Friday, July 18, 2014

Brick In The Wall

A smile appeared on Mahmud’s face as he looked down on the bag of big letter blocks he’d been collecting from various government building signs for almost three months now. He finally had all the letters he needed to set his plan of four months in motion.

He checked his watch, confirming that it was already half past one in the morning. He zipped up the bag, got in his red Kancil and went off to his destination: Sekolah Kebangsaan Maluri Perdana. The closer he got to it, the faster his heart beat. It had been a while since he’s conducted a project of this magnitude, so he understood why he was a little more nervous than usual. This actually made him smile even more. The more the adrenaline, the better.

He parked a fair distance away from the school. He didn’t want his getaway vehicle to be spotted now, did he? He walked with his hoodie on and his bag in tow the rest of the way to the gate at the side of the school. He was sure that the guard was just sitting at his post near the front gate, probably sleeping. He had staked out the place for a whole week straight to know that the singular guard’s nightly routine never varied.

He put the bag through the hole in the fence that he made the previous night and squeezed into the school himself, making sure to make as little noise as possible. It was a good thing that they put the only street lights on the road near the school gate. Mahmud didn’t need to much light to maneuver himself. The light of the full moon that night was more than enough to show him the way.

He quickly made his way to the Living Skills workshop, unlocked the door and took out the tallest ladder the school had to offer. There was only one, and Mahmud estimated that it could reach about ten meters high. He put the bag full of letters down and carried the ladder to the side of the main building of the school and positioned it against the wall which he had been observing for quite some time. He then went back to the workshop, took his bag as well as three tins of Dunlop general purpose contact adhesive, or as it was known to the general public, gam kasut, and made his way back to the wall.

He took a look around the wall to make sure that the guard was still where he was supposed to be before starting. He laid out the letters of various official-looking fonts in the order in which he wanted them before brushing on the glue to the backs of each of them. After re-checking the guard house - you can never be too careful - he climbed up the ladder and applied glue at the positions in which the letters needed to be. This needed a lot of climbing, going back down again, moving the ladder and climbing back up. 

After close to half an hour of being in the school compounds, Mahmud finally placed the letters on the wall, being careful not to stick the letters onto himself in the process. After placing the final letter, E, he put the tins of glue back into the workshop and locked the door. He then took the ladder and, after one final look at the guard house, carried it all the way to his improvised entrance at the side of the school compound and hid the ladder in the bushes. He then squeezed out of the gate and made a clean getaway. That went even better than expected, thought Mahmud as he crawled into his bed to get a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, the school was in a furor, as it was found that in the background of the students’ assembly ground, and in full view of everyone, especially the teachers as they were facing that way, was the phrase “HEY TEACHER LEAVE THOSE KIDS ALONE”, using shiny block letters. Those Ss even looked like the ones that were taken from the school sign two weeks ago, remarked one of the teachers.

The headmaster told the workers to immediately take the piece of vandalism down, but the workers couldn’t do so because they didn’t have a ladder that was tall enough to allow them to do that. When asked who would do such a thing, one of the school’s Living Skills teacher, Encik Mahmud just shrugged and shook his head in disbelief.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


“I have something to confess.” Borhan looked straight into his wife’s eyes while preparing to say what has been weighing on his mind even before they got married twenty-five years ago, but never had the guts to tell, until now.

“What is it Abah?” Aziah had to admit, this was the first time her husband has ever uttered that word, confess.

Borhan took a big gulp. At that moment, their whole relationship flashed before his eyes. How they met as young first-year degree students. How they’d have study-dates up until the small hours of the morning at 24-hour restaurants. How he asked her to marry her after their third year of going out together. The struggles they went through before getting married. The moments he had wanted to tell her this very thing before this. Their wedding day. How they were worried they would get any children after three years of marriage. The moment a miracle in the form of their son came after five years of trying. All the fights they’d had. All the making up they did. Everything they’ve gone through. The thick as well as the thin. They’ve been through it all.

Except this.

“Well come on then, what is it?” Aziah’s heart started to beat faster.

Borhan took a deep breathe. “Before we got married, I slept with someone else.”

The world seemed to drop beneath Aziah’s feet. She immediately felt as if she had entered a dream world, where she could see herself and her husband in their living room, where they had made so many memories. She was floating outside of herself. “What?” she heard herself say.

“It was after the first year of us going out together. I went to a prostitution center and hired one. It was-” Borhan was interrupted by a hard slap across his face.

Aziah’s eyes were flooding and her hand was throbbing. She just wanted to throw something, anything hard towards this person that had the audacity to call himself her husband.

Borhan knew that at this point, anything he said would sound like an excuse, so he kept mouth shut and his head down. He couldn’t bear to look at her wife - was he still qualified to call her that? - in the eye.

Aziah had so many words, most of them cuss words, spiraling in her head like a tornado that she couldn’t get even one word out. She opened her mouth and only sobbing came, after which she dropped down on her backside, not even feeling the thud and cried as hysterically as she has ever cried.

Borhan started to worry about what the neighbours might think, Aziah crying and screaming the way she did. He knew that there was no way he could explain himself in any of them decided to check up on them to see what was going on.

For several minutes, Borhan didn’t know what to do. He was thankful that their son, Alif wasn’t there to see this. He would never forgive himself if he let Alif see this, Borhan knew.

After what seemed like an eternity of crying and when she finally brought herself down to a sob, Aziah noticed that Borhan was still there. She broke out in another fit of crying and just about got the words “Get out!” out of her mouth while pointing towards the door.

Borhan didn’t need to be told twice. He made his way to the door and right before going out, muttered “I’m sorry” to Aziah, although he actually doubted that she heard him.

Aziah laid there throughout the night, not bothering to move from the pool of tears she had made for herself. She didn’t know what to do, so she decided to do the next best thing, which was nothing.

