Saving Graces

Nota : Pada tahun 2001 saya ada cuba untuk menulis karya pendek. Saya berikan tajuk ‘Saving Graces’. Hari demi hari, cerita yang pada mulanya pendek menjadi semakin panjang dan akhirnya terlalu panjang sampai berpuluh-puluh mukasurat. Pada tahun 2003, malang menimpa bila cakera keras saya mengalami masalah serius menyebabkan lebih 60% daripada cerita ini lupus selamanya. Masalah masa dan cerita yang makin menarik menyebabkan cerita ini masih belum berkesudahan, hinggalah sekarang. Ini adalah antara memori yang tinggal.

Don’t panic. Any flower will do.

Pressing his nose again the window, he tried to count the money inside his left pocket with only two fingers, his thumb and little finger while still holding on to his old, worn-out strapless watch. One, two, three, four. Five? His oily nose left an oily mark on the store’s window, a dirty triangle, like a bishop nose. His eyes run around looking at beautiful clothes, red, yellow, blue, green, violet. Plain cloth he thought, more beautiful than those with small red roses. Is it? Traditional motive, even kain batik is beautiful. Laces and beads. Weren’t that a little too much? Walking and wearing it, may gave the person ringworm, itchy all over. Is that silk he had been looking at or was it cotton? The sheer sheen from the cloth only confirmed that it was a good quality cloth; even his mother doesn’t wear silk. Expensive, soft. So, he doesn’t know what genuine silk would feel like. 10% to 20% discount, that must be good, but how much is much? How much is enough? It's hard to count money little finger and thumb.

Since the last time he came here, last Monday, he had been eyeing a light blue cloth, plain with yellow orchid. Peculiar design as his sister told him. Yellow orchid, just like the one he saw at a Chinese flower shop near the traffic light he passed by everyday to sell his vegetable. Potato, long beans, sometime even fruits, when the season came in good mood. Nice juicy fruits enough for the whole family and some more for him to sell at the morning market.

Jalan Resam is a busy road that stretches for 2 kilometer. Flower shop, there more then 10 groceries shops, selling almost everything to satisfy the jaded housewife or even a rich Mak Datins. But there is only one taylor shop, not including 3 others located at the east side of the road with the latest and expensive sewing machine but they quality, can’t even sembat properly. Wo Mei Taylor isn’t really a tailor. It just sells cloth. She doesn’t even know how to sew. She once had a Malay lady working with her and after a while, as the business were getting better the lady asked Wo Mei if she can make cloths and asked her for a sewing machine. Wo Mei says yes, and her business bloom just like that beautiful yellow orchid Pak Su so much loved of.

Two months later, that lady, resigned due to family problems. And now she is working at another Chinese taylor shop just 4 blocks away.

Just four doors from the cloth shop, was his favorite barber. Thurai, a man in his mid 50’s, cannot start his business without his usual special blend of black Ceylon coffee and prata. A self made man, Bombay-born Thurai remain single although have the looks and persona of a top Hindi actor. He said it himself. If he had extra money, Pak Su will have his crew cut there, complete with the usual spicy gossips around town that he had always thought of as a normal and quiet town. This person doesn’t like that person, who loves who, when they will wed, where and who are the culprits that are trying to brake up that lovely couple. He even knew who got caught khalwat last week, complete with it gory and interestingly least known details. He loves his curry and dhal hot and thick. And sometime he buys from Pak Su whenever Pak Su came for a haircut, or met his at the morning market

“You want to buy some flowers?” said the young women down at the flower shop. He was caught off guard.

“No thanks. How much for those red roses?” What else should someone asked for, not for the classic red rose? Thorny but fragile. Long crocked stamps. Layer upon layer of beautiful petals. Deep heart red.

“Not expensive, certainly not with the money you had with you,” the florist smile, surely noticing the money he was holding and been searching for the last 10 minutes." No thanks. Not today.”

Embarrassed with the entire predicament, he looks around for something you can seat on. Ah there, a stool.

