The Other Malay
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She just got back from night duty when her step mother received the call. She looked disturbed, immediately changes into her baju kurong and told her that she has to go back to her other house, didn’t elaborate what reason. The call is from one of the neighbors to inform her that they saw her son Osman sleeping outside on the floor in front of the house. She decided to follow her step mother to find out.

He was still sleeping when they got there. He’s all curled up in a fetal position with his back against the wall. She gave a long sight and wakes him up. He got up to allow the mother to open the gate and the main door, thereafter followed them in. His walk is unsteady, staggering like a drunkard as he makes his way to his room.

They went into the house in silence. Her face was expressionless. Her step daughter too didn’t look back at him, to shocking to even want to think about it. She thought such thing never happen in Singapore particularly along the HDB corridor. Seeing such sight is too depressing what more it’s your own step brother. How humiliating his mother must have felt especially when the neighbors walk pass.

“They are like this lah…….I don’t know what to do with them” lament her step mother while washing the dirty plates all stack up in the wash basin. In the toilet, dirty soiled clothes left on the floor.

“Where’s the other one?” she asked her step mother.

“Still sleeping…… what else”

She saw her father sitting in the living room watching TV as she entered the house. “She didn’t come back with you?” He asked her.

“No…. she said she wanted to do something there and will come back later on” She walked towards him and sat on the sofa opposite him.

“Father will go over later on and bring her back…will you be at home tonight?”

“No. I’m meeting some friends….. We will be going out for dinner”

“Okay... then father will bring her out to have dinner outside. There is something father need to talk to you. What do you think of us going over to your sister place in US?”

“Good dad…. I’ve been thinking about this too. You must bring her out … out from that house... away from her sons…. Then only maybe they will understand what’s it is like not having a mother around to pamper them… you should see the condition of the house and I was so shock when I saw Osman sleeping outside the house like a homeless person. So shameful…. What the neighbors must have been thinking”

“This is not the first time….. They have been quarreling again, and Nasir must have chase Osman out and do not allow him into the house”

“I pity her dad…… she deserve a break from all these. While in the bus she told me about her other son, the one who got release from the rehab center and got caught again for shoplifting. Now he is back in the center… they send him back for shoplifting?”

“They caught him in possession of the same drugs he has been taking. He said it belong to his friend….. If it’s his friend why in his pocket. The police not stupid….. The urine test shows positive… off he goes back in there now longer time”

“What can we do for them…..? It’s so depressing. One is bad enough…. to have two…”

“Why don’t they just detain him and put him back in the rehabilitation center. He is definitely been abusing. Every time they catch him then they let him go. Father doesn’t understand why?”

“Osman is using Subutex. He’s been prescribed Subutex to help him to overcome the craving for heroin but somehow this lead to another problem… He is now been mixing this subutex with other drugs like Dormicum and injecting it into his body. Mak cik been complaining that Osman take a very long time in the toilet. He has been injecting himself in the toilet that is what he has been doing. Subutex and dormicum is not under controlled drugs. So when the police caught him and do the urine test, if there is no trace of drugs in his urine they have no choice but to release him”

Subutex was introduced into the Singapore Market in 2002, to be used as substitute treatment for opiate dependent drug abusers. Subutex reduces the abuser’s craving for heroin and this will help to improve them to function socially especially with regards to securing jobs and personal relationship. But instead of taking the drug as therapy, it leads to abuse by mixing it with other drugs that are easily available through the medical practitioners and injecting it into their body. This is how the ‘needle injection culture’ emerged in Singapore.

Subutex is a classical example of good intention that had yielded opposite and unexpected results.

“Father have spoken to them, for a while they listen, then back again. All because of friends influence. If only we can stop his other friends from contacting them…. Maybe they will be better”

“Alternatively we can send him to a private rehabilitation center. I read there’s one in Johor managed by ex addict, but he must go in there voluntarily. If we can persuade him... maybe there would be hope and help mak cik. She has suffered so much because of them...Good idea dad to bring her out and see sister in US. You can stay there longer this time. Only then maybe these two guys will wake up… they will not realize it until they have lost their mother”
Its 2.30pm, time to go as she hurried herself to the staff locker room to change, thereafter to the bus stop. He will be waiting at the bus stop in front of his camp at 3.30pm. She couldn’t sleep last night, too excited and Saturday suddenly seems to be so far away……

“Do you still play badminton?” he asked her when he called several days ago.

“I stop…”

“Why… you were so good at badminton…just like your father”

“Don’t know why... just decided to stop. Busy with work, study and …….but hey you’re equally good too…. You still play?

“Now and then with my friends, we were very good as a team right? Remember how we trash those boys at the kampong”

“Yes we did” …..

….…. She came running to her father who was about to climb on the ladder to check on the roof. He has planning to paint the top of the roof as it has been leaking especially during heavy rain. “Father! Father!”

Father stopped for a moment and step down from the ladder when he heard his youngest daughter calling for him.“What’s this all about?” he asked.

“You owe me an ice cream”

“I did?”

“Yes I beat those boys …… I beat them all!”

“You what?” father looked shocked. Oh! No not again… not beating the boys again……......... [few days ago as he browse through her school report card…”look at your results.. you’ve done well in your studies……9th student in the class….. very good… improvement from last year….. but eh! look at the conduct section… why the teacher give you a poor in your conduct” “ What have you been doing in school?” “Nothing father. I’ve done nothing” “Then why the teacher gives you a red mark and with a poor in conduct? You’ve been naughty in school?” “Noooooo! It’s not my fault... it’s the boys fault, they are the one” “what did you do?” “They are the one who disturb me first” “And?” “I beat one of them up” “you what?” “I beat them up…. Another one says we girls are sissy” “so?” “I challenge them” “You what?” father almost couldn’t believe what she just told him. “I challenge them to a fight to prove that not all girls are sissy. Not all girls are sissy right father/” “yes! Yes! Not all girls are sissy but still…..” “tok guru say we should practice our silat often.. he also said my move have improve a lot. I must practice more…….so good also for me…. I can practice my silat with the boys. I cannot practice on the girls… they cry too often no fun” “You what? Now sit down and listen to father………..father send you to silat classes for a reason…..it’s for your own good……..so that if anybody try to disturb you, you can defend yourself” “Ya-lah father that is what I am doing. The boys disturb me….. They tease the girls…… so I defend them and myself…… it’s not wrong right” “No! No! That is not what father means” Oh my goodness….. How am I going to reason with this child... laments the father…..]

