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There was a time when my team and I regularly did some maintenance work at the Banda Kaba TM building (pronounce; Banda Kabe). For those who don’t know, it’s in Bandar Hilir, Malacca. It was at least a twice a year routine, 3-4 days tops, usually done after office hours and sometimes if there were glitches during the maintenance activity, we could even spend the whole day at the building, until the next evening. But it was normal when it happens. We’re already used to it.

So, we were finishing up a day’s work one afternoon. It was already 4:30pm and we were lacking sleep from the night before and couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel rooms. After packing up our supporting apparatuses, we went to our cars. Epul was hitching a ride with me, in my old Proton Saga/Iswara kereta kebal. Meanwhile, Encik Sam, the most senior of us all, was hitching a ride in Handsome Hassan’s Subaru Impreza WRX STI. It’s important to highlight the lack of sleep portion of this story here. Handsome Hassan will always be handsome regardless of anything. Encik Sam, being the elder, would look older and more inoffensive when he’s sleepy. Epul and I on the other hand, late 20s at that time, with Javanese blood in our veins, unshaven, by default would look unpleasant, while hostility was written all over our faces when we lack sleep. At least that was what I thought when I looked at Epul and again, when I looked in the mirror. In addition, it was also important to take note on the cars we drove, obviously.

As the story goes, Handsome Hassan drove his Subaru Impreza WRX STI with Encik Sam riding shotgun, in front of our car. We exited past the security guardhouse and through the main gate. There was an unusual traffic congestion along the Jalan Banda curve, linking up with Jalan Banda Kaba. After the sharp curve, we realized that there was a police road block, just in front of the Banda Kaba police station. The road block was a non-issue to us. All I could think of at that time was the prospect of dipping myself into a warm bath in the hotel’s bathtub in a few minutes time.

The police guarding the road block didn’t bat an eye on Handsome Hassan’s car. His gesture of letting them through the road block was lethargic and apathetic. Well, why should he be anything but? We are all good men here. Oh, I can’t wait to get through. Chilly hotel room and a warm bath in a bathtub; an exciting combination for me.

It’s funny to notice the detailed transformation of a face that was initially jaded, suddenly sprung out interested and full of life. The rejuvenated police officer guarding the road block halted my car, as Handsome Hassan and Encik Sam drove away into their paradise. The officer knocked Epul’s side window and pointed his finger down. I lowered the window.

Any problems officer?” Epul asked.

Driving licenses and Identity Cards. Both of you”, he replied, firmly.

When we gave him our documentations, he took it and straight away went inside the station, leaving us there in the middle of the road, ID-less, like a couple of idiots. What is this shit? What’s happening? What the fuck did we do wrong? I thought I’ve already apologized to the school canteen lady for stealing a piece of fried chicken back in the year 1998. This cannot be! It’s ridiculous! I want my chilly hotel room and a warm bath in a bathtub, now!

Another officer came to our car and instructed us to park inside the station compound. I obliged. There was a BMX bike laid on the ground, cluttered nearby where my car was parked. We were then instructed to gather at a spot beside the building with several other Malay-ish, male civilians. The same officer asked all of us a few questions which I couldn’t remember what exactly because my mind was somewhere else. Maybe general questions about our backgrounds. Maybe, maybe not. All I can remember was the officer jotting down the inputs from us on pieces of forms that he was holding. Oh, and there was a teenager among us, holding a plastic bag with a handful of kacang panjang and a packet of granulated sugar inside. I bet the BMX bike was his, the kacang panjang was his mother’s.

Not long after, like a flock of sheep, we were herded inside the police station into a dark room. Our backs were placed against the wall. The room was dark because initially the lights were not lit. When all of us were inside, the lights were turned on. We were standing in a line, facing a huge mirror in front of us. The wall behind us was printed with height charts. Through the mirror I can see the sorry and exasperated faces off all the Malay-ish, male civilians that were gathered. Yes, it sounded ridiculous for being a slowpoke, but that was when I finally realized that I was in a police line-up, an identity parade! Roger “Fucking Verbal” Kint! I don’t have any affiliation with Keyser Söze for crying out loud!

