Friday, May 29, 2009

Of Friendship

Nawwar (right) with her 'big sister' Karen (left), flanked by their friend Ira in the middle

It does seem odd that I make a living in PR, which generally means communication and interaction (facilitating media expediency and the like), yet be ill-at-ease with people in general.

I'm neither shy nor bashful, just reticent and perhaps a bit reserved. Unfortunately, some people have mistakenly put this down to haughtiness.

Also, it doesn't help that I have the schoolmarmish stern look. Many a times I was told I could pass for a headmistress or a disciplinary teacher.

It is truly complimentary to be thought of as an educator, for teaching is one of the noblest professions ever.

In fact, in my younger days, it was a toss between teaching and journalism careerwise, and the latter triumphed.

And they couldn't have been more wrong about the haughtiness. I'm neither 'sombong' (proud) nor 'garang' (fierce), far from it. That stern look is quite deceiving.

Anyway, I prefer the company of books and cats than fellow humans. I guess it is because you know where you stand with the first two but you can never be sure with the third.

I am sure all of us have, at one point or another in our respective lives, one special person whom we call "Best Friend".

A best friend can be anyone - childhood pal, college mate, colleague, spouse - although I don't subscribe to the idea of making one's parent a friend, let alone best friend.

One can be as open with parents as with friends but the special, elevated status of one's parents should never be compromised.

The line that divides the two should be very clear. It's an old-fashioned view, but one I am comfortable with, personally.

Of my four kids, the first three retain their special friendship with childhood pals, who evolved to become today's best buddies.

The fourth, Nawwar, used to have a best friend from school days, until the friend went into the entertainment industry, becoming a 'hot property' actress and in the process, discarding her old skin totally.

My eldest son Naj and best friend Dinesh grew up together and remain close till this day, despite the fact that Naj is a diehard Manchester United fan while Dinesh would give his all for Liverpool.

[Dinesh found an unexpected ally when I married Pak Abu, another Liverpool fan. He still has to contend with me though, for I have been screaming myself hoarse for MU since the 1970s].

Naj is a busy scribe while Dinesh flies with the national carrier but they get together whenever time permits. Their good-natured ribbing and bantering about their respective soccer affiliation is always fun to see.

The other son, Joe, and best friend Jason have been living in each other's shoes since God knows when.

In his schoolboy days, Jason would appear at our doorsteps at the oddest hours. He would then wave a nonchalant greeting to whoever was around before heading straight for our family refrigerator to check out its content.

His family and ours were neighbours when we lived in Subang Jaya, and I love that boy to bits.

There were times when he went AWOL for a few days, and missing him, I would call his mom, asking "Where's my son?" and she would break into a laugh, knowing exactly who I was referring to.

Today Jason is past 30 and already a father, of one little girl called Judith, but to me Jason will always remain my boy.

Joe is in advertising while Jason works in IT. They meet often, for 'teh tarik' and 'tengok bola' sessions, We get to see Jason more often than Dinesh though, because he is KL-based, thus easily available for dinners and celebrations.

Of the two girls, Ann's best friend is somewhat unusual, if I can call it that. Syadid is today a young man in his late 20s.

He and Ann have been bosom buddies since secondary school (they were boarders in a private school together).

Think American Idol's Adam Lambert; that's Syadid (minus the guyliner, thank God!). I love effeminate Syadid, he's such a sweet, sweet boy.

Ann is actually his Big Sister more than best friend. I refer to him as my third daughter. We care for this somewhat troubled young man deeply.

In more ways than one, I am his mom (his parents have been divorced for a long time and both have since remarried). Many a times these ample shoulders were his to cry on.

Syadid is the youngest child from a privileged family. He studied hotel management in Switzerland and worked a stint in Wales before coming home.

Last month he left for a new hotel job in London. We miss this emotionally turbulent young man lots; his expensive yet flashy clothes, his bangles and beads and other accessories, his soft-spokenness and gentle manners...

Our youngest, Nawwar, in turn has a Big Sister of her own. She's Karen, a bespectacled Chinese girl who shares our fascination with cats (she has a few of her own).

Karen is in retail while Nawwar services clients in an ad agency. They may be from different race and creed but they bond very well together.

Throughout my life, I only had two best friends; the first in my teens (
read here) and the second acquired in the early days of my divorce. Distance has rendered both friendship stagnant, but it's still there nonetheless.

