Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Much For The Heaven?

PEOPLE LIKE ABU BAKR AL SIDDIQ AND SAYYIDINA OMAR AL KHATAB paid a big price for a piece of heaven. Here I am hoping to get my share of heaven as if I am entitled to be admitted right in when the fact is; I spend not more than 25 minutes a day performing my daily prayers in the comfort of a fully air-conditioned room. You may see me pray but I know my mind is not. In fact I'm thinking of where to go after this and who I should go see to have tea with. During Ramadhan I fast in the comfort of knowing that food is abundance during iftar. As a matter of fact there's so much food that I often wonder why should I worry about the poor and how hungry they can get. I live each day without having to worry about the threat of poverty. Forget about dakwah because it's too bothersome to spread Islam to those who need it. Forget about going from one masjid to another to study the kitab to understand Islam better. Forget about putting up with the discomfort of a pondok to study basic knowledge of Islam. Forget about putting up the effort to increase the iman because it's too hot be out in the sun to do anything in the name of Islam. Forget about learning the Qur'an and Hadith to understand Islam better. Forget about putting the effort to do anything connected to increase the level of iman. Forget about sacrificing anything for Islam because the money is meant for other things like nice clothes, nice shoes, nice car, new handphone, new computer, holiday abroad and a million other things I have to do and buy before I die. Forget about sacrificing my time to help the orphans. Forget about spending time for Islam because I may be too busy watching a nice movie on my big LCD TV. Forget about donating my wealth to those poor students who need the money to study in Jordan or Mesir. But hey, I'm a good Muslim.

I don't drink. I don't womanize. And I go to mosque every now and then. I attend Tahlil every now and then. I listen to Islamic programs on TV. I'm a good Muslim. I deserve to go to heaven. I don't sin. I do good deeds. I deserve the heaven.

For Malaysians, heaven is dirt cheap. For others, you may have to pay with your life to get to heaven. Abu Bakar Al-Siddiq. Omar Al-Khatab. Why Allah made it so expensive for them to get to heaven? And why Allah seems to make it easy for Malaysians to get to heaven? We don't have earthquakes, we don't have floods, we don't have famine, we don't have wars, we don't have anything with which we can measure our Iman.

And I wonder what's so special about me that I pray in the comfort of a huge room fully air-conditioned by 2 horse power digital-control Panasonic, and never have to worry about hunger while Rasulullah S.A.W pray in a room not bigger than a dinner table and he doesn't have enough to eat. And here I am demanding heaven as if I deserve it more than those who devote their entire life to search for Iman.

We must be one heck of a lucky people. We must be better than Abu Bakr Al Siddiq and Omar Al Khatab put together. As a matter of fact, we may have the impression that we are luckier than Rasulullah S.A.W.

I am blind as fried fish. Stupid as a chopping board. Arrogant as a door mat. And deaf as a dead mouse.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Smell of Heaven.

THE SKIN FELT KINDA THIN. When you run your fingers to caress her softly, the skin will stretch into a fold at the tip of your fingers that you can feel the bones underneath. She looked me in the eye to ask the question she had asked me a million times; do you think I'll go heaven? Of course you will, Aunt Su. Don't worry about it too much. She'd smile to say; you say that all the time. Yes, I do but that's because you ask me that question all the time. And we'd laugh and boy she made me feel so happy when she laughed like that but after she'd done laughing, she looked through you as if you are a piece of glass. Next minute she'd be still as a statue, silent as a moon . All I had to do is to caress her hand, feeling the skin so thin to the touch. Don't say nothing until she'd say; go get my reading glasses. You mean the dark ones that Saloma put on when she sang Bila Larut Malam? Like a child I'd wait for her to say this; Ish, budak ni, aku balun hang baghu tau. I'm happy as a dolphin when she says this that I give her a big, long hug to smell the talcum powder on her back. It's the same smell that Grandma had. Aunt too had the same smell. Women that age smell the same way. It's the smell that can put you to sleep and wishing that you never wake up because you wanna dream that you're ten years old, walking in between Grandma and Aunt, all the time holding on to their selendang panjang that smells of perfume, paper umbrella under the midday sun, and sweat beads running down their arms.