Two different officers then escorted two Malay-ish, males in handcuffs into the room. One was placed to stand next to me and the other one was placed at the end of the line. Their handcuffs were removed. Before exiting the room, one of the officer warned with a huge frown on his face, “Stand still! Look in front!”, while pointing his finger towards us. I’m not sure whether the message was for all of us or just for the two guys who entered last. Again, looking at the mirror, which I then realized was a one-way mirror, I looked at that two particular persons. The persons that might be the reason Epul and I, and all the others were brought to the damned place in the first place. I’m judging and cursing them silently, there and then, while disregarding the Presumption of Innocence. I took a glimpse at Epul who was standing nearest to the exit. He was struggling to open his eyes due to the sleepiness.

It was close to four minutes of silence. The door then opened and the same two officers who brought the two “real” suspects entered. They handcuffed the two again and took them away. The officer who initially halted my car then stood at the door and said, “Thank you gentlemen for being cooperative and assisting the Royal Malaysian Police. You can now collect your IDs and can be excused. Thank you again”. His smile was insincere, I can tell. Tak ikhlas.

While walking to my car, Epul managed to confront the officer that dismissed us earlier and with a sleepy scowl, he said, “Did you know that we were working all night at TM Banda Kaba? Sleepless. We were just about to go back to our hotel. To rest. Why us? Do we look like criminals to you?

The officer replied, “I’m sorry sir but it’s part of our duty to randomly select people with the closest descriptions to the suspects for the police line-up. And we thank you for your contribution to the community. By the way, do you smoke?

Epul was suddenly confused by the sudden change of topic, “Errr, yes. Why?

Here, take this unopened pack of green Sempoerna. My personal gratitude. Ikhlas.

*****

Handsome Hassan and Encik Sam laughed at our story while we were having Nasi Goreng Sup “extra pedas” for dinner at a restaurant along Jalan Parameswara that night.

Apparently, I didn’t take any warm baths in the bathtub for the remainder of that trip.

But do I really look like a petty criminal?

*But seriously, was it actually a random selection, or was it a material bias, or was it a facial judgmental bias? You tell me.

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Back in 2013, at the end of the year actually, when things were looking pretty good in my life of non-committal responsibility and kinship, a friend suddenly called me up one night and asked for a favour. The favour being; taking the phone number that he was about to give me, contact the girl at the end of the line, and see what happens. The girl was his high school friend. Well, it was a huge favour for me to oblige at that time. Not to mention the prospect of unnecessary misery that might occur along the way. But refusing to disappoint a friend, I went along with the favour, in a hesitant manner.

Before engaging in a tele-communication, I did a little research on this girl. It so happens that I knew this girl from work, not actually a colleague, but I remembered that she was the girl who modelled in the company’s campaign posters from a few years back. And the posters were posted at all branch offices of the company, all telecommunication exchange buildings of the company, all kiosks and customer service centres, all over the country. And yeah, from the posters, she was hot, sizzling hot. My excitement level increased a bit, but not too much because for those who didn’t know, I am actually a gentleman.

So, one night, I called her number. She picked up and briefly told me that she was at the mosque for Isya’ prayers. I apologized and told her that I’ll call her later. Much, much later, we had our first phone conversation, albeit in a slightly awkward manner. But after mentioning the name of our mutual friend, our comfort level increased and our conversation became smooth and affable.

It took us three phone calls (and numerous text messages) before we decided to meet up. So, one weekend, we had breakfast together. When I first saw her in person, I was immediately reminded of the namesake mentioned in the title of this entry. And to make it clear, it was more of the Noorkumalasari of recent times; with black wide shawl and black abaya. In a way, it was more compelling to me, to be honest. Nothing at all like the individual inside the campaign posters from previous years.

We greeted each other and had our breakfast. For the record, the eatery that we had breakfast at was a family joint and it was always 80 percent full during weekend mornings. Done eating, we started to converse in a more attentive manner. We returned several pleasant sentences, up until I asked her, “So, what’s your story?”

She bowed her head down and kept her silence for a few seconds. Then she started sobbing. I was flabbergasted, but managed to keep my cool. My eyes were checking out the patrons from the nearby tables, praying hard that they didn’t noticed. The sobbing became slightly louder as she looked at me and told me her story. In between her sentences, she would wipe her running eyeliner with the sleeves of her black abaya. After managing to stabilize my unnecessary insecurities at that particular moment, being the gentleman that I am, I comforted her with words of warmth and grace. And of course, provided her with tissue papers, courtesy of the eatery.

Her story was basically about her ruined relationship with a man. Full stop.