Milk and Cat Food

The rain pattered down on what was just a few moments ago, just another cloudy day in the tropical island of Langkawi. Fortunately, Faiz brought with him an umbrella, since he foresaw that there was a possibility of rain from the cloudy weather they’ve been having as of late. “Prepare an umbrella before it rains” says the Malay adage. It’s always astounded Faiz how few Malay people take heed of this original Malay saying. To bring an umbrella while walking around was certainly not the Malaysian way of life. Faiz always prided himself in being somehow more than Malay, even though he’s never confided this to anyone, since he knew for certain that it would be met by unkind remarks from the people around him.

He liked the sound of rain droplets gently and distinctly falling upon his umbrella. He had gone out to purchase some prepaid for his phone. He needed to call his mother to update her on what had happened throughout the week. It’ll be the same old story, he knows, but her mother insists on her only son who has been posted in a whole different state to call her every weekend, and so he obliges. He didn’t like that he had to walk almost a whole kilometer from his residential flat area to get the prepaid though. The residential grocery store ran out of prepaid that day, and so he had to make the trek to the second nearest grocer in the town area. He hadn’t gotten enough money to invest in a motorcycle yet, and he hadn’t made too many friends to borrow anyone else’s motorcycle. Sure he didn’t have a license to drive motorbikes, but that’s hardly ever a factor here in Malaysia.

As he treaded along home on the side of the road, his chain of thought was broken by some tiny meowing. He looked around to find where it was coming from, and sure enough, he found a couple of small black and white kittens in a cardboard box near an electrical post. They were starting to get wet, which is why they sounded so distressed, surmised Faiz. He looked up and down the road to see if the person who left the kittens there were still around, but all he saw was the occasional car and motorcycle passing through. 

He bended down to take a closer look at the kittens. They were really small, couldn’t be more than a month old, he thought, although he didn’t have that much experience with felines before. The kittens continued meowing as if they were crying for help, looking as if they could barely support their own weight. Faiz stuck out a finger to the kittens, and to his surprise, the kittens responded by licking it. Faiz could feel the coarseness of their tongues and reveled at how cute they were, breaking out in an audible “aww”.

Faiz decided to take the cats with him, since they looked like they needed the shelter. He didn’t need to worry about his housemates’ acceptance of the kittens just yet, since they were both out of the house, as they usually were on the weekends.

Faiz wasn’t able to keep the kittens’ meows down throughout the trip up to his rented apartment, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone he passed by, all of them oblivious to his existence, as they always had been. 

As soon as Faiz entered his apartment, he went to his room to dry off the kittens with a rag and wondered if they might be hungry. He never really saw any cats eating in front of him. His only experience was watching cartoons of cats, and they always seemed to love drinking milk. He went to the fridge in the apartment and grabbed some milk to put in a bowl. Milk was a rare item in the average Malaysian household, but since it’s been a habit of his to always eat cereal for breakfast, milk was one of the must-have items for him.

As soon as he had finished pouring the milk into a bowl and picked it up to give to the kittens, he felt a tingling sensation on his toes. He looked down and was surprised to see that the kittens were licking his toenails. He heaved a sigh of relief that he hadn’t spilled the milk in his shock and placed the bowl down on the floor by the kittens. 

The kittens didn’t seem to notice the bowl of milk and continued licking his toenails. Faiz picked the kittens up one by one and put them right beside the bowl, but the kittens stumbled their way to Faiz’s feet again and licked him. Faiz was scratching his head in confusion, wondering why they won’t drink the milk when one of the kittens bit his little toe. Faiz jumped up in shock and took a step back from the kittens. “Damn, you guys sure are feisty little fellas, aren’t you?” Faiz said aloud.

He decided to put them both back in their box in his room and locked the door so that he could go downstairs and buy some cat food from the the grocery store downstairs. He was relieved that they sold cat food, as he had no idea before that. It wasn’t too expensive too, thought Faiz as he went back upstairs.

When he opened the door, he was again surprised to see the two kittens waiting for him inside in the living room. He looked over to his room and saw that the door was open, although he could have sworn that he closed and locked it before going out. He went to the kitchen with the kittens following him, and with both of them licking his toes, he put some of the cat food into a bowl. This should do it, he thought to himself.

He placed the bowl of cat food on the floor beside the bowl of milk, and put the kittens right beside it, but as before, they walked nimbly back to Faiz’s feet. “Really? What do you guys want??” Faiz exclaimed. He put his hands to his head and thought about what to do with the kittens.

As he did this, one of the kittens bit down on Faiz’s toe, only this time, it was harder and caused Faiz’s little toe to bleed. Again Faiz jumped and felt like kicking the two kittens straight away. This was getting a bit much for him to handle. This was probably why they were left beside the road in the first place. Stupid cats biting me and whatnot.

He looked at the kittens again, and his jaw slowly dropped when he saw that the two kittens were licking up the blood that was on the floor because of the bite. He watched in horror as the two kittens finished what was on the floor and walked over to get more from his toe.

“What do we want?” Faiz heard a voice coming from behind. He turned around and saw nothing but the kitchen sink. “I’ll tell you what we want!” He turned back to look at the tiny black and white kittens. Were the kittens talking to him? “We just want to eat. That’s all!” He was now certain that the voice was coming from the back of his head, somehow. “Let us eat, just a little more?”

“I gave you food! There! Over there!” Faiz pointed towards the two bowls on the floor on the far side of the kitchen while backing up until his back was against the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. He suddenly felt an enormous weight coming upon him and was unable to get up or even move.

“We don’t eat that, silly.” The voice in his head sounded as if it was smiling. The kittens were still staggering along their way to Faiz.

“Then, then what do you eat? I can get you some.” Faiz was already dreading the answer.