Hamidah, daughter of our maid Mok Cik Selema, was adopted by my grandparents to keep me company. We grew up together and were the best of buddies.

Although a Terengganuese, she has lived in Perlis for decades. A school teacher, she was posted there originally and must have found tiny Arau to her liking.

Now that her parents have passed on, the likelihood of her returning to roost in Dungun is highly unlikely. She doesn't have any siblings there anymore.

Soleh, one of her brothers, married a Japanese girl he met while working in a hotel, and the couple now lives in Japan.

The one friend closest to me, Julie, migrated to Australia last year with her husband and son. Julie, now in her mid 40s, was my sole crutch during the painful days of the big "D'.

Julie is someone with the biggest heart I have ever met. I could count on her at any time or day to help me in any situation. She was in a multinational ad agency while I had just started my PR consultancy when we first got to know each other.

God has blessed her with an equally wonderful husband, Chee Onn, who shares her kindness for mankind. Their son Oliver must be in Primary Two now. It's been a year since I last saw them all.

Yesterday I received a call from our mutual friend, Suzaina, who informed that Julie was in town for Christmas last December and was frantic because she couldn't get in touch with me nor Pak Abu.

In desperation she went to the karaoke lounge of KLGCC to find out, and was told by the staff there that we were on the Hajj pilgrimage. Smart woman, that one, going straight to the lion's lair!

I do miss our "Coffee Bean / Gloria Jean" moments and hope to see her again in the not too distant future, Insyaallah. True friendship is such a beautiful thing....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Itch

I read with interest posting by some lady bloggers who spoke frankly about the current state of their marriage.

These women have been blissfully wed for a decade or two. They have built a good life around their respective families, with dependable, loving husbands and adoring children.

Some are professionals who did not surrender their career upon marriage, who have advanced in their respective fields of expertise despite motherhood. They are generally happy with their lot.

Many, under normal circumstances, would not dream of trading their significant other with newer models, even if the latest offering has the 'engine power' of a young stallion and 'menderam' like a brand-new Maserati.

I choose to hold true to the saying that 'sex isn't everything; love is'. After all, when there is no more sexual intimacy left, but doddering codgers who no longer recognise who you are, what remains is unconditional love.

It's love that make us defend our territory to keep the one with the extra flab, balding scalp, greying temple, wobbly teeth and turtle pace (in bed and elsewhere).

For some, their Adonis days are long over, but we love them still. (Psst.. for those who fight tooth and nail solely for the $$$, I am keeping my counsel).

I would have been married to dear Pak Abu all of eight years come June which, taken in isolation, doesn't really make me an authority about marriage.

But there were 14 years of same chalked up previously (albeit with a different spouse long forgiven and forgotten), not to mention the 14 years of 'jandahood' that followed.

Collectively speaking, I have covered all grounds (not by design, though); marriage & motherhood, divorce & singlehood, and now remarriage.

I would like to think this somewhat messy state of affairs in my rather colourful life has given me some measure of credibility to give my two-sen worth.

Having said that, I must add this gem from my one-time mentor in journalism, Adibah Amin (Kak Adib), who used to say age is no measure of wisdom.

Just because you have done the same thing countless times doesn't make you right, for you could be repeating the same mistake each time. Such pearls of wisdom.

Some women lamented the fact that their marriage has reached a plateau and that they worry what comes next.

I can tell you what awaits - it's "The Seven-year Itch" (SYI), and it does not necessarily appear after seven years; some were just born 'miang' (itchy).

All things considered, SYI seems to afflict men more than women. In fact, for some men, SYI comes a lot earlier. For a select few, the 'miangness' never leaves despite marriage and a trailerful of kids.

Someone I know (woman, 40s, married, with kids) once indulged in internet chatting just to "Test Power" (her term, not mine).

She was curious to know how far her sexuality could take her, without upsetting the status quo. [It did go pretty far, and affected her marriage in the process].

In the case of men, I know a fair number of husbands who, upon reaching 40s, acquired SYTs (Sweet Young Things) younger than my daughters (and theirs).

Like those ageing Lotharios with trophy wives hanging on their arms, these erring husbands are under the impression that such young 'cikus' would somehow reinforce their flagging sexual attraction (read balding pate, hanging guts, sagging skin et al).

My advice is, don't scratch the itch. Let it be. Ignore it, and it will go away. Pander to it and you are in for a lengthy court case, a hefty settlement, with the added 'bonus' of undying enmity of your kids.

