The Other Malay
|Main| The Journals ||
|She continues to walk, in a steady consistent pace, slow but gradual along the road heading towards East Coast. For years she has been walking at her own pace, often fast even more so when she is at work because the situation warrants her especially during Emergency. When you are fighting for somebody’s life, you don’t walk you run. As a nurse, standing and walking long distance is just natural. Then she began to take part in the big walk. Not that she eyeing to win an award though she knows if she really train up she could easily able to complete it within the less 60mins 10KM record in the New Paper Big walk. The first year she complete the 10Km within 2hrs, 30 mins, and then it got bettered the year later to 2 hrs then improves gradually to 1hr 20mins. She participates just for the hack of it. Got up early, in her jean, T-shirt, strap to her walkman and earphone she walks alone. No friends as she can’t tolerate having friends to tag along with her during this time. It’s during this walk that she is solely on her own and nobody there to bothers her. She waits for nobody. She, her walkman and the walk. |
After the walk, she would walk to the nearest bus stop and home quietly after taking a short rest to enjoy the entertainment normally prelude before the prize giving ceremony. She didn’t wait for the prize giving or the consolation prices even though she is entitled to. She is not after the prizes. She walks because she simple love to walk, that’s about it.
Walking gives one this feeling of leaving everything behind like running too. This urge to run suddenly resurfaces again, but she controls it. She has stop running long time ago. Don’t know why, it just stops. Suddenly she doesn’t have this need to run anymore. Walking became the next physical activity to replace the running. It’s like being in the automobile. Initially you speed as fast as you could because you just want to get away as fast as possible, then suddenly when you realize you are far enough, you slow down. You do not see the need to speed. You want to drive slowly and enjoy the scenery as you pass them by. Once she had a quarrel with Lukman at orchard road; she walked out and walked all the way back home to Bedok. Whatever anger she felt that night fade away gradually. As soon as she steps into her house, she can’t remember what the quarrel all about was. In Johor that is what she has been doing to; walk from the hotel to the office, then from the Malaysia to the Singapore immigration check point. Distance has never been an issue for her.
She needed this walk feel herself. She was so consume with anger that it numbs her.
“It all done dad” she told him when she got back earlier from Johor after spending almost a week there. Her father looks sad but composed. He gave a sight of relieve. “You wouldn’t believe what they did there in Johor Office.” And she told him as he listen. “They travel first class… stays in 5 star hotels. I saw the accounts, the company not making any money from the publishing or from the advertising. Where do they get all the money?”
“All documents with me. The rest of it not important ones I’ve shredded and throw them away. I’ve copied several names and their address, all in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe one once we settle the office here, I might want to go up to KL to search for this people and find out their connection to Johan.”
“Good. Now about the office here, what are your plans?”
“We need to seriously think about this too, Dad. Do we really want to continue? I look again at all the contracts we have... we are not making anything dad. All the time it’s at a lost even during Johan time. How could he keep this away from us? All this time he gave us false impression.”
“I’m thinking about those kids, the youth group… they came to see me the other day, pleading to continue with the publication…”
“Yes! They came to see me too. I feel I own them something, but we are not a charitable organization, and our funds are gradually diminishing. If we do not act now, we all will be in trouble. Should we try to save a sinking ship with so many defects that is beyond repair? Just when I thought I’ve repaired one, the other emerges... it’s taking a toll at us especially our finances”
“How about buyer? Anybody you think would be interested to buy over?”
“Why would they want to take over a sinking ship when they could get a brand new one easily? More over the market is too small. The target group is the Malay readers. If it’s English then it’s different”
“But our magazine is in Malaysia right, even up to Kuala Lumpur. Isn’t that something?”
“It is, but there are so many Malay magazines in Malaysia market. Each day a new one being published. We are just one of the many. The only novelty we have is it’s from Singapore. How many are so interested in the Singapore news. Maybe over at Johor yes, further up we are nothing compared to the others there. The point is our finances. We must be realistic dad. Better cut our loses now before it get to big for us to handle.”
“We have put so much money in this company… your mother, you, your sisters etc... a waste to let it go. We already have a name, small it may be... but people here already know about the magazine. If only we could sell it to somebody who would continue…and those kids. I felt heart broken when I saw them the other day”
“Agreed. If we have the money, we can do wonders, but the name already being tainted dad. That is the reality. I went out there to try to get support, none would offer. As soon as they know I’m Johan sister, they slam the door shut at my face”
“Are you okay?” Dad looked at Noorie. He felt sympathy towards his youngest daughter. She and Manisah the only ones who respond to his request when he asks his children to try to save the company. All his other children were disinterested. His eldest daughter already committed to her hair saloon. She struggle too but she have managed, now into her 5th year. Business is picking up she said. So he didn’t bother her much about the company.
