Sunday, June 29, 2014

One Night in Ramadan

So there he was, in his father’s new Passat, with Justin Timberlake turned up to 20 on the radio, air conditioning at a good two, in the driver’s seat, PSP in hand, wondering when the terawikh would be over already.

The car’s parked right right across the road from Masjid Batu’s front gate. His father always chose that spot to park, even if there were spots inside the mosque compounds, since it was easier to get out of after they had finished prayers.

Zul sighed. Every year for as long as he could remember, he would come here with his father for prayers. After performing ‘isyak, he’d ask the keys from his father and go wait in the car until the 8 rakaat terawikh was over, then his father would come join him in the car and they’d go back home.

He didn’t understand why he still had to come, even though he didn’t pray terawikh. His father made it clear that it wasn’t obligatory, only sunat, so he opted out of it. Now at 16, he still has to come every night for the length of the month of Ramadan, just to wait in the car. It made no sense.

He tried asking his father if he could stay at home, once when he was 14, but his father got so angry at him that his Nintendo got taken away from him for a whole week. From then on, he just reluctantly followed. It sucked, but it was way better than having to go without his PSP for a week. 

Besides, it was only for a month. And this new car smell wasn’t too bad. He wondered about what car he’d get once he had his license. He’d definitely want an SLK, but his father would never let him have that. He had to keep it realistic. Like probably one of those old BMW M3s. Those couldn’t be too expensive, right? All vintage and stuff. He’d tune it up and put turbo in and stuff, definitely paint on some racing stripes on it. Paint it yellow with black stripes. Just like bumblebee. It’d be so badass.

Suddenly, a knock at the passenger seat window startled him and snapped him out of his daydream. He almost dropped his PSP. Was it a rempit wanting to rob him? He’d feared this day for a while now. He always fantasized about beating them to death with the golfstick father always put in the trunk. But how was he supposed to get to the trunk now that he was inside? Dammit!

He finally got up the courage to look outside the window. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that it was just an old man, his face all wrinkled, what little remained of his short hair, his big grin that revealed the few teeth he had left, wearing a plain white shirt. 

The old man knocked again. Zul didn’t really know what to do. He took a closer look at the old man. Only then did he notice that his eyes were blue. His face was definitely very typically Malay, but his eyes were blue. Now this was something Zul had never seen before. 

He also noticed something else. There was someone right behind him. An old woman. About the same age as the old man, he figured. Their faces were similar. She had the same blue eyes and almost-toothless smile on her face too. Her hair was long and grey, tied in a ponytail behind her. She was wearing a worn-out cotton baju kurung. 

She had her arms around the old man’s shoulders. This is weird, thought Zul. Only when the old man turned slightly to the side did he find out that the old man was giving the old woman a piggy-back ride. This is really weird, Zul almost said out loud. Why was he giving her a piggy-back ride? Why were their eyes blue? And more importantly, thought Zul, why were they smiling so widely?

After several moments had passed, the old man walked away from the car, still carrying the old woman. Zul just watched as they went away. The old woman even turned around and waved at him, the smile on her face never wavering. Zul just sat there with his mouth agape, not knowing what to think.

Right after the two old people had disappeared down the road, another knock shocked Zul. This time it was on the driver’s side. He turned slowly to see what it was. It was his father. He knocked again, pointing downwards, signaling for Zul to unlock the door. He blinked twice, and finally unlocked the door. He went over to sit at the passenger seat and they went home.

The night afterwards, Zul decided to stay inside the mosque and pray the 8 rakaat of terawikh.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Salty Coffee

“She was an amazing person.” Jamal put down his half-empty mug on his desk. He had been caffeine-free for close to six months, but he couldn’t decline the offer from his old student cum good friend.

“Yeah, she was." Shariff held on to his cup of coffee while staring off outside the window behind Mr Jamal.

Even though sixteen years separate 27-year-old Shariff and his former lecturer Mr Jamal, they had grown close. Alongside Syazwani, they had gone to his office for regular post-office-hour coffee sessions in his office at the university, right from their second year (the first time Mr Jamal taught them English Literature) up until their graduation. Now, almost four years after graduating and a year after the last time they met each other, it felt different. Maybe it was because of the time since they’ve met each other. Or maybe it was just because Syazwani wasn’t here anymore.

“Do you remember the time when she got so mad at me after the first month of classes?” Jamal said with a smile on his face, not quite having it in him to look directly into Shariff’s eyes.

Shariff cracked a smile. “Yeah. She didn’t like the mark you gave her for that test. She said it was ‘unjustified’. I actually encouraged her to go up to see you. Man did we have some learning to do.” Shariff said, the smile still there, his gaze now fixed on his still-full cup of coffee.