“You’ll find out soon enough.” 


Rosli came into the house as late as he usually did and was a little taken aback that the door was unlocked. That good for nothing Faiz punya kerja la ni. Azman was spending the night at his parents’ house. He called for Faiz but got no reply. His door was open but Rosli could see no one inside. He stepped into Faiz’s room and wondered what two sound asleep kittens were doing in a box on the floor. Rosli went to the kitchen to get himself a glass of water and accidentally stepped on what seemed to be milk and cat food. “Bodo Faiz hang pi mana!?” Rosli exclaimed more to himself than anyone else, since Faiz was nowhere to be found inside the apartment.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dark Chocolate Cake

Flour? Check. Cocoa powder? Check. Coffee? Check. Eggs, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract? All check. Time to shake and bake.

Amira knew how awfully wrong it must seem to use Will Ferrell and John Reilly’s Talladega Nights catchphrase in the actual baking context, but she used it nonetheless since it always made her smile, and starting her annual baking project with a smile helped her get into a good mood, and she needed the extra endorphins. So, time to shake and bake.

She started, as always, by preheating the oven. She then quickly greased and floured her 9x13 inch pan which she only ever took out once a year, for this specific occasion. She then took out a large bowl from the cabinet under the sink, rinsed in a little to clear the dust that must have gathered there for sitting down there for so long, and started putting the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder into the bowl and mixed all those dry ingredients together. She preferred doing this step by hand. It helped her feel connected to the cake, like she was contributing a little bit of herself into the cake as well, like an integral extra ingredient.

She then made a hole in the middle of the dry mix with her fingers. She knew just how big to make it, since she’s done it more than ten times already. She then put in the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract into the well she has dug. Lastly, she picks up the last remaining ingredient on the counter, the cup of coffee and takes a sip. She closes her eyes and carves a smile on her face, savouring the strong, rich taste before pouring the whole glass in with the rest of the ingredients in the bowl.

She then mixed the batter with a wooden spoon for a minute before putting it on the electric mixer at medium speed for two minutes. She would beat the batter herself, but it was a hard day at work, as usual. All of her body just wanted crash on the bed and wake up late tomorrow in the middle of Saturday. But she had to make this cake first.

 Amira stared at the little machine doing its work and thought back to the first time she did this. She didn’t have this electric mixer. Heck, she didn’t even know these little things existed, so she happily mixed the batter by hand, wearing her arm out in mere minutes. She remember she had to put the batter aside several times just to let her arm recover. Only after the phone call to her mother was she informed of the existence of the mini-miracle that is the electric mixer. Then there was of course the other phone call.

The two minutes were up. She took the bowl out and and deftly spread the batter into the pan. She made sure that it was nice and even before popping it into the oven to cook for 40 minutes at 175 degrees Celcius. Done. Now to clean up.

She collected all the bowls and gave them a thorough wash, wiped down the counter and took out the wire rack to cool the cake on when it was finished baking.

Amira wiped her forehead with her wrist and puffed out a breathe. She stared at the cake baking in the oven and caught her own reflection in the oven door. She chuckled at how old she had grown. Her hair was starting to turn gray. Not that many, but she noticed them anyway. More and more wrinkles have etched their way onto Amira’s face. She wondered if Jeff would still find her attractive in the state that she was in. 

He had always said that she was the most beautiful person in the world. She knew he was lying, but it was sweet of him, nevertheless. Those words never failed to make her smile. He would even bring it up in the fights they used to have. 
“Wait a minute, may I just have one little minute for something very very important!?” 

“WHAT IS IT!?” She would snap at him. 

“I just want to take a moment to take in the fact that I am right now quarreling with THE most beautiful person in the world.”

At which point she would throw anything her hands could reach as hard as she could at him, a smile on her face always betraying her.

The ding of the oven snapped her back into reality. She casually swiped away the tear running down her cheek and put on her oven mitt and took out the cake. She put it down gently on the cooling tray and took in the smell. Delicious, as always.

And now, it was time for her to wait. She will wait for Jeff. It didn’t matter that she knew Jeff wasn’t coming. It didn’t matter that five years ago Sergeant Rowley called to tell her that her husband, Jeffrey Nesbit was “missing in action”, as he put it, while on active service in Afghanistan. It didn’t matter that Jeff was most probably dead. All of that didn’t matter to her. What mattered was that it was his birthday today, and they always had dark chocolate cake on his birthday. And she’ll wait for her husband to come home and eat the dark chocolate birthday cake his wife made for him. She’ll wait.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


As his roommate gives the salaam signalling the end of the prayer, Farid dwells on the last words he utters. It’s in Arabic, so he doesn’t know what they mean. How could he choose to be ignorant of such a huge thing as what he is saying when praying? He gulps down his self-disgust before giving the salaam as well.

He’s never been a good Muslim, Farid. He knew that. Sure, he prayed five times a day, fasted when Ramadan came and everything, but he knew deep inside how worthless he must be in the sight of his God. How could he be? He barely even knew what he was saying while praying. He never really felt any closer to The Almighty when he fasted. It was all just to get it over and done with. So he can have a good record for the afterlife, so that he wouldn’t be thrown in Hell. And that’s it.

He wasn’t Azri. Azri, his roommate for three semesters now. Azri was an exemplary Muslim. Coming from one of the most prestigious religious schools in the country, he knew so much more than Farid did. Farid viewed his roommate in awe and envy. He was jealous at Azri for how much knowledge of the religion he had under his belt. He was jealous at how good a Muslim Azri was. Azri, the one always prayed supplementary prayers after maghrib and ‘isya. Azri, the one who recited long and elaborate doas at the end of each prayers. Azri, the one who most probably understood every single Arabic word he said while praying. Azri is definitely a guy who’ll be going straight to heaven when his life ends. 