“I am. Don’t worry; I am used to it already. I want to get all this mess sorted out. I have little experience in publishing, and the only person in the company that I can rely on is the editor and the graphic artiste. I have no faith in the accounts executives or whatever they like to call themselves”
“How about the assistant editor, what’s his name?”
“I don’t trust him. He seems odd to be in the company. Why is he here in the first place?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Remember during the height of the controversy. When we get so many threats, people coming here were harassing you etc... I needed something urgently and I tried to contact him. I paged several time no response, suddenly several hours later, somebody call back to ask “who have been paging for this number”. I ask this guy, where is this place, he said it’s the police station. What is Jefri doing in the police station? The next day he came to the office to tell me he was at the police station as he is being interrogated. For what? I ask. Say they were asking him about Johan. I know he is lying. I look at his application form. He joins the company 2 weeks after Johan disappearance. ”
“How can he knows Johan when he never met him at all, For whatever reason, I just don’t trust him. He may be a police informer or some undercover guy trying to gather information about us particularly Johan. To find out weather we maintain any contact with him etc. I just got a message from a friend who told me she saw him going to the police station from the back door. Why the back door?”
“We have nothing to fear. If he is an informer, we can tell him what ever he needs to know indirectly, that we have nothing to do with Johan’s other activities. We only knew about it when we took over the company operations”
“Didn’t that guy what’s his name Inspector Zainal and the sergeant came to the office to speak to Manisah? What else they want to know?”
“They want to make sure is there anything else we’re keep away from them. The point is we know nothing. That is the truth. We only know about this after Johan disappearance. If they want more they should go after Rosnah. She is the one who get him into this. She tried on us but fail. Lets get back to the company dad, the point is we are not making anything. I went to see another publisher, the moment he takes a look at our magazine he says the same “how do you managed? You’re not making anything!”
“But our subscription is going up. Didn’t that mean more people are buying?”
“In publishing we cannot depend on subscription. It’s just a tiny fraction. We need more advertisements, but they are not coming in... Because of Johan’s involvement in whatever that is, and our people are not trying hard enough, always with personal problems. That is one aspect I do not understand. I work too, I have personal problems too but I keep it out. Work is work. But it’s not the same working culture we both come from dad” Dad looked at Noorie. She has the point. He has been working in the civil service all his life, ever since he started off as an ordinary clerk in the medical record office in the hospital till his retirement. He retired as assistant head of medical record office in the hospital.
“Have you spoken to Manisah? What did she say?”
“She agrees with me. Told me to do whatever necessary to save our family from further embarrassment”
“Anyway we can start again….. Maybe later on when all these have subside, we could start again clean where we have stopped?”
“Maybe depend on the situation dad. Right now I am keener in putting whatever we have in the property. Mom showed me the house in Johor, scares me. I don’t think so I want to stay in such a big house, but we could do something with the house there since she already signs the purchasing agreement?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Once we have paid the house fully, we can get a bank loan to buy an apartment somewhere in Johor or I’m looking at Kuala Lumpur. I saw several properties there coming up and they are within our means. We can use the Johor house as collaterals. We then rent the apartment out. The rental can be use to service the bank loans. We then can grow gradually from there. Start small and move to acquire smaller service apartments for rental”
“Sounds good.” Dad stops for a moment rationalizing Noorie plan “okay dad will go along with you. Do what ever necessary... another two guys Lukman and Micheal been calling you for the past few days. Dad knows Lukman but who is Micheal? Did you owe him any money?”
|She saw him again. It’s about time for her to make her move, either now or never. She must find out who the hell is this guy who have been following her since the time she leave the book shop. She slowly turns to the corner, lean against the wall and wait. She heard his foot steps, he is coming nearer and when he is about to make the turn, she jump in front of him “why are you following me? Who are you and what do you want!” |
“Argh!” he gave a short cry “you gave me a shock!”
“I am eh! I’m asking you again, why are you following me? Who are you and what do you want! I have black belt in karate you know…. I can kick you right now and drag you to the police station. Did you see the sign... the police station is just round the corner. Now talk!” as she advance slowly towards him, pushing him against the wall.
“I’m sorry…I just want to talk to you…”
“Talk to me? About what… so I am here in front of you... talk!” she looks straight up at him.
“Don’t you remember me?” his voice stammering
“I am the patient from the hospital where you work”
“And where do I work, you want to tell me?”
“Okay... what else?”
“You’re working as a nurse there right?”
