Friday, January 27, 2006

Distant Relatives.

Aunt Su is related to me by way of her marriage with Pakcik Syed who was Grandma's distant relative by way of complicated connections that I used to say to Grandma, nevermind, when she tried to explain the art and science of it all. As the only living relative Aunt Su to me is as good an aunt as the real thing so I had better listen carefully when she wandered unconsciously into the subject of distant relatives in the middle of a conversationt about something totally unrelated like whether the elfresco steamboat restaurant downstairs is making money. They must be making money.

According to Aunt Su she believes there is a living relative of hers residing somewhere in Southern Thailand.

You have not been watching the news channel all that much, haven't you? Southern Thailand?
What's wrong with Southern Thailand, that's my kampong.
Okay, nevermind about Southern Thailand for now but tell me about this relative of yours.

Good for me because she can't remember much except for, masa kecik-kecik dulu orang panggil dia Wa. I consider this information the best news I have received the last couple of days since this simply means I have nothing much to go on as a way of getting into the case, going on a trip like Indiana Jones looking for something from the ancient world, a girl named Wa. It was late so I said, okay I'll se what I can do to find out more.

(oh oh)
When was the last time you saw her?
Tak tau, maksu tak ingat.
Masa tu sapa perdana menteri?
Yang mati.
We've got two dead prime ministers, which one?
Good, she can't remember. (Or maybe she chose not to remember because she could see right through I was not that all fired up to help her on this one.)

It has something to do with my attitude towards relatives in general. When I was young, we seldom had relatives coming to our house for a visit. Not even on Hari Raya. Quite frankly I didn't like it all that much when relatives from upriver came down for a visit to talk to Grandma about people I had never met, or who had been long dead. And Aunt, being a widow tried hard not to meet up with relatives who'd tease her about her marital status, or alluding that a man was interested to take her as a missus. One time a relative was so bold to came to our house, under the pretext of a casual visit, bringing along with them a suitor for Aunt. It got Aunt all fuming mad that I thought the world was coming to an end that I had to delay asking money from her for a toy until much later in the evening when she was back to being herself, always giving me money whenever I wanted it no matter how much.

All this business about relatives is making me all uneasy because I don't have someone I know I can call paklang, or maklang, or maklong or paklong or whatever. This concept is alien to me, and I am very comfortable with it that I don't plan on digging up people who may be connected to Grandma or Aunt just so I can figure out the ties. I don't need relatives. For crying out loud, I don't even know who my dad or mom, other than dad was in the navy and mom ran away from home and never came back. Give me a good reason why in the world I should be bothered with distant relatives. Of course I can never tell Aunt Su about this. It will only hurt her. I know what it feels like to have the only person in the world you can call maksu and mean it. You see, she's the only distant relative I got and this is one too many as it is.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I Miss My Real Aunt.

I grew up watching Aunt putting on elegant clothes, smelling all so nice with perfume. Her eyes made all the more wider by the way she applied the eye-liner. Her collection of batik sarung which she insisted must be only the best from the batik capitals in Indonesia. She made annual trips to Penang to see if I was doing alright, and in between, dragged me on a day-long batik sarung hunt weaving ourselves like eels in the bazaar that started right next to Pasar Chowrasta on Penang Road and ended on the perimeter of Campbell Street. For a form one student, this trip was counter-productive to my reputation as a teenager with adult-size problems. I used to hate these trips but I wouldn't want to leave her alone with a handbag full of cash. You'd hate this trip too if you went with her. She'd make the seller bring out his entire stock in the store. Having done this she'd drive a hard bargain that you could see the seller's face all black and twisted. In the end she'd have her way because she'd buy as if there's no tomorrow, which pleased the seller a great deal.

She was in her late forties then. I am inclined to put her picture in this blog so you can see for yourself what a beautiful lady she was at that age. If you suddenly appeared at the house to see her, she'd make sure you wait until she appeared in a fresh set of clothes, hair neatly combed into a perfect tight. I love the time when we got back from shopping for batik sarung, opening the packets to smell the fresh natural dye that you won't get to smell anymore, not with pre-prints batik using chemical dye.