So if you love your spouse/ kids/ marriage/ pets/parents/ house/ potted plants/ cars/ everything, stay true. It pays dividends in the long run.

Love and marriage is a two-way traffic; the moment it becomes a one-way street, you might as well drive on alone....

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Slimming Ordeal


Glory days (yours truly second from left)

Let's face it; all women are vainpots. It's just the degree of vanity that dfferentiates one from the other. Even this old self, by any account pretty comfortable with her crow's feet and sagging skin, is sometimes overwhelmed by sudden pangs of insecurity.

For a greater part of my life, I was slim and trim, not an ounce above 160 pounds (ideal for my height at 5ft 6 inches), thanks to an overload of nicotine and caffeine.

As a journalist, I led a very unhealthy lifestyle, puffing some 40 sticks of cigarettes a day and drowning myself in copious cups of coffee.

Then, I could go without food but couldn't survive without cigarettes. After 25 years of smoking, I thought I could never wean myself off those cancer sticks, but I did. Six years ago I quit cold turkey and haven't touched one since.

And then there were the occasional wine and other liquors. I had been drinking socially since my 20s but managed to lay off liquor for good many years ago by staying away from temptation.

I found a healthier (and saner) life without 'rokok' and 'arak', syukur Alhamdulillah. The only snag is that my weight balloons; "Macam kena pam!" as someone close commented so tactlessly. Nothing could be further from the truth though.

Spreading middle is something many of us have to contend with once we reach middle age. The lucky ones spared this blight usually are already stick thin to begin with.

Perhaps it's in the genes. One look at my Megat forefathers where most of the men tower above six feet and the women built solid like a brick house (presumably to withstand the Megat male shenanigans), and I know I shall never be the petite, dainty lass clamoured by so many.

I reckon 'pleasantly plump' would be the kindest way to explain my physical disposition. But I also know I'm in danger of being a real fat-ass (Actually I already am, just exercising my prerogative to deny it) if I am not careful with my diet.

Then again, ample derriere is something I can cope with; after all, I have always appreciated the 'tonggek'ness of those salt-of-the-earth African women.

They, and not the likes of that obnoxious Naomi Campbell or Iman or other such reed-thin, emaciated-looking black models who would not look out of place in Darfur or Biafra, are the real deal.

At some point last year I was overcome with the need to regain my lost youth. It was truly pathetic, I know; all because I looked into the mirror and saw a grossly-out-of-shape half-centurian with shockfuls of grey hair and folds of excess fat.

It was such a horrible sight that I sped off like a woman possessed to a slimming centre at The Curve, harbouring high hopes of returning to 36-24-36 of yesteryears and fitting into a single digit sized dress all over again. (At this point, you can all chorus, "Dream On, Woman!")

It was my first and last visit. It was so unnerving that I swear I won't come within ten feet of a slimming centre ever again, even if someone pays me to lose weight.

If at all, I shall do it the time-honoured way, by exercising and eating a proper diet. Please don't ask me if this (the exercising, I mean) will ever happen. Writing it down while munching Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies laden with pecan and hazelnut is already half the battle won.

After the preliminaries i.e. filling in the many forms given, I was issued a small piece of rolled 'thingy' (it looked like a colourful popiah) which I later discovered was disposable panties.

I was to strip to the barest minimum (leaving just the bra) and somehow wriggle my way, fat-ass and all, into this bit of 'kain perca'. I unrolled the 'popiah' and gasped.

Could this teeny weeny 'thing' cover my uhm... modesty ... on two counts? It was smaller than a lady's laced handkerchief and could hardly cover my palm, let alone.... oh, never mind.

Anyway, peeled off my kurung I did, and there sat I in a room in this almost naked state, pouch hanging dejectedly, while a girl who looked younger than my own daughter took my measurements (with a straight face, thankfully).

I can't remember much of the first treatment, except that I was asked to sit in a hot, steamy cubicle for an eternity (I nearly fainted from the heat). The next treatment was to lie motionless for the longest hour of my life, strapped in a straitjacket-like apparel, while the steaming continued.

When the whole ordeal was over, I looked like a lobster and felt like a steamed kerapu (garoupa). I was to go through the same treatment for 20 times and pay through my nose before all the excess fat could be burned off.

"No thanks", said I hastily as I fled as fast as my thunder thighs could carry, taking off into the sunset, love handle wobbling and pouch hanging ....