“Hm, that you did. I told her that I’ve already read it more than fifteen times already, that I didn’t need to be retold what the author said. I wanted to know what she thought of it. But of course you know that, you were there.” Jamal finally allowing his eyes to look for Shariff’s, though he couldn’t. Shariff seemed to be deeply contemplating his coffee.

Shariff nodded his head. That’s Mr Jamal. Took them out of the boxes they’ve been put in ever since school. Made them question the box. Made them question other people. Made them question him. Made them question life. They owed him so much.

“You could say that that was the day that started all this, huh?” Shariff said, almost to himself.

Jamal smiled. “You could say that, yes.”

Shariff shifted in his seat. “Oh yeah, speaking of which..” Shariff reached for his bag beside him and pulled out a book. By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho. “Here you go.”

“Ah, yes. It was this book. Forgive me, I totally forgot which one we were supposed to talk about. She didn’t happen to tell you what she thought about it, did she?” Jamal took the book in his hand and examined to front of it.

“Of course she didn’t. She wanted to wait to tell you in person, as usual.” Shariff still couldn’t bring himself to make eye-contact with his favourite teacher.

Jamal nodded. “Well then, what do you think of it?”

Shariff looked up and finally looked at Mr Jamal in the eye, opened his mouth to speak, and almost immediately closed it again with his hand. Tears started streaming down his face as he tried to contain his sobs, but to no avail.

Jamal got up around his desk and put his hand on Shariff’s back, stroking it gently.

“It’s okay Shariff. It’s okay.” Jamal didn’t really know what to say, but felt that he had to say something. He knew that Shariff looked up to him, but now he felt himself so powerless, so he repeated those words, the same words that had been told to him when he lost his beloved all those years ago. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Shariff didn’t know why he was crying. He didn’t like it. He just couldn’t hold it in any longer. He missed Syazwani. He loved Syazwani. And now she’s gone. What was he supposed to do? He thought that he had accepted death as a part of life, not the end of it. But nobody told him how hurt he would be when it finally happened to someone he cared about. To the one person he cared the most about. He knows he should be strong and embrace it. But how do you embrace something that brings you so much pain? How? He just didn’t know.

Jamal let his former student the several minutes he needed calm down. When the worst had subsided, he sat on the chair next to Shariff while still holding on to his mug.

“You know, someone said something to me a long long time ago, and I think it was pretty good thought. Made me look at life a little differently. You want to hear it?”

Shariff nodded. He couldn’t bring himself to speak in the condition he’s in.

“That person said, on our last day on Earth, what is going to shine through is not how many personal achievements we have attained, but how many hearts we were able to touch.” Jamal said while gazing out of the window.

Shariff stopped breathing for a few seconds, then exhaled a smile. “Yeah, pretty wise words, I’d say.”

“So what do you think? Did she live by her words? Did she touch as many hearts as she could?” Jamal still seemed like he was looking for something outside the window.

Shariff exhaled once again. He thought about how many students of hers were at her funeral. How many of her friends from university came, fellow students as well as lecturers, how many of her neighbours, her family, close and far, even some friends she had never met before in real life who just said they knew her online, how many people were inspired by her passion, her determination, her zeal for life, her caring demeanor, her compassion, her honesty and her way with words. “Yeah, I think she did.”

Jamal couldn’t help but smile seeing Shariff smile the way he was. It was the smile he had when he had Syazwani beside him. “She was an amazing person.”

“Yeah, she was.” Shariff let his tears again drop into his cup of coffee.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Not His Fault

With the news that his son was finally coming home after leaving him fifteen years ago, Jo didn’t know what to do first. He went through the email once again in his head, even though he’s read it more than five times already since shutting down his laptop.

Adam was coming home. His one and only son, finally coming back to him. And he’ll be bringing along his wife and kid with him. It’ll be the first time he’ll meet them. First time he’ll see them. Adam didn’t give any pictures in the email. Just a very brief message saying he’ll be dropping by tomorrow for tea, and he made it clear that it would be expecting only tea, and nothing more. Jo could hardly contain his tears.

He looked around his cramped two bedroom apartment. What a mess. He knew that he hadn’t been taking too good care of himself lately, but only now did he notice just how unacceptable the conditions were. At least they would have been unacceptable to Mariah.

Jo shook the thought away. The last thing he needed was the thought of her haunting him on the eve of his reunion with his son.

Adam. Beautiful beautiful Adam. The last time he saw him was when he had just finished his A-levels. Oh what an auspicious day that was! Adam got the best results in the school. Mariah called when Jo was at the office to inform him. He was the proudest dad alive. He even took the night off to celebrate.