“I was a patient there once… “
“A lot of people I know was a patient in SGH, so?” she gradually move back to give him some space to compose himself. He straightens his hair and took out his handkerchief to wipe his face.
“Look I am sorry. I don’t mean to scare you like this”
“Scare me? I’m not. But I just don’t like people tagging behind my back. I know you’ve been following me and I don’t like it. So you want to tell me more? You’re a patient there … I have many patient there, but they do not stalk me”
“I’m not stalking you... I just want to talk to you. You walk so fast... I’m trying very hard to catch up with you”
“I am right in front of you... you want to talk right... So talk!”
“Remember one evening, I was sitting at the lobby smoking, and you came to stop me...”
“I stop you for?”
“Something about my arm sling... you asked... who did the arm sling for me and I said one of the student nurse, and you were grumbling then call me and said “ let me redo them.. It’s all wrong”... don’t you remember any of this?”
“Hmmm I don’t… I do that all the time” She’s trying to recollect.
“That is not all... then you said something about my ward nurse looking for me and that I should go back to the ward... of which I did but when I got to the ward and ask the nurse, they told me they never call for me. So I’ve been thinking, why did you send me back... and I saw your name tag… I wanted to ask you about this.”
“I got discharge... and here at the interchange, I saw you walking one evening. I tried to catch up with you but you walk so fast... I just wanted to know… “
“Oh! What’s time was it when I stop you?”
“7.30pm… then it’s the time when the nurses start taking patient’s parameters. I question you as to why you’re here at the lobby at that time when you should be in the ward. The ward nurse may be looking for you. This is the only rational I can think of. Otherwise I would not ask you to go back to your ward.”
“Do you remember now?”
“No. You see when I see something not right like bandages or arm sling etc not properly done, I stop to adjust it. I did that all the time. I don’t remember faces very well”
“That explains it. But I remember you and your name. You’re Noorie right”
|And suddenly he becomes a regular encounter. At the bus stop… in the bus… most often he would suddenly appear at the stadium claiming he is there for a walk and saw her sitting there and decides to join in etc. She thought at first it’s just mere coincidence but it’s become so regular that she suspects it’s all being plan out. He seems to know what bus she is taking, what time she would be at the interchange, when she would be at the stadium. She finds his presence welcoming initially, at least she has a friend to talk to especially at the stadium after the long walk, resting; a good conversation is a welcoming retreat. He is a good chatter and humorous at times. She enjoys being with him, but she has reminded herself many times, to stick this new found relationship as it is: mere coincidence encounters, nothing more than that. It’s unethical to date your patient, that is her personal philosophy and have been adhering to such ideas all the while until Lukman came along……|
She just bought an Ayn Rand book, The Fountainhead that day and wanted to immediately start reading it. Decides to take a break at the nearest café, choose the table facing the road, deposited her self, open the book and began to read not paying much attention to the man sitting on the next table. Ayn Rand theory on Objectivism has captured her imagination. You can’t stop but to ponder deeper as you gradually read the book. She makes you want to think and to let your mind go free, beyond all the boundaries of human struggle. You immediately want to embrace the sense of freedom and feel the honesty in it. She looked up and allows her eyes to wander all around her as her thoughts began to roam free. The vehicles on the road began to catch her attention and the people walking by fascinate her. She began to look at them with great interest. As her eyes moves all around her, she caught the other pairs of eyes looking at her too. She stared back at him. He smiles at her…. She returns his smile, and look away... and then something triggers her, she thought she remembers that face but she can’t remember them. She must have seen that face somewhere but where. Memories buried within the archives. She tried hard to retrieve them but none came out. No match! No match! Not in your archive... the message keeps on coming back to her. And so she ignores the face….and continues with her reading...
“Excuse me!” a male voice greets her. She looked up. The voice belongs to that pair of eyes she engaged with earlier and ignores subsequently.
“Don’t you remember me?”
Oh! No not again. She sight. “No. I’m sorry. Do I know you?” she responded apologetically.
“You’re a nurse right, working at SGH. I’m one of your patients”
“Bed 34?” he tried to probe further with the hope that the name of the bed would trigger something but none.
“Bed 34! Nope, I’m sorry. Which one?”
“Lukman” he looked at her with hope.
“I’m really sorry”
“Wait!” he took out his shirt and exposes the scar which stretches from the back of the chest to the front. “Remember this?” She stared at the scar. It’s a clean scar and showing signs of healing well despite the redness which could still be seen. There are many types of scars just as there’s many type of people and many faces. Each face is different by itself. Each scar tells a story and the basic truth is scars never completely go away. The skin has a great capacity to generate itself and the scars are an indication that the skin is making an attempt to heal itself.
