The last three days, either before leaving
The 15 minute Heathrow-Paddington Express which I took after arrival, offered me a chance to reflect. Wasn’t it only yesterday that I looked out of the window and saw greeneries so green and the sky so bright and blue that they could only be painted on a canvas? And now I saw grey skies and trees with hardly any leaves and fields still white with frost. Wasn’t it only yesterday I waved goodbye to my loved ones at KLIA – the usual scene – hug, hug at the departure lounge, followed by the usual cry of –“Dont come back so soon!” as I went down the escalator. Such is the love my siblings and in-laws have for me. I didn’t shed a tear during this goodbye. I laughed and I joked, telling Mak I’d be back sooner then she could turn around in her wheelchair. But as the lights dimmed and the music played softly ready for landing, I felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks. The words on the screen, “Thank you for flying Malaysia Airlines” began to look blur as I let out the tears in the dark as there was no one to see me cry.
Three days before my planned departure, I started packing. There were books, books and books, mostly autographed by the writers and some bought at the spur of the moment. By the look of it, the books alone would exceed my baggage allowance. Then there’s the clothes, the gifts from friends old and new and the food stuff. And I only had two bags.
“Mai Mak tolong lipat,” said Mak, offering to help with the clutter that was beginning to cause Milah the maid, serious concern. Mak is already an expert in packing and unpacking. After all, she has been living the life of a nomad, moving from one child’s home to another. Her protestations and appeals to go back to the house that Pak built for her are mostly met with silence or excuses.
There was a jovial beat to Mak’s banter while she helped me.
“Bila Zaharah balik, Mak pun boleh balik Alor Star. Dah lama tinggal rumah kosong,” So, that was it. My departure was going to be used for another appeal to go home. Earlier, we had asked her to stay on because a grandchild was leaving for
“Mak mesti tunggu sebab Azril nak ke
“Mak tunggu laa, lepaih tu Mak kena balik,” she insisted and I left it at that, especially when her attention turned to my DVDs and books. Her eyesight is still good.
“Anak sapa ni?” she asked pointing to a boyish looking Sudirman on the cover of the CD collection that Kak Chah Hassan had given me.
“Penyanyi! “ I mouthed the word to her and she nodded. She picked up the new magazine Tell and started flicking through. “Laaa, sapa letak gambar Zaharah di sini?” she asked when she saw my picture in the magazine. She continued until she came to the picture of Toh Puan Rahah and said, “Macam nak kenai orang ni!” I told her it is Toh Puan Rahah and she remembered perhaps meeting her and Tun Razak when they went to campaign in Yan. She certainly remembered shaking Tun’s hands.
I looked at her intently and marvelled at her memory. At 90, she remembers certain events very well. But sadly, she cannot remember what she had asked a few minutes before.
“Anak sapa ni?” she asked again, picking up Sudirman’s CD, the curiousity so plain and so genuine in her voice.
Thankfully, Mak was in good health throughout my stay. She coughed a little during the nights that I slept with her. And I remember reaching out to stroke her back to ease her cough. She’s all bones. My Mak is all bones, but as I sit in this dark lounge of mine typing this, I see her as someone fit and strong and yes, beautiful. This is the only way I can cope.
Mak notices every crease in your clothes, “Baju tak seterika, ka?” or the fact that your ring or bracelet had not had a good polish. I remember us just lying down on the bed, Mak in her telekung waiting for asar. I slept beside her. Then her 30 year old grandson joined us, sleeping on the other side. Mak stroked his head, knowing that this grandson will leave her soon. Kak Cik then plonked herself beside me. Mak then reached out to both of us, "Ish, anak-anak Mak sehat-sehat!” She said proudly as she wrapped her arms around our ample bodies. And we allowed her to baby us in this manner, reminiscence of the times when we’d fight to sleep on her lap to listen to her renditions of some hikayats or syaer.
Yes, Mak helped me to pack. But once she left to go to the toilet, I had to unpack again for there was everything in that bag that was not mine. There were undies that I bought for her, Nisa’s and Kak Cik’s scarves, the children’s books and even the karipap that I bought for tea.
We have to indulge her these days. Take the money that she offers to buy groceries as her contribution, allow her to hang the clothes outside, even let her do the same prayers again and again because she insisted she had not done them.
We had some crab sambal left overs for dinner just before leaving for the airport. She remembers that crabs are my favourite. We had only crab claws. So, instead of eating, Mak took out the flesh from every claw and put them on my plate. She used to do this when we were small and she is still doing this some fifty years later. It is not because she had forgotten I have grown old, but she still remembers I am still her baby.
MH2 landed early. My husband was still in bed and I told him we’d meet at Paddington Station and have breakfast there. Seeing him wondering around the station looking for me,