And now that he’s done with the post-prayer zikir, Azri was reciting one of his elaborate doas. Azri’s deeds will definitely be counted by God. He knows exactly what he’s saying right now. Farid hasn’t even heard half of the supplications Azri was reciting, let alone understand them. Farid sighs.

But at least he’s done some good deeds in his life, right? Those must outweigh the bad deeds he’s done all this while. Farid wasn’t a very good Muslim, sure, but he wasn’t all that bad either. He never got into any trouble that he knew might have been too deep for him to climb out of. At least he’s got that going for him.

But what if Allah doesn’t accept his good deeds? What happens if all his good deeds were for nothing, because he didn’t even have the courtesy to find out what he meant when he prayed? What if all that counted were the bad deeds? What if God decided to toss out the good ones because Farid wasn’t a good enough Muslim to have them count? What did he do all his life when he couldn’t even understand a goddamn word of what Azri was saying in his doa right now? How could he have the gall to say that any of his good deeds counted, being as ignorant and as arrogant as he was? Who does he think he is in the sight of God? He wasn’t even as big as a spec of dust to God, and he has the nerve to think he deserved to go to heaven? Who was he kidding?


Noticing that his roommate, Farid suddenly sobbing and crying, Azri prolonged his supplication. He didn’t even know what he was praying for. He just said random Arabic phrases he picked up from his days in religious school. He didn’t want to take away this moment from Farid by ending the supplication, for he feared that once he stopped, Farid would stop crying too. Azri knew that Farid was being truly close to God, so close that tears streamed down his face, realising just how small he was in the sight of God. And Azri was jealous, because it’s something Azri hasn’t felt in a long, long time.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Two Hijab-Clad Women

Two hijab-clad women are in a restaurant bustling full of people, awaiting the call to prayer via the television on the wall on the far side of the restaurant, enabling them to break their day-long fast.

“So how’s work been?” Wani raises her voice just enough to penetrate the din around them.

“Oh, you know, same old same old. Clients always giving me headaches. I thought I’d have gotten used to it after three months. How wrong was I?” Suraya ended with a flourish and got back to typing on her phone. She was still as energetic as always, even after fasting for a whole day. Wani, on the other hand couldn’t quite bring herself to match her level of energy.

“Hehe, yeah. If it makes you feel any better, life as a teacher isn’t all that great either.” Wani said, forcing a smile on her face. It was not that she didn’t want to be there. She was just so tired.

“Yeah, you told me about that the last time we met. Which was, what? A month ago?” Suraya replied promptly while finally putting her phone down on the table.

“I think so. I remember you posted that meet on instagram. You tagged me in it.” Wani said while stirring her orange juice.

“Oh yeah. Let me look for it.” Suraya unlocked her phone and started scrolling until she found the picture and showed it to Wani, proof that she was indeed looking for that picture.

Wani and Suraya had been friends in secondary school. They wouldn’t call themselves BFFs by any measure, but they had their occasional late-night pillow talks. And when they found out that they worked quite close-by each other through facebook after five years of studying apart, they decided for a get-together around a month ago. They didn’t talk about much, just regular catching up kind of things. And now, after a text conversation initiated by Suraya, they were breaking fast with each other.

“Oh hey, you went to Rashid’s wedding!” Wani said after scrolling down a few pictures since Suraya didn’t seem to mind. Although she followed close to four hundred people on instagram, Wani never really did any scrolling through her feed. She mostly just checked the pictures she was tagged in from time to time. And she wasn’t tagged in any of her old classmate’s recent wedding.

“Yeah, it was great! His wife is soo pretty! Why didn’t you go?” Suraya said with enthusiasm and curiosity.

“Em, if I’m not mistaken, I had school that Saturday, so I couldn’t make the drive. Jauh la.” Wani exhaled with furrowed brows.

“Oh yeah, cuti ganti’s still a thing in schools huh? Haha. I took several pictures at the wedding. Isn’t his wife just lovely?” Suraya smiling widely as she talked.

“Yeah, she is pretty. Would be prettier if she wore a tudung though.” Wani commented as-a-matter-of-fact-ly. She looked up when she didn’t hear any response from Suraya. “What’s the matter?”

“Erm, I think her tudung has nothing to do with whether or not she’s pretty. After all, she’s the person I’m complimenting. What she chooses to wear has nothing to do with it.” Suraya was speaking with a lowered voice now, but she still made sure that she was heard.

“No, I didn’t mean it that way. I meant, it would be better for her if she wore a tudung.” Wani said wanting to dissolve what she felt was tension.

“And how would it be better for her if she wore a tudung?” Suraya didn’t seem to be soothed by Wani’s change in choice of words.

“You know, she wouldn’t be sinning if she wore a tudung. You know this, right?” Wani couldn’t understand why this was getting Suraya so upset.

Suraya took a long breathe before responding. “Even if she chooses to not wear a tudung, she is still not committing any sins. Did you know that not anywhere in the Quran is stated that women need to wear a tudung?” Suraya tried her best not to seem too angry, but she wasn’t doing the best of jobs.

“Ya la it’s not wajib for us to wear tudung. It is, though, wajib for us to cover our aurah. And our hair is part of our aurah.” Wani was starting to get irritated by Suraya’s lack of respect for their religion.

“Says who? Your ustaz? Ustazah? Where did they hear that from? Their ustaz and ustazah? We have to go straight to the source, Wani. Look at what the Quran says. It states specifically, in the verse I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with as well, Surah anNur verse 31: and drape a cover over their bosoms. Nowhere in the Quran says anything about covering your hair.” Suraya was getting furious, Wani could tell. But she wasn’t backing down.

“Again, the issue isn’t the hair. It’s the aurah. It’s our aurah! Our whole bodies are our aurah, except for our faces and our hands!” Wani didn’t expect to raise her voice, but there was no backing down now.

