The Other Malay
|Main| The Journals ||
|She saw the flat, about to make her way towards it, when suddenly she heard her name being called. She turned…A Chinese woman in her early thirties and a little girl seen holding a small teddy bear on one hand and the other clenching on to the side of the woman’s shirt, standing few meters away from her, both the woman’s’ hand was holding several plastic bags, which looks like they just came back from the market “What are you doing here?” |
“I want to visit a friend; I think he stays somewhere around here. You stay here too?”
“Yes” the woman responded struggling to adjust her plastic bags.
Noorie immediately went to her “Come let me help you with the bags… I don’t know your house is here!”
“You are always not around… always missing in action. How to know …. Even my wedding you never come”
“I’m so sorry…..Where’s your house?” She point at the same flat "Come over!”
“Okay” and she followed her. They stop at the 10th floor then turn left. The corridor was all lined with potted plants neatly arranged against the wall.
“Where is your friend’s house?”
“Around here too, same block but never mind. Not important anymore since I met you and Adeline, I rather spend the time with both of you…”
They reached at the end of the corridor; she took out her key and opens the main gate. It’s a corner house, simple wooden door with a small cross attached in the middle “Come in! Come in! This is the first time you come to our house right?”
“Yes! I am bad. Really bad…… I must make up for all the lost times especially with Adeline” She followed them after the mother and the child went in. The women went to the kitchen to put all the bags on the table, while the child sat on the sofa still holding on to her teddy bear and looking at the stranger who keeps on calling her mother Sis. Noorie sat beside the child and smile gently. “Where have I been all these years…. You have grown to such a pretty little girl. I love those smiles”. The woman came and sat on the sofa across them.
“You were never around. Whenever we come, its either you’ve gone to work or working night duty or gone traveling with your friends….. We came for Hari Raya too we couldn’t get to meet you”
“I realize it now…… but it’s not too late. I will make up for all the lost time I promise… especially with Adline…” and she turn her attention to the child “tell you what….. One of this day we go Ice skating. You know how to Ice skate?” She shakes her head side ways.
“No! When your mommy and aunty still young we use to go to Kallang Ice Skating especially during Saturdays, from morning till evening. Our pants got wet and then dry…then we go back home” The woman smile “Those were the good old days. We had so much fun at the Ice Skating ring”
“Do you want to learn how to Ice Skate?” the little girl smile nodding her head looking so pleased and glancing at her mother occasionally who gave her an approval nod.
“Aunty will teach you not only that but all the stunts aunty know okay?” It was a three room apartment. Simple yet elegant; a wooden dinning table for 8 stood near to the entrance of the kitchen. Black leather sofa chair occupies the living room. The house is just nice for a family of three. Hanging on the wall of the living room just above the T.V set is a framed photograph depicting a filled wine glass, a loaf of bread and two pieces sliced off. At the bottom an invitation is printed “Jesus of Nazareth request the honor of your presence at a dinner to be given in his honor” it’s a beautiful image, Noorie thought to herself. Simple yet meaningful, she is not a religious person yet; such religious images sometimes have a profound effect on her. She let her eyes roam around the living room, and then suddenly something caught her attention. She didn’t see it earlier when she walked in as she was focusing on to the child. It’s a wedding picture, small but pretty hanging on the wall at the corner near the master bedroom. She stood up and went near to inspect the picture again. This time she recognizes not one but both the faces.
“This is your wedding picture?” She looks different than she is now. She have age, marriage and being a mother have taken a toll upon her. Noorie have always adored her. She uses to tell her “when I grow up I want to be like you”.
“Yes. You never met my husband right?”
“No” She looked at the face again. She regrets it now that she never makes the attempt to come to her wedding or to any family reunion. She will always have excuses to go out. She spends more time in the hospital than at home. The hospital has become her second home. She don’t go back immediately after duty. There is always something to do, lectures’ to attend to at SIM or in the hospital, or home visits for wound dressings for private patient who were referred to her by the nursing agency. When she is doing her dressings, it’s like she’s in the battle field. It’s this satisfaction she gets when she sees the wound began to heal. The dirtier the wound, the more excited she gets. It’s an obsession.
She looks forward to The Festival of Arts and will try to attend most of the fringe performance. She would go alone. Lukman will join her occasionally for performance in the theatre. He is not an art lover particular performing arts. They attended a drama festival once, collaboration between all the ASEAN artist and he slept throughout the whole session. Thereafter she promises herself she would never invite him anymore to any performance.
