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Inside young minds, faith seems almost less than concrete. Like the saying goes, apparently, on a white piece of cloth, any colours smeared may be taken in as a form of conviction. Or maybe, the colours that are forcefully fed may be questioned silently, kept deep down inside until the unexpected moment comes. A moment which will be a frightful affair for any orthodox Muslim Malay parents.

And the moment came for Zani when he uttered, “There is no God!”. See, Zani was a nice young boy in his early teens. Kind hearted and quite studious as he was one of the top academic achievers in his primary school. He came from a wealthy middle class family with, I might add, sufficient religious background. His father frequently prays at the local surau and once in a while an usrah is held at their home.

Life in a so-called elite boarding school may take some time to adjust, especially for 13 year old urbanely spoilt boys. But Zani made himself comfortable fast. He made fast friends and adjusted well in his new curfew environment. He never failed to perform the obligatory solat, 5 times a day as advised by his parents. He was the perfect son, student and person.

Back then, SRP was recently abolished and the PMR examination was its replacement. Zani was one of its candidates. He was well prepared. He was confident, well, he got the brains anyway. And the copy fest began! Multiple choices questions were students’ favourite. Heads started turning, eyes started glancing, minds started memorizing the patterns of the black dots on other people’s desks and Zani was one of its intellectual source.

A few months later, the results were out. Unfortunately, Zani didn’t do well. He didn’t get an ‘A’ for mathematics, an ‘A’ compulsory subject for students in order to continue studies in the boarding school. Zani was devastated. It was the start of the moment I mentioned earlier. “There is no God!”. His mind was racing fiercely. He questioned. He wandered far inside his own immature mind.
“The bastard twins didn’t pray at all! They drink! They bullied juniors! Yet they got straight ‘A’s!”
“And look at the two potheads, other than smoking weed, they were frequent weekend visitors of a whorehouse in the nearby town. They too got straight ‘A’s!?”
“Even the knuckle crazy Kelantanese got straight ‘A’s!”
“If there is a God, He would’ve been fair to me!”
“Fuck it! Fuck God! Fuck everything!”

*****

Zani was accepted back into the school after an appeal. His parents paid more attention to him. His mind was no longer racing.

Life is never fair, right?

Well, life turned out OK for Zani as an adult, at least OK for now.

Surprisingly, I woke up early for work this morning despite a late night of heavy Malaysianized rock and roll at Planet Hollywood. So, there I was in my car, moving serenely slow, high on traffic jam. Suddenly my phone rang. Naza called. I was flabbergasted from my fix. The clock showed precisely 7:58 am. “Hey, first of all don’t laugh. My 5 days course and briefing will start in a few minutes and I’ve realized that I forgot to bring my towel. Could you please buy me one and send it over?”

I was still in daze. “What do you mean? You’re now in a curfew zone? You can’t get one yourself? I thought your wife helped you packed last night before you went to Planet Hollywood, right?”

Naza seemed desperate, “Don’t blame the wife. Don’t ever blame the wife. For all I know, you forced me to stay a little longer last night. Then I lost track of my packed gear. Yeah, I can’t go out from this place for the next 5 days. Plus, Brickfields’ not that far from Mont Kiara, right?”

An Apek in an old Datsun just showed me the fingers for no apparent reason. “Oh OK. I’ll send em over”, I said with a sigh. I can see the same Apek spat phlegm on the road from my rearview mirror. I then continued driving to the office. At exactly 8:45 am, ‘Lagu Kristal’ was played through the whole building’s intercom speakers.

At 1:00 pm I went to TMC and bought the cheapest bath towel I can find. The price was RM12.99. Fuck, can’t it be just RM13 for crying out loud?

I tried calling Naza on the phone for several times but failed to get an answer. He won’t even reply my text. Damn the ‘no phones allowed during briefing’ policy! I wrote Naza’s name on the plastic bag containing the recently purchased ocean blue bath towel. I even wrote his phone number on the bag. “Encik, kawan saya tengah kursus kat dalam. Dia terlupa bawak tuala. Ni saya tolong belikan untuk dia. Kejap lagi dia datang ambik. Kalau dia tak datang, encik telefonlah dia”, I told the guard at the guard post and left the bag of towel there.