PS: Pak Abu, when related this story, said: "You look ok, what... Where got gemuk?" That man really knows how to 'cari makan'.

Also, I think he was thankful he had just saved a big chunk of cash that he was willing to turn a blind eye on my 'montel'ness.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The 'Help' Dilemma

In today's big bad world, one can never be too careful about anything, more so about giving lift to strangers. Decades ago I would have opened my car door quite readily, but today I would think twice, and then some, before doing the same.

There are far too many things to consider; whether I am alone or with company, whether it's day or night, am I on a lonely stretch or the main thoroughfare, is the intended male or female, young or old, clean or unkempt.. and so on, that NOT helping seems to be a better choice.

Our paranoia about personal safety is at the cost of our own kindness. But who can really fault us for adopting this 'better safe than sorry' attitude? Losing our civility and grace is the heavy price that we pay for progress.

Each time I see a lone woman lugging a bag under the hot sun, slowly making her way to God knows where, my conscience begs to do the right thing; stop the car and offer her a lift.

Almost instantaneously an inner voice cautions, "Don't you go courting trouble. What if she is a decoy? What if someone is waiting to pounce on you once you open your car door?"

Almost always, I would listen to reason and drive on, all the time feeling wretched for letting my own self down. Why can't I just stop, invite her in and be done with it? Because I am afraid, that's why.

In October 1974, I was on my way back to Dungun to attend my wedding reception. My marriage was solemnised in Kuala Lumpur but the kenduri (feast) was held in Dungun a week later.

There were five of us in the car; N and I and three of N's brothers. This was long before the existence of highways. It was the trunk road (today's scenic route, incidentally) all the way and the journey took 7 hours.

We got to Paka, then a teeny weeny dot on the Terengganu map, about five kilometres from Dungun, around midnight. Grandma's house was just 10 minutes away, in Kampung Sura just outside Pekan Dungun.

It was then we saw what looked like a man lying motionless by the roadside. There was no vehicle anywhere near him - no bicycle, motorbike, nothing.

There were no cows either. Usually there would be many cows settling down by the roadside at night in these parts of the East Coast. It was all rather puzzling.

The brothers decided to slow down but not leave the car. It was a man alright, but he didn't look injured. They were contemplating checking the situation when N had a sudden change of heart.

He asked his brother to step on the gas, pronto. As we sped away, we looked back to the spot. There was no one there. That really spooked the hell out of us.

To this day I don't know what to think of it. One thing for sure, we never stop for anyone at lonely stretches at night anymore, unless to help victims of genuine traffic accidents (N once cradled one such victim, who died in his arms at the accident spot, but that's another story......).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I can see him now, standing at the road corner under the scorching Jeddah heat, two worn suitcases by his side, in all probability waiting for a bus or a cab.

The heat may be unrelenting but his heart is singing, for he has just spent three absolutely wonderful months with his family back home in Bangladesh, savouring home-cooked food and enjoying all the attention lavished upon him by his grateful family.

He considers himself to be very lucky indeed to have been given the opportunity to earn a living in faraway Saudi Arabia, even if it means long bouts of separation from his loved ones.

He is only a farm worker, but the money is substantial, much more than he had ever hoped to earn in a lifetime back home. He feels proud and manly to be able to contribute to the family coffer in a big way.

An approaching vehicle, luxury wheels by the look of it, jolts him out of his reverie. Such wheels are aplenty in Saudi Arabia, especially Jeddah.

After all, Jeddah is home to a large community of highly paid expatriates and an even larger community of workers from the sub-continent and Asia.

He takes no particular notice of the vehicle. Why should he? It's not like he is ever going to be offered a lift by any of them. Nobody has ever stopped for a lowly farmhand before. It's just not the norm in this country.

Sighing heavily, he turns his attention to the road ahead. He knows he has to endure the baking sun a while longer.

Maybe a bus or a cab may come soon enough, he consoles himself, shifting uncomfortably in the absence of a shade.

But the luxury vehicle slows down and comes to a halt right in front of him. A window winds down; a face, pleasant and kindly, appears, offering him a lift, taking him completely by surprise.

For a moment he is at a loss of what to do; how to respond to this unfamiliar situation. Truth be told, he feels somewhat embarrassed by this uncharacteristric show of kindness.

Gathering his wits quickly, in a soft voice he declines the man's offer. But the man behind the wheels is not easily dissuaded.