“I beg to differ! The women in the Prophet’s time couldn’t have regarded their hair as part of their aurah. Most of them couldn’t afford to, since they had to work the fields to fend for themselves in a society whose misogyny was exactly what the Prophet was trying to get rid of. You think wearing a hijab in Malaysia is hot? Try wearing it in the deserts of Arabia your whole life without the help of air-conditioners or even electric fans!” Suraya was really starting to get fired up.

“If you hate the tudung so much, why are you wearing it then?” Wani was definitely baffled by this. Suraya was a hijabi. Why did she hold such a grudge against the hijab and still choose to wear it?

“Because I am emulating the wives of the Prophet, may peace be upon him! They were the only ones who were specifically told by God to hijab themselves from men. They didn’t work the fields. They were protected. And since I have the luxury of being able to emulate them without persecution or other worries, I choose to do so. It doesn’t mean that people who choose otherwise are worse Muslims! They deserve the same amount of respect as any other Muslim woman! And if you can’t see that, then,” the sound of the azan, the call to prayer broke Suraya’s speech. She noticed that she was at the edge of her seat, so she adjusted her sitting and took a bite from a date that was provided for them by the restaurant. She felt that the air around her suddenly became thicker.

Wani ate her date without making any eye contact with Suraya. She just concentrated on the plate of rice in front of her.

The two hijab-clad women ate their meals in silence.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Friend Made (Part 1)

“Hai, penat nampak?” Daniel lifted his head from his palms and looked towards where the voice was coming from. It was the burger maker. Daniel broke into a smile while rubbing his right eye. He wanted to say something but nothing came out. “Dah lewat dah kot ni noh?”

“Ha, bleh tahan la gak.” Daniel responsed out of necessity, but also because he wanted to. The guy didn’t seem all that bad. He was just being friendly, as people do. He had black, wavy hair. It wasn’t too long, but just long enough to know that he wasn’t in school anymore. He wasn’t all that tall either, enhancing his harmless demeanor. He seemed to like smiling a lot, but not in a creepy way. It was .. amiable. Yes, that’s the word Dan was looking for.

“Dok dekat-dekat sini ka?” asked the burger maker while flipping a patty.

“Ha, saya dok kat flat kat belakang tu. Apartmen Saujana.” Daniel pointed in the apartment building’s general direction. It was beyond the flat area that the burger place was in. He just stopped at the first beside-the-road burger joint he chanced upon, since the usual spot was closed for some reason. Daniel had to take his motorcycle there because he didn’t feel like walking around aimlessly for stalls selling burgers.

“Oh, dekat ajalah. Dok belajaq ka kerja dah?” the burger maker was now spraying on some black liquid onto the patties. Looked cool, the way he was doing it, so nonchalantly. He had been working the grill for a while, Daniel could tell.

“Dah kerja dah. Cikgu, kat SK Saujana Indah. Kat belakang masjid tu. Sebelah Sekolah Menengah Saujana Indah.” Daniel regurgitated the more-elaborate-than-required response yet again to answer the anticipated question of which school exactly.

“Oh, ha, taw. Cikgu ka? Baru lagi? Nampak macam muda ja untuk cikgu?” The burger maker’s question didn’t sound intruding. He still came off as amiable.

“Hehe, ha, baru dalam empat bulan. Habeh belajaq tu tequih jadi cikgu ah.” Daniel was starting to admire this guy for some reason. Maybe it was the way he was carrying the conversation. He seemed genuinely interested. Like this wasn’t just small talk. Or maybe it was because he was doing what Daniel could never seem to figure out how to do: being friendly. 

“Oh. Belajaq kat mana dulu?” The burger maker continued the conversation effortlessly while tending to the buns on the grill with as much effort.

“Belajaq dekat sini ja. Maktab perguruan kat atas pulau, sebelah Recsam. Belakang Tesco. Habeh tahun lepaih, paihtu masuk kerja April.” Daniel was getting more comfortable.

“Oh, okayla tu.” The burger maker said while widening his smile to reveal a neat set of teeth. Then her turned away from Daniel for a while to pack the burger that he had prepared all this while. “Nah, burger daging special, siap.”

“Eh, saya order burger daging biasa ja?” Daniel muttered in his confusion. He had only brought down three ringgit, just enough for a standard beside-the-road plain beef burger.

“Takpa, hang bayaq harga daging biasa ja cukup lah.” The burger maker said while handing the finished burger over to Daniel.

“Eh, betoi ka ni bang?” Daniel started feeling guilty, like somehow he exploited the nice guy into giving him a discount.

“La, betoi la, dua ringgit lapan ja, cukup.” The burger maker smiled while still holding out the burger.

“Haih, okaylah bang.” Daniel had learned to accept nice gestures. Afterall, he didn’t like it when people won’t accept his good deeds or acts of charity, so it was only fair that he accepted. “Terima kasih.” Daniel said with a smile while simultaneously taking the burger and handing over the three ringgit he had in his pocket.

“Takpa aih.” The burger maker handed Daniel his 20 cents in change. “Mai lagi noh?” He seemed earnest in his invitation.

“Ha, alright. Thanks sekali lagi!” Daniel turned one last time before getting on his bike and starting it.

“Jumpak lagi geng!” The burger maker said with a wave of the hand and that sincere-looking smile.

Daniel smiled back. Not many people have called him “geng” throughout his lifetime. As a matter of fact, that might have been the very first time. Daniel rode back to his apartment with a smile on his face, being fairly confident that he’ll be going to that burger joint again the next night.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Humans of Humanity

“Hi there. My name’s Ahmad. Can I sit beside you?”

“Hello. Sure, go ahead.”

“Are you from around here?”