Back in Dungun Aunt would spread out four or five pieces of batik sarung that she considered exceptionally pretty and started to work out her own design by copying and combining the elements such as pareng with Japanese pineapple elements, sprinkling flowers in baskets here and there, or grapes. I later learnt during one of the trips with her to Pekalongan that these are the signature elements of Eliza Van Zuylen, a Dutch woman who paved a new direction in batik sarung design that has stayed to this day. Sometimes I helped Aunt draw out the design, free-hand. I became quite good at it that she said I should get into this business big time, but that was before a group of young artists started the movement to revive batik which ended Malaysian batik losing its direction and in the end having no identity that you can connect with either Malaysia or batik or anything.

This was during the 80s. Cousin was in the university. Grandma had a few years to live, and I was at a stage when I didn't know any better about anything except I wanted to leave Dungun, to be as far away from the town because I didn't want anything to do with Terengganu. My restlessness made Aunt uneasy that in the end she gave in to give me the money to pay for the passage to Sydney. It was the trip that I shouldn't have made because I believe Aunt was full of regrets for giving in to my nagging. Especially when she came to know that I had fallen in love with Catherine.

Hantu Kuali.

Of all the ghosts, hantu kuali is the least scary because there are so many of them, as many as there are kuali in the world, and they don't have a leader. You have one in your house, lurking in the kitchen attaching itself to your kuali. There are only two types of hantu kuali, regular and non-stick.

You will know right away that they are in your house when your fish doesn't fry right, or your sunny side up turns up wrong with the yolk all messy all over the skillet when you try to scoop it into your plate. It doesn't make you mad all that much but it irritates you a little to see your egg all messed up when the warranty card says your skillet is 100% non-stick. Nothing to worry about. It's hantu kuali trying to get you into a game. It's pretty harmless. It won't cause too much trouble to you in broad daylight, or in the morning when it is all bright and sunny. But it is an entirely different story if you wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry all a sudden thinking to yourself, maybe I go down the kitchen to fry an egg, or a frankfurter, or a meat patty. I say go down the kitchen because I presume you live in a double storey house in a nice suburb somewhere in the city, or some other middle-class neighborhoods in the country.

At night when it is all quiet hantu kuali can be quite naughty. And bad. In the kitchen you turn on the light and there it is, the kuali hanging from a hook waiting for you to take its handle. You'd better be nice not to hold the handle too hard because they are sleeping and they don't like it when you wake them up holding them by the ear, or the handle of the skillet. It can get them into a foul mood. Especially at night when you are the only person in the kitchen, with hantu kuali. You place the kuali on the range. Hard. That's another no no but you just did that because you find it hard to adjust the knock when you are half awake. Actually you have just knocked its bottom against a hard cold range. As if that isn't enough, you turn on the fire and leave your skillet hot before you put in the oil. At this stage you are really pushing your luck with this hantu kuali eventhough I've said ealier that generally, hantu kuali is harmless. But remember, this is at night and you are alone in the kitchen.

(Camera pans on the blue-flame of the rage. A close-up shot of the side of the skillet. A faint sound of oil heating up. The sound of an egg being cracked open, followed by the deep, baritone sound of a human voice humming a mantra that sounds like Thai.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Nothing Personal, It's Business.

The managing director of a publishing company said I shouldn't be wasting my time writing in English.

Why don't you try write romance stories in Malay because the market for this segment is huge, growing steadily making it good for us to stay in business. Just look at the titles we've got so far, these are very popular among young Malay girls which is our primary market. I can see that you've got something, and you can do it if you want to. Go ahead try it, write in Malay and we'll see if it is any good for us to publish. We can talk terms later. Okay? And one more thing, if you think you can't pull it off, just give it a shot writing ghost stories. We've got a strong market for that too. Okay?

