Morning Was Broken - Tuesday February 20 2007
Mak sat motionless and silent for a long while after bapak was taken away. She seemed so calm. No tears. Was she in shock? We couldn't tell.
Then, she looked up.
"Go back to sleep now. Don't worry, your father will be home tomorrow," she said reassuringly.
It was already about 4am. Wouldn't that mean "today"?
There was an aching silence. That was quickly broken when my older sister, Kak Olin pointed to the floor where some books were strewn.
"What a mess," she muttered as she picked up the books and hastily placed them back in the bookshelf.
Oh, she could be mopping the floor for all anyone cared then.
Trust Kak Olin, a stickler for neatness!
We were all bapak's blue-eyed girls but we had long suspected that her eyes were bluer than ours.
Too overcome with shock, she wore a vacant look the entire time and was breathless everytime she attempted to speak.
Couldn't blame her. She had just come home two days earlier from England for the summer holidays and because of bapak's busy schedule, was able to spend only a few hours with him on the day she arrived.
She was not alone on that early morning in June 1976. Abang Med, Kak Eda, Azah, Kamal, Lalin, Nina and I were with her. Dazed and confused .
Mak was holding Lalin, then 9, by her side. Our youngest, Nina, 6, was on her lap. They had been up since the special branch guys came, and saw bapak taken, and driven away.
Mak asked Kak Eda to check on Irwan, our five-month-old nephew, who was asleep in her room upstairs.
She had been upset when one of the policemen "stormed" into her room, and began ransacking the shelves and drawers, looking for God-knows-what.
I think grandmothers would kill for their grandchildren. That guy would have had it coming had he stayed in her room just a little bit longer.
To her, he did the unforgiveable and the unthinkable. In the process of messing up her room, he kept stepping over little Irwan who was asleep on the mattress on the floor.
Okay, okay. Mak wouldn't hurt a fly. And no profanities would ever come out of her mouth.
But, there really was no telling under the circumstances.
Thankfully, baby Irwan (my parents' first grandson) slept through it all.
There we were. Sitting around in the living room, trying to make sense of it all. No words were spoken. They were not necessary. Nor important.
Outside, we could see the lights in our neighbour's house across the road. They must have, somehow, been awakened. They must be very curious, we thought.
Then mak beckoned Abang Med.
"They (the police) have gone now. You can call your sisters and tell them about your father. It is up to them if they want to come here," she said, her voice strained.
She was referring to our eldest sibling (Irwan's mama) Kak Piah and second, Kak Ton (Maria), They were the only married ones then and were living nearby with their respective families.
Soon after the calls were made, they arrived with their husbands, by which time our youngest Nina, then 6, was sobbing .
Mak held her close, comforting and soothing her.
Kak Ton and her husband, Roslani, first. A short while later, Kak Piah rushed in, her husband, Dzul close behind.
As soon as Nina saw Kak Ton at the door, she ran to her and cried uncontrollably : "Polis tangkap papa Nina. Polis tangkap papa Nina."
Kak Ton took her little sister in her arms. She herself looked so confused and shocked.
Then she became angry, almost hysterical.
"Dammit. They just gave him an award. Why? Dammit, why?," she kept asking.
It was just a few months earlier that bapak was awarded the Literary Pioneer Prize or Hadiah Pejuang Sastera by the government.
So what gives?
Mak was still calm. She looked up at the clock on the wall and asked us all to go back to sleep.
She would stay up with our older sisters and their husbands, she said.
It was nearly 5am. How could we? We just wanted to stay up and be together.
Mak looked at Kak Piah and Kak Ton.
"Your father expected this, you know. He said after Hussein's and Azmi's arrest, they will be after him," she said, softly. as she held Nina, gently stroking her .
Yes, we remembered the newspaper reports. Singapore Berita Harian journalists Hussein Jahidin and Azmi Mahmud, were arrested some time earlier by the Singapore authorities for communist activities.
"You remember what happened in Singapore? Your father had to make a swift exit?"
Ah yes, the hasty exit in his car via the causeway a few months earlier.
Bapak was accompanying my sisters and I to Singapore after we received the tragic news of my (maternal) grandfather's passing.
Kak Eda and I were then studying at ITM (now UiTM) in Shah Alam. We got the news early in the morning and rushed home to prepare to leave for Singapore with bapak.
Bapak's company (NST) car was driven by his driver, the ever loyal Encik Majid. Mak and Abang Med had already left by air to be in time for the burial.
We knew we would not be able to make it for the funeral because in Singapore, it was a rule that a Muslim burial be over and done with quickly.
No sooner had we arrived at my grandfather's house in Jalan Sudin when my aunt (my dad's younger sister) told him that my brother was stopped at the airport by some plainclothes policemen.
They had wanted to know if he was "Samad". How strange, we thought. Surely they would know that Samad was a much much older man.
My brother told them he was "the son". They checked his passport and let him go.
That was enough for bapak. He told Encik Majid: "Let's go back."
Somehow, the Singapore authorities "missed" him when he entered and exited the island.
My father had literally fled Singapore.
Yes, we could see what was going on. And it was chilling.
The strain of the ordeal must have taken its toll on us.
My older sisters and their husbands got up to leave. Everyone was too numbed to say anything anymore.
We slowly made our way back to our rooms. I turned to mak and asked:
"Do you think they will release bapak?"
"I don't know, I don't know... Insyallah.. we'll see, we'll see," she whispered.
She didn't sound as reassuring now. Or was she just so tired. So spent.
None of us could really sleep. The uncertainty was painful.
I could feel fear. And then, anger seeping in, threatening to take control.
I remember tossing and turning. And then, waking up to my sister's cry.
The morning papers had the story.
And the screaming headlines: "Samad Detained". Or something to that effect.
For us, life was never going to be the same again.