……… She turns again to take a last look at them, mother and daughter still standing at the door looking and waving at her. She wave back. She gently took the piece of paper out from her pocket, glance at it and then look at the house again. The numbers match. This is all she needs to know.
“Tell mother we all will be there for Hari Raya! “
“I will” responded Noorie as she makes her way to the lift.
“So tell me Michael… when you look at the birds what’s the first thing that comes to your mind” They were at the stadium. He was there waiting for her at her usual sitting place when she walked into the stadium. She just completed her 10km morning walk. It was a sunny day. She loves the sunny day and she loves the morning sun. In the middle of the field, they could see a group of birds clustered around.|
“To Fly……. Freedom” he answered “why?”
“Nothing just likes to know that is all. I am curious”
“Why do you think the bird would not fly even when you remove the cage?”
He ponders for a moment, then responded “…..because the bird is too comfortable in the cage. Why need to fly and search for food when you are given everything”
“But isn’t the bird natural instinct is to fly?”
“Not all birds”
“Let’s stick to the birds that can fly or should be flying. It’s their natural instinct to fly….. But why aren’t they?”
“Like I've said, they are too comfortable in the cage….. All provided for. No need to search”
“Or they are being cage for too long that they forgot how to fly. They are being mentally condition to believe that they are not meant to fly. Even if we remove the cage, their mind automatically creates the barriers that prevent them from leaving.”
“So what can we do to make this birds fly….. Should we just push them out with the hope that their natural instinct would take over on its own? Are we being cruel?”
“No! Sometimes you need to be cruel, only then they will learn”
“You think so……what happen if we forcefully push them out and they really couldn’t fly?”
“Then they will fall”
“…….and dies?” She stared at the birds again.
“Why are you asking all these questions” he asked
“I was thinking of a book I just read: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou's. You’ve heard of the book”
“Read it, it’s a good book… another I’m just curious that is all…… needed to know your opinion about this after all it’s not often you encounter a person who shared the same birth day with you……not just the dates but the time as well. We may be 10 years different but still …”
“Yes we did. You think its coincidence?”
“Nope! I believe everything is meant to be…. Not just mere coincident. Why we cross path. As I looked at them again, it all makes sense to me now”
“What makes sense?”
“nothing……….by the way you know I have this crazy idea that day, you know our birthday, I wanted to send a pot of plant to you”
“You send guys plant?”
“Never…that’s why I thought I want to make you as the first. I just have this need to send something to you as a birthday gift but can’t think of anything. A potted plant is the most logical and practical thing to give”
“But you didn’t. You know where I stay?”
“Yes! Last minute I change my mind…..I do not want to create any trouble especially for you”
“Oh!” He stared at her in disbelieve. He looks disturbed. He took out a white envelop and gave it to her. “This is the money I borrowed. I am really thankful to you”
“Everything is okay now?”
“Yes….But there is something I wanted to tell you…” he hesitates for a moment. She could sense his reluctance. She waited……
“I wanted to tell you…. That… that… I am married!”
“Sorry? What do you mean “I know!?” his voice stammered.
She stood up “Look I’ve got to go”
“Wait……. Please wait…..You know…. I am married?”
|“I suspect from the beginning…… and I confirm it by going over to your place to check it out myself. I wanted to make sure.”|
“Oh!” he looked surprise”but how do you know where I stay?”
It’s easy…… remember I asked you which ward you’re admitted and the date you’re admitted. Even if you did not give the correct dates, I can easily find out through your name and the ward”
“It’s my habit….. I need to know who am I dealing with that is all”
“So all those times, as we spoke on the phone and all those things I said to you….. You knew all along that I am married”
“All those lovely dovy remarks… over the phone……. yes!”
“I am serious when I told you that I am beginning to fall in love with you…. “
“….. and the song you mention several times; What is the title of the song “its sad to belong to somebody else when the right one came along” They’re meant for me?”
“Yes… dedicated to you”
“I am touch but you see Michael, I am sorry to say this, the feelings are not mutual. Between us there is no love. Causal friendship yes….. Love is far out. That is why I did not take it seriously. I lead you on because I wanted to see how far you can go. Since you want to play charade I just play along, that is all”
“There’s somebody else?”
“There is……but we decided to take a break for a while because I needed the space”
“He is a good man….. He comes from a good family and the whole family like me. They’re very religious, a very devoted Muslim family. You see the picture now”
“Ah! I understand it now!”