*****

Two weeks later, we had breakfast at the same place. Some may consider it to be our second date, but there’s no point in putting labels at something as simple as two individuals of the opposite sex having breakfast together. Anyway, we were at the same table, had the same food, the same drinks, her same styled black wide shawl & black abaya and similarly enjoying the company of the same persons. The sobbing was still there but much lesser than our previous encounter. As if like an assumed role and responsibility, being the gentleman that I am, again I comforted her with words of warmth and grace.

*****

We were having breakfast at a different eatery one fine weekend. This time her mother was present. Yes, her mother! She informed me that her mother was tagging along just moments before I left my house. It did freaked me out a little bit, but come to think about it, it can be a positive thing, plus I am a gentleman. Apparently, it did. It was awesomely positive. I had a great conversation with her mother. The old lady repeatedly saying that she liked me very much; the maturity, the intelligent jokes that I cracked and the way I presented myself. That was when it struck me. This may be it. The search for the ever eluding wandering soul of my life may be over after all.

Her sobbing stopped at our third meeting.

*****

One chirpy Thursday afternoon at the office, I received a text message from her. It read, “Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on for the past three months. I will be getting married at the end of this month. I wish you all the best for your future undertakings”.

FU

*What is this devilry??!!

His appearance was like telling everyone that he’s a freak. Well, in a more subtle way, a wierdo maybe. A loner, he was definitely. He seemed to always wear a grey baseball cap, with his fuzzy, dry hair sticking out from the sides, slightly highlighted. I was convinced that his hair colour was not done purposely, but because of years of consuming water from a rusty water tank or corroded pipes in his hometown. His jeans was always tight, but he wore it above the navel, which made it slightly hanging, showing his ankles without socks inside his black, low-cut, All-Star sneakers.

Apparently, he was in several of my classes in university, 16 years ago. At the lecture halls, he would sit at the back, or simply locating himself slightly further than other students. Whether this was done on purpose, or people were actually avoiding from sitting near him, I can’t really be sure. One time, when I was looking at, well actually staring at hot girls in my class, my eyesight accidentally caught on him and he gave me the most sinister smile that creeped the shit out of me.

The first verbal encounter with him was when he commented on the patches I had sewn on my backpack. One of the patches was a Rancid, Life Won’t Wait skull patch, a Rancid album that was released a year earlier. He said, “Nice patch. But are you sure you’re a punk rocker?” and then he walked away before I could muster out with a response. There was something inside me that holds a resentment towards him, not justifiable, but the feeling existed subconsciously.

One fine afternoon, a few days before the mid-semester break during our second trimester (seriously, it has nothing to do with pregnancy, it’s just what it was officially called. I swear!), I was awkwardly grouped together with him for an assignment, for a general studies subject. TJ and Naz was also in the group, so were a couple of girls. It so happens that I was elected as the group leader. Naturally, since we have to present the assignment after the break, I delegated topics to the team members to do research during the break. And mind you, this was a time before Wikipedia and laptops were still pricey and heavy and nobody had them anyways, and smartphones were two disjointed words. A time when the Nokia 3210 was the gratified toy for the rich few.

Cut short to after the mid-semester break. The whole group agreed (prior to the break) to meet at the open air section of the campus library the first night after the break, to compile everything for our presentation. At 9:00pm, everyone was present, except Mat Ripin. Regardless, we proceed with the discussion, with extreme difficulty of not having parts which was under Mat Ripin’s responsibility.

At 10:30pm, suddenly a guy wearing a grey baseball cap, with fuzzy, dry hair sticking out from the sides, and tight, above the navel jeans with a black, low-cut All-Star sneakers came to our table. He didn’t bring anything to the table, not even his obliged findings that he was supposed to find out during the holidays. All he said was, “Guess what? I didn’t do the research that you guys asked me to”. I guess everyone was too preoccupied at the tasks in hand to be pissed off at him and to the situation he brought. Our objective was to complete the presentation, one way or another. Mat Ripin tried to contribute but in a nonchalant way.

At exactly 11:00pm, he stood up and said, “I’m calling it a night. I’m sleepy already. I’m going home”. Without waiting for our responses, he walked away, without an ounce of guilt in the tone of his voice and his body language. TJ was looking at Naz, and vice versa, dumbfounded. “Don’t be funny! Sit down and continue this work!” I shouted at him. He didn’t even paused upon hearing me shout. He kept walking straight into the darkness of that fateful night.