“I beat them all father……” after a long pause to catch her breath “.in badminton”

“oh Badminton…” father gave a sight of relieve."Phew!”

“Poh poh and me … a team … we trash Abang Razal’s team to a 15-10, 15-9 and 15-7, 15-14 against Guan and his group...

“You both did… very good”

“…and now you must buy for us ice cream…….. One for Me and one for poh poh because we are a team… you promise remember…if I can beat them in badminton you will reward me?”

“Yes father remember…” he took out fifty cents and gave it to her, glanced at both of them fondly as they ran off towards the grocery shop looking so please with themselves, and began to climb the ladder again. What am I to do with this daughter......?
“So how about badminton this Saturday at the nearby community center, I saw there’s one around there…. Or if you don’t mind you can come over to my camp, we have a badminton court here…”

Who cares where….. all she wants is to play badminton………..she have left her badminton racket where it’s been on that morning when she angrily flung it on the floor and it slide under her bed… she have not looked at it ever since…..… last night before she went to bed, look under the bed to her relieve its still there untouched. Took it out, its still with the bag which is covered with dust and inspects it. The frame still good no scratches or chips. She cleaned the frame gently with a damp cloth. The tension still good… she swings the racket several times….. It feels good. It has been such a long time…

……. “Can you do me a favor?” asked one of the A/N “that patient in bed 34. Malay patient just transferred from ICU… I need to update his intake and output chart … and change the IV drip… can you do it for me?”

“Why… what’s wrong… you scared to ask the patient?”

“Not scared of the patient lah….. The visitors…… did you see there….. Whole kampong in that room… scares the hell out of me….. When I walked in…… everybody scrutinize me from head to toe…….”

“Oh…. Okay… I will do it …. “

“Now… you look familiar…… where did you stay?” asked the pakcik, the patient in bed 34 as she was changing the I/V drip and checking the I/V site on his right hand. They’re still intact and functioning. She wanted to walk away as soon as possible but don’t want to appear rude especially when he’s about to ask her something.

“Bedok cik…” she answered, smiling sheepishly. You smile… you give your best smile even though within you, you wants to run away from there as soon as possible. It’s a 10 bedded cubicle, with wall halfway to separate the cubicle into half. 5 beds on each side. There’s no other patient in his cubicle. And like the other AN said, the whole kampong is in there.

“No! Before your family move to bedok….which kampong you come from?”

“Kampong Ladang cik”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaah that’s it. Pak cik stays around there too….which one is your house?”

“We stay near the community center cik”

“Aaaaaaaah the house near the community center…..which mean you are Hussain’s daughter?”

“Yes…..” He looked around and told everybody present…….”she is Hussain’s daughter……… remember him? Hussain….one of our player” Now she really wish she is out of there. Everybody is looking at her.

“Which one is you…….. I know he have three daughter. Whenever he comes for practice he will always bring his youngest daughter”

“I’m the youngest one cik” He stared at her………could see he look surprise

“The youngest one! The one like a boy” you could see others started to smile. “The Tomboy!” she heard several of them whisper amongst themselves. ”Oh man! This is a nightmare!” thinking to herself.

“Aise...man! You have grown, the last time I saw you when you're just this small ……….now look at you... so pretty too! You’re the one who play badminton right?”


“Do you still play badminton?”

“Yes… I’m playing for the hospital for Inter-hospital Badminton tournament”

“Good! Good…….pak cik wants to see you play……can/”

“Can…” He called one of the guys seen standing along the hospital corridor chatting amongst them selves. “Come here….. Thursday... morning can you fetch and bring her over for practice. I want to see her play”

Then he turns to her “Can you wake up at 430am on Thursday… my son here will fetch you…. Give him your address and contact no”.

Father was so happy when she told him about the encounter. “You should join them... do you know who is that pak cik?”

“I’ve heard his name before”

“He is my badminton coach... one of the best Malay badminton players of our time. He has won several championships and he is one of the winners of the Thomas Cup and All England Championship in 1949-1955. His four sons too are badminton players; father heard one of them a Singapore Champion”

“Now I remember… the man in the picture you showed me sometime back…after Badminton Tournament in Kampong… that man is him”

“yes.. that is him all right!”

…three weeks later….

“My Father happy with you, said you’re hard working and not easily to give up. He wants you to be in the team, he wants us to train you up”

She was pleased. She has always passionate about Badminton. Badminton is not like other game. It’s a frantic, fierce and formidable sport. It’s a game of skill, speed and a lot of body language. To be a badminton player is to be an assassin. As you enter the court, your mind automatically began to plan your moves within that limited space, equipped with the racket and shuttle cock, you are to defeat your opponent on the other side of the fence without moving out from your space. So it’s a lot of maneuvering and strategic planning. You keep your opponent on a defensive, always on the look out for their weakness and capitalize on it once you identify them. You take the pleasure as you watch them scramble helpless as you take control of the shuttle cock… and move it around the court to keep your opponent running. You cannot afford to make mistake. Every move each shot of the shuttle has a purpose…you are always on the “readiness stance” after every shot, and always are prepared to move in any direction….. like a sniper you cannot afford to miss any bullets or shot. One shot must hit the target…..

