Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Tuesdays With Bapak (11)
A Tuesday Tail - April 24 2007
Life was much more settled now that we were allowed to visit Bapak every Tuesday at the Jalan Bandar police station in Kuala Lumpur.
But the uncertainty of Bapak's incarceration never dissipated.
We had no idea how long his detention would be. But for the time being we were simply happy and relieved to be able to see him every week.
With Tuesday being the most important day of the week, the family learnt to revolve their activities around it.
Most things would have to be attended to within the week before each Tuesday.
Any outstation trips, unless absolutely necessary or pressing, would have to be arranged within that period so that none of us would miss the visit.
Tuesdays were precious days which we took great care not to give up for other engagements.
Kak Eda was in college and I had already started work with the NST. Kak Eda and I were lucky to be excused every Tuesday to see Bapak.
Indeed, being able to see Bapak gave us some sense of stability and balance.
It meant that Bapak was kept abreast of developments in the family as well as those of our relatives in Singapore. -- who got married,who got a baby and who died. Yes, who died.
Bapak was very close to his older sisters -- Fatmah, Kamlah and Eichon. His only younger sister, Salhah also doted on him.
The age gap between him and his older siblings was very wide.
Because they doted on him, it seemed natural for them to dote on us as well.
Going to Singapore for us was a time of sheer luxury. We would be spoilt silly. Reluctant as we were to be spoilt, we were rendered helpless against the might and will of our aunts and cousins.
"Jangan basuh piring tu. Biar saja di situ," we would be told. We were always being shooed out of the kitchen.
We were simply not allowed to lift a finger to help. Of course, being the children of their brother who was in detention made it even more emotional for our aunts. That was why we had very little choice in this except to go with the flow, and enjoy the special treatment while it lasted.
It was sometime in 1980 that Mak received a call from Cik Ah in Singapore that our eldest aunt, Wak Mah, had died.
Mak was sure that the news would be devastating for Bapak whose incarceration had deeply affected her.
Everytime we visited her at her home which was just a stone's throw from my grandmother's, Wak Mah would break into tears at the mere mention of Bapak.It was the same with all his sisters.
Kak Olin and I were not around when Wak Mah died. Kak Olin was in England and I was in Boston. But we were duly informed of developments at home and in Singapore.
Kak Ton remembers Bapak's face when Mak told him of Wak Mah's passing. He momentarily lost his composure. Kak Ton thought he was going to weep. He didn't but you could tell that he was shocked by the news. You could see the pain in his eyes. More painful, perhaps, because he was not able to see his beloved sister towards the end of her life.
Yes, Bapak lost a sister he dearly loved while he was in detention. He never got to say goodbye to her. At least not in the way he wanted.
You see, years earlier, my aunts hatched a plan. A delightful scheme, as far as they were concerned. Little old ladies they were not. They were prepared to defy the laws of a foreign land just to see their little brother. And for Cik Ah, her beloved Abang Comel.
Whenever we went to Singapore or any of them came here, we would talk about Bapak. They insisted on knowing every little detail about their brother.
Naturally they knew that we visited Bapak on Tuesday, that each visit would last about an hour or so, that it was at the Jalan Bandar police station, that Bapak would arrive and leave in the same unmarked car, that sometimes they'd use a different car, and that the car would past by some shophouses.
These were details told over and over again. Like a broken record. But which my aunts enjoyed listening.
By this time, the Special Branch officers were no longer strangers to us. In fact, they were hardly the cold and harsh picture that we had of them. They seemed to treat Bapak with respect and were always gentle with him.
My aunts would not take no for an answer. There was no stopping them.
We were preparing for another Tuesday (sometime in late 1978). For Mak , it was going to be another day to look forward to. That it was just an hour's meeting seemed never to matter to her. Even 5 minutes with her husband would be fulfilling.
As always, Mak would be looking so radiant by Monday. By Tuesday, she was all ready, like a blushing bride.
That particular Tuesday, Kak Eda took the bus from Shah Alam and arrived at the Klang bus station about 9am. She walked hurriedly to the police station. So hurried was she that she did not see several familiar faces near the shops.
Inside the "meeting" room, Bapak was in his usual seat, puffing his cigarette.
He asked how Kak Olin was keeping with her law studies, how I was doing at the NST and my plans to further my studies in Boston. About Azah and Kamal, Lalin and Nina. About Pak Cik Tongkat and his family.
It was a time to catch up on everything and everyone.
We had our usual chat. Mak had brought some kuih-muih.
Perhaps Bapak did notice Kak Piah's nervous smile and Kak Ton's uncharacteristic quiet. Perhaps not.
