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.