They had gone to the fanciest restaurant in town. It wasn’t the first time Jo would have been there, but it was certainly Adam’s. After all the hard work Adam had put in, it only seemed appropriate for him to get treated to the best.

They had an exquisite dinner. He doesn’t exactly remember what they had to eat, but he was sure it had to be something good. The restaurant always served top quality gourmet food. And the champagne, to die for. Dom Perignon 2003. He never ordered anything else when going there. He’s pretty sure he even let Adam take a sip. He deserved it. Jo ended up finishing the whole bottle by himself. Mariah just had her usual Evian. No sense of celebration, that woman.

The rest of the night had always been a blur. All he knew was that by the end of it, his Mazda was wrecked, his collarbone broken, and his wife dead.

And after all these years, nine of which Jo spent in jail, Adam is finally ready to forgive him! He must be, since he’s coming to visit him finally after all these years, right?

Jo started cleaning up his apartment. Picked up all the dirty laundry on the floor. Gathered all the beer cans and puts them in one corner. He needed to get himself some garbage bags.

But what if Adam doesn’t forgive him? It’s outlandish, sure, but why should he? Surely Adam blamed him for the death of Mariah. He knew that he hadn’t been the most present of fathers, what with work at The Daily Metro taking up most of his time. He knew that. Mariah was the one who raised him, mostly. He sure took after her a lot because of it. That was why he took them out for dinner that night. To make it up to them. To show Adam that he was proud of him. Didn’t he see that?

He cleared the pizza boxes on the table and puts them alongside the beer cans. He gathered and stacked all the newspapers in the living room. He did what little dishes he had.

It wasn’t his fault. He just wanted to celebrate his son. What’s wrong with a little drinking? Everyone did it, right? And it’s not like he chose the van to hit his car, right on Mariah’s side of the car. It’s not his fault he wasn’t able to see the stop sign in the dark. It wasn’t his fault. Right?

He washed the only knife he owned. He looked around his apartment.

What was he doing with his life? He used make a good living being an editor at one of the best-selling newspapers in the country. Now he’s collecting petty change to proof-read undergraduates’ assignments. What happened to him? How would Adam see him right now? His mother is dead, and his father, this? Living by himself, hungover every morning and drunk every night? Barely able to pay rent each month? He came back to this?


Adam opened the unlocked door to the apartment after knocking for three whole minutes. He was surprised to see that the house seemed to be in the middle of being tidied up. He was even more surprised to see his father’s dead body sitting at the furthermost wall of the living room, blood coming out of his left hand and a knife in his right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Escaping Sleep

Zharif yawned for the umpteenth time that day. “Why am I so sleepy?” has been a question he has been asking a lot lately. He doesn’t like it, being sleepy all the time. He never has the energy to do anything, even the things he likes doing, like reading.

He takes a sip of the coffee that has been sitting there on the table for several minutes now. It’s his second cup today, but the sleepiness prevails over the caffeine. Zharif sighs. When will he ever be able to finish reading this book? It’s been close to three weeks now.

He takes the closed book from the table and studies its cover yet again. No god but God by Reza Aslan. The Origin, Evolution, and Future of Islam. Updated Edition. International Bestseller. “Grippingly narrated and thoughtfully examined .. a literate, accessible introduction to Islam.” - THE NEW YORK TIMES. A picture of the ka’abah, with people in the thousands circumambulating it provides the graphic to the cover.

Damn you Reza Aslan. Damn you and your well-written, thoroughly researched piece of work. Zharif smiles to himself. He wonders when he’ll be able to write something quite as spectacular as this book. It’s definitely opened his eyes to so much about his own religion, not only in the spiritual sense, but also its historical development. And he’s only just two-thirds of the way through it. Damn you Reza Aslan.

“Eh, Zharif!” Zharif looks up to see who might be the one calling him in this very very hipster café. Ah, an old school friend.

“Eh, Bijan! Hang buat apa kat sini?” Zharif speaks for the first time since ordering his second cup of coffee more than an hour ago, and only the third time he spoke throughout the day. They shook hands.

“Saja aku mai bawak awek aku.” Bijan gestures to a hijab-clad girl examining the chalkboard menu on the wall behind the counter. “Hang mai sorang ka?”

Zharif was used to this question. “Biasa la, aku camni ja.” He fakes a laugh he has faked countless times before.

“Hang dok belajaq lagi ka lani?” Bijan continues the small-talk template he has come to be familiar with.

“Yeah, dekat sini ja, USM. Aku dok buat Law. Baru masuk third year. Hang pun dok belajaq lagi ka?” He gets on with it.