I liked him, not because he bought me lunch after that but because he knows what he's talking about, and he knows his trade well. He also has a firm grip on what the market wants, and he responds to that fast enough to make good money. In other word, he's a true businessman.

Over lunch he said I should not entertain the thought of making it as a writer of some great works in English. There's no market for this kind of literary product here in Malaysia because let's face it, Malaysians won't buy something written in English by Malaysians, not even if you are Dr Mahathir. This segment of the market comprises English educated, urban, metropolitan individuals who feed on a regular diet of works by international, caucasian writers. It makes them feel separated from the mainstream Malays from Keramat, or Selayang. It makes them feel good. So take my advice, write me something in Malay and stick to our winning formula, make sure the victims are always women. I don't think I understand that, sir. It's simple. Say you write about an illicit love affair. You must work the ending so that the reader can hate the woman, not the man, and make sure the woman suffers like the grave won't take her body in when the villagers try to bury her. You see this kind of stories make it easy for our artist to work up the page to entice the readers to buy the books. They will draw up nice erotic pictures of the woman in bed or something like that. Something like that. Got it?

I went to a corner shop to look for this type of books. A guy manning the store looked me over when I had something like ten titles on the counter while he punched the number on the cash-register. Some of the cover page on these books are good enough as XXX pornos. That got me thinking, I can't take these books home. What if Aunt Su found out. Neither can I keep these in the car because she's bound to find out about it. I can't go to a place like a park and read them, and throw them in the trash can when I am done with it. A man like me reading a book like that in a park? I can't read them in the car either, with the engine running, air-cond turned up full blast. A man like me reading a book like that in a car with the engine running? Where do you go to read this type of book? In the end I decided to be discreet about it like reading it in my room and throw them later. It ain't easy trying to be a writer doing a research reading books with erotic cover page. I hope all this efforts will bring in money so we can live in the city like everyone else.

I told Aunt Su about what I plan to do, writing ghost stories. You are not serious, are you? Of course I am serious. It maybe crazy but we need the money. And I shall start the series with 'Hantu Kuali,' or how about 'Ranjang Nafsu.'

(Close your eyes and jump, mate. Think of the money.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Castle In The Air.

It is a great aparment if you love clouds, winds, and hills. As a drying area for your laundry, it might as well be compared with a deck of an ocean-liner at sea. We are lucky to occupy a unit with a small L-shape balcony in the back that we can make full use of as the drying area for the kitchen rags, towels, and other stuff that you don't want to put into a dryer together with your clothes unless you want them to smell like cooking oil. So far we haven't received any complaints from the management for hanging the rags and the towels, an act completely domestic in nature that I believe can cause a drop in the sale value of the place.

This is my first experience living in a high-rise apartment built on a high ground. Being this high above ground, and close to the hills, we get the first rain before the clouds move further down a track of flat land which is a valley where international names in retail business have an outlet each. Sometimes when strong wind blows down from up the hills, curving itself loosely along the slopes, you can feel the tiny droplets of mist flurrying into the living room, curtain ends rise horizontal into a wild flap. Aunt Su and I love this. It makes us feel so high above the ground as if our apartment is a castle in the air, alone by itself, kept afloat by the winds from up above the hills. One time we saw the rain clouds black as night and huge as a stadium, creeping up from behind the hills to settle briefly on a ledge of a crest before it slid into a heavy rain which passed over us to head towards the valley. It flushed rain for almost an hour, blocking roadways, filling up monsoon drains to overflow with water gushing in a mad fury that could knock down a bulldozer.

I've got the floors covered with rugs so Aunt Su can walk about safe. On the first night the floors were cold that she had to put on a pair of socks, the kind you wear on a cold winter night in Dawson City or Anchorage. They kept her feet warm but it made walking a hazard that I asked her to stay on a couch. All she had to do was call me to get anything she needed but this arrangement made her feel uncomfortable because she said I shouldn't be a servant to her every wish.