She’s tempted to run her fingers alone the lines of the scar. She wanted to feel it. No! She told herself, not right to do it in public. People are looking at both of them now. She looks from the scar to the face then back at the scar again… something being triggered. Male, 28 yrs bed 34……and it go on and on in her head. Suddenly she remembered. The scar and the face match.
“You’re the one with spontaneous pneumothorax. 28 yrs old, from Teacher training college. You had a chest tube inserted then had an operation because you had a broncho-pleural fistula”
“Correct! Amazing how from a simple scar you can describe a person” and they both laugh.
“I’m sorry. I don’t remember faces very well”
“You remember my wound better than me... can I join you. Are you alone?”
“Yes! Please. This is a surprise... please do” and he took his cup of coffee and move to the next table to join her.
“I remember you very well… you know you were very cruel to me in the ward”
“Yes you make me walk to the toilet with this tube sticking from my chest wall…”
She laughs… “I am eh! But I do it to with all the other patients. There’s nothing wrong with you with exception to your lungs. Your leg and hands are still functioning…so you can walk”
“Yeah but still you were cruel” he responded jokingly.
“Well I am and I will not apologies for it, Sometimes I have to be cruel… you are behaving like a spoilt brat... whimpering away on your bed refusing to get up and walk, how to get well!”
”I know. That is why I remember you… the day I was discharge you were not on duty. I came back to look for you several time especially when I have my appointment with the doctors, they told me you’ve gone for training.”
… And so the conversation goes on and on stretching for hours. He teasing her all the time and she allow him to, enjoying every minute of it. She went home that evening in high spirit. She really had a good time. They exchange phone numbers, he call her the next day, they chatted over the phone and then brave herself to go out for a movie with him. And that is how it all begins…
|“Nurse check the patient in bed 1 again will you… how is the parameters?” she gave the student nurse the instruction as she was with the housemen in bed 6 who is trying to extract blood specimen for blood gas. Staff nurse is at the nurse’s station on the phone trying to trace the blood results for the both patient. The medical officers were in the staff room having their dinner. They have been attending to the emergency cases since 8pm and told the staff that they will be in the staff room to get a quick bite while waiting for the blood result. |
Just when she thought she could get a short nap during her break time, the student nurse woke her up “two emergency cases coming up... a road traffic accident and assault case. Both very bad…” she immediately wash her face, took a cup of coffee and rush out. And they have been up on their feet ever since. It’s almost a full house tonight. All the other cases are post operative cases: gastrectomy, cholecystectomy. One perforated appendix just got back from the operating theatre, had the operation done at 9pm. The staff nurse has been busy since the time she came on duty with an overflow case from the medical unit admitted via the emergency department: a diabetic ketoacidosis which requires her to monitor the patient blood sugar every 15 mins. There was only three staff on duty at night. One staff nurse, one assistant nurse and a student nurse having to manage 20 patients at the central station. Usually the staff from the other station will come over to help but tonight they too were busy with overflows from the medical unit.
She came back to bed 1 to change the I/V drip. The medical officer has just ordered a new regime and she has already rescheduled the timing. Also she needs to change him into operation gown and to prepare him for the emergency operation. She called him, he is not responding. He was 5 mins ago when she pass by to go to the other patient. She checks his radial pulse. It’s very feeble. She touch his hand, they are cold. She took the blood pressure set. It’s 80 to unrecordable. She checks again… still the same low, now to 75 and unrecordable. She saw the blood stains on the bed sheet where he is lying. She turns him on the side: Blood! Now where this blood comes from? Oh! My god patient is bleeding... there’s a puncture site on his back and blood oozing from it: fresh blood. She immediately called out for the houseman. The medical officer on duty came. She saw the blood too. “Quick! Apply pressure” she instructs. No good blood continues to gush out from the punctured site. “Patient is bleeding, its arterial blood!” she remarked. “Call the operating theatre. We need to bring this patient in now” shouted the medical officer “cannot wait… Someone hold the lift… no need to transfer on the trolley…. Go down with the bed… Now! Now! Now!” And the whole team move. The assistant nurse climbed on the bed, patient still on his side, her hand pressing hard on the puncture site with a sterile dressing pad as they push the bed from the ward to the lift and to the operating theatre.