“Yeah, I’ve lived here since I was little.”

“You must have been through quite a few things then.”

“You could say that, yes.”

“Um, can I tell you something?”

“Yes, what is it?”

“I actually run a website that is followed by quite a number of people. What I do is I talk to people who are from around here and put up on the website the things I’ve learned from those people I talked to. I also take pictures of those people, to show those who go to the website that these people are real people living here.”

“Ah, that sounds nice.”

“Yes, you could say that. If you don’t mind, can I ask you some things to put up on the website?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“Great, thanks! Um, so yeah. If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”

“Heh. That’s a good question. Hm, let me think.”

“Sure, take your time.”

“Hm. Ah. Don’t take your parents for granted.”

“Hm. Any particular reason for this piece of advice?”

“Well, my father passed away two months ago.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you. But every day since he was buried, I have gone to his grave for at least ten minutes just to talk. I never did that when he was alive. The only time I ever saw him was once a year during Hari Raya. And even those I didn’t particularly enjoy. I always just wanted to get it over and done with. Always .. in a rush to .. to get .. somewhere else. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay. Take all the time you need.”

“*sniff* It wasn’t like I had anywhere to go either. I just didn’t want to be there, in the old house. And it wasn’t like he was an abusive father or anything. Nothing like that. I just disliked him for some reason. For no reason, really.”


“And now that he’s gone, I just feel a great big loss, like there’s this huge hole inside me that won’t close. I know it sounds ridiculous, but that’s what it feels like. And the ten minutes I spend at his grave is the only time I feel like the hole’s not that big, y’know?”

“What do you go there to talk about?”

“All sorts of things, really. Anything. From how my day went to how much I regret not talking to him more when he was alive. Truth be told, in the first week I didn’t really say much. All I did was cry. And I didn’t stop until around a half hour afterwards, and then lI’d leave. But then at some point I started talking. I’d say ‘Hi Ayah. How are things? I’m alright. Just dropping by to say hi.’ Things like that, y’know?”


“Heh, I must sound ridiculous telling you all these things.”

“No, not at all. Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate it.”

“Thank you for listening. Really.”

That's What You Get

The sun was beating down on Sufni as he entered the fifth kilometer of his involuntary walk. He could keep count since there were distance markers on the side of the road every hundred meters on the highway. He wiped the sweat from his brow. Three more kilometers to go to the Sungai Perak RnR.

He is finding out the hard way that hitch-hiking doesn’t work here in Malaysia. They might work over in the US or maybe even Europe, but people over here don’t respond well to a raised thumb by some tallish guy in his late twenties who is sweating his shirt off. They hardly respond at all. So he put down the thumb within the third kilometer. Might as well just walk straight to the last RnR, he thought to himself. Besides, his arms were killing him from all that thumb-raising and pointless hoping. It didn’t help that he had to walk on the grass, off the tarmac, since the emergency lane was for motorcycles. He had no desire of being hit by anything, least of all by some mat rempit.

Yet, he had no regrets to saying what he did, which resulted in his little excursion by foot. He had always loathed driving with his parents in the car. In their view, it seemed that he could never do anything right behind the wheel. He was always too fast, or too slow, or too reckless, or not aggressive enough. There was no peace behind the wheel for him. Only complaints. The main critic was his father. His mother would chime in occasionally only after his father has gotten the complaint-ball rolling. 

But the night before that was when he snapped internally. It was one of the rare times in the past five years that his father was on the wheels, and he was in the backseat. His mother said something about his father’s driving, he wasn’t really listening, so he couldn’t really recall what she said, but his father’s response stuck on him like glue. “Look, I’m the one driving right now. If you have so much to say about it, why don’t you drive instead?” That was the line that he had had in his head for years now, it just didn’t come out, out of respect. But the way his father disrespected his mother when he said it, he just didn’t want to have it anymore.

So earlier today, when they were driving from Penang to Kuala Lumpur to meet-up with their second son, Sufni’s younger brother, he was naturally given the task of driving. Up until the first hundred kilometers, his parents were both asleep, so he enjoyed the drive complaint-free. But after their toilet break at the Sungai Perak RnR, the complaints started coming in. He was driving too fast, what was the rush? Then he was driving too slow. Was he making fun of them? 

When he finally had enough, Sufni pulled the car over. What was he doing? Did he blow a tyre? They didn’t hear anything? When the car came to a halt, he collected the required courage and said “If you have so much to say about my driving, why don’t you drive instead?”

Thus, there he was, a failed hitch-hiker treading his way to a highway pitstop. He smiled to himself, not being able to recall the last time he pulled off such a stunt. This was the first time he had ever stood up for himself against his parents, and he was paying for it, but it was worth it.

Once he got to the RnR, he was so thirsty he could drink from the polluted waters of Sungai Perak itself, so he went to get himself some water from the shop. Just as he was about to pay did he realise that he left his wallet in the car. “Damn it!” thought Sufni aloud. He put back the bottle of mineral water and asked if the person behind the counter could be so kind as to let him have a glass of water for free and told her of his predicament. She was most unimpressed and said that it would cost him twenty cents. He went to the other stalls and ended up empty handed as well. “What’s the big deal!? It’s just a glass of air kosong!!” The rage was very real inside of him. After failing, he finally went to the RnR surau and drank the water from a tap there. Never was he so relieved to see a surau in his life. He now saw some purpose for them being in existence.

He now had to think about what to do next. He didn’t have the house keys, since they were left in the car too. He couldn’t call anybody either. “Dammit, emptying my pockets in the car this time was a bad idea.” He sighs. He might as well just try to get a ride back to Penang and go stay at a neighbour’s house or something. That was all that he could come up with, so he set off to find some people who would be kind enough to let a stranger ride a car with them.