Hardly a week in this spanking new apartment already Aunt Su is feeling restless with nothing much to do around the house. I know how it feels because I feel the same way too being so used to fixing things, or mending a broken bicycle for a neighbour's son, or coiling ropes and arranging them according to size and color. There isn't much to do in this house except prepare breakfast and laundry, which is not much since there's only two of us and we rarely put on more than two sets of clothes on a nice day like today with the sun feeling all so mild and gentle. Sometimes me and Aunt Su try to beat each other in doing the laundry. You get the idea how bored we are.

I've surfed the net for activities that can keep an elderly mentally active. There's a whole range of things like line dancing, taichi, or maybe origami. These are definitely not for me. I mean these aren't exactly a macho thing to do. Aunt Su has shown a keen interest in learning the Iqra'. I have checked. There's a class open to public at Mesjid Negara but Aunt Su said she is rather shy to attend being so old and not knowing anything about the Qur'an. So I said, I will teach you up to Iqra' 4 and we'll see how it goes. I think I can handle up to Iqra' 6 but I need to brush up on my Tajwid first before I can lead Aunt Su all the way to Muqaddam. It's our biggest project. It might not have led to this had we stayed in Dungun to watch the waves all day.

Pok Awang

A hand-drill, which I later found out is called a ratchet brace, is a lot of fun to play with especially when Pok Awang was on his afternoon break to perform solat Zuhr.

Aunt had hired him to build us a veranda, an extension to the house that would improve the general feature of our boring house which looked a lot like a birdhouse with windows here and there for you to jump out from if you needed to make a fast escape from Aunt when she suddenly had the idea to send you to Kedai Pok Mat Keling for something embarassing that a ten year old boy like me to carry like lada kering, or belacan.

It was the beginning of May when the sun was exceptionally prickly with the kind of heat that could dry up the skin on your back working under a condition like Pok Awang, bare back with only a bundle of cloth on top of his head which he tied in a knot you and me will never figure out the physics of it till the day we die.

He is smoking rokok daun one after another, not speaking a word, not even when you ask him when will he start using the drill since it has been lying in his wooden tool-box untouched since the day he started work on the verandah which is about two days ago. All he's been doing is sawing two by six, and a lot of two by two, measuring, and marking the woods, and stacking them in a corner. He hasn't knocked a single nail so the whole construction process goes on rather quietly which is not my idea of building something because I want the whole village to know that we've got a project going on and everyone in the village has got to know about this. They have to know that Aunt has got money to build a bigger house, and this house when it's done, will be the biggest in the village, not to mention a trendy veranda where I can run around in it like a dragon-fly that has got one of its hindlegs tied to a thread so you can watch it buzzes about the air trying to break free.

On the fourth day, Pok Awang took out the drill. I saw him worked the chuck to attach the bits. He turned to give me his back. I ran half moon around to watch him from the front. The bits went through the wood as he cranked the handle, applying just enough pressure so the grain came out like curly fries. I waited what must have seemed like a hundred years before Zuhr came and I knew he had to take a break, which he did on the dot. I pretended to walk into the house, as if I didn't care if he gave me the drill to poke as many holes as I wanted. I sneaked back in to have a go at the drill. First the bits turned the wrong way, which I got it right by turning it clockwise. It went through the wood sideways and got stuck in there quite a bit. I pushed and turned the handle left, right, left again, and pulled it out with every energy I got. The bits got bent and the chuck sounded funny. I went into the house, found a spot in the wall and started drilling. It went through neat on a thin piece of wood. I got one hole in the wall. And then another until Aunt caught me.

That day Aunt had to pay Pok Awang extra to replace the timber on the wall so we could sleep at night since the holes would give anyone in the village to have a peek right into my room.

Pok Awang never spoke to me. That didn't matter because he was deaf as a dead fish.

We Can Work It Out.