….she’s back in the ward. “We need to start totaling up our intake and out put chart. Can you please do it, I’m going to check all the I’/V’s. No need to disturb the staff nurse, she is with the diabetic patient. We have to try to manage ourselves. Let’s help her to update the records, she will check and sign it later on” she instructs the second year student nurse further. This is one lousy night, she lament to herself as she move on in a hurry along the corridor……. Now hang on here…. She suddenly stops. Didn’t I go through this scene before? I thought I’ve hand over the duty to the morning staff and went home... what am I doing here in the ward… and suddenly everything went quiet... there were silence….. And she opens her eyes…both her legs still sore .…. she has been dreaming again…
She is at home, on her bed and turn to look at the alarm clock. It’s almost 6pm. She need to get ready, will have to leave home by 7pm. Duty starts at 9pm but she is always in the ward by 8.30pm. She heard voices now. Laughing and talking. She heard mother and father’s voice talking to somebody. Visitors… how many... a woman and man voice… they’re talking in Malay but with a dialect... the baba’s. Then another voice interrupt... hang on she knew this voice… the same voice she has once laugh together. She got up, open the door and look out.
“There she is! She is awake” Father’s looking at her direction when he saw her sleepy face peeping from the door.
“On night duty ya!” asked the Chinese lady whom she identify as Aunty Mary. She saw him, sitting together with them on the dinning table. He smiles at her. She came to the dinning table to join them sitting beside Aunty Mary.
“Aiya! Lucky they met at the hospital… if not don’t know when we all will meet again. Since we all move out from the kampong… all go different direction. All lost contact…” the Chinese man every body call Uncle Freddie remarked.
“Ya lah… now all staying at the flats… difficult to met. Some at Bedok, another at Changi... some at Tampines… I heard that Encik Lim too staying in the same block here with you…”
“He is at the highest floor… the 25th floor; we’re the only two families from the same kampong. The rest all don’t know where they are now”
The atmosphere has not change: warm and friendly. They talk about the kampong days, while seeping coffee and Malay kueh. Living in the public housing estate is definitely different than that in the kampong.
By 7pm she is ready to go to work, began gathering her stuff and move towards the main door. He suddenly got up…
“You’re going too?”
“Something urgent just came up… I have to get back to camp early today” and move towards the door.
“Really!” aunty Mary looks at him...”oh! Well go ahead then”
She wave at Aunty Mary and Uncle Freddie “bye aunty... bye uncle…see you again”
And they wave back at her. Then suddenly they were in the lift, just the two of them standing apart each to the other corner. She felt strange for a moment. It has been such a long time. They promise to maintain contact the day her family moved from Kampong to the new housing estate. They were the first family to move out. She came back several times to attend her silat classes and they met as usual and then suddenly the attendance to silat classes becomes irregular and eventually stops altogether. School activities and distance separate them. He followed his aunty and uncle move to another housing estate. She never knew where and for a moment they were all forgotten until that day in the ward when he came for his recruits who were admitted for head injuries.
She knows he is looking at her. She lowered her gaze and look at his boots instead. She could feel her heart beating so fast.
“You never call… I was waiting for your call” he said to break the silence. She looked at him… still tongue tied. She still have the piece of paper with the phone number he gave her that day in her purse together with the picture she have kept carefully like a precious treasure. She did try to call him once but before anybody could answer the phone she put it down. It has been such a long time. She is not sure how he is now. Is he still the same as before? They both have grown. He looks dashing in his uniform that day in the ward. The ward staffs were teasing her when they saw him giving her his phone number. She has never done this before, collecting phone numbers from visitors. But he is no ordinary visitor; he is a child hood friend! He is not just any ordinary child hood friend, in the kampong they nicknamed them The Siamese twins.
“When I told my aunty and uncle I met you at the ward, they were so happy. They insist that I should call you but you were never at home. So instead I let them speak to your parent… and they make plans to come over. I just have to come with them because I wanted to see you again”
“Oh!” the only word that comes up from her mouth. Suddenly she felt shy.
“You’re taking the bus to work”
“Can I join you?”
“Same bus goes to your camp?”
“No... But it’s still early... I can send you to work and take another there bus back to camp”
“I though you told your aunty you have something urgent” He smile…she gather all her courage to looked up at him. He is much taller than her now and their eyes met …...
|“Lets eat!” she exclaimed as she place the plates on the table. |
“About time!!” All the three of them responded, got up and move to the dinning table. They were at the living room browsing through the photo album while she was in the kitchen. She bans them from entering the kitchen. Noorie were more interested in my journal on our UK trip.
“Arch …. Siglap Laksa! You make this?” asked Norie
“Yeap all home made including the noodles. You see I eventually got it right this time. You taste the noodles!” She remarked proudly. One aspect of her you can never argue with is her cooking. When she is in the kitchen, nobody is to disturb. She is in the world of her own doing everything without any help. “I must thank Nita’s mother. It’s her recipies... I just perfected it.” She said proudly. Now I began to understand what’s have been happening between my mother and her. I often wondered what they have in common. Whenever she comes over, she will spend hours chatting with mother especially in the kitchen. I became an invisible third person, who gradually leaves quietly while they two will continue to talk and discuss. “Since you’re not interested in cooking, who else should take the initiative to document all these recipes? It’s being handed down for generations. I’m going to compile them” she told me once when I ask her “what’s between you and my mother. You’re both seems to have a secret conspiracy going on”
“.. And this wrap in the banana leaf?”