I'm in the living room looking at the clothes that I've folded into a neat stack thinking to myself what should I do with Aunt Su's clothes, batik sarung, combs, reading glasses, shoes, sleepers, mugs, bracelets, rings, hair clips, selendang, telekung, sejadah, tasbih, surah Yasin, Qur'an. I turn off the light to close my eyes and to dream of Aunt Su and to soak in the smell of heaven...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dead Management 101

YES, SHE WAS THE RESIDENT of that old folks' home. Yes, it's not a Muslim old folks' home. Yes, she was the only Malay there. Yes, she was a Muslim. Yes, I know that for sure. No, I'm not her son. No, I'm not her youngest brother. No, I'm not related to her. I used to stay in her house. Yes, I'm probably the only person she considered a relative in the whole wide world.

And so I signed the document and attached it with the original copy of the death certificate issued by the hospital, duly signed by a pretty doctor whose name so beautiful it sounded like a song from the 60s. I went down to the morgue to meet a guy sitting behind a counter. He checked the papers and told me to put down my name and address and IC # in a big register book. I followed him to a room in the back to check that it was Aunt Su's body that I'm taking out from the morgue because there had been cases people took out the wrong body from the morgue especially when too many patients die on the same day. Aunt Su was on a bed made of stainless steel that's cold to the touch. I untied the knot of a sack they put her body in, pulled down the wrap to look at her face and I'm thinking, my time will come when I will end up the same way wrapped up like that and left on a bed made of stainless steel so cold it might as well be Oslo in December.

From the hospital, I rushed to see a guy in charge of a grave plot. He needed to see the death certificate, yes, photocopy is all right. I got an OK from him to bury Aunt Su at a plot number reserved for women. I'm not sure how much I paid but I thought I paid him extra on account he was friendly and almost sympathetic about the whole thing but I told him people die every day so there's no need to be sad or to feel so bad about losing the people you love. He asked me who died. I told him my landlady died this morning after being hooked on a life support machine for almost a week. I made a mental note to ask about the bill from the hospital, but that would have to wait because I gotta rush to a masjid to go see the people-in-charge-of-the-dead and to arrange for kereta jenazah to go take Aunt Su from the hospital and bring the body to the masjid so the people-in-charge-of-the-dead can wash her up, wrap her up and be done with all the necessary stuff before you bury a dead body for good.

That done, I rode in the kereta jenazah to the hospital driven by a fat pakcik with a missing tooth in the front that he looked almost cute for a guy that age that he might as well be an oversized baby that got away from a nursery. And then we drove back to the masjid and set Aunt Su in a bilik-mandi-mayat of the masjid. The women in charge of mandi mayat came to ask me where are the relatives? I told them I'm the only one she got. Yes, she stayed somewhere around here. Which house? That old folks house. What? That's not a Muslim house! Are you sure she's a Muslim? Ma'am, it says right here in the letter to confirm that you are dead as a doornail; Sharifah Suraya. The women said they were short handed and so I told them I could help. I've got experience. They asked if I have the letter from the state? I said no, but I've washed a lot of deads who perished in petroleum fire in Iran and Saudi Arabia. They said that's OK, we'll get help, and they got volunteers who turned up from a housing area around the masjid. I told them I appreciate it very much. When Aunt Su was all cleansed and wrapped, they asked me how come this came about. I told them a bit of that and a bit of that. By the time it was time to perform solat jenazah, they were almost in tears from the story I had told them and so I said don't worry about it, ma'am, people die every day.

The funeral was brief I thought I could have performed the rite myself. All you've gotta do is read everything in a small book provided by JAIS and just fill in the name where there's a blank. But this is a proper country and you're gonna need a letter from JAWI or JAIS to read that book at a funeral. You're gonna need the letter because the land where the deads are buried belongs to the state.

I got to the registration office three weeks late and they imposed a fine on me for not being fast enough to take care of the papers for the dead. After two weeks I got the official certificate that yes the person with so and so name is now dead and has ceased to be a voting citizen of this country. That simply means Aunt Su can't come back to life as Aunt Su. She's gonna have to need a new name if she comes back on and that would mean another couple of trips to the registration office, commissioner-of-oath and other stuff they'll figure for you to do until you give up and wish you are dead in the first place.