All my subconscious antipathy towards him came to visit me precisely at that particular point of time. I yelled for the last time, “Hey! Get back here asshole!” with no response. His figure was slowly fading into the night. I stood up and gave him a chase.

What happened in the next two minutes was regretfully pretty bad, ok it was not pretty. It was plain bad. I beat the shit out of him. Punches and kicks were given generously, and it all came from me. He was down several times during that period, but I picked him up and beat him up again and again. Near the end of that unfortunate event, I even pushed him into a ditch. When he crawled up from the ditch, I beat him up for one last time. That was the only time I saw him without his grey baseball cap. As I stood there panting, watching him picking himself up, then picking up his grey baseball cap and dusting the dirt from his arms, he put the grey baseball cap on his head, gave me a sinister smile from his bloodied lips and walked away into the darkness.

People were standing outside the library, watching and doing nothing about it. Some girls were crying.

*****

Mat Ripin didn’t attend class. Not just the general studies class that we did our presentation on, he didn’t attend all classes. Since nobody really knows him, or maybe nobody gave a shit about him, no information can be obtained about him initially. Guilt was raining down on me like a cloud of storm following me everywhere I go, while everyone else was getting sunshine. Apparently, I was told that he had left the university. And my last memory of him was his sinister smile from a bloodied face.

16 years on, the event on that fateful night was the last time I beat up a person, a human being. Guilt subconsciously changed into fear. I always looked behind my shoulders, just to make sure that there was no familiar, sinister smiles following me. Remorse can’t do anything anymore as I wait for my fate. Whatever it’s going to be.

During my lifetime, when snail mails were on the pinnacle of its existence, I loathed at those who do write. Especially to those who ONLY wrote to recipients at the all-girls boarding school across town.

When the time came and writing letters were no longer trendy, I started writing it (Well, I do actually write snail mails back in the day, but to local punk bands for their demotapes and underground editors for their fanzines. But that’s a different story).

I eventually started to do casual snail mail writing, or postcards for that matter, but I guess I was a generation too late. It’s even impossible to find postal stamps other than from the post offices nowadays. Back in the day, you can obtain it from almost anywhere.

Yeah, time changed. But I still lividly hope for its revival. Nah, maybe not.

*****

Thanks sweets for your comment section that made this entry possible.

The death was unintended, she said. The excuse was expected. She was naïve, maybe. “I’ve never loved before. So, this is my way of showing my affection”, she said with conviction. She strongly believed that what she did was harmless. She even thought that it was necessary, for everyone.

As the proficient sleuth examined the lifeless body of the alpha-male, within seconds he gave a heavy sigh and said, “Cause of death, asphyxiation from excessive infatuation”. The people from the morgue was expected to say the same.

“But nobody dies from love overdose! It’s preposterous!”

*****

An aghast feminine now resides in small room with cushion covered walls, and the alpha-male is now free.

And all will be forgotten; the righteous scent of the misunderstood rebel. As the only thing remembered by the misunderstood many was that he died; akin to a foreign movie at the end of its roll, at a lonely cinema. Flesh as one with the earthly soil.

That night, the Malay cab driver took us to Telok Ayer Festival Market. While driving, he assured us again and again, “Abang-abang jangan risau. Ini tempat gerenti best. Semua sedap-sedap”. What we asked of the cab driver earlier was, to take us to where the locals eat, preferably within the Central Business District. Immediately, without hesitation, he said, “Telok Ayer!”

Colloquially, with Malays being the minority in Singapore and the influx of Chinese nationals as permanent residents, the place is officially called Lau Pa Sat.

The cab driver pulled over at the side of Raffles Quay, adjacent to an old fashioned Malay building with a Victorian touch of a clock tower at its centre. The whole building was the above mentioned hawker’s food centre. But to our surprise, it was almost empty. Majority of the patrons inside the building were old folks, drinking cups of coffee at its kopitiam styled tables and stools.

After a walk-through and observing the whole place, we got to know that everybody else dines outside the building, along the stretch of Boon Tat Street. Open air under the stars, cramped plastic tables and plastic chairs and also, lots, and lots of people. Boon Tat Street closes itself from vehicular traffic every evening to accommodate this gastronomic industry. We also got to know that the speciality of this place is satay. Apart from the stalls outside, people can also order food from inside Lau Pa Sat to be eaten outside.

