NMadasamy
The Other Malay
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As soon as Pak Harun turns around and began writing on the black board, she quietly stands up and tip toed towards the back of the class and peep out of the window. He is still there sitting out side of the Surau, his back leaning against the wall and was seen scribbling something in his little note book. This is the third time she saw him sitting there. He didn’t see her but she has been observing him. She saw him when she walked into the Surau. He is the new boy in her kampong, often heard his grandmother screaming for his name. They stayed near the community center. Occasionally he would be seen watching them playing from afar.

The religious class was held on every Saturday morning at the Surau located within Kampong Dalam. The teacher is Pak Harun a retired military sergeant who has served in the British army. Other days he is the care taker of the community center. Almost all the children in Kampong Dalam and Kampong Ladang go to Pak Harun religious classes. Quran classes were held on Sunday morning at the Surau too.

As soon as the class finishes, she immediately ran out of the surau. Tomorrow is her turn to do guard duty. She needs to get ready. She has already collected many young cherries. These young green cherries are her bullets and they are very effective. The guys especially from Kampong Dalam have been asking her where she got her stuff, but she refuse to share them her secrets. She only reveal it to Rosli, the boy next door who have been her ardent supporter. Kampong Dalam is about 300 meters from Kampong Ladang, 100 meters along the road there’s a Chinese groceries shop, the only one in that area.

As she makes her way towards the road, she saw several Chinese boys hanging at the grocery shop. She knew one of them… the leader. Trouble! Thinking to herself, the guy knows her... now how is she going to bypass the shop without them identifying her? She took the shawl and covers up her head and hides her face, and slowly makes her way.

“There she is! she is the one!” one of the boys point his finger at her “the sniper….. The one who shoot at us... get her”

Oh! No…. they saw her….. Trouble! No cannot fight them….. Silat will not work... too many of them… best option……. Run. And she took of… running as fast as she could... once she reaches the edge of Kampong Ladang where the community center is she will be safe. The Chinese boys dare not tackle her there. The Malay boys are already at the center playing carom and badminton. They will definitely come to her rescue.

“Oh! No…… my shawl” when she realize her shawl is missing “mom going to get mad at me this time... what am I going to tell her” she could hear her mother about to say “this is your sixth shawl gone missing.. How can your shawl goes missing. You are suppose to put it on your head… from home to the surau and back. Never to take it off…”

No… not good… cannot say “the Chinese boys chasing after me” mom going to ask “and why is the Chinese boys chasing after you? What did you do this time?” must think of another reason!

“Is this yours?” suddenly a voice from the back. She turned around….. It’s him! The boy … she saw sitting outside of the Surau. He showed the shawl to her “yes…mine... thank you” She took it from him. She saw the mole on his cheek and the two dimple as he smile. He has such nice teeth too.

“I saw you the other day… walking with books, where did you go?” he asked her in Malay.

“To the library” she stammered…His Malay is so good, thinking to herself

“There’s a library around here?”

“No... The library is at the other community center…. at Kaki Bukit”

“Can I come along next time you go there... is it far from here?”

“Not that far……. I know the short cut… we can cut through towards Tanah Merah… then there’s a staircase leads down to Kaki Bukit Secondary School…from there we can walk to the center”

“Good….when is the next time you go there?”

“Monday after school about 3pm”

“Great I wait for you at our center here and we can go together?’

“Okay” and he gradually turn to walk back to his house...

“Wait…. I still don’t know your name?”

He turn “Kong Heng Poh… everybody at home call me Poh Poh”

There’s two of them both shouting simultaneously “Pay up! Pay up! Know how to borrow money don’t know how to pay “They go on and on as people there just watch them. There’s nothing to interfere, it’s a personal affair as far as they are concern.

Noorie remain inside the office in the two story shop house. The main door remains lock. For the past few days she has been using the back door to get out. The debt collectors have thrown paint and vandalize the main door at the outside. Shafie, the family legal adviser who is also the family friend was on the phone talking to her giving advice. “He can’t touch you… nor he can come into the office and take the things out, so hang on there” advise Shafie. “The police are on their way”

“I am… and honestly I don’t know what to feel.” Noorie thinking to herself. All this is just a nightmare... Noorie trying to convince herself, never could she imagine she would have to face the debt collectors. The Chinese guy has been at the main door, knocking and screaming asking her to open the door and pay up. She owns him nothing. It’s Johan who owes him and now they expect the family to pay for Johan debts.