One last trip I gotta do was the hospital. I go see a desk clerk who told me to go to level four to pay all the outstanding bills. That done, I got the receipt and a question from a pretty looking girl; are you sure she's not your mother?

I smiled to say 'will you marry me, ma'am?' Of course I didn't say that. All I said was, no ma'am, she was not my mother.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The World Is A Swirling Dervish In A Boiler Suit.

Uploaded by Bergen.

a face of Pakcik Syed to help me remember what little memory I have of a man who doesn't stay around the house long enough for anything other than to yell at Aunt Su at the top of his lungs when he comes home late in the night swaying like a coconut tree in the middle of an excellent monsoon storm. By this time, I've lived in this house close to sixty days and I've begun to get used to the idea of not praying and not asking God for help anymore because I'm pretty sure He's not listening that I might as well do as I please and that simply means walking up and down Penang Road during Maghrib time just to prove to God that I'm not afraid of what He might do to me. I walk up towards Jalan Burmah and further up to Simpang Enam, and walk back down towards Lebuh Chulia until I get a little sore in the feet. I stop to look at the neon lights that goes round and round at Pasar Chowrasta. I walk on the pavement to soak in the smell of apples, pears, nutmeg and meat floss. I like the smell very much because it takes me further and further away from Dungun and I've decided to forget about Dungun and about every one there because there's no point thinking about any of them when they don't really care about me; but this kinda thinking makes me so alone all of a sudden that I'd better get home because I hate to knock knock knock on the door to get in. Aunt Su gives me the face as if I've annoyed her schedule when she has to open the door for me.

Pakcik Syed works in the dockyard. He talks rough and swears a great deal especially on Sunday before he leaves the house in late afternoon to gamble away with friends what money he has on him. He doesn't win very often but he always have some money left to get himself drunk and to come home late in the night to swear even more than he's done during the day. He swears at everything in the house especially at Aunt Su. He even swears at the pots and pans and the shoes he's wearing. I am in my room staring at the ceiling not thinking about anything in particular and not wanting to write Aunt about any of this because I know for sure she's given up on me and I'd better get used to the idea of facing up to the world on my own.

Six months in the house I'm hatching a plan to run away and go find some place nice to live. Yusof says I can come live with him and I kinda like the idea too because Yusof has a nice mommy who took care of me when I was sick on account of being drunk for having too much to drink but everyone knew that it was Yusof and Siva who taught me how to drink drink drink until the room started to swirl round and round so hard that I remember throwing up and getting very ill that I couldn't move. I thought of God and I was scared. I thought of Grandma and I heard her reciting a surah. I saw Aunt reaching out to me. I saw Cousin looking forlorn. I saw Pakcik Syed in a boiler suit. And the room kept on swirling and spinning and bobbing like a drift wood in the water.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Aunt Su (1st Draft)