There's an official opening ceremony going on. Samy Velu is here to officiate the opening of the flyover leading to Damansara Perdana from places as far back as Bangkok and Shanghai, or Bombay. We've got the best view watching the event from the balcony as if it is a big deal. Well, maybe it is after what Aunt Su and I went through this morning.

She had been pestering me to allow her to prepare breakfast for both of us that I had to give in eventhough I know very well that I wouldn't be too happy about it because I just knew she would turn the whole kitchen into a disaster area probably worse than Pakistan and Bam put together.

I am in the living room watching her work in the kitchen, pretending that all this isn't happening which is difficult with the noises and the clanking of the cast-iron skillet on the range, and almost 2 tons of utensils in the sink unwashed. For a simple breakfast of mee hoon siam with tauchu, she has so far used four nice kitchen rags, one each for every drop of oil. I am going to have to clean up after her, which is fine but she will have to re-learn the skill of working in a kitchen like ours which is a compact unit built very much like that of a kitchen you see on a boat. A kitchen like this requires a set of work habit so you don't leave behind a messy trail of grime each time you prepare something as simple as sunny-side up, or ikan goreng. I remember how she kept her kitchen in the house in Penang where I used to stay with her and Pakcik Syed, and how I remember hating every little thing about her kitchen that I didn't want to have anything to do with anything that came out of it that Aunt had to provide me with extra money so I could have my meal outside. Maybe this is my punishment for the treatment I gave her. Maybe this is her payback time and I am going to have to endure this. If she is indeed my punishment then I must say that I should be thankful because this is indeed a mild one that has found its way to my kitchen.

I must say the meehoon siam tasted quite good that I don't have a heart to tell her about what a mess she has left behind in the kitchen. I wanted to clean everything first so we could have our breakfast in peace but she insisted that I sit at the table and consider this a special occasion and eat. You don't disobey an order like that coming from a princess named Sharifah Suraya and so I sat and ate like a humble begger, all the time thinking whether or not I should tell her that next time please don't leave the kitchen like that because I am not used to seeing a kitchen like that after a good meal has been prepared, and eaten. And so I said, you finish this up while I go clean up the kitchen.

(I shouldn't have said that because I could see in her eyes that she's hurt. Maybe she knew about Penang, about her kitchen, about why I refused to eat her cookings when I stayed with her and Pakcik Syed.)

I walked to the kitchen to clean up the sink, thinking, I've hurt an old lady all over a kitchen, a lifeless set of stainless steel that I evidently cared more about than the gentle feelings of an elderly who doesn't have anyone in the world to call a relative except me, a distant relative of her ex-husband. This doesn't make me feel good. I could sense that she has stopped eating, and she isn't drinking the coffee.

Ada baju nak basuh, Maksu?
Yup, I've did it good this time.

Maksu, I am sorry if what I said about the kitchen hurt you. It doesn't mean anything to me because you mean more than anything else in the world to me right now and so please don't be offended by what I've said. You must understand that I grew up like this, trained in the professional kitchen to keep the work area clean, and safe. I don't want you to get hurt, but if you don't develop a sense for safety, one of these days you will slip because the floors in the kitchen is the same as that of the living room and trust me, this is dangerous for someone like you. I care about you. I don't want to come home one day to see you all burnt to the bone because the kitchen had caught fire. You must understand, twenty years on the rig has made me this way. I am always thinking about hazard, and fire, and explosion. I will teach you how to work in this kitchen. It isn't hard, and you can do it.

We can work this out. We have to because there's only two of us and we need to stay together. I am not sending you back to the old folks' home because you don't want that, and I am not going back to the rig, not until they can clear me by way of a medical certificate. There's an opening in Saudi Arabia, a nice place. Aramco. Used to work there, it's like a small American town in the middle of the desert with its own TV and radio stations. But I can't leave you, eventhough the money is good. I need to be here with you.

We can work it out. I promise.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Prayers From Friends.