“….but there’s something I wanted to ask you”

“What about”

“I saw you the other day… walking with several guys along Geylang road…… what you're doing there?”

“Geylang road…… when is this” and he told her the date…

“I am not the only girl in the group right……. There are three of us”

“Yes…… but I’m more concern about the guys… who are they?”


“And what are you all doing in Geylang road?”

She tried to recollect……………“we were walking back home, after badminton tournament…it was the inter-hospital tournament….The semi final.”

“You all must walk along that Geylang road”

“What is wrong with the road we’re walking…we’re talking a short cut”

“You do not know the area?”

“No I do not”

“It’s a red light district area”

“Oh!” Ah it explains it. She has been wondering that day, as she walked with the group observed several houses there with either red light or lantern on. She asked one of the guys “why there’s red light on several houses”. The guys did not answer her but keep on saying “just continue to walk will you……. Stop asking such question” she looks puzzled.

“And you’re seen walking with a group of guys…around that area…… what others will think/”

“But we do nothing…. We’re just walking pass not seen coming out from the houses…it’s suppose to be the short cut to the other side of Geylang. Then I took the bus home. What is wrong with it?”

“Are you serious with any of the guys there….. I saw there are 2 Chinese guys... and you were having serious conversation with one of them?”

“The Chinese guy…. He is the male nurse. And we were talking about our job… anything about our job is a serious matter to me….. What’s the problem here?”

“I don’t like seeing you walking with guys from other race especially the Chinese……”


“You know it’s sinful”

“Excuse me!” she looked at him in disbelief

“My father like you and the way you play….. He wants us to guide you….. You’re lucky too because we’re looking for female player…also we want to hand down the skills to our own people… we do not have many…. Most not serious enough………but when he saw you…. He immediately wants us to take you in…he even told us… if you’re really serious…he want to introduce you to the Sidek brothers… you know the Sidek brothers from Malaysia right/”

“Of course……how can you call yourself a badminton enthusiast and not knowing about the Sidek brothers!”

“They conduct training camps, we can recommend you,, they will definitely take you in because of my father recommendation…do you know what that means…but…. ”

“But what?”

“I am concern……”

“Once you agree….. And we take you into our fold….. There are the sacrifices……..:

“What king of sacrifices…”

“Your other activities will be affected……… you will have to come for regular training session…..can you handle it? This means no outings with your friends especially the guys”

“I’m honored…that your father thinks highly of me……… but I have to think about this…..is that all?”

“No……. something else… you must stop going out with other guys… especially those non Malays….


“I have an Arab friend… he is a pious man, can memorize the Quran by hard… just by mentioning a person’s name he can tell the persons past... what they have been doing etc….”

She stared at him…”is that an intimidation?”

“No I am not intimidating you. Just to let you know that I have such friends”

“Sounds more like a threat to me….. I do not respond well with threats… I am not afraid. You know my full name…nah” and she took out a piece of paper and wrote her birthday on it…”this is my birth date. You can give to that Arab friend of yours… ask him about me. I have nothing to hide. I have done nothing to be embarrass about... take it!” she shove the paper at him.

”please don’t get me wrong… just that I am against non Malays converting to be Muslim through marriage…… they are not a serious Muslim…. They only convert so that they can get married……… what kind of a Muslim is that…… we do not need people like them….did you see a lot of them .. only a Muslim in name…… when the marriage break down what happen… they go back to their previous religion……. Take pork, drink alcohol etc… “

She walked back home feeling so empty…..not sure weather it’s anger or sadness she felt that morning. She flung the badminton racket on the floor. it bounce and slip under the bed. She wants to get away from him as far as she could. All she wants to do now is to go to sleep and forget. Forget everything she has just heard……… She has been up almost everyday at 430 am… she wanted to sleep…..

2 weeks later, his elder brother called her….. Asking as to why she didn’t come for the practice…. Their father has been asking about her….

“Is something the matter…….. We like to know why you did not come for training. My brother has been disturbing you? Did he say anything to upset you?”

“No…. I’ve been busy with my work and my studies……maybe after my “A” level exams I will continue…..” was her excuse. She didn’t want to tell him the truth. His other brothers have been nice and supportive towards her.

“Oh! Alright then…. After exams you come back okay…call me and I will make the arrangement and get somebody to fetch you” and that was the last she heard of them….. She just doesn’t want to call back.
The bus was making the turn. From far she could see his figure, the only person standing at the bus stop, in his white short and T-shirt. As she prepare herself to get down, softly said to herself “you’re right Kong Heng Poh… we do make an awesome team”
“Did you receive the pics and the address?”

“Yes I did….so he is in Indonesia. I’ve been hearing rumors ….they saw him in Northern Malaysia near the Thai border.”

“Nope….. Indonesia all along”

“What am I suppose to do with it?”

“What do you think you should do with it?”

“I’m really not sure……I owe this to those people…. Their hard earn money…if it’s true he is the one who took their money… I want him to be brought back to face justice... but it’s my parent especially my mother. If she knows I am the one….….”

“Well then let us do it for you……”


“I have a friend there, I will tip her off and she will do the rest”

“How would I know?”

“Oh! You will know……… you will receive a call from the Ministry. You think they will give him a free ride home?”

She saw him sitting at the same table where they first meet, slowly she make her way towards him. He did not change much. She doesn’t expect him to.

“Nice to see you again and thank you for coming”

She has lost count. Somehow it didn’t matter to her … She needed the space… days, months and years is not important any more. …The space has been created... vacuum within it still exist… she tried to fill it up with all the memories but she couldn’t find them anymore. Suddenly they just vanish……..

“If you look up there in the universe, the spaces are all make up of vacuums. Everything between the Earth, the Sun are all Vacuums. They are not just cold, empty spaces but consist of stuff that is very difficult for us to Quantify. Light, radio waves, gamma rays, X-rays etc could pass through these vacuums but when you try to hold your hand inside that space there would be nothing” the voice of the young nurse she had befriend echoes in her mind.