“Hey, you’re okay?” a woman’s voice over the phone, after Shafie put down the phone. “Yes! I’m okay. Damn! I’m scared”

“Nothing to be scared of… we’re with you. Be brave. The ladies all in position, if this guy tries anything funny, we will come in, but I don’t think so he will do anything stupid. All he wants is to scare you”

“Okay... thank you” She doesn’t know who she is “whoever you are” She introduce herself as a friend. For the past few days they’ve been communicating only through the phone. “A friend highlights your problem to me. We’re here to help you….”

In a day or two, all the stuff in the office will be taken away. She has managed to get a buyer for the furniture and the machines… the computer, the photocopier and everything else in the office. At least the money raised from this can be used to pay up the other outstanding payments.

The old issues of the magazine, Pak Cik Man as everybody calls him, who have been doing the distribution for the company will take them away and keep it. “Do whatever you can with them... if you can sell them, keep the money. You have been good to us” the only word she can say to this 60yrs old man who have been working with the company since the time they published the first edition. He is not a man of many words nor Noorie asked very much. All she knows is that he works in the public works before he retires; married and all his children too married with a family and house of their own. Since the day Noorie came in, Pak Cik Man has been her constant companion who will drive her around for appointments. He is the one who filled up some of the missing pieces, as Noorie tries to find an understanding of what happen in the company 2 months after Johan disappear. Why do they wait for 2 months only then they come to the family? Where are all the missing funds gone to? As Noorie and Manisah went through the accounts and the bank statement, huge sum are being withdrawn. Where to? Who sign the cheque, since Johan is not around? These are some of the questions which demand answers, Pak Cik Man one of those people who will help her.

“She is a traitor’ one of the boys from Kampung Dalam shouted. “I saw her walking with a Chinese boy…….

“I am not!” she's trying to defend her self. Rosli was not there today. His mother said he gone to his aunty place at Kampong Pagak for several days. Nobody now come to support her. All of them except for Razali gave her a nasty look. He and Rosli have always been gentle towards her.

“Then what are you doing walking with a Chinese boy. Maybe you are the one who told the Chinese boys about our strategy!”

“I do not do such a thing”

“Then how come they know……. For the past few days, the Chinese boys got to the center before us. How did they get there? We have blocked the entire route that lead to the center and yet they still get there first. You see we all now have to wait for hours before they allow us to use the center. Sometimes we cannot play at all. They all dominate till the center is close. How can we let them go on like this?” Razali remain silent, listening to the exchanges and at the same time was thinking of something else. He knew the Chinese boys will eventually find another route to by pass their blockade. They must have found a new route that the Malays boys not aware of. He must find the new route they have been using.

“Who is the one to get there first all the time” he ask Herman, one of the boys from Kampong Ladang, who has been assigned to be the first to go to the center to get the key for the game room from the caretaker because he usually gets home from school first. The person, who holds the key, gets to use the place as long as they wish.

“Ah Seng…”

“That small boy……but he stays at the bus interchange…. Further up, how he get here so fast? And how come when he enters the kampong and nobody sees him. There must be other way… we must find out”

“Who stays near him?”

“Me! I know that boy, we go to the same school too” shouted Karim who is staying at Kampung Wak Tanjung.

“This is what you must do… once you get out of school, trail him……..” instruct Razali and then he turn to her “now this is what you can do for us…can you search… round …Find weather there’s new path we don t know of”

“She! Why her all the time!”

“Because she stay near the community center and she knows the area better than all of us. Is she not the one who told us about the short cuts around this area?”

They all agreed.

“But she and that Chinese boy! We saw her that day walking with him…”

“We went to the library... what’s wrong with that” she shouted back at them

“He is still a Chinese……. He will ask and you will tell”

“No I did not…. He never asks… He is not like other Chinese boys. He is different”

“How different can he be?”

“He don’t take pork”

“All Chinese take pork…. How can he be a Chinese and not take pork”

“It is true. If you don’t believe me you ask him yourself or his cousin, he will tell you. He is the only one in the family who don’t take pork”

“Is he that Chinese boy staying near the center but the other side?”

She’s irritated now…. “He has a name… at home they call him Poh Poh”

The phone rings again for the fifth time but Noorie was not interested to answer it. She pretends she did not hear it then after a while it stops. It has been like this since the day she came over to Johor Office. The phone will ring and when she answers, not a voice to be heard but sound of man breathing heavily and music over the background.

“A male, Singaporean have been following you, since day one you step into Johor. Hired by those people in Singapore, thinking you might try to make contact with your brother; another to scare you” the familiar woman’s voice could be heard when she call back to check her voicemail box. If whoever that is thinks that she is afraid, they are very very wrong. She is an angry person now and no matter what they do to frighten her; it will not cow her away from getting to the bottom of the whole thing. Something is not right with the whole Johor operation. She will get the answer to this whole mess. They all will pay for it. Right at this moment she is not interested to make any contact with Johan. Angry she is, if he appears before her right now, she would have given him a slap on his face, No she would punch him right away, for all the mess he has created. That is how angry she is right now. She has warned him before…… your practices are very unethical. Stop it!