“I’ve been asking myself these questions: Do I want to live with them pretending to be somebody I am not. Am I willing to go through it? I see my self being suffocated, gradually strangled if I choose to be with him and his family”
“Does he know?”
“Nope…. I don’t think so they would understand at all. Their way of thinking is already fixed. You do not question. To even say you do not believe anymore is unthinkable. This whole thing about religion is too much for me. They have so much fear… fear of living and fear of death… why? They do everything out of fear. I do not understand them at all. I’m trying to find a way how to be discreet about it. I do not want to hurt him. So before this love turn into hate, I better move away for a while. Who knows…..? Things might change. I might change, I don’t know.”
“Where are you going?”
“I have not decided yet….. I need to complete my studies at SIM then sort my family matters. Maybe another year or so, then I’m off and out to get some breathing space. I’ve been thinking of joining the International Red Cross or the United Nation Volunteer Medical Team if they do have them. I just want to go out somewhere, where I can put my nursing skill to challenge. You know do something different. I am tired of this structured life... this work condition. I want to be out there in the “wilderness” where life is free, where I can really be who I am”
“Oh! You are venturing into dangerous ground. Bullets and missiles cannot recognize the difference between a friend and a foe. You may get hurt or even killed.”
“That is the beauty of it, can’t you see. If I’m meant to die, I will die. I have no worries. You know Michael; I take pride in my work. I know I am good at what I do and I know other staff at my work place knows this too. I can handle the most difficult patient or the most horrible situation. This bloody ego of mine is just growing bigger each day like one big balloon ….until one day I signed up for the Rainbow club program”
“It’s a residential medically-supervised adventure camp for chronically ill children. I thought okay lets try something new.. so I sign up for their camp to be in the medical team. I’m being assigned to a special child… confined to the trolley and attached to the oxygen. She look so fragile… and all she wants as her last wish is to be in the camp with all the other children… like her”
“When I first saw her, my heart almost stop. How do you try to full fill this little fragile girl’s wish…. One mistake … she will stop breathing. Its was a three day camp, and all along her mother drive her around in the car, but this girl wanted to be in the bus with all the other children. Just imagine with all the oxygen and the others supporting machine, all my nursing years, have not prepared me for this encounter… Somehow I managed to find a way of how to put her in the bus together with all the other children…. You could see her face … as they sing along in the bus. She was so happy… to be part of the group. Then on the last day, the closing ceremony, we have the group presentation. Each group have to come up with an item. All the children are to be part of the team. We managed to adjust our presentation to fit her in. You could just see her face glow with delight. At the end of the ceremony, she places her little hand on my cheek and say “thank you….. I have so much fun… I will cherish this day”
“What ever walls I’ve created around me crumbled Michael…to pieces…like a pack of cards. I just sat on the floor and cried”
He was silence.
“In my quest to fulfill her last wish, she has made me to push myself beyond the boundaries I would not dare go…I don’t know how to explain this to you…”
“I understand what you mean”
“I walked home that night still in tears. After the camp rainbow experience, everything was never the same again……”
She remembered that night at the closing ceremony of Camp Rainbow and the fragile little girl. Noorie were invited to her birthday party 2 months after the camp. Which turn out to be her last birthday party… then 3 months later she received a call from the mother while at work, the little girl have passed away in her sleep. “the day before she said she dream an angel came into her dream and ask her to walk………. And she did. She got up from her wheelchair and followed the angel” the mother told her over the phone. The mother invited Noorie for the wake, but she didn’t go. Time to let go….. She must move on.
“I want to tell you Noorie about my marriage………it’s not what you think. I am having problem” He suddenly break the silence.
“Stop….there! Michael. Don’t... please don’t”
“Why? I want you to know…..I am sincere when I told you I am beginning to fall for you. I have never met anyone like you. Please believe me”
“No I do not want to know………..can I ask you something…….about your wife”
“Her name is Helen right?”
“You knew her name too?”
“You have a 5 yrs old girl right?”
“You borrowed the money to pay for your daughter medical bill is that true? She was admitted to the hospital and needed to go for an emergency operation. You were desperate for cash”
“Let get back to your wife ………she grew up in a kampong right” and she told him the name of the kampong.
“Yes” He was staring at her in disbelieves.
“She has 4 brothers, and she is the only girl in the family?”
“Her mother died when they are still very young right? of lung cancer”
“Her father work as a taxi driver”
“Yes... how do you know all this?”
