, she has to return the office as in its original form. It took her 2 days to complete the painting. She could have just paid somebody to do it for her, but change her mind. She wants to do it on her own and hand over the key personally to the landlord thereafter to get the hell out of the office as soon as possible. Her bus to that specific destination will be at 10pm and her bags are all packed at home. It’s time to disappear for awhile and to decide what will be her next move. She might decide to go back to Nursing. She left her nursing job so that she can focus her attention on the company. They don't have to know where she’s heading to. She needed the break, to sit and reflect of the things that has happen.

She feels as if she has failed and she needs the time to reconcile to that feeling of failure. Could she has done it other way and save this company?

They came into the company as their father requested and they worked as a team, with a mission: to salvage as much as they could, and try to get the company up and running. Pump in additional funds from their own personal savings, to pay off some of the debts incurred during Johan’s absence, meet the people who might be interested to take over the company and even brave their way to the Ministry of Trade and Industry with the hope that perhaps the ministry would be able to give them the grant or financial assistance but the damage already done. It’s like trying to save a sinking ship. They didn’t approach any of the Malay organization for a simple reasons, the Malay community is too small not to know what is happening. Often at the office they received threats of legal action against the company but they know nothing much these people could do. There is no legal contract to prove the link, nevertheless Johan’s’ name has been attached with the magazine and the company. He is the founder and the sisters are just the saviors. The ones to clean up the mess their brother have made.

And then Manisha left for US to be with her husband who was seconded there for 2 years. Noorie felt so alone now, felt as if half of her is gone. Manisah have always been the one to play the dominant role. She allows her to be so as it has always been this way. They are sisters, born exactly a year apart, more or so they are like twins. She is just happy to be the second in command, to follow the instructions as long as she doesn’t have to make the decision, and with Manisah gone, everybody in the company now looking for her for direction.

The sad faces of those youngsters playing in her mind over and over again. They are the Fan club of the magazine, those who have been the ardent followers since it was published.

“Is it true kak that you’re going to close this company?” Asked Azman, one of the cover boy and the finalist of the cover girl and cover boy of the year which is suppose to be held at the end of the year at Sentosa. Now the much waited event will never take place.

She tried so much to make sense of the happenings. She is fully aware of what is happening around her particularly in the Malay community. When Johan for the first time came back home with a briefcase filled with money, she knew something is not right. Suddenly there’s so much money around to spend, to buy new car and everything else new. He told the family his advertising and publishing business is doing well. They have increase their subscription, he have new clients to advertise in his magazine, they have published second magazine, this time a women’s magazine and has open a branch in Johor. The two magazines now circulated in Malaysia etc…and the entire rosy picture presented to the family. They could hear the advertisement trails on the radio, particularly over the Malay channels. Most are his clients, he proudly told them. He even introduces the account manager from the radio advertising section to the family who showered him with so many compliments. And they believe him; all but her. Noorie heard them all with skeptical mind. Something is not right she keeps on telling herself, but she maintain her silence. She has been been there before, in the publishing house to help up for a short period of time right after she came back from UK. She didn’t like what she is seeing, and she left with an excuse that she wanted to go back to nursing. She’s been train as a nurse and so nursing it will be her life force.

“Kak I wanted to talk to you about something…….. An investment plan” Rosnah, Johan’s wife told her one evening at East Coast Chalet when the family were there to spend the weekend. “I spoke to Dad, but he ask me to talk to you”

“What about?”

“This is a good investment kak…. They promise give you 100% returns… double and sometimes more than double” Rosnah trying to be convincing.

”really… 100% returns?” and she explains. Noorie listen with interest.

“Our neighbor……. They too are investing in this scheme. Now they have renovated their house. You should see their house kak, so beautiful. They just bought a new car and last year they went to Mecca for the second time”

“Question!” she interrupt Rosnah


“Is there any legal document to prove that I have given this said amount to you? And your promises that there will be 100% returns?”

“No legal documents…. All these are based on trust. That is why we restrict only on close friends and family members”

“Hmm you see that is the risk. If there is no legal binding, anybody can just take the money and run away, then what happen? How do I recover back the money?”

“It will never happen”

“What makes you think so…..you see that is the risk. Friends are friends, but once money is involved, it turns friends into enemies’

“So far nothing of that sort has happen. Almost everybody I know is into it; I though maybe it’s good for dad too invest his money; double his savings…”

”No! Leave dad’s alone. If you all want to be in it, go ahead but leave dad alone. I don’t like this whole scheme, too dangerous. The money in dad’s savings and his pension fund is for him, his hard work. I cannot allow it to go into some risky investment.

“How about maybe 10K or 20K. He still has some in the bank”

“Rosnah… No. Weather 10k or 20K may sound little to you, but still money and to me it’s a huge sum. We cannot afford to loose such huge amount. I rather let him put in the fix deposits or put down payment for the house he’s been eyeing in Johor” and the whole subject matter close there.

Rosnah didn’t dare to bring up the issue again.

The family is still confused with Johan’s disappearance. What come back to them are fragments of stories and accusations against Johan: he is involved in get rich scheme…. He took our money etc. Several came to the house, to meet up with dad and he welcomes them with gentleness. They showed their anger and herald threats at him all of which he just accepts quietly.

She could feel that he is heart broken. Mom resigns in the world of her own. Often Noorie came back seeing Mom stare blankly at the walls and dad looking out of the window. He tries to look strong, but one night she saw him in tears. Johan is still their son. What prove do these people have to show that Johan actually took their money? Dad asked them. Could it be the possibility that somebody else collects and used Johan’s name? Guilty he may be; he is not here to defend himself.
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