The company is now under dad’s name. They have to make sure, dad are protected and not get trap into further financial embarrassment. The last their father need is to have the bankruptcy notice issued to him. He doesn’t need that right at this moment. They make it their duty to prevent it from happening.

All the staff was there when she and Manisah came over several days ago. They both interviewed the staff, trying to find an idea of each person’s role in the company. These staffs have been with the company since it began operation. The secretary, an office messenger and 2 supposedly account executives. What’s the role of these account executives, Noorie still trying to figure out? One of the account executive pleaded with them not to close the company. “I have 6 children to feed… your brother have been kind to accept me to work here etc...” Noorie looked at him with disgust.

They found many other things, the payment slip made to one owner of the bungalow house located on top of the hill facing the straits of Johor. Noorie went there yesterday to investigate and met up with the said owner who produces the copy of the tenancy agreement sign by this particular account executive with 6 children. Why the need to rent this bungalow house? And why an account executive signs on behalf of the company?

“They’re having regular parties there ma’am” the messenger boy confess to her when she question him.

“Just parties? Or there’s more?”

“Sometimes they will go to the night club and bring the ladies back here”

“And who is the one doing this often?” The messenger boy gave her the name. The same account executive that have showed her the picture of his family with him sitting beside his wife who is all cover up with head scarf looking very pious and timid. And his six children all clamp together beside them like sardine. He represents himself as a devoted and loving father and husband. Now she understands it all that is to gain her sympathy so that she will not terminate him.

“How nice! They are having an orgy at the expense of the company!” She is even angrier now.

The house was quiet. Her husband has already slept. Her two step children still not back home yet. It’s almost midnight. Her step daughter called earlier to say that she will be going out with her friends. “Don’t wait up for me or prepare dinner” she told her. For the first time she felt so alone. She was often left alone too but she has never felt this alone before. She has this urge to do something… maybe washing. Perhaps there may be dirty cloth in her step daughter room for her to wash. She walked into the room, and search. Nothing. All the cloths are neatly arranged in the cupboard. The laundry basket empty. She did all the washing earlier. They have dried and she has ironed them. Have this urge to go into her step son room to check but stop at the door. She peeped into his room from outside. All neat and clean. The bed sheet neatly made, the pillows properly arranged. All his books stack up in order. His shirt all ironed and neatly hangs in the wardrobe. He has sent his used working shirt to the laundry. Many a times she told him that she would love to wash and iron it for him to save money but he said no. He wants it this way and she sadly let him.. His room is all in order. Each thing has its place as where it should be. Never to try to remove or else he will ….No! She would not touch or remove anything from his room.

Earlier in the morning she went back to her own house where her youngest son staying. The house was in a mess; dirty cloths everywhere, magazines and newspaper on the floor. The plants are all dying. Why can’t her son be like the other, she often wondered herself? They’re both about the same age. She doesn’t like to compare, but as time goes, it’s just getting into her nerve. Often she would grumble at him but it gets nowhere. He is still depended to her. She will come back every day here to prepare their meals, do the cleaning and then in the evening she would go back to her second husband’s house. That is how her life has been. Commute between the two houses. One is her own house, left by her late husband. Only two names are in the house, hers' and her youngest son. This is the only property her first husband has left and she is still paying the housing loans. Her youngest son did give her some money but enough to pay for the utility bills. How much can you expect from the salary of the national service men? Even if he does other part time job its enough for his own expenses. He is still young and would want to go out with friends. She doesn’t want to impose too much on him. If only he would try to work harder... or at least go back to school to complete his ‘O’ level, he would have better chance with job. But he has other plans he said.

Her heart felt a sharp pain when she thought about the other two sons in the rehabilitation center, the fourth and the fifth in the family. She doesn’t know what to do with them. She has lost all hope for their rehabilitation. She knows they will not last long outside the center. The longest time her fourth son remains outside is 6month... then they go back again with the same problem. Now she wishes they could stay there forever. Painful it may be that is the best solution for them. Often when she thinks about them she would cry secretly but not anymore. She still cries in the privacy of her own loneliness but this time another reason.

“Mak Cik, you’re still awake?” suddenly her step daughter voice greeted her in the darkness. She just came back, has entered quietly and joins her in the living room. She didn’t notice her when she came in. She was deep in thoughts.

“I couldn’t sleep. How’s your dinner with your friends. Where did you all went to?”

