The Wait, The Letter and Jalan Bandar Police Station - Tuesday April 3 2007
"What do you think he is doing now? I asked aloud, as I flipped through the Sunday papers.
Abang Med and Kak Eda were also reading the papers in the living room.
They must have been taken by surprise by this unexpected question on a lazy Sunday morning.
"Bapak?", asked Kak Eda, as though needing a confirmation of the subject in question.
"No, King Ghaz," I replied, half in jest. No one laughed.
"Yah-lah.... Bapak. What do you think he is doing now? This minute?", I asked.
Abang Med put down the Sunday Mail and attempted to find a suitable answer to my question.
I must have interrupted his reading of his music column in the Sunday Mail.
"Probably reading the Sunday papers. Probably reading my column...", he said, trying to make light of a potentially emotional discussion.
Kak Eda who was on the comics section of the papers, was not quite amused by all this.
"Like they allow him to read the papers.
"He's probably in a tiny cell without a window. No papers, no books. Nothing. No one to talk to," she said. It was going to be a very depressing conversation.
"Is he given food?", I asked.
It had been more than two months that we had not seen Bapak. It was not as though Bapak was away on vacation.
It was a highly anxious and a very uncertain time. Quite distressing too.
Azah and Kamal were preparing for their MCE and LCE, respectively.
Although they faced no teasing and taunting in school, Bapak's absence meant that there was an absence of some form of discipline and firmness in their life. This was worrying.
Mak, not used to cracking the whip as far as studying was concerned, allowed these two so much leeway.
She allowed Azah to attend far too many "birthday parties" and Kamal, too many Saturday outings with his friends.
Kak Ton and Abang Med had to interfere which made things quite tensed.
No easy thing handling teenagers.
Kamal seemed far easier to handle, though.
Slow talk, a bit of psychology101, and Kak Ton and Abang Med managed get him back firmly on the ground.
They were usually able to talk some sense into him.
Azah, it turned out, had far too many distractions.
Mak - only when pressed for answers -- would only say that she was "always on the phone".
"Hah, boyfriend-lah tu," I remarked when I was dutifully told about her declining performance in school.
Kak Eda had her own take on this.
"Don't nag her. She doesn't need that. You have to understand her. You must understand the situation," she said.
So, the task of handling Azah fell on Kak Eda who would sometimes come home from college in the middle of the week just to check on her.
We were all anxious. It had been too long a period bereft of any news about Bapak.
One evening, as Mak sat with Kak Piah, Kak Ton and Abang Med over dinner, they discussed the family's predicament of not knowing about Bapak's situation.
Bapak had already made the confession on TV but there had been no word from the authorities after that. Were we able to see him at all?
So, the family decided that a letter had to be written. But to whom?
"To the Prime Minister," Kak Ton suggested. Mak was sceptical. But Kak Ton, feisty and fiery, was convinced that a letter should be sent "to no one less than the Prime Minister of this country". Abang Med felt that Kak Ton, being a journalist "would know what she was talking about".
Kak Ton said she would help Mak write the letter.
"Surat daripada isteri tahanan politik. Rayuan untuk keluarga bertemu dengan Samad Ismail," Kak Ton said, pointing out that Ramadan was nearing.
Good idea that Kak Ton wanted to help. But Mak knew Kak Ton well. A letter written by Kak Ton could be....harsh, perhaps? Even though she might not intend the letter to be so. Mak had a better suggestion, The family would ask Pak Cik Tongkat (Usman Awang) to pen it for her.
When Mak called Pak Cik Tongkat, he was more than willing to do so. He was just as anxious as we were about Bapak.
"Kak Midah jangan risau, ya. Tongkat tulis surat tu. Tongkat tunjukkan kepada Kak Midah. Tengok Kak Midah approve atau tidak, ya?", he told her when he came over as soon as he got the telephone call from Mak.
One Monday morning, I happened to be at home after the weekend, Pak Cik Tongkat came over with the letter that he had written.
Since, I was in the living room, he showed it to me as well.
I was moved to tears reading the letter. Now, if you have read Usman Awang poems, you would know what I mean. It was the most touching letter I had ever read.
"Kalau Hussein Onn tak terasa apa-apa lepas baca surat ni, Ena tak tahu-lah Mak," I told Mak.
Mak stared at the letter, penned by Usman Awang.
"Terima kasih, Tongkat," she said. Pak Cik Tongkat smiled, looking quite pleased.
I was tasked to find out the Prime Minister's address (I got Kak Ton to help), write it clearly on a brown envelope, go to the Section 17 post office nearby and send it by registered mail.
I did all that. We had it all done knowing well that the letter might not even reach the Prime Minister. Kak Ton said if there was no response or if our request was denied, she would make her way to the Prime Minister's office, knock on his door and demand that we be allowed to visit Bapak. I had my own ideas of what I wanted to do.
But as it turned out, none of us needed to resort to any drastic or risky measure because a reply came.
Mak received a call, one morning, from a "pegawai' in the Prime Minister's office to say that a letter was on its way to our home. Our request to see Bapak was approved.