After turned down by five different people, he was losing hope. Did he look THAT bad? “Man, people suck.” He complained to no one in particular while staring off into the parking lot. There were buses parked nearby too. Maybe he could get them to give him a ride. So he went to a couple of bus drivers who were resting in their buses to ask if they had any empty seats for him to sit in. All of them either said no or that he needed to pay for the seats. “This is getting so, so frustrating.”

Then after he had been turned down by the fourth time, he hatched an idea while staring longingly at one of the busses. One of the passengers had opened the door where they put their bags, in the lower part of the bus. There were two doors and both of them were open.

Sufni waited until the passenger walked away and, after making sure no one was watching, closed one of the doors, got into the bus with the luggage and hid behind the door he closed. All he had to do was wait a few moments for the bus driver to close the other door and he was all clear.

Once the bus started moving only did he realise how dark, hot, humid and stinky it was down there, not to mention it was bumpy as hell. He had a hard time keeping his breakfast down the whole trip. But he succeeded. “Thank goodness for that.” He thought gratefully as the bus started slowing down and making various turns.

“Oh man, the bus is stopping. And when they stop, they’ll open the doors and they’ll see me here. I’ll get caught and be sent to the police for sure! I don’t even have my IC with me, so how am I supposed to explain this to the cops!?” Sufni was almost panicking. He decided that as soon as a door opened, he would make a run for it. “They’d be too dumbfounded to even think of chasing me until it’s too late! I hope.” It was the only plan Sufni had, so he was rolling with it.

As he predicted, the bus came to a halt. Sufni waited patiently amongst the bags under him for the door to open. He heard a click and prepared to jump out and make a dash for it. Once the door had opened enough for him to jump out, he did. He caught his foot on a bag and fell face down on the ground, hearing a shout of shock from whoever it was that opened the door. 

He quickly got back up and made a mad dash in whichever direction he was facing. Unfortunately, he was facing an open road, and after five steps, a police car going 70km/h ran him over. 

A crowd gathered around him, wondering who this strange bloodied man that emerged from the luggage compartment of a bus to run into a police car was.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Staffroom

I feel like I need to clarify that this is a work of fiction. It has no relation to any event in real life.
The staff room had always been an unexciting place to be. At least for the male teachers. Save for the occasional gossip session with the women, there was nothing really to do except for official teacher work or chilling out under the fan to catch up on some rest. 

The staffroom fitted about 14 teachers, although for all of them to be in it at the same time, some sort of celebration had to be under way. There was always more than half out to be in class, some off to the canteen to get a drink (the food was terrible), or just not in school, for medical reasons or otherwise. And of the 14 teachers, only three were male. I was told that this was the norm for all-girls schools. I had gotten used to being surrounded by female teachers since teacher training college. Not many guys were too enthusiastic about teaching English. I was part of a rare breed.

The most senior of the three was Mr Tan. He was a no nonsense bespectacled math teacher, five years to go until retirement. He always carried his signature blue-tape-around-the-handle cane when he went to class. He didn’t talk much. He’d rather spend his time marking books or scolding children than talk with us other guys.

There was also me. Clearly the shortest of the trio (I was even shorter than some of the female teachers), the youngest and one of the quietest in the staffroom. Whenever a circle was formed to discuss the latest piece of gossip to land in the gossip group’s lap, I would be the one in the background, just listening, not contributing a single word. A stray laugh would escape my mouth every now and again when the teachers cracked something hilarious, but otherwise I would have nothing to contribute almost all of the time.

And then there was Ustaz Hisyam. The second most senior religious teacher in the school. In his early thirties, dark skinned, tall, has been putting on some weight lately since the birth of his second child. Very laidback guy, sometimes even wore slippers to class. But only after he was certain that the headmaster wasn’t in. He’s rather talkative too. Likes to find out things about other people’s backgrounds, where they came from, what it was like growing up and stuff like that. 

When I first entered the school four months ago, I had a lot of respect for him. He was one of the friendlier teachers who showed me around, introduced me to the other teachers, told me interesting facts about the other teachers so that I wouldn’t ask about the wrong thing to the wrong people.

But then one day, Ustaz Hisham called me, as he always did, to pray Zuhr in the small storeroom in the staffroom that we male teachers used as a surau, since this was an all-girls school. Only this time, he didn’t ask me to iqamat for him. This time, he came close to me and asked me to take off my pants. At first I thought he was joking, but the look in his eyes proved me wrong. I said no and tried to make a run for it. He grabbed my arm and said slowly in my ear “Come on, no need to pretend anymore. As long as we don’t make a sound, no one will know a thing.” 

I decided that I had to put my foot down before things got worse. I looked him dead in the eye and said “Ustaz, I don’t know how you got the impression that I am gay, but I am not. Not at all. So please, let me go!” Making sure that my voice wasn’t loud enough for passers-by to hear.

Ustaz Hisyam smirked. “Okay, so you want me to take it out first? Fine then. Here you go.” He let go of my arm and started to undo his belt buckle. Before he could show me anything, I made a run for it. I turned around, went out the door, shut it behind me and walked briskly to my desk in the staffroom. I packed my things and took my motorcycle back home without informing anyone.

The next day, I applied for an MC to get off work. Now, my workplace has turned into a nightmare. What should I do?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I'm Okay

Yus melabuhkan punggungnya ke kerusi kosong pertama yang dia jumpa didalam gerabak tren LRT itu. Tidaklah terlalu sukar mencari kerusi kosong, dah orang pun tak berapa ramai menaiki LRT pada waktu-waktu begini.

Yus melihat jam di screensaver smartphone-nya. Dah pukul 11 pagi. Agh, dia lambat kekerja lagi hari ni. Pasti bosnya akan marah lagi. Nak hantar mesej ke whatsapp group ofisnya untuk mintak tolong rakan-rakan sekerja cover line pun tak boleh. “Siapa suruh tak bayar bil awal-awal haa?” Yus tanya pada diri sendiri.

