When I was small, I wanted to marry my brother. In fact, I wanted to marry all my cousin brothers, Abang Tam, Abang Mi. There was a legitimate reason for such thoughts of incestuous nature to enter a mind so young. I wanted to look after all of them, care for them in a way that they will never be hurt or be in pain.
Yesterday, I phoned up my eldest brother, now in his sixities. It was late at night in Malaysia. He was not his usual jokey self. In fact, he hasn’t been his old jokey self for sometime now. Usually, I’d chide him for running up my phonebills with his ridiculous jokes. Imagine, if I were to ask him: Abang buat apa? He'd reply: Abang dok ataih kerusi. Duhhh!
Now, his voice is subdued when he speaks and I imagine him sitting in the darkened room of the hospital, holding his wife’s hand. And I was told by my other siblings, he has cried like never before. The one who was so strong for us all, now needs our shoulders to cry on.
My sister-in-law is no longer in pain. The doctor’s advise is just to make her comfortable. The big C got to her in a big way. It is Abang who is now in pain. And it is in moments like this that I want to care for him. But I am so far away. I can’t even talk to him without crying. I can’t offer him wise words to console him during these darkest hours. I can’t even exchange banters which would of course seem inappropriate. All I can offer is my silent prayers.
This is my Abang, who would usually make things seem so funny and trivial. The one who drew moustaches and beard on our faces because we didn’t wake up for sahur. The one who ran away from home and caused Mak so much anxiety. The one who went and stayed with fishermen and went out to sea with them because he wanted to capture the beauty of the sea on canvas. The one who would still tickle us breathless, even now, when we are all already in the autumn of our lives. Mak, on seeing her already quite old children chasing after each other in the house, would aways shake her head and say," Bila laa hampa ni nak besark?"
But Abang made Mak and Pak proud. Inspite of his poor qualification, he was the first to venture overseas. I remember when I needed money to replace a friend's headband that I had lost, he sent me £1...and at that time it was eleven ringgit which could buy me ten headbands. He'd come to London for a conference, and yet spend his free time cooking for me.
Cooking is his passion. Trips back to Alor Star is never the same without him. He'd wake up early, after which, no one else can sleep 'cos he'd make sure we were all up. His tactics, till this day, would be a drip of salt water...drip, drip, drip, into our mouth until we wake up!
He'd go to the Pasar Besar in Alor Star and buy fresh fish to grill. He'd make air asam to go with it. And then cook sayur keladi.
All the while, sis-in-law would be chiding him, nagging him as all wives do and he'd keep a straight face pretending not to listen, which would of course drive her mad.
A month ago, when sis-in-law knew her time was up, she told my other siblings. "Abang tu orang baik".
I hope she told him as well.
And Abang, I can't marry you. I know you still think of me as your little sister and in case you have not noticed, I married someone else. I can't take away your pain, but I can still care for you.