To our surprise, most of the stalls have awards recognition certificates, proudly displayed on their stalls. “Best Hawker Satay in Singapore 2009, 2010”, “5 Star Choice 2008”, “Most Authentic Hawker Stall 2005”, etc. We were at the right place; hungry in a foreign country and fortunately at an award winning casual food place. Before even tasting the food, my mind recalled Phua Chu Kang’s tagline, “Best in Singapore & JB. Some say Batam”.

We ordered chicken satay, beef satay, mutton satay, bbq prawn satay, spicy clams, mamak mee goreng and also char kway teow, all from award winning stalls.

Let me clarify one thing, I don’t eat Satay Haji Samuri anymore. To me, the taste of his satay has lost the quality and not worth my money. Sometimes, the frozen satays are served undercooked to their customers. It’s just how bad it is currently. Maybe it’s because of the massive franchising or maybe it’s because of cost cutting. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. But if I was given the chance to savour again the food we ordered at Lau Pa Sat, I would rather eat Satay Haji Samuri everyday for the rest of my life!

Well, maybe not everyday. Maybe I can have a cheat day. Just maybe.

When it first started happening around me several years ago, almost no one bats an eye. One would suddenly order a takeaway of Mee Goreng, and left for home from the weekly guys-night out. It was for the wife, the guy said. Well, it seemed pretty harmless. I mean, what’s wrong with that right? But somehow I felt a little sceptical about it. That was then.

As the years passed, most of the guys got married and the weekly guys-night out became a scarce occasion. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to at least make it a monthly gathering. A bunch of guys, loafing at a mamak joint until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning on a Friday or Saturday night; drinking glasses after glasses of non-alcoholic beverages and talking about either utter bullshit or reminiscing about things that happened between them 20 years ago. It was a real joy. The only joy for some pathetic people, but that’s a different story altogether.

As it often happens nowadays, at approximately 11:00 PM, text messages started to rain into most of the guys’ mobile phones. Then, one would call for the waiter and order a takeaway of Maggi Goreng. Another would order a takeaway of Mee Goreng. Another would order Roti Canai. Kuey Teow Goreng. Roti Naan. Or whatever. All takeaways are for the wives. When the orders came, it was time for them to go home, leaving me and a few others to continue the fight in utilising our rights as free men. But if I was the only one left, I guess it’s time for me to go home as well.

But seriously, it’s not about the food at all! Do women eat Mee Goreng at midnight? I don’t think so.

This tactic is pure evil. And this is now.

When the guys and I were walking down Jalan KH Wahid Hasyim on the eve of Chinese New Year this year, I decided to stop by a roadside stall to eat Bakmie. I like Bakmie. The guys weren’t very pleased. But earlier, after minutes of, “mana-mana” & “aku tak kisah makan dekat mana”, which was going nowhere, I needed to do something to not end up eating at an air-conditioned Garuda Nasi Padang outlet.

Their faces were gloomy while savouring bowls of Bakmie and Bakso Sapi, under the generator-set powered fluorescent light and on mouldy wooden stools and table. I know, it’s the hygiene thingy that made their expressions very melancholy that night. But I needed to do these kind of things, at least once while in a nomadic mode. Otherwise, it’s not worthwhile in my books. Sorry guys.

Anyways, I ended up finishing up 2 of the guys’ Bakmie. I guess they just couldn’t swallow it.

*****

A couple of days later, we eventually ended up at a Garuda Nasi Padang outlet, also along Jalan KH Wahid Hasyim. I smirked when the waiter said, “Sekarang waktu libur di Malaysia ya pak? Dua tiga hari ni, konsumen kami 80% orang Malaysia”.

Yeah, I know. Right?

Realizing the actual fact and accepting the reality of it all, when chasing something that I can’t have or pursuing something that is beyond my means, it is the most exciting period of life. My life, at least. Bugs in my stomach that fuelled my feelings of being alive. I was alive. I was a writer, a poet, a reader, a traveller, a philosopher and everything else that you can think of, inside a magician’s top hat.

Now, my stomach is all empty and I keep filling it up with grease and carbohydrate, which put a rhetorical smile on my face every time (and a few solid pounds). Happiness is the enemy. Having things that I thought I wanted, within my own means, left me rottenly bored to death. Dead. The kind of death that is not worth for any mourning, even from myself.

Happiness is the enemy, and I have lost.

*****

Ok, now let’s see what’s on tv.