This is him. My father. My father whom I never quite knew as I lived with my grandfather and grandmother since I was one.
Although he was, like many old-school father, aloof and almost unapproachable, I always knew that he was watching me from afar.
I would ask for money to buy books from him and he would say he's got no money yet.
Deep down inside I detected sadness in his eyes when he said that. Because I knew he would give, if he had. Sure enough, when he had the money, he would ask me whether I still needed the book that I’d wanted before.
I will always remember the day I got my letter of admission to the University of Malaya. In his own way he was elated but he wouldn't jump for joy.
He came to me that evening, shirtless as usual and wearing a rolled up kain pelikat. He stood beside me and said, "Art, ayah heard you got to do law at UM." I said "yes". "You are not like your brothers, you know (referring to the fact that I didn't study hard like my brothers)," he said. He looked at me intently and asked, "would you pass?". I was surprised and after a while I said, "I think I would."
There was this look of satisfaction in his eyes. And he said, "that's good."
That's him. He would watch over me from afar and kept his feelings inside. When he had doubts, he would ask. And when he gets the answer from me, he would take it at face value as he never judged me or any one of us, his kids.
He would then take a hundred dollar note and gave me. He said, "you would need a new pair of football boots in the uni. Go and buy them tomorrow. Use all 100 dollars. Buy a really really good pair," he said.
I was so surprised and was in fact speechless. I was a footballer. My grandma hated that. She did not like me playing football, perhaps because she was worried that I would hurt myself. I had to save my school money for four months to buy my first pair of football boots. And there he was, giving me 100 bucks to splash on a pair. One hundred dollars of his hard earned money. A whole month’s kitchen budget!
“Take it,” he said. “Ayah don’t have more to give.”
I took the money and thanked him. He said, "ayah only has that much. You go and buy a pair tomorrow. And good luck in your studies at the uni." He then walked away.
I bought a pair of Adidas Adi with that money in Alor Star the next day.
One evening, opening the door to my room at the residential college, there was a note on the floor. “Ayah in Uni Hospital, don’t worry, not bad,” it read. I rushed to the hospital on foot and there he was, sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. Seeing me he quickly declared, “I am ok, just a bit tired.”
As it turned out, he was tired because he had kidney problems. I visited him everyday, bringing food for him because according to him the hospital food was “langsung tak sedap, garam tak rasa apa pun tak rasa.”
One day he was describing to me that the nurse had inserted a hell of a long needle into his back and it was really painful. I think that was the biopsy which he had to undergo.
On the eve of his discharge from the hospital he told me he had two requests. “Tell your brother Idrus I want the fragrance which he uses and tell Dad (my eldest brother) I want to eat in a nice restaurant, if he’s free.”
The next night, me and all three of my elder brothers had a real nice dinner at the Chinese restaurant at Lake Club. My father was happy. He looked so alive. That was, I think, his very first trip to Kuala Lumpur! We then said good bye and the next day he left for home.
I still remember the day he died. He was there in a coma, lying in bed at the hospital. People were reading Yasin. I was sitting beside him crying. I was going to lose my father. A father I never quite took the trouble to know and to be close with.
An old man walked into the room, gave the salam. He asked who the head of the family was in the room. My brother said he was. The old man asked permission to read the Yasin. My brother said it was okay.
The old man sat at the end of the bed and cited Yasin by heart. He finished, gave the salam, and left.
My father passed away moments after that.
The father I never quite knew.