“Honestly I don’t know the name…. I just know how to make. All spices and vegetable: pucuk ubi, daun kesum, and all the various pucuk I can get at geylang market I just dump them in. You mixed them together, place the fish on top of it and the grinned spices and then steam it.
“Hmm smell really good”
“What is this fruits? I’ve never seen it before”
“Sentul, you’ve not seen it before?’
“It’s already extinct in Singapore. I don’t think so you can get in here anymore. Guess where I got this from?” Noorie shake her head
“I remember the tree it’s very very tall... When I was staying at the kampong, the tree is just beside my house. Every day we wait for the sound boom! On our roof top and I know one of the fruits just fell of… and I would rush out to get it. Really nice.....”
“Every day I would sit and look up on the tree. It’s very tempting you know …. And my father will go ‘oh no you’re not going to…. It’s too high for you. You will fall’” all of them started to laugh
“You should seriously start thinking of taking wall climbing or rock climbing. It will do you good. Leave the tress alone….”
“Yeah …. And since we’re living in the housing estate where got trees to climb. Even if there’s are, they are too fragile for you”
“I love your stories, especially the trip to UK. That is your most recent right?”
“Yes”. She didn’t mention about the short KL trip which is suppose to be just a diversion for both of them. She never thought he would respond to her note but he did that very night while she was in her room updating her journal……..
…… “When I received the note from the boy… I was shocked. I thought it’s a joke from one of the guys then I remembered your hand writing and our signature. “
“Yes! The quotations at the end of the page”
“Oh!” she never thought it as “our signature” It’s just a quote they usually used from the book: The Romance of the Three Kingdom. Never cross her mind that it turns into a signature. He started it first, and she responded according... then it becomes a game to see who can remember the next verse etc… and that is how it goes.
“You don’t have to come… you could only call to the hotel”
“Call... you must be kidding. Moreover my mother knows you’re here. And I’m meeting you tonight”
“She does? How so?”
“I was on the phone talking to her when the note came and I told her. She is the one who insist that I must come over tonight to meet up with you to make sure everything is okay. Everything is okay right?” and he step into the room I began to get nervous.
“Wait. Stop where you are….. Let me get my purse and sweater….. We can talk downstairs at the café. They’re open 24 hrs”
“Why can’t we talk here in the room?”
“You don’t know how many eyes watching us now; I don’t want to get into trouble. No I don’t want you to get into trouble... moreover my friend will be back soon and I do not want to disturb her. She will want to go to sleep immediately. We’re checking out early in the morning, and thereafter to the Indian High Commission.”
He laughed. “Ah! I am not worried. The people here know me and will cover up for me. If anything they will send the warning signs to me first. Why to Indian High Comm.?”
“To get a visa”
“You’re going to India?”
“She is... not me. I want to go home”
“Where is your friend…? I didn’t see her?”
“She’s out there somewhere”
“At this time of the night?”
“You don’t know that friend of mine……… KL is like her play ground. She have many contacts here… what’s she’s up too I never ask. Better mind my own business. She invited me to come along but I prefer to stay here. I’m too tired”
“I’m glad you contact me…surprise yes still I’m glad... okay let’s go to the café... I want to show you something. You will be very interested in this one!” and that is where they were till 3 am chatting away like always.
“You should submit it to the editor. I am sure he would agree to them... and the pictures they are fantastic”
“I’m going to. I need to summarize them... they’re too detail. We don’t want to put in everything right?”
“Why not? They are good... I love the adventures and the people you meet there, they are interesting. I like the one at speaker’s corner”
Oh! Yes the speaker’s corner. We both went there. I was curious as usually. I’ve heard about it to actually experience it is another. There were the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews and all those in between groups, all trying to exert their ideas publicly each holding their holy book. I listen and watch them with great interest especially he argument between the Muslims and the Jews. Is this freedom of speech in action?
“.. Then I saw this young Caucasian guy… standing so alone on the portable platform looking so nervous... No body seems to pay any attention to him. So I said, okay I will be your audience… and so I stood before him... trying to make sense whatever he is trying to say… I listen to every words he said and couldn’t understand any of it… he was talking initially about the British politics and then suddenly shift to Chinese politics touching on the Chinese revolution… and then an Indian guy came and stood beside me… the funny thing is suddenly his talk move from Chinese revolution to the Indian revolution and subsequently to Chinese and Indian border conflict.” She began to describe her experience. They all laugh…
“Maybe as soon as he saw you and the Indian guy, suddenly he is reminded of the border conflict.”