“Imagine this scenario, if you go right to the bottom of the Ocean, the pressure would be so great that it can crush submarines. If you tried to get out of the submarines, your whole body will be crush under the pressure of the deep water…” Noorie continue to listen to her… trying to understand every word, observing the hand and facial gestures as she tried to explain this whole thing about the Universe and everything that is within it. “Space is completely opposite as there is no atmosphere or pressure. There is no atmosphere or pressure because all the molecules are spread out as much as possible. So if you step into this space you will not be crushed like in the bottom of the Ocean, but instead you will blow up into pieces as your molecules too will try to spread itself up as much as possible to occupy the space……”

“Interesting concept…..”

“….not finish yet……

“Oh… got some. More?”

“…… since there is no atmosphere and pressure in space… and when you’re molecules are being blown up into pieces eventually you too become nothing…… you become like the space… a nothing….”

“So what you’re trying to tell me is that Space is made up of nothing……and that nothing is the vacuum of space” Norrie complete the sentence for her…….

“Hey! You got it” as her smile, looking so please with herself at least somebody understand her language….. Heavy stuff to digest by the mind…… but Noorie is enjoying every minute of it….this young nurse fascinate he.r

“I spoke to your father. He told me you’re in the office to hand over the keys”

“I just did that…….. Thank goodness. It’s all over now. We can leave this behind…and move on”

“That is the reason I call. I need to talk to you. I am really sorry”

“Sorry about?”

“I abandoned you. I was not there when you needed the help…I was not sure…. This whole thing… I don’t know how to react”

“It’s okay Lukman… its okay. I am just happy it’s all over…..”

“How about us…. It’s all over too?”

She didn’t answer him. She was looking at a big plate glass mirror that covered the walls of the cafe where they were sitting. Suddenly she caught her reflection in the mirror. She knew that woman she is seeing in the mirror must be her. She recognises the face and yet she is not sure that is her.

She’s being asked one day “To try to describe yourself….because describing yourself accurately requires knowing yourself and knowing yourself is one of the first and most important steps towards meeting your goals… and to successful in meeting your goals you must be honest.. brutally honest”. She continues to look at her self in the mirror and find it hard to list the words to describe her. What she is seeing is just a face looking back at her. Is the mirror a true representation of what you see in yourself? What happen if the mirror is defective like an Anorexia Nervosa patient who when they look themselves in the mirror, they will see themselves as fat and obese even when the fact is they are skinny and look malnutrition? So does the mirror projects the truth? Or only projects what your mind wants to see?

“My sister spoke to me the other day……. ” he continued

“Ustazah Kamariah? how is she? How is your father?”

“They’re both good……and they send their regards to you. She is worried about you. Been asking me why you’re stopped coming and when I told her about it, she scolded me…….. Insist I should come over and apologize to you”

“Apologize for?”

“Abandoning you……. You were there with us all the time when our father had a bypass in the hospital and at home... but what did I do to you in return… I turn my back when you’re facing the difficult moment… I am so ashamed of myself”

Ah! Ustazah Kamariah, a wonderful soul. How she have enjoyed spending the many hours with her trying to rationalize everything that is Islam…. Many a times she dispute Ustazah Kamariah assertion and wanting to verbalize her disagreement but Noorie choose silence instead. Why try to draw attention and create the unnecessary unhappiness. … So let them think whatever they want…….. The Ustazah’s words have not changed her much... instead it has cemented Noorie reasoning even more…..

“Lukman….. Look at me… please. There is nothing to be ashamed of and there is nothing to apologize at all. Whatever I do for your father …I do it because I want to. …You and your family never asks me”

“And I return you in a very crude way…”

“No you did not……listen... please….I believes when you want to do something for somebody there should not be any conditions attach. I do it not because I am in love with you but what must be done; it’s the right thing to do. I demand nothing from you or your family in return. Please understand this… I am not angry at all”

“My parents……. Wanted to come over and meet your parent…. To discuss about us. I’ve thought this over……” as he stretched out his hand across the table to touch hers. Their fingers entwine tightly.

She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath not withdrawing her hand away from him. She needed the touch. “Forgive me please……..you’re a nice guy Lukman……… I am not sure about me…. You deserve somebody better…… I don’t think so I can fit in at this moment…. I need to have some more space….. To be away for a while…….. Then who knows…..”

“You’re going somewhere?”

“Yes for a short trip. My bag is packed. I’m taking the night bus up to a small fishing village up north… I want to be alone that is all”


“For maybe a week or two... to clear my thoughts and start with my revision… my exams coming up soon….”

“Where will this place be may I know…….I promise I will not go there to disturb you… I just need to know……if you don’t mind…..”

“Pangkor Island, I know a Chinese family and they owned a campsite…..They came to Singapore for treatment several years ago before you came into the picture. Their mother was admitted with diabetic ketoacidosis and I was on leave at that time. My ward sister wants me to clear my leave as I have so many accumulated leave including the Public Holidays... I don’t know what to do and not keen to go traveling. I received a phone call from a friend who’s in private nursing. She is looking for a nurse urgently for this patient; to be by the patient bedside as requested by the patient’s doctor and to do every 30 mins monitoring of the blood sugar. They do not want to depend on the ward nurse as they too are short of staff especially at night. So I agreed to take over the case for only 5 nights as agreed during the critical stage. When the family wants to pay they don’t have enough money”

“If they can’t afford, how come they can seek medical treatment in Singapore?”