Outside along the five-foot way of the nearby shops, Wak Mah, Wak Lah, Wak Eichon and Cik Ah waited patiently. With them were Wak Hussain (Wak Eichon's husband), Cik Salleh (Cik Ah's husband) and two or three of our cousins.
Should Bapak be told that his sisters were outside waiting just to catch a glimpse of him, so that he'd not be looking the other way?
Of course, at this point, the SB guys didn't seem intimidating at all. They even joined us for our regular little "picnic".
Kak Piah spoke first. Then Mak. And Kak Ton added her two cents worth. Abang Zul, Abang Ani and Abang Med decided to remain suitably silent.
Bapak did not bat an eyelid when told that his dear sisters, brothers-in-law and a couple of nieces and nephews were somewhere outside, along the "kaki lima" of the shops, waiting to catch a glimpse of him.
He leant back on his chair, took a deep puff of his Dunhill, and smiled.
What? No raised eyebrow! Not even a whimper of surprise! Not worried at the thought of his sisters weeping and wailing as they wave at his passing car along Jalan Bandar?
"Yah kah?" - was all that he remarked.
The SB guys smiled. The handsome one nodded.
Was that a signal that they would play along?
It was time to go.
"Mak Cik keluar dulu, ya. Lepas itu kami pulak," said the handsome one.
Well, this was not the routine. Usually, Bapak would be led out first before we could go.
So, off Mak walked with Lalin and Nina. Kak Piah and abang Zul and the rest followed.
Their cars, as usual, were parked outside the police station, along the road.
Usually, everyone would waste no time in getting into the car to go home, or sometimes in Abang Med's and Kak Ton's case, to their office.
Especially Abang Med who would try to look out for the unmarked police car in which Bapak had arrived. We always told him that it was pointless trying to do that.
"You can't follow their car. They're always gone by the time we leave the station," we would tell him.
To which he would quip: "I may have my lucky day yet!". Sure, Abang Med sure.
Abang Med never abandoned his plan to follow Bapak's car. We cheered him on although we realised at some point that it was impossible to tail the unmarked car. They did not always use the same car.
I think Abang Med relished the idea of playing spy. The idea of tailing a police car. Who knows, he might even succeed. Kak Eda and I liked the idea too.
In the beginning, the SB guys were careful to avoid being seen by us. Later, they seemed a bit careless. Sometimes they would arrive about the same time we did, allowing us - by design or otherwise - to see the particular car they were using that day.
I think Abang Med must have tried to remember the cars that they used for Bapak's rendezvous with us. I won't trivialise Abang Med's uncanny ability in remembering details.
Everyone lingered outside, taking their time. Except Abang Med who was already in his car. Kak Eda and I decided to take a ride with him.
Kak Eda was stumped to know that her aunts were "waiting in the wings".
"No wonder.... I thought I saw someone who looked like Wak Mah just now", she said, shaking her head.
I was just as surprised because nobody filled me in on this subterfuge.
As we reached the gate outside the police station, Kak Piah rushed to a row of shophouses nearby and disappeared in the five-footway.
Then, you could see Wak Mah and the Singapore entourage emerging. They stood in a line just at the edge of the "kaki lima".
Everyone waited. It was like waiting for the royal motorcade to pass. Indeed, the only things missing were little flags with which to wave.
Then, a red sedan emerged from the gate of the police station. It turned left and out the road. The car moved very slowly.
Wak Mah, Wak Hussain,Wak Lah, Wak Eichon and the others stood, their hands waving very unobtrusively. They eyed the passing car, trying to catch a good look at a particular occupant inside.
Everything moved in slow motion. The car, the waving of the hands, the turning of the heads. Bapak had his head visibly near the window and smiled at them.
They did not take their eyes off the sedan until it disappeared around the corner.
Then, almost in tandem, they broke into cries of joy, relief. Passers-by gave my aunts and cousins a second look, probably wondering what the fuss was all about.
"Alhamdulillah! Ya Allah" Wak Mah uttered. She was in tears. She was overjoyed.
That was their last goodbye -- Wak Mah and her beloved little brother.
Everyone finally regained their composure. Mak was all smiles as she hugged her sisters-in-law. It was a touching, moving moment. And if I could understand then what a feel-good moment was, that was certainly one.
Just as everyone was happily recounting that "slow-motion" event, they saw a familiar mini minor zoomed past them.
"Bye bye....", Kak Eda and I shouted from inside the mini minor as Abang Med tried not to lose the sedan.
I could see the stunned faces of our dear mother, sisters and aunts. Abang Ani's look of disbelief blurred past me. This was going to be an exciting adventure.