Before everything else started to get busy, he sat down on a stool, reserved for customers of a prata and chicken rise stall. One of it legs are uneven, making him uneasy and had to balance himself east and west, with one hand holding and searching his shirt's pocket and another, his right loose khaki pants. Is that it? He sure he had more. He knew he has. He had counted the money before he came here. That money he had saved particularly for that beautiful blue cloth with peculiar orchid-as his sister told him. He even reserved some extra money for it, if by any chance his sisters need money or cases like this would happen. Where can it be?

He put his watch dawn on the ground, to make his fruitless search a lot easier. To no avail, nothing. Hi hard-pressed shirt is now crocked, some black marking around the pocket from his dirty hands. He sighted. And try to adjust it, try to blow the dirt away with a couple of harmless blow. He then stood up, caressing his white shirt then his pants. He doesn’t usually wear Does he left the money at home could it be? He thinks so, that is the only possible explanation he can coin up with. He crossed his arms, looking down at his watch; afraid someone would kick or step on it

He took up his strapless watch that had been laying on the dirt road for at least five minutes. He looks at the time. It nearly 9 in the morning. He arrived at 7.00 in the morning. Bicycle, red with dirt and earth has no brakes so he has to use his feet as breaks.

Wedding of the year

Jalan Resam was crowded as usual. The festive season came again with colors. The long stretched road looks alive with harmonic and contrasting colors; food couldn’t be more mouth watering.

After much discussion, the time was set. They would be engaged for a year before they tied the knot. Busu's father nooded in agreement when Zaiton father's suggested the date. He was happy but quite concern if it was enough. But he knows he can’t argue about it. He has no reason to.

Preparation was to be made immediately, even though if it was a simple affair for the groom's side. A cow will be slaughtered, and it is not that cheap. At least the house needed some decoration and new plates and some repairing. Zaiton's family makes it sound so casual like Busu's family was one of them, the elite, with everything at disposal and time at their side. They were nowhere close, if fact both family were actually world apart. Time passed quickly while Busu was still finding his footing and clearing the piece of land he had promise himself to be the rice bowl of the family. After countless of dead trees and gallons of sweats, it was already a year since the promised was made.
Coming this July, Parit Tamu will come alive with emotions, long lost friends that haven’t seen each other for years. Seng Seng even marked his calendar with a big red cross counting down to the big event. An event marked the tied the common people to the aristocracy. View may vary and some people even exaggerate the facts about the wedding. Busu saved Zaiton from drowning during boating accident near some river around here, as one of the stories goes. The bride’s father was so happy about his daughter wedding that he was said to offer Busu a government post. And many other tales that only Busu can confirmed.

That year, June came and goes as quickly as there were only 4 days in it. With no significant what so ever. people on the street, across town and way out there from Batu Pahat and Muar whispered to each other and nodded, as agreeing or disagreeing about something whenever they passed by the big house near the junction of Jalan Resam. As it was on queue, at a nearby nursery, flowers stated to add colors to it selves and ready to blossom, waiting for the 'akad' or the sound of the 'kompang' red roses, some yellow, colored the lawn and beautiful butterfly flipping their wings effortlessly towards the leaf and already bloomed flowers. Caterpillars making their way up the thorny stamp to build a cocooned and joined their beautiful friends and siblings. Even the leafs were glowing, the green was brighter, a bit different then usual It was the event of the year, some even make sure they will not make any plans during that weekend. A Siamese witchdoctor offered Busu to hold the rain and make sure there will be enough light on that day.

Talking with both his mouth and hands, trying to convince Busu that there would be
nothing to be worried about. Uncles and the elderly stopped by the house with many tips for newly weds and how to build a happy family. What to eat, what to avoid, what to read and what to look for. What to do if anything goes wrong and never forget to read the Quran and follow the words of Prophet Muhammad. As the time get closer, there were more advices came from everyone. And he welcomed it. It was a joyous moment. Everyone was in a positive, festive mood. Nearly everyday there will be someone coming to the house bringing along cheerful Busu just smiled, with a long 'parang' in one hand, he continued cutting the lawn to utmost perfection. It was only weeks now. There were still many things to prepare.

No place like home

Two big bags. A small yellow plastic bag and a red medium size backpack. His hands were full. The journey was longer then he has expected. A torture to his back. Usually he only brought with him one 75-liter haversack and a pouch. Be it to Ireland, to his friend’s house in Netherlands or somewhere just across town from his apartment in London.

