The Other Side Of Morning - Tuesday February 27 2007
Nina was not supposed to come downstairs so early. She had just gone to bed only a few hours ago, along with everyone else.
Could she have slept well after what happened?
Nina had cried herself to sleep. At least she did not wake up screaming as little children often do after going through hell.
Did she remember what happened earlier?
Nina who was asleep with our nephew Irwan in our parents' bedroom, had been rudely awakened when the Special Branch officers began opening and rummaging drawers.
She was in shock. Her face ashen. We thought our baby sister would surely never recover.
I wanted it to be a bad dream for her. For us all. A bad dream would have been better. At least it was not real. Don't wake up until after the good part comes.
Damn! The good part never came and I woke up.
"Papa mana?" she asked, still groggy. Poor kid. Poor Baby.
She had not forgotten and wanted to be sure.
No reply from anyone. No one dared say anything. Except, of course, Mak.
She took Nina by her side, stroked her head then gently said that the police had taken Bapak.
Nina's eyes were blinking. She did not cry.
It was a school day but the kids were not up to it. Kak Eda and I were on our semester break.
Breakfast, as usual, was already on the table. We all had our particular likes. I liked toast to go with my coffee. Abang Med preferred half-boiled eggs or cereals while Kak Olin, Kak Eda and Azah would go for fried rice.
Our three youngest siblings -- Kamal, Lalin and Nina would have whatever was on the table.
Anything Mak prepared was good.
But today nothing looked good. Today, the morning papers carried the story of Bapak's arrest and detention.
There were no details. We just wanted to know, from them, why.
Abang Med was conspicuously missing at breakfast.
He would usually make a point of having his eggs or cereals before going to work.
Also, Lalin was very close to him so he would spend a bit of time with her before rushing off to his office in Shah Alam.
This morning, he had left without having his breakfast.
He must have read the papers.
Did he go to work, I wondered?
He looked all tensed up when those men were in the house. His face was pale but I could see fire blazing in his eyes when Bapak left in the car with those men.
Ah, the car. We could remember many things but none of us could remember the make or the colour of the car. It was just a miserable dark-coloured car.
I wondered whether Abang Med was going to be okay?
Was he planning revenge? I shuddered thinking about it yet the thought brought a hint of pleasure.
Before I could begin to fantasize about the pain I could inflict on some people, there were noises at the front door.
"Assalamualaikum," rang a familiar voice. It was Pak Cik Tongkat (Usman Awang) and his wife, Cik Senah (Hasnah Din).
Mak had called them earlier about Bapak's arrest.
We all responded to the salam in unison.
Oh! They were heaven sent. Dear sweet Pak Cik Tongkat and Cik Senah. We could have cried at the sight of them.
A tangible air of anxiety and anguish must have been overwhelming for I had never seen Pak Cik Tongkat looking so distraught and disturbed.
His voice quivered as he asked us about Bapak. Cik Senah, with tears streaming down her cheeks said nothing as she hugged her Kak Midah.
"Sarapan dulu, ya. Kak Midah masak nasi goreng ni", Mak said.
"Budak-budak baik?" she asked, referring to their children, Lina, Is, Yamin and Maya.
As they sat down with her at the table, she began to relate to them the early morning events from A to Z. Mak was good with details.
Pak Cik Tongkat hardly sipped his coffee, much less able to eat the fried rice.
He was taking deep and long puffs of his "gudang garam" as he listened intently to Mak.
I was sitting on the steps of the staircase in front of the dining room, holding Nina and Lalin. Kak Olin, Kak Eda and Azah were huddled close together further up.
My teenaged brother, Kamal, was in the living room, staring at the newspaper, at the headlines.
Pak Cik Tongkat had been like a younger brother to my mother since the Singapore days when he would visit my father at my Ompong's (my grandpa's) home in Jalan Sudin.
Mak treated Cik Senah just like her own adik as their families were neighbours, living across each other. They were very close.
So it was not long before the pretty 16 year-old Hasnah caught the eye of the young and dashing Usman.
My father hosted their wedding held in our kampung -- Kampung Melayu -- the Malay heartland in Singapore.
Their wedding was indeed considered grand, attended by ambassadors and top PAP leaders.
Not your regular kampung day-long affair. But a dinner reception with musicians playing stringed instruments and a piano.
Kak Piah and Kak Ton , then 10 and 8, were the bridal couple's "pengapit".
To my siblings and I, Pak Cik Tongkat and Cik Senah were like our second parents, so dear to us and were always there to share our joy. This time, our sorrow.
As Pak Cik Tongkat and Cik Senah were preparing to leave, I felt a wrenching tug inside.
"Don't leave. Stay with us," I wanted to say.
Their presence at our home had made us feel comforted. We wanted it to last a little longer.
Pak Cik Tongkat's soothing words made the morning-after less unbearable.
He asked a lot about our younger ones - Azah, Kamal, Lalin and Nina. Every now and again, he would turn to them.
Pak Cik Tongkat assured us that he would always be there for us as he had always been.
Cik Senah said they would both come and visit us as often as they could.
We were not sure whether they actually would.
You know people change.
But they kept their word throughout the following years until Bapak's release. Bless them!
We'd soon learn how true it was that in such trying times, we'd know who our friends were. We really would. And I mean, our real friends.