"It must be Pak Cik Tongkat's touch,"I remarked when told of the good news. I could imagine Hussein Onn holding the letter, so touched by the first three lines and then, just slumping into his luxurious leather chair after reading the rest of the letter.
I was sure that the Prime Minister was moved to tears and deep compassion. How could he not be?
A call from the police then followed, detailing a forthcoming visit.
Can you imagine our excitement? It was to be in the morning on a Tuesday at the Jalan Bandar police station.
"Jalan Bandar? Where was that?" we asked.
Man, it didn't matter to us if it was in Batang Berjuntai or Ulu Bertam. We would get there even if we had to walk!
Mak had been writing letters to Kak Olin who was in the UK. Kak Olin would call up everytime she received one. Her calls were brief but they would always make Mak's day.
Mak's letters were type-written because Mak was used to typing, having been a journalist with Utusan Melayu in her younger days in Singapore. And later sometime in the 60s, when she was writing her first novel,"Meniti Pelangi", she would be at the dining table, typing and typing away. So, this time, she would be typing her letters to Kak Olin late at night, the only time she was free to do so.
Kak Olin called up one evening and wept on the phone. She received the good news and was so happy but was also sad to not be there with us. It was a weekend and I was at home. I picked up the phone, spoke to her a while and as her voice was choking, I called Mak. I tried to comfort her but I was so bad at it which probably made her even sadder. Poor Kak Olin, I thought.
Ah. Mothers! No wonder the path to eternal paradise is at their feet. How she soothed Kak Olin would only come naturally to me when I have children, I thought.
Tuesday was fast approaching. When the day came, everyone was gathered in Section 16. Kak Piah, Abang Zul, Kak Ton, Abang Ani and Abang Med organised the transport for us to go to the Jalan Bandar police station.
"Remember. We have to be there at 9.30am. Someone will take us to a room and Bapak will be waiting for us there," Kak Piah said. My heart was beating so fast I was breathless. I felt cold sweat streaming down my forehead. I was nervous. Pictures in my mind.
We went in three cars. Mak went with Kak Piah in the car driven by Abang Zul. Lalin and Irwan were with her.
Abang Ani drove his car with Kak Ton and their little girl, Jasmine. Azah and Kamal were with them.
I was with Abang Med in his mini minor. Kak Eda was in the front passenger seat. Nina and I were seated in the back.
The drive to Jalan Bandar was taking forever.
We arrived. The cars were parked somewhere near a performing arts hall. Kak Eda and I found the place to be quite familiar because we used to come to this hall back when we were in form 5 (1972) during an inter-school drama competition.
It turned out that Jalan Bandar was a familiar place for us all. It was in an area where Bapak used to take us Hari Raya shopping for materials and shoes when we still needed parental approval for clothes and such.
Everyone seemed nervous. Everyone was walking briskly as though afraid of missing a very important appointment. Even Lalin and Nina. Mak held Lalin's hand while I held Nina's.
"Hurry," said Kak Piah.
So new for us all, this experience. This visit to the police station to visit a relative.
I looked at Mak. Was it like this for her when Bapak was detained in Singapore? Oh. But the police officers were Orang Putih.
Will we be meeting Bapak in a room as promised? Will there be a glass partition? Do we take turns talking to Bapak? What, what, what?
A plainclothes policeman was already waiting for us. He must have been waiting for us and he knew it was us.
He was very polite as he introduced himself to Abang Ani. He asked for Mak who then stepped forward.
If we had felt anger towards the police -- any policeman, for that matter -- that feeling disappeared. Dissipated. Replaced by this immense sense of relief that we were actually going to meet our father. By this throbbing anticipation.
We actually smiled at this police officer.
We followed him as he took us to the first floor. He stopped in front of a door.
"Oh.. Bapak di dalam?" Kak Piah asked.
The nice plainclothes police officer opened the door to an empty room. It was a large room. Empty except for a long table and a few chairs.
But where was Bapak? He was to be waiting for us.
"Duduk dulu, ya?" he said softly. But before we could ask anything more, he disappeared out the door.
"Tipu ni, agak nya," I thought to myself, not daring to think aloud. Would they dare fool us? How dare they!
Then, before we could make sense of the empty room, the door swung open. The plainclothes police officer walked in with another - a younger man, presumably also a police officer.
The younger officer held the door open as though, for someone.
Then, someone so familiar walked in, followed closely by two other men in plainclothes.
"Bapak!", everyone shouted, in unison. We ran to him. We kissed his hand. He seemed thinner, paler and haggard. He was wearing the same red checkered short-sleeved shirt he had on the morning he was taken away. We wanted to cry seeing this Bapak. But we were overjoyed just seeing him.
"Alhamdulillah!" I heard Mak whispered.
We then took him to be seated. We stood around him, although the police officers offered us chairs.
Bapak must have been overjoyed to see us too. But, how come he was not smiling. He was not frowning. But he was not smiling. He wore a very nervous look. He seemed withdrawn.
"Apa macam semua? ", he asked in a voice which I thought, quivered.
Now, what have they done to my father? Banish such dark thoughts, I said to myself.
Bapak is here and he is okay. He is the same old bapak. I held his arm just to be sure.
"Bapak, macam mana?" I asked. Then, he smiled. A quivering smile.