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.


Anisa Anuar said...

This is so the way you write the story...thumbs up from me.. *wipe my tears*

Ikasaharman said...

Keep it up bro!

Maicher said...

Beautifully written.

4 stars. :)