“Ha, aku dok buat Engineering kat Transkrian. Third year gak. Awek aku budak Farmasi kat sini. First year baru.” The girl seems to be examining the menu still.

“Oh, okay.” Here comes the awkward silence.

“Hang dok baca buku apa tu?” Bijan’s question takes him by surprise. Zharif forgot he was still holding the book.

“Oh. Ni. Aaa, No god but God, by Reza Aslan.” Zharif reads off the front page, as if he forgot what was written there.

“Reza Aslan. Macam pernah dengaq ja nama tu.”

“Ha, dia lecturer kat US. Time 9/11 tu dia ada banyak la masuk debate tentang Islam.” He never expected a school friend to take an interest into his own interests.

“Oh, dia tu! Dia yang syiah tu kan?”

“Er, ya.”

“Dia kawen ngan orang Kristian tu kan?”

“Rasanya ya lah kot.” He didn’t like the direction this was going.

“Aku taw dia. Aku pernah tengok dia kat Facebook. Ustaz aku pun ada sebut pasai dia sekali kot rasanya. Dia tu kira nak sesatkan orang ja dengan ajaran liberal dia. Dahla bini pun orang Kristian, ada hati nak ajaq orang Islam pasai Islam. Hang dok baca buku dia tu dok ikut ajaran dia apa?”

“Eh, mana ada.” He tried his best to keep a straight face.

“Haha, melawak ajalah! Hang ni dok buat cuak bleh. Hang baguih, baca buku. Taw betoi-betoi apa ajaran sesat dia bawak. Camtu baru bleh nampak tang mana dia sesat kan? Orang Melayu kita kena lagi banyak membaca la aku rasa. Sembang ja kata budaya membaca la apa la. Last skali ceklet angin gak, kan?” Bijan said with a grin. Zharif could only muster a smile and a shrug.

“Bey, jom pegi tempat lain. Kedai ni takde.” The girl appeared beside Bijan tugging his arm, not taking notice of Zharif’s existence.

“Okay bey.” Bijan turned to Zharif. “Okaylah bro, aku chow dulu. Jumpak lagi nanti bila-bila.” Bijan thrust out his hand and Zharif shaked it.

“Jumpak lagi.” Zharif stood and waited for the two to exit the café before taking a seat.

Zharif stared at his book for a few seconds, shrugged, took another sip of his coffee (did it taste worse than before?) and continued reading with a smile on his face. His sleepiness seems to have left him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Skin That Didn't Break

Zahra opens her eyes reluctantly to the yells of her mother.

“Zahra!! Bangun!! Dah pukoi brapa dah ni!? Takmaw pi sekolah ka!?”

With a frown, she props herself on the side of her bed and sits for a bit before her mother’s voice again invades her room.

“Dok tunggu apa lagi!? Pi mandi cepat!! Dah pukoi brapa dah ni!?”

And with that she showers and put on her school uniform. After combing her hair, she stares at herself in the mirror without moving for almost a full minute before the expected

“Zahra! Hang dok termenung apa lagi tu!? Dah pukoi brapa dah ni pi makan breakfast tu!!”

She makes her way to the dinner table and eats the singular piece of bread spread with kaya served on the table.

She takes her pink school bag and puts her Warrior shoes on. She kisses her mother’s hand and her mother replies with the expected 

“Cepat lari pi sekolah pi! Dah lambat dah ni!”

She makes her way down the stairs of the flat building her family’s apartment is in, all six flights of it, and joins the horde of school uniform wearing primary school children walking to the school which was less than a kilometre away. She lets out a sigh. She walks head down following the flow of school children.

Halfway to the school, near a big pipe that has a metre sticking out of its middle, Zahra spots a dead rat. Her eyes widen as she crouches down to take a closer look. The rest of the school children walk past her.

The dead rat isn’t dead yet. It is still breathing. She could see that the rat’s body was still moving. Zahra takes a look around. People walk past her without as much as a glance.

She picks the rat up. She can feel the rat’s warmth on her hands. She can even feel its heartbeat. She is careful not to drop the rat.

She turns around and goes back in the direction of the apartment building. She is walking with urgency, almost jogging, but she is careful not to drop the rat.

Other school children glare at her. They seem bewildered by where this girl could be going and what she is holding in her hands. They turn back to look at her when she walks past for a few seconds before looking back in front of them and continue walking and talking to their friends.

Zahra walks back up the six flights of stairs and enters her family’s house, as the door was left open. She didn’t take off her shoes.

As soon as she enters the house, her mother who looks like she has just gotten out of the shower spots her. Her face immediately turns angry and she screams

Zahra’s mother points to the rat still in Zahra’s hands with a look of terror on her face. Zahra raises the rat so as to let her mother take a closer look.