Yus menyandar kekerusi itu sekali lagi. Dia memejam mata, cuba mengingati apa yang terjadi semalam. “Bodoh punya Hafiz, ajak aku keluar sampai ke pagi, padahal aku dah cakap dah aku ada kerja harini. Tapi tak, dia nak jugak aku pergi teman dia pergi kedai mamak, nak tengok bola konon. Padahal nak suruh teman jumpak awek baru. Tak pasal-pasal aku kena jadi third-wheel. Nasib baik game best. Jerman menang! Weehoo!” Yus tersenyum sendiri.

Akan tetapi, oleh kerana stay up sampai ke pukul empat pagi, dia terpaksalah menerima akibatnya sekarang, bangun lambat, mata masih lagi mengantuk nak mampos. Yus menutup kuapannya yang seluas fana itu dengan tangannya lalu mengesat air yang terkumpul didalam matanya.

Matanya memeriksa jadual perhentian LRT buat kesekian kalinya sepanjang dia mengambil LRT ke tempat kerjanya. “Masih lagi terdapat 5 perhentian nampaknya. Bolehla aku nak pejam mata kejap.” Yus berfikir lalu memejam matanya buat seketika.

Baru beberapa ketika dia menutup mata, Yus dikejutkan kembali dengan bunyi batukan yang sangat teruk daripada sebelah kirinya. Dengan batukan sebegitu rupa, Yus tak terkejut jika manusia itu sedang batuk berdarah. Dia memalingkan kepalanya kearah batukan yang masih berbunyi itu.

Tampak di tengah gerabak betul-betul didepan pintu masuknya, seorang lelaki hampir bersujud. Dia meletakkan sebelah lututnya serta kedua belah tapak tangannya diatas lantai. Dia kelihatan seperti didalam lingkungan umur dua-puluhan, lebih kurang umur Yus, rambutnya keriting dan tebal, panjang hingga melewati bahunya, kepala tunduk kebawah. Dia memakai t-shirt berwarna putih, jeans acid wash yang koyak rabak di bahagian paha dan lutut serta memakai kasut Converse lusuh.

Yus memandang kekiri dan kekanannya. Semua orang yang bersamanya didalam gerabak itu buat tak endah sahaja kepada lelaki yang batuk dengan teruk itu. Ada yang buat-buat tidur. Betapa tak prihatinnya masyarakat kita ini, singkap Yus. Lantas dia bangun dan pergi kesisi lelaki yang sedang batuk itu.

Sesampainya Yus kesebelah orang sedang batuk itu, dia berhenti batuk. Eh? Kenapa plak ni? Dah baik dah ke? Terfikir Yus sejenak. “Bro, kau okay tak ni bro?” Tanya Yus kepada lelaki tersebut.

“I’m okay.” Kata lelaki tersebut, dengan suara yang dalam sambil menunjukkan tanda thumbs-up dengan tangan kanannya. Wah, bass-nya suara dia ni, Yus mengomen didalam hatinya.

“Betul ni kau okay bro? Takde ubat ke nak makan bro?” Yus sekali lagi bertanya, menunjukkan betapa prihatinnya dirinya agar dapat dicontohi penaik LRT yang lain.

“I’m okay.” Kata lelaki berambut tebal itu, kali ini dengan suara yang terlalu dalam, yang tak mungkin terhasil daripada kerongkong manusia biasa. Lelaki itu mendongakkan kepalanya dan menunjukkan mukanya yang senyum dari telinga ke telinga. “I’M OKAY!” sekali lagi dia berkata, kali ini dengan volume-nya ditingkatkan dua kali ganda. 

Yus menjerit sambil menutup telinganya. Namun apabila tangannya menjengah telinganya, dapat dia rasakan sesuatu yang likat. Dia melihat apa yang ada ditangannya, dan terdapat darah. Ternyata telinganya sedang berdarah sekarang.

Lelaki berbaju putih itu memusingkan badannya kearah Yus, menunjukkan logo “I’m okay” berwarna merah ditengah-tengah bajunya. Yus melihat sekali lagi ke muka lelaki itu apabila dia membuka mulutnya dengan luas. Betapa terkejutnya Yus apabila daripada mulut lelaki berambut kusut itu keluar sedikit demi sedikit sebelah tangan daripada hujung jemari hingga ke bahu. Tangan yang ketiga lelaki itu juga melakukan tanda thumbs-up. “I”M OKAAYYY!!” terlalu kuat bunyi yang dihasilkan sehingga pecah cermin tingkap gerabak LRT itu.

Yus memejam matanya sekali lagi dan membukanya semula untuk menjerit ketakutan. Namun sebelum dia dapat menjerit, dapat dia lihat gerabak LRT yang dinaikinya tidak terjadi apa-apa. Cermin tingkapnya masih lagi sempurna, dan dia masih lagi dalam keadaan duduk di tempat asalnya. Dia cepat-cepat memeriksa telinganya. Lega, tiada darah atau apa-apa benda lain disitu.

Dia memandang kekiri dan kekanannya, memeriksa kedua-dua hujung gerabak. Tiada lelaki berambut keriting itu. Yus menghela nafas lega dan bersandar sekali lagi.

Sebaik sahaja Yus bersandar, sekali lagi dapat dia dengari bunyi batuk yang amat teruk sekali. Dia melihat siapakah gerangan yang batuk itu. Seorang tua yang mempunyai tongkat. Yus memejam matanya kembali dan buat-buat tidur. Dia berbuat begitu hingga dia mendengar pengumuman memaklumkan yang telah tiba stopnya, lantas turun daripada LRT itu cepat-cepat untuk ketempat kerjanya.