Aunt Su is still trying to recover from the confusion of the new world order where it is possible for me to have friends I have never met sending their prayers now that they know I am out of work and looking for a job.

Aunt Su and I are now a family of two living out a life we have chosen because she has had enough with old folks' home, and they've considered me suicidal for my own good. Sometimes I think all this is my imagination gone wild, a long dream that will soon run its course and that I will wake up in my bunk to the sound of a tropical storm in the middle of South China Sea.

No way.

This is not a dream because I just got out of a job interview with a guy that looked underfed for a managing director of a company dealing in industrial cleaning services. Do you speak any English? No. Education? Form two. I somehow knew that he wanted to ask whether I had just got out of prison, or a drug rehab centre. For fun, I waited for him to ask but he avoided my eyes as if I'd grab him in the neck and put a knife to his nose if he'd ask me that question. In the end he said do you have any experience handling industrial cleaning machines? No, sir. You didn't put down any work experience except 'kitchen hand', and you didn't put down where except 'restoran', frankly you are quite a mystery. We'll let you know, thank you.

This is a difficult situation. In the other interview I had put down work experience as oil rigger and no sooner than I could say where, one of the partners of a law firm said, you must have made this much a month, why that's more than what we make. I'm sorry, ma'am, but it's not my fault that they pay us that much in US Dollars considering the kind of work we've got to do. In the end one of them said, I don't think you'll be comfortable with what we are willing to pay for a driver since it is peanuts compared with what you used to earn. If only I can make them understand that I need a job, not so much the salary because I need to do something productive, never mind if it is just driving lawyers like these two legal eagles who look like parrots, to and from the courthouse, or to a murder scene where I get the chance to play Gibbs, or DeNozo, or a forensic expert, or a constable assigned to look for clues like a strand of hair or something.

I got home late afternoon after having been all over town, trying to get used to driving in the city. It's different when you are from out of town coming to the city as a tourist, staying in a hotel, spending your money on fancy meals. It is an entirely different story being a newcomer to the city trying to find something like a job.

Any luck?
Have you eaten?
Wanna eat?
Did you cook?
There's a restaurant downstairs if you want to go have something to eat.
No, I've had enough of restaurant food.
Let's cook something.
Like what, roast beef?
Rice and ikan goreng.
Sounds like the kind of food for a family of two.
...a family of two with no job. No future.

I'll figure something out tomorrow. No, I won't rob a bank or something.

Ha ha ha.
No wonder you are called Syarifah Suraya Al-Khaleej, you are so pretty when you laugh.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Job Hunting

Between now until July, I need to have a job to keep me and Aunt Su going so we won't die of hunger for want of a decent meal. For almost two hours, Aunt Su and I ran through each and every want ad in the classified section of the paper, making a few phone calls to talk to girls who manned the phone trying to make myself understood because most of them speak neither English nor Malay. I have two appointments tomorrow at noon for a job working the door of a nightspot. Aunt Su said I shouldn't go. I think so too. We didn't migrate to the city so I can become a bouncer, besides it is not the kind of job my childhood dream is made of. There's an opening for a driver to a GM of a company but no way this job is for me, not until I am familiar with all the roads and alleys of this fine city so I can drive my boss out of a bad traffic jam so he can make it to a meeting on time.

This is all new experience to me, talking to companies where the personnel division doesn't even know there's a vacancy in the office. Sometimes I need to say something like, but your ad came out today on page 3, 5th column. I am used to a company that owned a fleet of helicopters and oil rigs all over the world, not to mention an impressive headquarters in all the capital cities of the world. I am used to a multi-national company who owned supertankers big as Bukit Jalil Stadium. I am used to a company with a huge personnel department where they communicate decisions made at management level via tv commercials, or a corporate video. I am going to have to get used to all these and most importantly, I have to have a positive mind to enjoy all this, laugh if there's something that need to be laughed at, or shrug off if there are issues that need shrugging off.