“Must be! Then the crowd began to grow. More people joining in. This is amazing about speaker’s corner. You need one person to start and the rest would join in”
“Then the Indian guy turns around and asked me ‘do you understand anything what he’s trying to say’. I said ‘no’, ‘me either’ and he walked away”
“So you want to tell us about ‘this love of your life’?” teasing her. I’ve been wanting to ask but never got the chance. We didn’t meet the Moroccan guy again thereafter. When we visit him that day, they both immediately went into the kitchen while I stayed on the outside with his son; a twenty something, studying computer science in a local private commercial school. He was very interested to know about Singapore. They both came out half an hour later. She didn’t say what happen in the kitchen and I never ask. There’s certain a thing about our friendship is that I know where my limit is. I do not ask her unless she voluntarily offers me the information. And she does the same for me. Bu the Moroccan guy was extremely happy that day before we left, she making the promise that she will be back again.
“Love of her life?” Noories asked curiously “a Moroccan?”
“Well he wants to call me love of his life and so I let him be. But he is definitely not mine. I met him at the speaker’s corner in my previous visit that is all.”
“And we found out we shared the same passion”
“Food and cooking”
“You mean to say… you can find this at the speaker’s corner too?”
“Amazing... and then….”
“He asks; are you Malay? I said yes…. Oh good he exclaimed, maybe you can help me… help in what I asked... he said there one particular food he is so keen to know how to make but the Malay at the center not helping him. They are so secretive about it…… “
“And he brought me to the Malaysian student center…… to the canteen and he showed me. Said the lady there so reluctant to reveal to him the ingredients”
“What food is that?”
She began to giggle….. “You all wouldn’t believe this………sambal belachan”
“Sambal belachan… he wanted to know how we make sambal belachan” we couldn’t stop laughing. Noorie who was drinking her orange juice almost choked. “after helping him with the sambal belachan, suddenly I saw in his fridge pineapples…. Guess what happen?”
“What?” They responded simultaneously
“Imagine…… pineapple and sambal belachan. One sweet smelling and juicy; the other stinky and smells like a dead rat when you burn it in the open fire; and when they embrace each other and merge to become one, what do you think will happen…….”
“You are so cruel!”
“As soon as he puts it in his mouth; he went into orgasmic state; he immediately proclaim his eternal love to me” they all laugh out so loud. “I told him another secret… “
“What is the other secret?”
“You traitor you! You go on like this; the Malaysian will not like you”
“You’re revealing their trade secrets” another round of laughter.
We were at my house. My parent is out on a group tour to Indonesia, my sister and brother too not at home. I decided to call the ladies over to my place for dinner. I wanted to introduce Noorie particularly this circle of friends of mine. I didn’t reveal to her about them. Better to leave it as it is. She only knows them as they are: nurses having other interests besides nursing, just like her.
I remembered the first time I meet her. I’ve heard about her when she took over the company after the disappearance of Encik Johan but I never gives her any much thought. I usually does not deal with the management preferred to stays away from them and the office for obvious reason: I don't want my cover to be made known. So far nobody in the hospital knows that I'm is working as a part time journalist. In fact I do not consider this as a work but a hobby. At the advice of the editor, I usually use my pseudonyms. Even the photographer who usually followed me in my assignment does not know about my full time job. My contact point is the editor…. He is the one who introduced me to the publishing house and I’ve maintain the involvement as such. If there’s any assignment, the editor will contact me. If I need the photographer, he will make the arrangement. Otherwise I usually take my own pictures and submit to him. I get paid promptly. No questions ask. He knows where I work and never bother me at work. I separate my duty as a nurse and that as a free lance writer. I've met Encik Johan several time but we hardly talk. This meeting with Noorie was accidental. The Editor called me in the morning requesting me to meet him at Geylang Hawker center as he has other assignment for me. She was there with the Editor talking when I came. That was the first time I saw her in person.
“Ah! Good you’re here; let me introduce to you…. One of our journalist” we shook hands. She has strong grip and was watching me with intent and purposeful, the glance of competence. She smiles at me, not a forceful smile but natural. At that instance I knew I like her. It was like love at first sight. There are people as soon as you come in their presence you have this instant dislike. She is different. There’s a difference aura altogether.
“She’s a nurse too just like you” the editor continued with his introduction.
“Oh! Really. Which Hospital?”