I drove out from the compound. Through the gates of INTAN at Mont Kiara. Naza was on his first day serving as an Administrative and Diplomatic Officers’ new recruit for the Malaysian government. I assumed I did my country a huge favour!

The road was winding and dark although it was a little pass mid day. Tree branches formed a canopy like ceiling above the narrow and uphill road. It was a relaxing drive on a Wednesday afternoon. Lucky the old state government was not anymore in power. Other wise, Khir would probably have approved another chopping down activity on this section of the Ulu Klang valley, in the name of development. Didn’t Highland Towers teach us a painful lesson?

I then found myself at a clearing of old houses situated at the mid point of the hill. They all looked uniquely the same. Last time I went there, it was probably about 15 years ago. At that time I was with my mother and a few of her school friends in a small get together. The host was Ms Chew. Ah, now I remembered which house.

I parked my car carefully at the side of the road, just slightly in front of a brown coloured house. The outside walls were covered with thick green moss, freshly nurtured under the shades of the compassionate trees. I pressed the buzzer next to the rusty iron gate.

Moments later, the gate slowly opened and I saw a middle aged Chinese lady standing in front of the main door. The smile on her face broadened as I took steps closer to the main door. “My, my. Look how you’ve grown. How’s your mother?”, she started the conversation gleefully. “Mom’s ok. I’m sorry Ms Chew, but I can’t stay long actually”. “Hmm, well come on in and make yourself comfortable while I prepare the stuff your mother requested”, she replied.

I sat myself on an antique fabric chaise longue at one side of the living room. Even the scent of the whole living room was old. I can smell the old wood. The room was nicely decorated, old-fashioned yet simple. But then, the photo frames and portraits on the opposite wall immediately caught my attention. I stood up and gave a closer look.

I paused for a moment to digest the photos in front of me. Someone very, very familiar was in each and every photograph. I’m seeing old photographs of a Chinese family in their typical family pose, at the lawn, at the staircase, in the car and of course in the living room, the room I’m standing in. The thing is, the father figure in the photos was Tunku Abdul Rahman! Yes, the first prime minister of the Federation of Malaya. I’m very sure of it. How can anybody who call themselves Malaysian, could mistakenly identify the Tunku for another person? I was witnessing captured moments that were never published in official biographies, books or newspapers.

As I was wandering deep in my thoughts, Ms Chew came back with a nicely wrapped package in her hands. She gave the package to me and suddenly I became half clumsy. I nearly dropped the package to the floor. Ms Chew smiled. “Send my best regards to your mother!”, she escorted me back to the main door. “I will Ms Chew, thank you”.

My mind was still wandering on my drive home, again, through the shady canopies of branches and leaves along the winding downhill road.

My first question to mother upon reaching home, “Who is the Tunku to Ms Chew?”, blunt and direct. Mother was surprised. She carefully took the package from my hands and put it aside on a tea chest near the front door. “Ms Chew was the Tunku’s granddaughter”, she calmly answered. “How come we didn’t know? I never came across anything about it in anything I’ve ever read”, I asked again. Mother gave a heavy sigh before answering my question. “It’s a bloodline that the authorities chose not to speak about”.

Well, he was someone that I really, really love to hate. An excuse I’ve made years ago to channel all my resentments towards my pathetic quixotic feelings. Everything about him, the stuff that he did, the crowds that he hung out with, even the food that he eats made me angry. Come to think about it after years of concealed hatred, I’m actually angry with myself rather than him. He was only a tool, a punching-bag-like tool created by my own horrific decadence. Ah, it has become a cancer. A cancer that I thought was in its terminal stages. I was in pain.

Then I let it out. I let it all out in the presence of his conscious state of being. A cleansing process of freeing the words that has become rotten at the back of my head. And now I felt lighter, healthier.

After all this time, he was just being a decent friend.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the villain in this picture. Maybe I am, with the lack of consciousness of course.

Today will just be yesterday,
When tomorrow comes.