“Apparently the mother was admitted to KL Hospital…… her condition deteriorates instead of getting better. When they evacuate her to Singapore she is in comatose….Moreover they come to our public hospital and not the private one. Our government hospital still reasonable to them as compared to the private hospital even though they have to pay non resident rate”


“They have to pay for other unexpected medical expenses and they say they didn’t know about the private nurse rates. I sympathize with them when I saw the bill, so I decide to only take the amount needed to pay for the agency’s commission as I still have to pay the agency. The family was so grateful… told me that I can come to them anytime if I need to get away….. That is how they become friends to me……So even if you try to find for me there…. You will not. These people will keep you or anybody away from me... they will not reveal my whereabouts in the island…”

“Then what are your plans…. after the exams?”

“I rather take one step at time now……… a lot of things may happen… I don’t know….I got an offer from Mount Elizabeth Hospital……another I’ve been thinking about Sydney University for the Hospital Administration course… I just received a letter from the International Red Cross... so many things suddenly coming at the same time.. I really need to consider them all……”

“Can I ask a small favor………”

“Of course….”

“Can you write to me.. I know you will not call ......even if a short note or an empty post card... I need to hear from you ….will you do it for me”

She paused for a while……”I will write... promise!”

“Think it over will you…..about us…. we can start all over again... I will wait for you”

“Yes we can …hopefully.”
“Every time have to me… me… me …there’s so many girls all sitting there watching he don’t want to ask. Me again... not fair” grumbling as she walked and sat on the rock beside the tree where he is...

“What’s wrong” he asked….

“The boys… abang razali… he wants me to run this time …I am not a runner. I never run before… how can I take part…”

“Of course you can run…”

“No I can’t… you know who they want me to race against… that Chinese girl called Cindy… “


“Cindy is our school runner……I am not. I will definitely lose… “

“You have not tried… how you know…I saw you the other time… even in your baju kurong you can run so fast.” How can she not forget that day… when she encounter Guan and the boys at the Chinese grocery shop after her religious class… they tried to catch up with her… but she managed to outrun them and reach the Community center where the Malay boys were playing badminton. They came out when they saw her running towards them... and Guan and the boys immediately turn back.

“why can’t he call other girls… did you see several of them sitting there… what’s the point of just sitting and not doing anything…Why don’t he ask one of them?”

“They are not you… Razali knows you can do it…come on…..try. I know you can. I got an idea…..when you’re running out there... just imagine you’re being chase by Guan and his boys…. You sure will run like lighting….” he started to laugh. She stared at him “not funny! I’m going to punch you in the face right now if you don’t stop laughing at me”

“Okay okay… I will not laugh… give it a try.....better go... they ‘re calling for you”

…….and they all gather at the starting point…. All the Chinese boys… and their lone female runner…..on the left while Razali and his team on the right……. With Selvam as the referee for that morning.

Meantime at the community center... the adults were busy for the preparation….. To welcome their newly elected MP …. Father too seen busy helping around…. he called when he saw the children all gathered at the play ground…

“Children……..no quarreling okay….. We’re expecting a very important visitor…”

“no pak cik… no quarrelling…..” The children shouted back simultaneously…..

“All listen….this is the rules…” Selvam voice could he hear…. He looks strict … “no cheating... anybody caught cheating…will be disqualified from the race….. And the other team automatically be the winner”

“Okay” they all listen to his instructions.

“Now this is how you pass on the stick to the next runner...” he showed them and then draw a line about 3 meters away from the starting point “this is how far you can go…the stick must be handed over the next runner …if you go beyond this line you will be disqualified, understood? I’ve station my boys at strategic point along the route you all have agreed ….so that nobody will try to cheat”

Selvam goes to the same school as Razali. He is a school runner too… a long distance runner and has won several medals coming in first most of the time. He and the other Indians boys [he called my boys] stayed mainly at the rubber plantation. They rarely come to the kampong to play with the Chinese and Malay children with exception for today because all the adults [Malay, Chinese and the Indians] are at the Community Center to make preparation for the special guest coming to visit the kampongs to celebrate his election victory.

“Okay…” they answered him in unison.

“The boys will run first… and the last runner will be the girls….the winner will be the first one to cross the finishing line……. I will be standing at the finishing line and will decide who shall be the winner….. Any question?”

“No.” all shouted…..

“first runner stand at the starting point!” everybody watch... as the two first runners at a readiness stance…there were silence …… waiting for Selvam to give them the signal to start …he raise his hand with a red handkerchief… everybody took a deep breath……suddenly he drop the handkerchief……and off they go….…

…and then it was her turn as she stood at the line and wait… for the other runner to come into view and ready to hand over the stick over to her “oh! Man oh! Man….. How do I get myself into this…..? I can’t run no no I can’t run…” whispering desperately to herself. She saw him standing showing her the thumbs up sign… she understood the signal…….. She could hear his voice shouting at her. “You can do it. Say you can do it…… run run run”

The Chinese boy came into view first….while Rahman seen 5 meters away trying to catch up…she held her right hand back in readiness to receive the stick ….Cindy got the stick first and have move on... and then hers…

They were passing through the first kampong… several younger kids seen standing watching the race and cheering away….She is still about 5 to 7 meters away from cindy. “I can do it… I can do it… I must close the gap... she is good…… she is good…. Yes! Yes! She is good… but you’re better. Say you’re better… the best…. Catch up with her… don’t let her out of your way…. Run run run” the voices running through her head…

They’ve just pass the first kampong and going into the second one…climbing up the hill “oh! Good she is slowing down…you’re a good climber…. Close the gap… good time to get her… you can do it… climb those hills… climb climb climb” as the voice within her continue…

They’re entering the third kampong and the last one… they’re together now. Side by side…she must maintain the pace ...”you’re doing okay…. She is beside you…. You see you can do it… just a little bit more…don’t give up… no matter what happen don’t up give… maintain the pace..... Never give up” the voices again.

Meantime at the Community Center… the special guest has arrived…shaking everybody’s hand…and then he saw the commotion. It got his attention... he stood and watch…….