He sat down on the hard concrete bench with his bags left lying on his left hand side. The big Karrinor haversack had been with him for three years. He bought it with what left from his loan for the semester. The other one was purchased more recently. A traveling bag, a cheap Samsonite-like copy he bought just for this trip. It was gray and black and tough. That was what the salesgirl told him. Everything that he thinks are fragile was put in it. It was heavier than the haversack and the size wasn’t a pleasant one to travel with. At least he got a good price for it, and nothing comes close to the real thing than this. He never says anything and just handed the money to the salesgirl. He just please the bag had wheels so it can be towed around town with ease.

It was hot. The bench was hot. Sweats came from everywhere. Muar hasn’t changed much. Cars and motorcycles and busses and lorries moving in cycle all over town. It was a case of one too many one-way streets. White lanes that kept the vehicles apart were often forgotten, as everyone was busy getting from one point to another. Somewhere. Soon. The traffic had surely surged forward since he was here the last time. More air condition busses. Am was hopping the rain would come. It was so hot, he wishes it were nighttime, dead cold winter in the murky town of London.

“Pakcik, Parit Tamu.” Am signaling to the well-fed middle age man in green-checkered shirt. Well around fifties and standing in front of Am. The man didn’t say anything but Am knew he would soon ask him where he wants to go.

“There no cars. See. Just wait. Maybe two or three minute more.” What? Three minutes? Hell, he’d had been here for and hour and still no white and blue car would take him to Parit Tamu. To Batu Pahat, yes. Parit Sulong, yes. Parit Jawa, yes. The middle age man look over his shoulder after hearing an old diesel engine parked in one of the vacant lot reserved for vehicle going south. His hair was in a good shape to be totally bald in a year or so. The man left his shirt unbuttoned up to the last two buttons of his shirt. Am was restless. But this used to be one of the activities he loves the most. Waiting for the cab home. There have to be at least four person before the cab can be on their respective destination. Watching people. That was his hobby. And it still is. At London, bored with all the hustle and bustle of the heavy traffic, human and machine, he like to sit at those cute sidewalk café, with cappuccino and espresso and Asian immigrants and student walking up and down the main street as it was their won. Diverse. He’d choose to sit outdoor, sipping tea and watching people with various tricks up their sleeves trying to survive the tough street adventure. Asian or Malay-run restaurant can be found here and there in this metropolitan city.

During his first year in London, he do practically nothing except going to classes, practicing his broken and untested English and watching people making fun of other people that thought there are no such things as honest people that came here sincerely with one thought, that is to study. People do differ from one continent to another but the similarities are so much more than the differences. Every afternoon Am will go back to his apartment in between classes. It was a long walk. Especially the first winter he was there. Cold winter wind blows his worries away and it is too irresistible not to take a quick nap.

The second year was more than studies. He joins clubs and more clubs. He tried debating even though his English were still down there, on par with immigrant Bangladeshi driving the cab in London. No offence but he think their English is much better, much, much better. It was a joke, a fellow teammate and a local friend made, but encourages him to ignore everything and just do what he wanted to do. Even if people think he sucks at it.

“No regrets in trying.”

He hangs out at places he never been to until late night. He needs to fully utilize all the time and energy he had. No time need to be wasted. He made more and more friends, foreign and local and some speaks English much worse than him. Talking and talking and exchanging idea and thoughts. He loosens up a bit. Bit by bit. Am stated smoking, even though it was late for someone his age.

Am looks at the yellow and blue Batu Pahat bus taking a corner, as it was about to tilt over. The bus terminal was like a big beehive. The nerve center of Muar must be right here. An orbit to something old and had never change for quite some time. On Sunday and public holidays, the little road looks as it can’t take it anymore. Congestion was to the maximum. But was still enough room for everyone to move around. Not like KL during peak hour. That is a different story altogether. Like the dust ring around Jupiter, Muar looks alive and soulful during those days. Just like it has always been.

