Roses Are Always Red - June 12 2007
It was one of those lazy Sunday afternoons when everyone would be sitting around the living room, reading newspapers.
It was my weekend off from work and I decided to pop over Bapak's place.
Just thinking about what Bapak had prepared for lunch worked up my appetite real good.
"Everyone" at Bapak's would mean Bapak and our youngest and still (then) unmarried sister - Nina.
Lalin was still studying law in London and Nina was a third year law undergraduate at the International Islamic University which was located a stone's throw away.
Although we would visit Bapak regularly, it Nina who was there keeping him company.
They took care of each other, although there was Manija, the maid who was around to help with the daily chores, if she was not away for the weekend.
Mak had passed away about two years ago.
It was also my maid's day off so I took Adel who was about two years old, and drove to Section 16.
Besides, Nina had called earlier to ask if I was coming over because sometimes I would only be able to pop over in the evening as I'd have lunch at my mother-in-law's.
On Sundays, usually "everyone" would mean, well, literally everyone.
It was the day to check on Bapak and Nina who loved our visits and looked forward to seeing her nephews and nieces.
I loved Sundays or any day, for that matter, at Bapak's. But Sunday, especially, because I got to see my nephews and nieces too.
Adel loved being at his Datuk's. He loved the huge expanse of play area in and outside the house, and the company of his cousins.
Besides, Bapak was your quintessential Datuk. He spoilt his grandchildren rotten.
I opened the door to see most everyone except our eldest Kak Piah and her family. She'd probably turn up in later with Abang Dzul and their son, Irwan.
Kak Eda and her family were also not around. But I was sure they would be later.
Something yummy was cooking in the kitchen.
"Hello sayang. Come here," squealed Nina when she saw Adel walking into the living room.
"Dah makan? Nak tengok cerita cartoon?' she asked as she hugged Adel and smothered him with kisses.
I told her Adel had his lunch. I had too but, being heavily pregnant and always having hunger pangs, I didn't mind another round of lunch. What had Bapak prepared?
"Mee siam," Nina replied.
"Yang pakai mee hoon kasar. Kak Ton had three helpings. And then frankfurters for the kids," she hastened to add.
Bapak loved having his children and grandchildren around. We'd have animated discussions over breakfast, over lunch, over dinner or whenever we were around.
Sometimes, he'd be in the library which had been turned into his study, typing away on his faithful typewriter.
But, the minute he learnt that any of us were around, he'd call us and we'd be spending our time with him there. Sometimes, I'd fall asleep in his study, in front of the TV.
The mee siam was really good.
I went over to the living room where everyone was sitting, a mug of coffee in my hand.
Kak Ton was having her coffee too. Kak Olin was discussing with Nina about practising law in a law firm or working as a legal officer in a corporation.
They were also talking about Lalin, completing her studies and returning home at the end of the year.
Bapak was talking to Kak Ton and Abang Med about some things he was working on.
"Apa cerita?", he asked, turning to me.
That was a multi-faceted question which could refer to my personal or/and professional life. Usually it referred to the office since Bapak was very familiar with the NST and anything related to the NST including the powers-that-be.
After some lazy Sunday discussion with a dose of gossip, Bapak said he was going to "solat" and resuming some work he had been doing.
As we were happily yakking away, Kak Piah arrived and walked into the living room, with a look of urgency and, conspiracy somewhat.
This was not good, I thought, because Kak Piah had a way of delivering bad news in a bad way.
And she came alone without husband and child, so it must be very urgent. It made me nervous.
As she seated herself, she looked around, wide-eyed, as though to make sure the coast was clear, that it was safe for her to impart this very serious piece of information. A matter of life or death.
"Eh, Bapak nak kahwin lagi," she said in a very hushed tone.
Kak Ton almost dropped her coffee mug. My jaw dropped. Everyone just stopped whatever they were doing.
Did we hear that right? Moments of silence. Very eerie.
"Tipu-lah," I said, suddenly, looking at Nina. Not in front of Nina, I wanted to say. But it was too late.
"It's true. I'm not joking. He has already said yes," Kak Piah said, unravelling this mystery which we knew nothing about. Said yes to whom? When did this happen?
Bapak had joked about some people trying to find him a wife. But he was only joking. So, we never pursued the issue. Perhaps, also we did not want to entertain the thought and Bapak realised that it was a sensitive issue.
So this piece of news came as a huge shock to all of us because it hit us that all that joke was not a joke after all. That there was going to be a new woman in Bapak's life, one who would take over the role of wife and mother.
That she would be sleeping in Mak's room, in Mak's bed.
And that Bapak wanted a new woman in his life. God, no!
Questions, questions. Who was she? How old was she? Where was she from? "Anak dara", widowed or divorced? Any kids?
Kak Piah managed to answer only three: Not so young anak dara from Gombak.
I was remembering a casual conversation I had with Kak Eda one day as we were just lazing around in the TV room as the kids were watching "Tom & Jerry" on the VCR.
"Hey, you think Bapak will remarry?", I asked.
"He should," Kak Eda replied. "If he is lonely." She smiled, as though knowing something I didn't.
I was so unhappy with her reply and I said so.
"If he loves Mak, he shouldn't. Why? What for? He doesn't need to," I remarked, so naively.
When Kak Piah broke the news of Bapak's impending marriage, we were all so upset.
Nina must have taken it the worst and I did not blame her. She remained silent all the while.
I could imagine what was going through her head.
Kak Piah said that one of my cousins was the culprit who had been playing cupid. And we weren't consulted? What right had she got to be doing this? How dare she?
"I will never forgive her," I said. "I will never forgive Bapak." At that point, very unthinkingly said.
"But why does she want to marry Bapak?", Kak Olin asked.
Then, in walked Bapak, looking for a newspaper to use as reference for whatever that he was working on.
"Aah... apa cerita?" he asked. Very innocently.
You tell us, Bapak.