They’re heading towards the finishing line… she saw them… all shouting and screaming… The Malay children calling out her name and the Chinese Cindy’s name… she tried to push herself forward… but her legs getting tired, she could feel the ache… she can’t. Cindy doing the same too….. “Oh! No you don’t…you will not move ahead of me…” as she continues to push herself forward……..

“Our girl reaches the finishing line first…” shouted Razali accompanied by the Malay boys.

“No! Ours is the one………” shouted Guan and his boys.

Selvam remain indecisive. He called out his boys and were discussing.

“Children … children…..” they stop arguing and turn towards the voice calling them. The special guest walked to towards the children looking so happy “both are the winners…. this is good. All of you run a good race…………I am very happy to see how our children play with each others. Come let’s give these two girls applause… they both run a good race yes……”

“Yes yes!” cheered the adults as they all clapped their hands, looking and nodding at each other.

“Come children…. We must take photograph….all of you must take photograph with me……do we have anything for the children... sweets? Yes….. Good distribute to the children….. They have been good children… I am very please.” And they gather around him as the photographer took began to snap their pictures……The VIP then called one of his assistant…… and whisper something on his ear…… he nodded……..and they exchanged with the people around… they all look delighted…….. Then the assistant make the announcement……

“Today is a special occasion……. En Shaari is so happy that he will be sponsoring a movie next week here at the play ground….”

“Hurray movie…… movie….” The children began jumping around

“What movie?”

And they whisper again………

“Tora tora tora”

“Hurray…. Tora! Tora! Tora!”

“All can have an ice cream ……run along now…” and the children all began to run towards the grocery shop including the young girl and boy everybody nicknamed as The Siamese twins. She stopped and looks back at her father who was seen standing watching the children. She know he is looking at her…she wave at him … he looked so happy and proud… she know he is so proud of her.

She couldn’t help but to smile as she place the picture on the walls in front of her study table. There are several more other pictures. She wanted to put them all up especially a picture of a young girl and boy, with books in their hand walking and looking so happy. These pictures are important to her. They represent the significant moment in her life. They have travel with her because they are like a gem to her, during her period of loneliness these pictures are her constant companions, to remind her and her trigger point to keep her moving.

“There she is” the voice of her room mate as she open the door. Behind her several girls …. “Come girls lets all gather here…the Chinese girls said they will join us later on” They all came into the room.

“Ah! Hello…….” She recognizes most of the girls. Ten of them, all Malays They’re all A/Ns like her all from different hospitals. She have met them during the interview and has worked with them during her postings. Tomorrow will be their first day at school of nursing….. Beginning of their student nurse training. She has decided to stay in the hostel. It’s not that her house is that far from the school. She doesn’t have to stay in if she doesn’t want too but she wants to be on her own. So that she can save the transport money and more time to study; she told her mother so. More important, it’s easier for Poh Poh… he can take the train and they can meet often at China town to go out for dinner and for a walk.

Father knows better than to believe her rational but he let her be. “I know you want to be on your own... being independent. It’s good… but takes care... I am sure you know your limits” advice father. “Yes father…” and she gave him her promises. She doesn’t have too but father have been good to her. He have always complete trust in her. “I promise I will never let you down… you will proud of me” father look at her fondly as he always have “I have often worried about you…what you will turn out to be… but you have grown to be good … I know you will be alright. Study and work hard…..never forget your duty” “I will”

“What are you doing?” Masita, her room mate asked her.

“Unpacking my things…” One of the girls she knows as Samsiah came towards her. She saw the pictures...

“I know this man in the picture…isn’t he not En Shaari Tadin, the MP for Kampong Chai Chee?” she asked

“He is… before that he is also the MP for Kampong Ladang, where I stayed before we all move to Bedok”

“Kampong Ladang formerly from Jalan Ang Teng right…… I know more people from that area got resettle either in Bedok or Chai Chee.”

“Ya... so when we all move… he too eventually becomes the MP for Chai Chee. My father was his greatest supporter…. During election my father will be the busiest person around. My father said they go to school together. So when En Shari goes into Politics, he pulled my father along”

The other girls seen chatting away……..”I don’t know how I’m going to go through the training…. My head already rusty….cannot retain anything….how I am so worried now” Kak Aminah lamenting. Everybody including the Chinese A/N’s especially those who were posted to Alexandra during the PAN training know Kak Aminah. She is the most senior A/N’s and well liked by the trainee; have been working in Alexandra CSSD for a very long time. CSSD is one of the compulsory special postings they all must go through. She will always come to their rescue whenever they make any mistakes. They were excited when they found out she will be joining them for the training.

“You will be okay Kak Minah... we will help you”

“How… somebody told me it’s not easy… so many things to learn. I have forgotten my A&P. Now I have to revise everything all over again……….just imagine after 6 years…”

“Ahhhhhhhhhh! But I have a strategy….wait… I’m going to show you all something” she immediately went to her cubicle and took out three files.

“What are those?”

“From a Staff Nurse; they are like us too formerly A/N; gone through student nursing…she gave this to us… and told us how she did it. You know she is one of the distinctionists… She got distinction for medical and practical nursing, credit for surgical nursing”

“Wow! How did she do it?”

“Her trick…. She said don’t study hard, study smart. Study hard no point… must study smart”


“Listen this is how she did it….. We must form study group…. And everybody must play their part…. Must help each other…”

“They will mix us with the fresh intake students. You know these freshie are smart…… still young. We all rusty in our head… how can we compete with them. They will definitely do better than us”

“No necessarily Kak Minah… you forgot we got what they don’t have”


“Experience…. Most of us her have more than 2 years experience in the wards… we have extra advantage against those freshie... and we must use it “


“Listen…..” as Nonie showed them the study plan she have already put up.