“ZAHRA!! APA BENDA TU!! TIKUIH KAA!?” Zahra’s mother silently steps back towards the kitchen.

Zahra nods silently.




Zahra draws the rat back to her chest. She shakes her head left and right, left and right.

“Apa nak jadi la ngan hang ni! Orang kata pi buang, PI BUANG!” Zahra’s mother screams while reaching for the only broom in the house.

Tears start flowing down Zahra’s face.


With that, Zahra thrusts her hands with the rat in front of her again, and screams, “DIA TAK MATI LAGI!! TENGOK NI!!”

Zahra’s mother holds the broom with both her hands and swings it from below towards the rat. She hits the rat. The rat flies out of Zahra’s hands. Zahra screams in pain. The rat hits the moving ceiling fan. It hurtles towards the wall, hits it and falls on the floor. 

The rat’s head is almost decapitated. Only the skin on the back of its head is keeping it attached to the body. Blood is spilling from the rat and spreads around the rat.

Both Zahra and her mother stare at the rat, neither moving at all.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Café Back Alley

“The atom, the sun, the galaxies, and the universe,
Are surely but names, images, and forms.
One they are in reality, and only one.”

Farhan read the verse twice before slowly closing the book and putting it beside him. He stared at the empty cup of coffee in front of him. He didn’t like to play favourites, but that has had to have been the worst cup of coffee he has ever finished. He forced himself to swallow it just half-an-hour ago, because he wasn’t about to let RM12 go down the drain, plus it was helping him stay awake. 

After a hard day’s work at the bank earlier, all he was looking forward to was a nap. But since his friend told him about this place yesterday and how famous it was with local scenesters, he wanted to get the visit over and done with. He knew that it was nice, judging from the few pictures on the internet, but when he actually entered the premise, it was more impressive than he thought. Not your average café, that’s for certain. Too bad the coffee was terrible.

He took a look to his left. A whole wall of wine-bottles stacked up to the roof on wooden racks. It wasn’t just a coffee shop, it also had a wine-room, and if Farhan had more money to call his own, he would have been tempted to take his first sip of wine in his life. Alas, with his paycheck already almost spent, and with a full week to go to his next one, to say that this RM12 horrible cup of coffee was a unnecessary luxury was an understatement. He sat there instead of the front of the café because there was a couch there, and he didn’t want to sit on a stool while reading.

That line was still at the back of his head. “One they are in reality, and only one”. That was a new concept. One. The only thing he could think about in response to that at that particular moment was... One Malaysia. 

He breathed out a laugh. 

Suddenly, he noticed a cat at the entrance of the wine-room. It was staring at him. Had it been staring at him this whole time?

The cat and Farhan locked eyes for about 2 seconds (one, two) until the cat pulled away and turned around ever so slowly and went out of the room. 

Farhan promptly got up. Only then did he wonder what he was doing. He didn’t know. And frankly, he didn’t feel like knowing. What he was certain of was what he saw in the cat’s eyes. He saw himself, only different. Darker, almost sinister. But it was definitely him alright.

He followed the cat outside of the room, leaving his book behind. He just caught sight of the cat’s tail as it walked towards the back of the café. He squeezed his way past the people sitting at their tables, drinking whatever they were drinking. 

It was funny. When he passed through the other customers, they didn’t even bother looking up at him. As if the conversations they were barely having was too engrossing to look up from. It was as if he didn’t exist. He felt it. And, for some reason, he liked it.

He got to the back part of the café eventually, and again just caught sight of the cat’s tail as it got outside the backdoor as it was closing. He ran towards the door in hopes of catching it before the door closed. Who knows, it might just lock him inside as soon as it closed. He didn’t know why he was being so paranoid, but he had to keep that door open at all costs.

He ran through the door that was barely an inch away from closing completely. He ran a few steps outside the door, jubilated that he made it in time. He looked up, and all he could see was a bare desert, stretching as far as the eye could see. 

What was this? Where was he? This wasn’t Jalan Ganesan, the café’s back alley. How? Some sand blew into his eyes, forcing him to close them and rub the sand out. While he was rubbing, he hoped that by the time he got the sand out, he’d see Jalan Ganesan, or was back inside on the couch in the wine-room. Or even better, still at the bank.

But it wasn’t meant to be. He reopened his eyes to the same desert that he had only previously seen in movies and computer wallpapers. Then he remembered. He turned around quickly to the door behind him, but it wasn’t there anymore. Just his own, darker, sinister self staring back at him with eyes that weren’t human. They were cat’s eyes.