“We had fish head curry at Apollo Banana leaf… “Her step daughter came and sat beside her. “How was the wedding today? A lot of relatives came for the wedding?”

“Yes almost all of them there, especially your father’s side. They’re asking about you”

“Oh! Phew! Glad I didn’t come”

“Your second brother and his wife there too”

“Do they?”

Her daughter looked at her. “Did they come and salaam you and dad?”

“No” she answered sadly. “They ignore us. They salaam everybody except your father and me”

“Oh!”

“I know they hate me but why your own father. He is still their father. What have he done wrong? They are there, they salaam everybody and as soon as they saw us, they hide and move away. Why? His wife even told their daughter I am not the real grandmother, the real grandmother is dead” She couldn’t control and began to cry softly.

“What sins have I committed, please tell me”

She got her letter today for the Student Nurse Training interview. She should be excited but she is not. Why now? She needs to think again. UK or stay here! Damn! She thought she have it all plan out suddenly this! Sister Chew called her to the office today after lunch, wanting her assurance that she will go for the interview. Okay she said, she will worry about the interview later on. Right now all she wants is to go home.

A double Decker bus arrived, she got in, paid the fare and gradually made her way on the upper deck, to her favorite spot. She needed the rest as tonight she plans to go to Singapore Science Center. She has not gone there for sometime now. She has just submitted her 3rd project. Now she’s going to take a day off and then commence her last project. She misses the stars, the comets and everything that is up there. This indescribable exuberating feeling as soon as she focuses her attention up in the sky, a rural night sky, studded with stars and bathed in the gentle glow of the Milky Way can do wonders for one who is in the endless search. Where is the beginning and where is the end?

It has been a long day at work. As she sat there looking out of the window as the bus makes its way back to Tampines, she remembered. Slowly she took out the piece of paper with a phone number written on it… and an old black and white picture she have been keeping in her wallet. She has carried it with her all these years and has not taken it out for a long time.

“Staff nurse said she is busy, and she asked me to tell you to do the discharge for the NS men… their officer is waiting for the discharge instruction” the student nurse came to her when she was busy unloading the Sterile dressings sets and equipments from the CSSD trolley.

“Okay… “She took the files containing the memo for the Medical Officer in the camp, discharge certificates and the medical certificates from the doctor’s office to the three national service men who were admitted 2 days ago for head Injuries. Their officer was standing facing and talking to them as she approaches them. As soon as he turns towards her, she recognizes him at an instant. The mole on the face, the dimple visible as his smile and the face, how can she ever forget the face…..

She looked at the picture. The memory is still fresh in her mind ……

.......“Eh! You up there too with her… now what’s the two of you doing up on the tree?” father’s voice as he looked at the two of them sitting on the tree branch.

“I’m here to keep her company” the boy answered the father.

“Now you, young lady better come down”

“No I won’t”

“Why not?”

“I want mother….. I want to see mother”

“You’re too young to go to the hospital. It’s the hospital regulation”

“I don’t care…. I want to see mother…. Or I shall sit here forever until mother comes back”

“No you can’t stay there forever” dad trying be convince her

“Your father is right you know...we cannot stay here on the tree forever… how if I want to go to toilet?” Asked the boy. She gave him a stare.

“I don’t care... its either mother or I will climb higher and stay here till night time”

“No! Don’t do that... you will fall... this daughter of mine… okay okay father will bring you tomorrow evening after school to see your mother. Father will try to talk to the nurse…. Now come down!”

“Promise?”

“Promise!”

“Now you young man... didn’t you hear your grandmother shouting looking for you?”

“I heard… just a while”

“Are you coming down?” asked father anxiously. Lamenting to him self. I have three daughters and this one in particular just likes to climb trees. What am I to do with her!

“Wait….” She stood up, holding on to the tree branch... looking out and then gave two whistles….

“Why did you whistle for?” the boy asked her.

“To signal the boys there that the apek has come back to his guard post”

“Apek?”

”Did you see there…. Our boys helping themselves to the rambutan trees. You hear me gave the first while right… One whistle means apek gone... two whistle means apek coming back” The boy looking out and saw a group of boy running away from the rambutan plantation.

“So you’re up here on the tree because of your mother or as signaller?” he asked

”Both”


She wanted to laugh out loud but close her mouth. Other people in the bus might think something is not right with her laughing on her own. Oh! Those where the good old days… she look at the picture again and caress it gently with her fingers. It’s a picture of a young girl and boy, with books in their hand walking and looking so happy. Father just bought a new camera that day, and he wanted to try out. As soon as he saw them walking back from the library, he took it. She have kept the picture in her wallet and almost forgotten about the picture until that day.
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