Thursday, September 25, 2008
The Hand of Fate
THE year was 1976 and she was a young mother of 21, with an adorable baby boy born just a few months before. Home was a cosy bedsit along Priory Road in West Hampstead, a few miles north of London.
The man of the house wrote for a newspaper, a job that took him all over the British Isles and the Continent. The young mother, his wife of two years, worked in a publishing house at St Cross Street in the heart of the city, not far from his own office.
Life was comfortable, idyllic even, for the young family. Weekends were spent traipsing around London and the suburbs, checking out the movies at Leicester Square, visiting museums, galleries, and the many bookstores.
Occasionally they would hire a car, bundle up their child in warm clothing and drive into the countryside, checking out ancient castles and historical sites, or just visiting friends who lived out of town.
Sometimes they would spend weekends at the seaside town of Brighton, a place chockful of Malaysian students that it earned the moniker "Kampung Melayu".
Almost always, the young wife would compare the pebbly Brighton beach to the white, sandy beaches of her hometown: "Nothing like Dungun, not even close," she would say ruefully, a faraway look in her eyes.
But she wasn't melancholic for long, for she was young and full of life and love. The road ahead seemed endless and there was so much to do.
Once they went strawberry-picking with a group of friends, and had a whale of a good time - too good a time in fact, eating strawberries off the stalks - that all of them went down with a stomach upset.
Another time they trooped off to Stratford-upon-Avon to check out Shakespeare's birthplace. They spent the entire day wandering around, poking their heads into every nook and cranny of that quaint little place, and buying souvenirs by the armload.
They boated down the River Avon, taking in the stunning pastoral sight of cows grazing in the meadows, of cottages and farmhouses and barns. Life was incredibly sweet.
Some weekends she would visit Malaysia Hall to have her meals at the cafeteria or just to meet up with friends, her little boy safely and comfortably tucked in his pushchair (she never did learn to call it 'strollers'; it sounded too much like a band of troubadours to her).
On many occasions she spied Malaysian students playing table tennis at the Hall, but there was one young man who particularly stood out. He caught her attention simply because he was the scruffiest of an already scruffy lot.
Her recollection: "He was darkish, his hair was long and unruly. He wore glasses a la John Lennon, and was always in such disagreeable-looking torn jeans. He looked terribly nerdy and unkempt. As you know, I was (and still am) such a neat freak; that was why his image stuck in my mind."
His recollection: "She was young and pretty, rather tall and fair and leggy too, with big glasses, and always with a baby in a pushchair. I often wondered who she was. Even long after I came home, the thought of her occasionally crossed my mind. I was just curious ...."
They met again by chance in March 2001, under vastly different circumstances of course, and married three months later.