Am started to love London during the summer of that second year. Study was great. He took engineering and it was as expected, smooth sailing so far, for him. He always has been very good in mathematic. Algebra and statistic. Number upon numbers and theories and equations. Am was among the top 10 percent of his course without even knowing it. It all becomes too easy. He learns only in class and busy socializing and hanging out with friends at night. He got bored. Study was great but it had been quite a chore.

He made it a habit to stay late after class every Wednesday and do his study at the library alone. It was more relaxing and quite. He got bored studying at home and only went there to sleep. The library was big and cold. Everything was perfectly organized, from A to Z by author and category. Couples changing notes and stealing glances at each other. Often, wild laughter burst out from nowhere. Everyone look up and look around for the source. To listen, then, when they were pretty sure it was nothing, everything went to its normal mode. He became more curious and aware of his surroundings. Am often left without the answer, whenever he was trying to find solutions for something. His hand often holds a black ball pen if not a fluorescence highlighter just in case anything came up. He writes with a simple loose strokes, just making sure his professor can understand his wormy ‘W’ and “a” that look like an ‘E’. He stays late until well after diner and only after his eyes were really tired and can barely open.

Often, after a bored and tedious session of crunching numbers and facts, he turns the pages of classic literature and seriously thick old fables.

Living live vicariously


Two stumps fall to the ground. The batsman froze. Just another victim to the typical hot English afternoon.

“Gentleman‘s game, the called it. What so gentle about it, that sets it apart from other sports. I used to play cricket when I was in JB. Weekends, the hot sun. Padang Seri Gelam. We were coached by Indians and Bangladeshi, you know. During the centralize training program, we shared the field with uncles, old timers. Well into their 40’s and 50’s. Sometime they had this friendly match, you see. Between professionals, lawyers and doctors and other civil servants. All with big stomach and drank Tuborg all day long. I still wonder how they can still managed to catch the ball after so many round of beers. If that is what they meant by gentleman’s game.”

Omar was well shades under the old tree that were panted around the field. His butt sank deep into the soft grass that was left a little longer along the outer side of the field, maybe intentionally to stop the ball from rolling out of the field. It was actually a football field and not a cricket ground. And Omar told him, the shorter the grass the better. The ball can roll faster. A funny game. White, sometime red lather ball tossed in an awkward way, trying to avoid a batsman that was holding a flat bat and tried to hit the stumps that are made of three long wooden sticks.


Damn, what the hell was that all about? Leaves flew everywhere every time the wind blew. Gently, green leaves sway from left to right before landing it perfectly on the long green grass. Not all of it was lucky though. Some landed in puddle of mud just and sank to the murky deep end.

Am doesn’t even know that Omar played cricket before. He never talked about it. Am never asked. The interruption doesn’t last long. Both of them went back to the game just to watch the ball roll just a couple of feet from them. Right over the boundaries. Another four runs.

Omar often laugh at his own jokes. The kind of laughter that is contagious at first but turn to annoyance moment later. Just like that. Omar cracks jokes all the time. When Am first came here, he was one of the reasons he can stop thinking of home. Omar hates mathematics but ends up doing engineering. Since the second year, they had not been hanging out as often as they used to be. Omar was, hopelessly in love with everything here.

“Why the sudden change? I saw you took the bus home last Monday afternoon. You usually walk right? Even in winter when even Frosty the Snowman took the bus to the park. Why, you start to love cricket also, I see.”

The sudden shouting from the middle of the field can only meant someone was out. Bowled out, with only three runs. Only two wicket left. So walk the legendary captain, standing in front of the stumps, measuring his centerline. The captain gave his bat a couple of practice swings before taking a deep breath, waiting for the ball to come.

“When I was in primary school, I went to school with my brother. The walk took nearly half and hour and everyday we would race home from school. The road was busy, but you know, kids, crazy. My brother always won and beat me, easy. He was the school captain for the football team. I only took part in drawing and story telling contest.”

“ I started to take the long road home when I was in standard six. Opposite the normal road we took before. We would walk in circle, thought other people’s garden and orchards. It took one-hour, top. Only then that I knew our kampung had many streams with clear fresh water that later joined up with other small streams at the end and made up their way to the big river near our house. Small fishes that I caught after school I put into empty Horlics jars and arranged it on the small table we had beside the television set. Those were lonely time. That was what I do whenever I felt lonely.”