As soon as she told them that she will accept the student nurse offer, she called her “I am happy you decided to stay…. We really need you here… you are our right hand person. Once you go… who else will be with us? If we found a new person, she still need to be train… you are natural in what you do… we can never find another like you” her voice still fresh in her mind. They were having tea at chatterbox. Just the two of them…

“You should not have any problem with the student nursing training…”

“I am not sure…I’m still worried that is all…”

“Don’t be… let me share my experience……. my style: do not study hard, study smart…. Same as do not work hard, work smart. People will no appreciate you when you work hard, but when you work smart, you will be remembered.”

“How so…. To study smart and not hard….”

“This is how you do it…..” she sat and listen to this person she have known for less than a year. She still cannot figure out how she came to know her. It’s all happening so fast. She knows Nitha because they worked at the same hospital. They met at the Advance CPR course organized by the Singapore Medical Association. The course was held at college of medicine building located across SGH. She was having problem trying to understand the ECG reading. Nitha came to her rescue. They spend many hours after duty doing their revision. They pass the course. “Multiple choice questions are the one that will pull down your marks. You answer wrong, they will minus your points, so what you must do is that when you sit for your multiple choice question, you must known at least 80% of the answer. That is how I and other in-service did…. When we look at our multiple choice paper that exam day, we all smile as we already know the answers not only 80% but all of them”

“Papers got leaked?”

“No! No! We never cheat. Remember that….. We never cheat… that is one thing we will never do … but we have worked out the strategy and found the formula as how they set the multiple choice question. Even with essay question, we did not have any difficulty in answering them. You know the in service in my batch… all of us pass with flying colors... we did better then the fresh intake students. So remember this, the A/Ns are not that hopeless”

“You did? How? Strategy... formula?”

Then there’s the knock on the door………..somebody went to open it...

“Hey there people…….” Susan’s voice could be heard….. “Everybody here?”

“Yes… all those staying in are here……”

“Okay girls... lets join them……..” Susan entered followed by 8 more Chinese girls, all A/N/s.

“Now good time to introduce ourselves….. Since we all will be together for the next two years, we should get to know each other……”

“I know you………” one of the Chinese girls points her finger at Nonie…….

“Ya… we’re from the same PAN batch lah”

“No we know you too “another Chinese girl formerly from the Emergency Department “you know you’re famous”

“I am? “

“S/N Lateefah”

“Oh that!”

“Ya… even those in Emergency department know about it”


“So tell us lah….. What really happen that day…?”

“Aiyo…….embarrassing …..nothing to brag about it…”

“Why embarrass…. We are proud of you……. Especially those who got bullied by her. We all don’t like her… we all have worked with her…… she is a nasty person…. She looks down at the A/N”

“She got bad mouth” said another

“Ya… so when we heard about the incident, we’re so happy……. Please tell us what happen?”

“She is waiting for you in her office……. Knock and go in” the secretary instructions. She was sitting on her chair... talking on the phone. As soon as she saw her coming in, she put down.

“Hmmmmm you again. This is your third time am I right?”


“You want to tell me what happen?”

“No! This is not a dream……. I am not dreaming. I cannot be dreaming…… but I am here. I am in a very strange environment” before her three pair of eyes staring back at her….. They are so identical. They wear the same color shirt and shorts. And they are scrutinizing her as they whisper amongst themselves in a language different from her but not alien to her ears. She tried not to look at them….let her eyes roaming about the house. A simple house, and supposedly to be Chinese but not Chinese, No images that you could expect in a Chinese house. She pretend to read the Female Magazine not that she like the magazine as she find many such woman magazine distasteful but its the only one available on the table, but every time she tried to do so… she couldn’t help but to cast a glance at them. They’re still looking at her. They look so cute and yet so scary. She’s tempted “Maybe should give them a shock therapy and interesting to see how they react” thinking to herself.

“Are you sure this is big brother’s girlfriend?” whisper one of them who is sitting in the middle.

“Ya… elder sister told us she is the one” responded the one sitting on the left.

“But she look so Malay” the other sitting on the right.

“She is Malay” said the middle.

“Is this the one he said who like to climb trees”

“Must be”

”how can she be the one…… she is wearing a dress”.

“Shh! be careful…… she knows mandarin”.

She continues to pretend reading but was listening to their conversation. She has been in this situation before. Nobody in her ward knows that she can understand and speak Mandarin, but she can’t read the Mandarin Characters. A skill comes naturally to her. So when she sits in the staff room and the other Chinese staff came in thinking that if they speak mandarin she would not understand….. Little do they know too that besides Mandarin she can understand hokkien, hakka, teochew and several other Chinese dialects. So she let them as they are…. better for them not to know…at least she can listen to their gossips. The voice of her Tok guru came to mind “never show others your skill…. You are to use it accordingly when the situation warrant you to do so, otherwise maintain a low profile. That is an attribute of a Warrior”

”No I don’t think so she does…..”

“Big brother did say… she speak Mandarin”

Amuse, she look up at both of them and smile "your big brother is right, I do speak mandarin” she replied in Mandarin

“Argh!” they all suddenly went quiet and stared at her……

“I told you so…… I told you so… she understand Mandarin” They then stop and continued to stared at her, not moving. Gave her that look… the look most children gave when they’re being caught doing something very naughty.

“Is it true you like to climb tree? Big brother said so” the middle one suddenly breaks the silence.

She laughs again.

“well when I’m your age…… yes I like to climb trees…… did big brother told you he too like to join me sitting on the tree top”

“Ya he did” the one on the left answered.

“Well I also steal rambutans with the boys and do many many other naughty things children do”

“Wow! You still climb trees?”

“No… but I climb mountains and the walls”

“Mountains and walls?”

“Didn’t you big brother told you…. We went to mount ophir and next year we plan to plan to climb Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia”

“Wah!!!” their eyes grew big. They look so excited…. “When big brother comes back I will ask him…. I want to come along”

“How do you climb walls……?”