“SGH… but I’m just a assistant nurse”
“Wow this is great. I’m an ex assistant Nurse too…..2 yrs then selected for student nurse. I’m working in NUH, orthopedic department glad to meet you. He showed me some of your articles I love them. They are good”
A Staff Nurse! Thinking to myself, this is just great. I seem to have so much problem already with the Staff Nurses in the ward, now I have one who is my boss. I excuse myself as soon as the editor gave me the assignment, saying that I have to get back to work. A lie I don’t have to tell, but I wanted to get away and continue to maintain the distance of anybody from the management.
Few days later that during my lunch time received a surprised visit from her, standing at the reception counter as I walked into the ward “Now how the hell does she know where I work? I just told her SGH and never mention about the ward. Even the editor doesn’t know which ward I'm working. It’s a big hospital…
“There you are…..I know I can find you here”
“How do you know I’m working here?” she asked her
“Oh! It’s easy... I have friends around. I just mention your name and the rest of the information falls into place”
“I would like to talk to you… perhaps after work one of these days when you’re free”
“Oh! Many other things. Don’t worry, the editor has told me about not mentioning to the other hospital staff about your role in the publishing house. My promise too…………I need to ask you some very important things, if you don’t mind… but I’m not going to force you if you choose not to.”
“Is it about Encik Johan or the publishing house…? I really don’t know anything. I hardly speak to him and I …” before she could finish her sentence, she interrupts “well yes it’s about Encik Johan and other things too…. Your input will help me to search for some answers…. Please?”
We meet few days later at the staff canteen after work……and that is how it all begins……
She didn’t indulge much about the publishing house but gradually I began to gather bits and pieces, mostly gossips from the staff but mainly from rumors. The Malay community in Singapore is small not to be aware of what is happening. How many publishing company are there in Singapore owned by a Malay family. Then one day she told me about the problems she is facing in the office especially at Johor office. She was really down that day... to the point of frustration. Said she is trying to save the company hoping somebody would want to take over instead of having to close it down. And I just listen………
“So after this what’s your gal’s next trip?” Noorie asked.
“I’ve been thinking about the Silk Road. Would you like to join us…...?”
“Yes! But it will only be next year. Needs a lot of logistic preparation”
“Okay I’m in………this is exciting. Where have you gals been all this time? I feel I’ve been missing a lot of things in life”
“Welcome to the club!” and we all stood up to give her the cheers.
“Okay you’re saying now you have many…. So who is the real love of your life?”
“He is somewhere out there in Brunei jungle for training”
“Your real love is a jungle man!”
“A Tarzan to be exact” I interrupt. It was a riot.
“Go on... I’m listening”|
“It’s a good investment plan and I guarantee you 30% return as interest” he tried to explain to her. She just looked at him.
“Are we going to sign an agreement for this investment?”
“No. Only a verbal contract. Verbal contract is as good as any documents right?”
“Depend. We do not have any witness here with us. It’s between you and me. Anything can happen”
She stared at him hard. And he could feel her eyes piercing through him. He felt nervous. This is the first time he ever asks her. He knew she knew but she is not showing any reaction. She looked away, out on the open window. They were both in the bus. He waited for her at the bus stop knowing she will be coming that way to take the bus.
“Lets stop at Bedok central for me to make the withdrawal” He gave a sight of relieve. He waited for her at McDonald while she makes the withdrawals at the nearest ATM machine. “I promise I will definitely return it back to you, the principle including the interest”
“Michael listens….. Listen will you”
“Don’t worry about the interest. Just take this money and do what ever you’re suppose to do with it”
He looked shock, sat there staring at her.
“But I will give you the interest, I promise”
“No Michael…… I do not want any interest from you. Use the money and return back when you are able to okay?”
“I’ve got to go. I have class tonight” and she stood up about to walk away when he stop her.
“Wait…. I need to ask you something…why don’t you want it…. Is it because of you’re faith? I am really touched. What can I say?”
She turns and sat back again on the chair, and look him straight in the eyes “Michael listens okay... I want you to understand this…. What ever I do right now got nothing to do with my faith okay. Do you see this” and she took her cup of coffee places it in one place then his cup of coffee and places is about 30 cm apart. “This is me” pointing to her coffee and “this” pointing to his coffee “is my faith. This is how apart we have become. I have move on and I have left it behind. I have no intention to go back to make any claims to it. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you now?”
“Yes!” he looks at the two coffee cups, speechless.
“I do not want to know what’s this money is for. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. It’s okay with me”
“What can I say? Thank you very much. I promise I will return it back to you”
“Whatever Michael…. Whatever… now I really have to go. But I need to know something”
“What is it anything……”
“Which ward was you admitted?” and he told her.