The right spread of people doing their own thing only adds more color to the already bright and lively backdrop. For the last three weeks after the long semester break, Am doesn’t bother to walks home or hides at the library anymore. Annoyed by the pretenders, holding books with both hands but giggling under it cover. He only spends time at the library two hour, top.

Am was there for nearly an hour but still doesn’t know what teams that were on the field, playing. He never bothers asking but often ends up his English friends come and told him about the match. Another beautiful sweep to the right side of the field gave the batting team another sin runs.

“So, you’re calling London your home now?” Omar asked with one hand picking on the grass beside him. He looks like he was in a hurry but still has time to sits down and has a nice chat with Am, which was just happy to see him.

“Home is where your heart is, right? Heart, a place that is often misquotes. I don’t know. It’s only a couple of months left before we can get home. Hopefully. Only now I know that this city have accepted me as one of its children’s. Only now and I’m really glade.”

During the third year semester break, the long summer holiday, he went to French with his friends to see the romantic city of Paris. The iconic Eiffel tower and the original Ferris wheel. Small and winding road, Muslim immigrant can be seen everywhere. Beautiful Citrons and legendary Peugeot GTi mark 1 have never look more at home. Gileras and Piagios, small moped, exotic and fancy cars. Every semester break after that, he make sure he put a side some of the loan he had for traveling. Because the library was starting to look too small for him now, he had to find more space for himself.

Omar, spending the summer trying to be a classic Londoner. Pub hopping and clubbing. Having the time of his life. When he arrived home with a little too much to drink, he just collapsed in the hallway. It was so often, he would usually miss the first class of every week.

Last summer, he went to Ireland. With nothing plans, all he knew about the place was James Joyce. There was a rumor about Malaysia Hall will be permanently closed and how it will be great lost to all Malaysian in London. It was a place every Hari Raya you can sample a mock version of your mum’s rendang or ketupat with sambal kacang and lodeh. Tempe, nothing beat the mutton serunding his aunts made. Every tales his friends brought back from the hall only left his left ear without even leaving something inside of him. It just a place, an object, he thought. For as long as he was there, he hasn’t once set foot at that place. As Aidilfitri get closer, he went to the library less frequently, only occasionally and if there were urgent things he had to pass up the next day. Between classes and his sleeps that had become shorter by the day. That was how he spends his Ramadan.

All the way to Ireland he put his patient and analytical skill to the test. Again. The thick yellow and blue paperback that he often put down after reading only a couple of it pages was put the test again. No less than four times did he tried to finish the book and each and every time he was stuck halfway-between page 300 and 400. It was very trying. Indeed. It wasn’t easy, asked anyone who had read ‘Ulysses’. Even after reading ‘A Portraits Of A Young Man As An Artist,’ again. He never understood the story completely. How one day could be so thick, so eventful. Although, the incomprehensible part is kind of understandable. And compelling.

“There, another sixer. This game is mad. Playing here is okay, but in Malaysian, under the hot afternoon sun. It’s torture!”

“The West Indies are damn good also you know.”

“Football. Twenty people chasing one ball. What do you call that?” Am answering it without looking at Omar’s face.

After their last stop before the last leg to Ireland, he had managed to read more that he could read for the last couple of days. He swore as the train entered Dublin just as the same time as Leopold Bloom starts his adventure on 6th June 1904. The book was halfway done. The sleepy sun shared his feeling not to be overwhelmed with the new day ahead, although it does seem like it will not be like any other ordinary day. His friend, Patrick, said he will be a little late to pick them up at the railway station due to some unavoidable circumstances.

By ‘them’ it means Am and Yati, which, for the pas few months have been a very lovely couple. For the whole last leg of the railway journey had been peaceful sleeping beside him. Her spectacles were slipping a bit from her nose and Am really finds it very cute. The little bun he had was now been let free to drop naturally. Some of her long hairs manage to creep up her shirt and rested on her neck. Cute, Am shaking he shoulder, slowly. She looks so adorable that am only woke her after everyone else had already gotten off the train.

“Are we there yet?” Yati, adjusting her spectacles. Eyes twitching, adjusting to the morning sun.

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