Aunt Su is sound asleep in her bed. We had a heavy lunch, this being Friday and all and it is as good a day as any to treat ourselves to nasi briyani and air sirap bandung. We may not have much money left tomorrow to treat ourselves this way but for today, we've got enough left for a bit of coffee later in the evening.

We are going to be alright, Aunt Su. I promise.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Headline News.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The traditional Winchester rifles carried by pioneers, movie stars and Wild West lawmen will be discontinued in March, a Belgian manufacturer said Wednesday, confirming the end of an American icon that became known as "The Gun that Won the West."

DAMANSARA PERDANA, Selangor. - Unless Aunt Su shrinks to a midget next week the shelf that I've fitted should stand just at the right height to enable her to reach for all the laundry things. The shelf is meant for detergent, softener and some trinkets that she bought from a trader in Jalan Masjid India. It wasn't difficult to have it fitted to the wall. All I have to do was ask Aunt Su to stand by the washing machine, hold out both her arms so the tip of her hand touched the walls right behind the machine. She stood like this for less than a minute, long enough for me to mark the drill points, about six inches lower from the tip of her fingers. She said I should be a contractor. Why? She said a lot of women won't mind to stand by the washing machine, holding out both arms if I were a contractor. Yea, a lot of women but not the woman in question.

We finally found the place that we both agree is a nice service-apartment on the seventh floor overlooking a set of hills. The kitchen is built in a corner where you can have the uninterrupted view of the swimming pool. Slightly to the left you can see a popular shopping mall. It's a convenient location.

DUNGUN, Trengganu. - There was nothing much to pack except for the clothes which crammed nicely into three suitcases. I lungged these into the trunk of the station-wagon, all ready to go because we have no business to be in this house anymore. We have no business to be in Dungun, spending day after day staring at the South China Sea as if we are paid good money by the state government to report any changes in the color of the waves on hourly basis.

I know Aunt Su didn't like the idea of leaving the house to live in an apartment in the city. I know she likes Dungun very much. She likes to sit for hours on the veranda staring at the sea but the house is making me very uncomfortable. It's just too big for both of us.

KUANTAN, Pahang. - From the lobby you have to take the stairs going down to the restaurant. It's not a big deal for people my age but for Aunt Su, it's a tricky thing trying not to trip over in a somersault that can break your neck. We could have had our lunch at a restaurant in town but she insisted on this place because she obviously has fallen in love with the setting that I said I'd buy the place for her if only I had as much money as Bill Gates, or Donald Trump. Who are they? My long lost uncles. Pak menakan hang oghang putih ka, ish ish ish.

PETALING JAYA, Selangor. - We have to put up in this hotel for at least a couple of days before the papers are ready so we can finally move into the apartment. We are going to be doing a lot of shopping for kitchen things and bed things to make the place our home for at least three years, or four. It's a new life for both of us. Pretty scary though, to start a new life without a job, and my bank account shrinking to the last coin. Oh well, whatever will be, will be.

NEXT ENTRY: How we came to this decision and how sad it was for us to leave the house in Dungun to migrate to this fine city. I have a few appointments to keep with several people at UIA to see if I qualify to enrol as a student to pursue a degree in something that I haven't quite decided. I have to do this. I have to re-invent myself.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In Memory of Roustabout King.

If you came home from the funeral to an empty house one evening in November you would have noticed the early monsoon sky with patches of clouds slightly heavy with rain. They huddled in a tight circle as if they owned the entire sky and no way they were going to share the last ray of light from the sun that had turned orange the last few minutes when you weren't looking because you stood by a window like a broom, looking down at the communal perigi where mothers making such a racket calling out to their children to hurry up with the bath. Storm is coming. Your father's home.