“The two older brother taken care by their aunty, while your wife and her two younger brothers looked after by somebody else in the kampong”
“The neighbor, a Malay family took care of your wife and her two younger brothers when their father goes out to drive taxi”
“Who do you think is that neighbor?”
“My family……. My parent is the one who took the children in and raise them as their own. Your wife up till today still calls my mother…. Mother”
He was speechless and have not move an inch as she walked out of the stadium. She didn’t look back.
|………… 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…”
As soon as she entered the house, rush into her room and looked out of the window. She saw him walking and stood several meters away from the main bus stop. She took her binocular and looked at him. He was looking up at her too…….how does he know she is looking at him via the binocular! She took out the torch light and flashes it several times towards him…… she saw him smiling as he looked up. He responded and waved back at her…He remembered the signal! ……….
…..”Ssh! keep quiet will you… you’re asking too much question. Those guys will hear us”
“Who are we waiting for at this time of the night…? And why are you holding the torch light and the binocular?”
“To signal Abang Razali….when the boys approaching….the Chinese drama serial starts at 8.00pm. Guan and his boys will be passing here very soon to the community center. The other Chinese boys already there dominating the TV room refusing to allow us to watch combat”
“So what you’re up to?”
“You see the other end… Abang Razali and the boys waiting near the big tree” from where they’re, he could see the Malay boys doing something……. He saw white cloth hanging on the tree branch…”
“are those guys trying to scare Guan and his boys?”
“Yesterday on our way from school, you know the usually route we always take, one of the Chinese boys purposely park a German Shepard… blocking the route. Scares us all……. We have to take a long way... by the time we got home, it’s already late. They have got to the center before us……so its payback time.”
“What you all doing?”
She could hear their foot steps as they climb the stair case…. He is with another person... and they’re conversing in Hokkien. It’s exactly 10 am… just as she expected. He looked around the office…. inspecting the rooms and then the kitchen and the toilet.|
“Whole office repainted?” he asked her in Hokkien.
“Yes.” she answered him back in Hokkien too.
“You pay somebody do it for you?”
“No I do it myself, are they okay?”
His looked surprise…The land lord nodded his head.
“Good… all very good….” She gave him the key….
|“So you’re staying or leaving?” N asked. We all looked at Nonie who was busy trying to open the Buah Sentul. |
“She is staying………that is for sure. Did you all see… something different about her?”
“Wait….. Let me take a look at her again…….aha! She is wearing a dress…….not just any dress. Cotton floral dress from East India Company… wow she even put a light makeup on... lipstick… Something is happening?”
“Our friend here is in love!!! ....”
“Wah!” we all shout in unison including Noorie.
“... with an officer and a gentleman!”
“Look at her, so radiant and happy!”
“……..and pretty too”
“Ya lah…… no wonder” they were all teasing her. She was still busy with the Buah sentul, pretending not to hear us.
“So you’ve accepted the student nurse offer eh?”
She nodded…… you could see she is blushing, before she was so adamant of wanting to leave for UK then suddenly she told me she will be staying…. New development she said. I didn’t ask much but eventually she told me about it. She is reunited with her twin…I just laugh. I know all about this “twin” she talks about. She even showed me his photograph taken when they were young at the old Kampong after badminton game. I love to hear her stories especially about her kampong days…..
“……No! I am not going to partner with him… he is a horrible player. Always miss the shuttle cock where got fun… and I am the one who have to do all the hard work”
“But you have to... we have no other girl player… you are the only one we have. You look the Chinese team already got their team... now if we do not come up with a mixed team we will loose this time round… you don’t want right our team to lose?”
“But I don’t want this guy as my partner… why can’t poh poh be my partner... what is wrong with him?”
“He is a Chinese…… this tournament is about the Malay vs. the Chinese team. You’re Malay so you come to our team. Poh poh is a Chinese…. So he goes to the Chinese team…”
“I don’t like this arrangement……… I’m not going to play unless poh poh is my partner...” The Malay boys all looked at her disturbed with her demands. They tried so hard to reason out with her without avail.
“What’s the problem here?” Pak Harun who has been observing the children from his office came over.
“She pak cik…. She refuses to partner with Atan… instead she say she wants poh poh... this tournament is between the Chinese vs the Malay…… how like that”
Pak Harun look amused and smile at the girl. He knows this particular girl. Everybody in the Kampong knows this girl. She always has her ways and most often get it. “I’ve got an idea…….. Let her and poh poh be the team and you all try to challenge them. Who ever able to beat them wins the tournament”.......They all agreed
I was so happy for her. The breakup was difficult and she have never been the same ever since. The cheerful and mischievous girl we all once know suddenly becomes quiet and detach, but whenever we call her she will always be there.