“There’s a way……. robes and others to help you”

“Will you fall?”

“Not on the ground…. they have safety gadgets to help you when you slip”

“Wah! Sounds like fun. You teach us how to climb wall?” the three of them got up and sat near to her….. One on the other side and one in front of her, they are so adorable…… hair like a typical recruit style. Bet Poh poh’s idea… easier to manage he told her one day as his hair style too never change since the day he went for his National Service.

“Sure……. I love too … this will be fun” trying to imagine these three little ones all over the walls…they will look like three little spiders…

“I’m back……” Swee lee’s voice could be heard at thee door “father is on his way... you’re not in a hurry right?” Immediately the three little ones excuse themselves….”bye…. we will be next door… with our friend Furhan….”

“No... No plans for today as yet”

“Good... so you’ve met the triplets”

“They are so cute… how do you tell the difference… .. So identical. I tried to see any difference… none. Even the size of their nose, their eyes, their mouth and shape of face are the same”

“Easy…. Their voice and their eating habits... One likes only the egg white, another only the yolk and the other don’t like egg at all”

“Amazing... so alike and yet so different”

“Yes! Even their characters are different”

“Swee lee….. We went for our training together……. Even our posting are the same, never cross my mind that you’re a Muslim…..I mean….. You never even talk about it”

“That is how we are…. We like to keep a low profile, especially my father….”

“Why? Chinese people harass your family?”

“Not really……. They don’t disturb us at all…….. I still have Buddhist and Christian aunties, uncles and cousins… and they never bother us…. They accept us. As you can see we still maintain our Chinese traditions as long as it didn’t contradict the faith”

“I know the Chinese people are very strong in their culture identity. They are very proud of it. Even when you convert you still maintain the family name….. I have several Malay friends…. Who have renounced… they are badly treated… cursed and swear at behind their back…..you’re mother Chinese too?”

“My mother Chinese, they met at the Chinese Muslim convert association…..and yes! I’ve heard…… that is sad. My father said we should no stop people from renouncing if they want to... we cannot force them to remain … its wrong. Kills the faith in long run”

…. What can they do to us? They say Apostate should be killed accordingly. Now you see their way of doing things. All they know is to kill… to eliminate. If you cannot handle them, you just kill. So kill us… I am not afraid. And you think we will not fight back? their voice echoed through her mind…….

… what happen if you die… your body. Where are they going to bury you… if you leave, they will not allow your body to be buried in the Muslim cemetery. She laugh... as she has never seen her laugh before. “Why should I bother what happen to my body... when I am dead, I am dead. I am more concern where my soul will go…” I find it ridiculous for people to fight over dead body…you see how superficial one has become… more concern with the physical aspect, when one should try to go beyond …”

“You see Swee Lee, the problem with some Malays as I see it is that if given a choice they would try to erase their cultural identity. They are so ashamed of their past. Why? In Malaysia I am told, they prefer to say that their civilization begins with Islamisation. That is what I am so angry when I heard about it. It is as if to say before the coming of Islam, Malays do not exist. Malays are like monkey climbing and jumping from one tree to another. Malays do not have any culture at all. What are we a sponge……. Only to absorb and then discard, cannot retain anything that we can say is us?”

“I think every culture have its own problems. In Singapore we’re lucky… our government allow us freedom of religious practices, unlike in China. Chinese Muslim still faces a lot of discrimination…”

“I guess so…I don’t know. As I see it, not until the Malay come to term this idea that there’s out there Malays Christians, Malay Hindus and Malay Buddhist etc… and able to stand beside them on the same platform just like the Chinese and Indians did, Malay can never said to have advance. We are stuck at the spiritual level. We are not matured enough. They are the other Malay we choose to ignore, but they are out there. You cannot try to silence the voice of the minority, because the minority will eventually rise to be the majority. Many may hate me for saying this, but this is how I see it. ”

“I agree with you”

“Now back to us here…..I’m still trying to come to terms about Poh Poh… I mean…… all these time….. I never knew he’s your brother….. But why you’re sir name not the same?”

“Big brother?….. He is not my real brother…… I will let my father talk to you about big brother... that is the reason I insist you come along…….. He wants to talk to you about him”

”oh!” Everything seems like a dream but she knows now she is not dreaming. This is real. Poh Poh is the reason she is here today and to how she got into this scenario her mind began to replay the whole scene once again. They were at the hostel… she unpacking her things, when the girls came… the Malay girls then the Chinese girls… introduction time….. I know you… I know her etc….. Then suddenly Swee Lee came to her study table and saw her pictures. She has known Swee Lee since their pupil assistant nurse training time. They’re casual friend... Swee Lee is 3 years younger than her. Then Swee Lee asked “this house….. I know this house…..” she point one of the picture on her study table…”whose house is this?” she asked again.

“My house lah…”

“oh!... you stayed in Kampong Ladang?”


”this house...... there’s a girl staying in this house..... I forgot her name… but she stays here”

“Okay… what about this girl”

“Where is that girl…..? Aw! She has a nickname everybody called…. But I forgot”

“How do you know about this house and this girl?”

“My big brother... he stays in this kampong before….. He always talks about the house beside the community center…. He showed me one day the picture he have, him with the girl in front of the house”

“Oh! What’s your big brother’s name?”

She didn’t tell him when they met that evening in China town. She needs to find out more. All these years she thought Aunty Mary and Uncle Freddie is his only family. He never talks about his parent and she never asks. Suddenly Swee Lee comes into the picture referring to him as big brother. She know he have a male cousin, 5 yrs his junior. Who is Swee Lee to him? She must find out.

“There he is…………”

“Assalamualaikum …..” Greets an elderly man voice who just about to enter the house... The both stood up responded accordingly….
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