It's turning dark outside. You can hear mosquitoes wheezing about above your head whispering among themselves how come there is only one person left in the house when there should be three more. They didn't know any better that the last woman of the house had been buried not three hours ago and that the house has nothing left except for the ghosts of Grandma, Aunt, and Cousin. You stand by the window not knowing what to do because you are so used to having Aunt giving the orders on an evening like this when it is dark as coal outside. Close all the windows. Take the cover of a periuk, oil it and go get those mosquitoes, let's see if you can get more than me. Ha ha ha. You are such a clever boy. I show Grandma, look look Grandma, the whole family of mosquitoes. Clever boy. No more mosquitoes in the world tomorrow, thanks to you. Ha ha ha. Cousin, look, mosquitoes! They give me goosebumps. Ha ha, Cousin's a softie.

You stand by the window like a dumb broom not knowing what to think. You don't know if you can sleep in the house tonight because you shouldn't be here at all. You should be with Grandma, Aunt, and Cousin six feet under. But you are not dead. You are here feeling so alone that you don't know if the night is going to last forever.

It used to be a house full of mirth. Aunt at the dinner table counting the money of the day's taking. I am standing next to her looking at the money not really knowing how much is there. Not that it means anything to me. Aunt says, I am so tired and sleepy. She rubs her face pretty as Saira Banu. I look her in the eye, at the mascara now slightly smeared with sweat, and she smells of kuih lapis. You hear Grandma reading the Qur'an. When she gets to the surah that you remember by heart, you recite it in a funny way so you can disturb her and she is going to start on you with a threat that you are going to hell for reading it like that. And you get so scared that you go to her, burying your face on her laps all fluffy and soft feeling so safe thinking that nothing can get you now, not even hell. You sleep like that on Grandma's lap, her voice in a drone finishing the surah, every ayat going deep inside every vein in your body. Every innalazzi na'amanu, every la'allakum, every ta'lamun, every sodiqeen. Everything.

Cousin is in bed with a romance novel faithfully written especially for her by Barbra Cartland. She looks at you from behind the book the size of Aunt's money bag and you say, what's the book all about, what's that man in a nice James Bond suit say to that nice girl in a skirt, why is she wearing gloves, is it cold in England? She says, you ask too many questions.

Aunt built this house.
With her own money?
Yes. She was a busineswoman. The richest person in the village. Thought I told you that.
Yes you did.
How come you are not in business?
I wouldn't be here with you having dinner if I were a businessman, what with meetings and people to meet, suppliers to pay.

Aunt Su said, oh well there's some good that you aren't a businessman.

Me and Aunt Su have spent more than three weeks in the house left behind by the women you know quite well up to this point from the way I have described them in the entries that I have completely deleted so I can start afresh because I need to do this all over again to re-invent myself, like Anita Sarawak, or Cher. No, I am not going to have a sex change so I can become a woman going about my way as Susie, or Brenda or Lily or something. At least for now, I am going to stay as male as the next guy. If ever I become a woman, you will know because I will start a new blog with the title Bergenia Test. That would be me for sure and the blog will talk about all things feminine like being pregnant and all. Or FT Islamic Family Law. For now, I shall remain Bergen with a few more entries of his childhood growing up in Dungun during the 70s when the town was deserted completely because the mine had closed down, and men who were miners went crazy one after another that some of them still roam the streets of Dungun as madmen to this very day. I said to myself the other day, I won't go crazy. I can't go crazy all because Roustabout King died in his sleep, drunk as a skunk, his liver gone bad. I can't go crazy. I won't let it happen. Last night in my sleep I heard Grandma's voice in a drone, reciting laaukrimu bihazal balad...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Thank You.

Minta ampun kalau ada tersilap tulis.
Terkasar bahasa.
Tersinggung perasaan.
Minta ma'af.

Thank for visiting.

I shall remember you
Time won't make me forget
about you.
About things you wrote.
About things that made me laugh.
About things that made me feel special.
About things that touched the deepest part of my heart.
With you.
With your world.
With things that matter to you.
And your family.

No way I will forget.
About you.
No way.

Swim With The Dolphins.

He was a nice guy.