So, after a few moment of hesitation, the worker lifts his suitcases and shove them into the vehicle before climbing in.

"Where are you heading?" asks the man with a smile.

"Farm Number 5, sir," he replies politely, shifting shyly on the comfortable seat, with the pleasing coolness of the air-conditioning full blast against his body.

"What's your name and where are you from?" the driver asks further.

"My name is Abdul and I am from Bangladesh, sir. I just got back after a three-month holiday with my family in Bangladesh, sir," he explains at length.

"How nice," the driver responds, nodding his head slightly. A wave of anguish washes over the driver's heart, for he too left his own family in Dubai just days before to take up a new posting in Jeddah.

While he doesn't relish the idea of being an absentee husband and father, he knows a good career move when he sees one. He knows he is doing it for his family's future.

It's only been a few days, but he is already missing her and the boys. What is she doing now? How are the boys coping? The silence in his heart is defeaning.

"Sir, are you Malaysian?" The farm worker's sudden query transports him back to the present. "Yes I am," he replies with a tinge of pride.

"Sir, you are the first manager ever from here to offer a worker like me a lift. Thank you very much, sir; you are so kind." He says it with such sincerity that the driver feels a catch in his throat.

Long after he drops the worker at his 'kongsi' (the latter invites him in for a drink but he declines because he is running late for a meeting), the driver is unable to erase the day's event from his mind.

The image of cracked heels, upturned in noon prayer hours before, haunts him. Those heels, in broken rows, belong to the likes of Abdul, here in Jeddah in search of a better future.

In the quiet comfort of his dwelling, he pens his thoughts as a tribute to the thousands of Abduls everywhere, and as a reminder that he too is an 'Abdul' in Jeddah, even if their circumstances differ vastly.

Tapak-tapak retak seribu
Merantau jauh beribu batu
Tinggalkan anak, isteri, ayah dan ibu
Sering memujuk hati yang rindu

Mereka yang sujud dihadapan ku tadi
Dapat ku rasakan rintihan di hati
Mereka memohon doa kepada Ilahi
Semoga dipermudahkan pencarian rezeki
Demi sehelai baju, sesuap nasi
Untuk anak isteri yang di kasihi

Tapak-tapak retak seribu
Mengingatkan kepada asal usulku
Berselut, berlumpur, tanpa sepatu
Memijak, menguis kerikil dan sembilu
Rupanya rezeki aku juga di sini
Memegang amanah dari Ilahi
Supaya berkhidmat setulus hati
Mempermudahkan mereka mencari rezeki!

Lantas aku sujud ke bumi
Membisik doa di dalam hati
Air mata jatuh ke pipi
Aku mohon hidayah dari Nya
Membimbing aku terus berusaha
Memudahkan perjalanan tapak-tapak retak seribu
Mencari rezeki di perkampungan berdebu!

(Nukilan Ariffin, Al Lith, 11 Mei 2009)

Thank you Pak Payne for your "Retak Seribu.." posting that has allowed me to take liberty with your heartwarming experience.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Virgin Chicks

A news item in yesterday's Malay Mail, under "World Headlines" had me chuckling. It was about a restaurant in China, specialising in only virgin chickens.

The Tanniu Unmarried Chicken Restaurant in Haikou, capital of Hainan Province, purportedly served dishes cooked by using chicken whose 'dara'ness was absolute.

Restaurant owner Fu Chuanhai said he raised hens selected soon after they were born on a special farm. He swore that his hens had never even 'flirted' with a rooster!

This 'ayam dara' business really got to me. It is grossly unfair to deprive the chickens of the joys of flirting, let alone the flesh, just so we humans can enjoy their unsullied meat.

Imagine, those hapless virgins, raised in seclusion only to have their heads chopped off to fulfil our own insatiable demand for the 'clean and pure'.

Think about those pitiful roosters on Mr Fu's farm, drooling away at the sight of vestal virgins flapping about invitingly in their enclosures, with ferocious Fu patrolling the boundaries of his 'dara' brood.

Sadly enough, 'ayam kampung' no longer equates 'ayam dara' these days. Times must be so fast a-changing that the purity of village chicks is now questionable (err.. this may allude to more than just the fowl specie).

Not so long ago, I read about some Chinese restaurants in rural Selangor that employed delectable Chinese chicks from China to boost business.

But these were no ordinary birds. They were of the kind that could wreck your matrimonial bliss and cast you into an Ah Long's net.