I saw the change when she came in earlier. She is always the first one to come for any gathering. She has this meticulous irritating habit of being on time all the time and one of those who don’t talk much. She is an observer and listener, but when she’s in the mood to talk, her favorite topic will be about the universe, comets and all that is up above.
“..But it’s just an eclipse….what so fascinating about it?” I teased her one day when she came in wanting to talk of nothing else but about the latest solar eclipse. It drives us nuts. The others would just stare and listen.
You could see her eyes almost pop out when such question being asked. She would immediately come to the defense… “All eclipse especially total solar eclipses are an impressive event. At a spiritual level it is believe everything will magnified many times during an eclipse because it is the time when day and night becomes one…..when there is neither day or night. That is how significant eclipses are too many cultures…”
“… This reminds of a beautiful movie called lady hawk…. Did you all watch it…..? Such a sad movie…. I cried when I watch it…….” N suddenly cut to our delight. Gosh! If we allow her to continue it will becomes another astrological seminar…
“Story about two lovers cursed to always be together but separated. Daylight she becomes the hawk and at night he is the wolf. They are only able to see each other physically at specific moment when it’s neither night nor day …Just before the sun set… and before sun rise….”
“One heart wrenching scene is when dawn is about to break, as they lie side by side, and when the daylight begins to spill over them, he begins his transformation into a man and for a brief moment they look upon each other as man and woman, as they reach out to each other and their hands almost touch, her transformation into a hawk completes. His agonized scream echoes through the empty valley as he watches her fly away…….. “
There were silences. Nonie too suddenly forgot all about her universe, her comet and everything else that is up there to focus her attention to the story.
“The only way for them to break the curse is during the eclipse when it’s neither day or night, and when the evil bishop sees them as man and woman”
“Good we’re happy you’ve decide to stay… why goes so far when you can get the same here?” I asked her.
“Yah lah….there’s so much work to be done here” N continues “we need you here”
“There’s something …I’m not sure …..Strange” she remarked.
“Strange? What’s bothering you?”
“What about the interview” She took out a piece of paper and show to us
“Take a look at this paper……..what did you see?”
“Dates…names, time and number 3’s and one 4”
“These are names of those called for interview on that day together with me………”
“You see all 3 and only one 4”
“Yes…. What’s the issue?”
“The 4 is me……. Why others 3 and me 4. Where the additional one comes from?”
“We do not understand….. What are 3 and what are 4?”
“The numbers indicate the interviewer……. On that day the rest being interviewed by 3 people…….. And I am the only one with the 4... Where the additional one come from?”
“You’re the last one to be interviewed?”
“No…. I’m in the middle……. These several before me and several more after me….. So this additional person slips in right before I came in why?”
“How did you know about this?”
“Never cross my mind until one day, a week after the interview I met up with several A/N’s at the cafeteria and our conversation as usual about the interview and the interviewee, only then I realize… about the number. I thought I might have made a mistake… so I began to draw a list and have been calling those girls interviewed on the same say as me….”
“The same… they all interviewed by three same people……… and not 4. So where the 4th come from?
“I’ve extended the list…….. Those interviewed the day before and the day after me……… gives me the same pattern….”
“Okay…but you got in right? They select you…. What’s the issue?”
“It is an issue….. Me why 4 and others only 3? Who is that lady... and why is she there”
“Chinese? Indian? Malay or others?”
“Well she looks Malay…she spoke Malay to me towards the end ……perfect Malay….she must be working in there somewhere…… otherwise how she can go in and out like that”
“How does she look like?” and she describe this mysterious Malay lady to us.
N looked at me…..immediately responded to distract the others “now the most important is you’re chosen. You’re going to stay……… and we here are all very happy…This is a good gathering……today we welcome our new friend…. Noorie and our good friend here…… who have decided to stay…….Lets us drink….. A toast…Wait…” she suddenly rush back into the kitchen.
“Non alcohol “She opens it up and pours in each glass
“Us….and to the silk road….. Here we come.”
“TO US! And to The Silk Road” They all stood up and raise their glass in the air.
“This is so much fun……….” Noorie said as she gently sips her drink.
“My dearest friend……. This is just the beginning” as N place her hand around Noorie’s shoulder.