YOU KNOW THE KINDA RAIN THAT STARTS IN THE MORNING and goes on all day before it comes to a long slow stop in the night when Grandma talks about a distant relative in Penang. Aunt says I've done it to myself to land myself in trouble with the school and now that it's too late for me to mend my ways in the hope of becoming a decent human being, she and Grandma have to make a decision to send me to Penang to go live with Pakcik Syed and Aunt Su. Grandma says Pakcik Syed is a relative but I don't understand much how this came about when she explains about that cousin, this cousin, this second cousin, that second cousin, that in the end it all goes back to Nabi Adam and Hawa. By this time the rain has let up and I am too sleepy to think about relatives because the only people I care about in the world is Grandma, Aunt and Cousin.
We got into Uncle's Vauxhall for a trip to Penang. I remember stopping for a curry lunch in Tanjung Malim and I remember thinking what a West-Coast sounding name this town is and suddenly Dungun is so so far away. I remember Ipoh and the roundabout with the water fountain which Dungun will never have in a million years. I remember Kuala Kangsar. I remember Nibong Tebal and I remember the ferry. I remember the lights from the ships in the harbor and I remember the time we took which was almost all night to find Kedah Road. In the end a kind policeman escorted us to a dirty house that looked strange in the night but I was too sleepy to feel sad thinking that I'm gonna have to live in this house with a strange looking man who doesn't look all that friendly, and a woman who looks at me kinda strange that I can't help but to think she doesn't like me to be here.
Aunt, Grandma, Uncle and his 5th missus, stayed in Penang for 2 days. Aunt and I went shopping from morning until the stores closed for the day.
I remember the lump in my throat to see the Vauxhall leaving for Dungun. I remember feeling very uncomfortable when I finally have to face Pakcik Syed and Aunt Su sitting at a table for lunch. They bought lunch from a shop but I can't eat all that much because by this time I've eaten enough curry to last me a lifetime and I can't take in another spoon of it without throwing up. Aunt Su asks me a lot of questions but I can't make out what she's saying, and she doesn't understand much what I'm saying because I speak to her the way I speak to Aunt and Grandma and you have to be a Dungun person to understand what's going on. And I'm not willing to be a Penang person to understand what Aunt Su is saying because I miss the sea very much and I miss Dungun like I've never missed her before. After lunch I go into my room to pray and to read a bit of Qur'an because I gotta pray very hard to God to please take me away from this house and please please, don't ever ever make me live in Penang while Aunt, Grandma and Cousin are in Dungun. I bite my lips hard because I can feel the tears are coming on and I clench my fist and put it hard against my chest to stop me from crying.
A week in the house but I haven't seen Pakcik Syed or Aunt Su prayed a single raka'at and I don't see a sajadah and I don't see a single Qur'an in the house. All I see and hear is Pakcik Syed coming home late at night, standing at the door for a few minutes before he got himself steady to walk into the living room drunk. Aunt Su comes out of her room and she starts to asks questions and Pakcik Syed starts yelling and they get into a quarrel so loud that it disturbs the whole of Hutton Lane, Argyll Road and Dicken Street thrown in.
I am in my room to write a letter to Aunt and Grandma to please come take me home because I don't like Penang and I don't like Pakcik Syed and Aunt Su. Aunt says she's written me a letter but I write back to say that I didn't get her first letter. I ask Aunt Su if there's a letter for me from Dungun but she says no she hasn't received any. Two days later I found the letter in a basket that she takes to go shop for stuff at Pasar Chowrasta. I write Aunt in Jawi and tell her to also write me in Jawi because this way Aunt Su can steal my letters all she wants but I doubt if she can read them. I've figured that Pakcik Syed and Aunt Su aren't the praying kind or the Qur'an reading kind to know any better how to read Jawi. I was half right because Pakcik Syed can read Jawi but Aunt Su is as good as a stupid cow when it comes to reading anything in Jawi.

(Next entry: They steal my money!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So Long, Ma'am...

SHE DIDN'T WANT TO FIGHT for the last breath. She'd done fighting. She knew it was over. She knew it was time to go.
She had been hooked to a machine with wires connected to every part of her frail body. Around 4.37 in the morning, she opened her eyes briefly to look me over. I swear she smiled for a brief second. I swear she did. I know that smile so well. And then she left me alone in a room where I stood like a pole, thinking to myself how do I make myself cry but all I could do was to think of all the beautiful moments I had spent with you the last few weeks.
Nurses came running, talking to me and asking  me questions, but I didn't hear nothing. I thought I saw you walked out the room. I thought you turned to look at me briefly to smile one more time. And then I didn't see you no more.
You rest  easy now, ma'am. Rest easy in a lonely plot at Mount Kiara. It was the best funeral I could give. We don't know all that many people to come around to recite the doa' but I believe the Imam of Masjid Al-Hidayah was as good a man as a friend to stand next to me to say goodbye to you one last time. I didn't want to bring your friends from the home to see you this way. They asked me about you this afternoon when I went there to pack your stuff in a bag you loved so much because you said it made you want to go to some place nice. And you asked if we could travel up to Sungai Petani and all the way to Kangar one more time. Just you and me in a car stopping at one small town after another to have a bit to eat.
So long, Aunt Su. So long, ma'am. I will always remember that smile for the rest of my life...