As to whether they (the birds, not Ah Longs) were virginal or not, I am not privy to such information.

But the likelihood of them being 'untouched' is as good as saying Paris Hilton is a nun, awaiting anointment as Mother Teresa of the new millennium.

These chicks offered more than just waitressing service, much to the chagrin of Kuala Selangor's long-suffering housewives.

Apparently, their (mostly) fisherfolk husbands thronged such restaurants in droves to sample both 'ayam' offerings (the ones on the plates and the ones in miniskirts).

Aaaah.. men...! When will they ever learn to keep their pecker where it (rightfully) belongs.. *sigh"

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Flour Bin

Do take a look at this unrepossessing, white-painted tin with the word FLOUR printed on one side of it. Yes, it's the Abus' spanking new flour bin and it contains (surprise, surprise)...... flour!

My youngest daughter Nawwar and I went to the Amcorp Mall flea market last Sunday, supposedly for a look-see. By the time we were ready to wrap up our look-see mission, it had had turned into some heavy-duty 'look-buy'!

[By the way, the Mall trip was the real reason why I withdrew some cash last weekend].

It was the first time ever that I hauled my ample derriere to the Mall's flea market, although I had known of its existence for the longest time - from the time it first started years ago.

I had never really thought about visiting it, until Nawwar suggested we go check out the stalls for reasonably priced blouses and tudungs.

[Without a doubt, Nawwar was a regular; that girl simply loves to 'merayap' along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Petaling Street, and the flea markets of Mont Kiara, The Curve and Amcorp Mall].

Of course, in the wake of ancient irons (the kind that used embers) that can crack your skull open with just one whack, stamps and coins, second-hand books and magazines, hundreds of vinyls, and turntables and radios with compartment for cassettes, the bajus and tudungs were left trailing behind.

Then I spotted a stall selling, among other things, tin cannisters. They came in all shapes and sizes, the biggest being a bread bin that could hold a few loaves at any one time.

There is something to be said about tin cannisters, colourful or otherwise. They captivate totally, leaving me breathless. I can never seem to get enough of these containers.

I can spend hours browsing among this myriad of receptacles; jars and bottles, decanters and flagons, caddies and carafes, pitchers and gourds, barrels and bins, and naturally, tin cannisters.

So it was that I ended up owning the first proper flour bin of my life, and a few other tin cannisters besides. Initially it wasn't meant to hold anything, let alone flour. I thought it would look good on the kitchen self, that's all.

Yesterday however, I decided to rearrange my kitchen and so the flour bag somehow found itself deposited in the bin. Last night Nawwar got home, took the lid off the bin and squealed in surprise: "There's flour in the bin!"

Now, if I were her, I would be dumbfounded too. This is because I have been known to keep rubber bands in cookie jars, loose buttons in coin banks, light bulbs and adaptors in plastic tubs, soya sauce in a flagon marked 'vinegar' and washing powder in a container marked "Cat Food."

Life in this house is an endless round of surprises. You never know what you may find when you lift the lid off a tub marked 'ice cream' for it may well hold 'ikan pekasam' (it does!) given by a friend who had just returned from Sungai Petani....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tuesday Thoughts (Revised)

View from my window - Kampung Sungai Pencala Muslim Cemetery

The days are getting hotter lately. The rains are no more although the noon sky darkens occasionally. It's the kind of weather that has Pak Abu beaming from ear to ear. I could almost read his thought: "Good day for golf, this!"

Me? I am loathe to leave the comfort of my cosy apartment although I dread to think of the subsequent electricity bills. I think we have chalked up quite a sum so far due to the air-conditioning.

It is fortunate that I ply my trade from home. All that I need as a freelance writer/translator are phone access, computer, printer and the Internet, and I am in business.

The days when I rushed around 24/7 like a headless chicken, kowtowing to the most difficult clients imaginable, who sapped every ounce of energy I had and bled me dry of any creativity, is history.

I am thankful for the respite and I hope it stays this way. I used to think I would go bonkers without a regular job, and that I must tie myself to a workplace to keep me sane.

Now I know I don't have to. Life still goes on. Freelancing is also a good way to earn one's keep without having to commit oneself to a rigid routine like a paid employee.

Now that the kids are grown and gone (err, not really.. they are not likely to abandon their 'mobile ATM' that readily!), I have more time for myself, and it's a boon to this worn soul.

As for the children, they turn up some weekends, to partake dinner together or just to see if the old folks are still breathing. That suits us fine, anyway.

At home, I am left with the 'Big Boy' to care for. But he is easy to manage. Just pack him off to the golf course, preferably with a new set of irons and tubefuls of new dimpled balls, and my life is a bliss.

All these jumbled, inconsequential thoughts came to mind just because I happened to look out my window an hour ago, and saw a fresh grave being dug at the Kampung Sungai Pencala Muslim Cemetery below. Al-Fatihah to the arwah, whoever he/she may be.

It was only last night when I mentioned, while standing on the balcony taking in the lights, that it had been quite a while since someone was buried at the cemetery. [The last burial was almost a month ago].

I am inclined to think that the little patch of God's Acre, peaceful and serene, in no small way had helped turn my life around from a harried PR consultant to a laidback housewife and mother.

It has made me think less of 'duniawi' (material world) and more of 'akhirat' (hereafter). It reawakened something long buried, the realisation that I am, (to paraphrase Kak Teh), already in the 'Maghrib' of my life.

There is only one more 'waktu' to go, if God so much as grant me my 'Isya'. So, there truly is hikmah (merit) in staying in this apartment overlooking a Muslim graveyard.

PS: I have to mention this. This morning's burial was attended by so few, I think less than 10 people. I had never seen such a thin crowd at a burial...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Two's A Crowd

It was a most unpleasant encounter and I make no apology for what I did. You be the judge, whether or not what I did was right.

Be that as it may, I would not have done any differently, trust me. As always, I am not averse to speaking my mind and making my feelings known.

There I was at 11.35 this morning, in a miniscule ATM cubicle (located beside a bank in Taman Tun Dr Ismail) in the midst of tapping in my pin number, when an Indian youth in his 20s stepped in.

At first I thought he was dropping a cheque into the cheque deposit machine, so I continued with my transaction.

Instead, he rested his back against the shelf where the bank slips and pens were, and waited and watched.

Now, there is an established etiquette in using an ATM cubicle. If it has both the ATM machine and the cheque deposit machine, more than one person may be inside at the same time, each utilising a machine.

But if there is only the ATM machine, the norm is that only one person should be in the cubicle at any given time.

Only when the person steps out, another enters. It is the conventional, and I must add, safer, way.

Him standing barely five feet away from me, waiting for me to take my cash, was completely unnerving.

There have been so many stories and reports of the boldness of snatch thieves that I was compelled to do something.

[It was only a month ago when a middle-aged Chinese woman was mercilessly dragged from a shop pavement to the roadside by a snatch thief in a bold snatch attempt in front of the ever-busy Pasaraya Taman Tun.

The poor woman was all scratched and bloodied. Supermarket customers, however, gave chase, caught the Malay/Indon guy and whacked him senseless before tying him up and calling the cops.

My sister Idah, who was at the supermarket when it happened, said the fellow was already half-dead by the time the cops arrived]

So I looked at him and said: "Could you please wait outside? Only one person should be in at any one time."

Guess what? The ill-mannered lout flew off the handle and raged at me, shouting: "Where got sign saying only one person? It's hot outside!"

Frankly, I was completely taken aback at this sudden explosion of anger. It was instantaneous! it was as though he had not an iota of patience to speak of.

I glanced outside and saw a beat-up white Proton with its engine running, and a young guy sitting inside, presumably waiting for him.

So I looked at him again and said: "It has nothing to do with being hot. It's about my safety."

That really got to him. The bozo looked at me threateningly, shouting "Who's disturbing you?"

By this time, two people appeared outside the door. I quickly took my cash, walked out, and told the duo outside what had transpired.

By then he was standing in front of the ATM machine but I didn't see him doing any transaction. I fully believed my hunch was right, that he was up to no good.

Suddenly he turned towards the door and shouted at me again: "Get out! Get out!", presumably telling me to get off his case.

By now terrified, I quickly got into my car and drove off. In my haste, I forgot to take note of the car registration number.

My question is: Was I wrong in asking him to wait outside? True, there was no sign or notice saying only one person should be in at any one time.

But I was worried about my own safety. What if the jerk really was a criminal preying on the unsuspecting? I wasn't about to take chances on my life.

Whatever the case, even if he didn't have any criminal intent, he was one very badly brought up scrap of humanity.

A true-blue kurang ajar scumbag if ever there was one, and I stand by every harsh word I said.