There was a hush in the courtroom as the man in black suit, songkok perched smartly on his head, a Quran in hand, approached the bench.
“My Lord,” he stammered looking straight at the presiding judge, “ tonight is the night when the doors of heaven are open wide. It is the night of the Lailatul Qadr. If you release me, I will pay for your tickets to Malaysia to see my birthplace.”
Watching him from the public gallery of the Old Bailey courtroom, my heart sank. From day one it was obvious that the case was not going his way. His further attempts at mitigation only hastened to persuade the judge that he needed treatment.
“I will be getting lots of money as Salman Rushdie is writing my life story. I can pay for your return ticket to Malaysia,” he said, believing every word that tumbled out of his mouth.
Suffice to say, it was in the dank and pitiful meeting room at HMP Brixton that I saw him again. It wasn’t the place for him, not for what he did. He was surrounded by hardcore criminals, tattoo on their arms, violence etched on their faces. He cried for most of the one hour that I was allowed to see him, begging me to get him a transfer back to serve his time in Malaysia, the country he left some forty years before. He started off on an adventure but it was interrupted by love.
He rambled and and I listened, trying to sieve facts from fantasies, trying to find justification in locking him up with robbers and murderers.
“Datin,” he pleaded, forcing me to bite my lips for fear of laughing. “I want to go back. I don’t like it here.”
Ten minutes later, I was a Puan Sri. Such was his mental state that all I could do was listen to his life story, his love story and stories of his very, very sad childhood; all jumbled up with tales of his friendship with Prince Charles and other world leaders and celebrities.
That was our first meeting in Ramadan several years ago. He asked if I could bring him an alarm clock during my next visit as the guards had taken away his alarm clock. It was disturbing other inmates when it went off when it was time for him to take his sahur. He also wanted a new copy of Surah Yasin. When he thought that the guards were not looking he gave me a letter from under the table. It was to be the first of several letters that I received when he was held at Her Majesty's pleasure.
The next visit saw him a happier person as he was then moved to another place – an open prison where he could tend to the gardens that was his lifelong passion. Nevertheless, his state of mind had not improved. Without friends, he took to talking to worms under the floorboards.
I saw him several time after his release and quite recently too. Ahamdulillah he is well. Salman Rushdie never wrote his book and the judge never got the return ticket to Malaysia. He didn’t even recognise me as the Datin/Puan Sri who visited him during Ramadan.
A life wasted...
The crowd leaving the mosque after terawikh prayers made their separate ways home. The man in the beige kurta-like shirt crossed the motorway and turned into a side road. It was a warm summer’s night but not many people were around; most probably watching TV or at the pubs. He hastened his steps, perhaps at the thought of continuing the meal that he had after iftar, or perhaps at the thought of his wife who had not been too well during the first week of Ramadan.
The silence of the night was suddenly interrupted by the screeching of tyres; which initially looked as if joyriders were having fun racing along the deserted road. One car was chasing the other not far ahead, then just at the junction of the road, the one behind rammed the other on the side. Then all the man in the kurta shirt could see were flashes that looked like fireworks, momentarily lighting up the night. He stood transfixed as if watching a cops and robbers drama on TV but when the realisation of what was unfolding before him set in, he ran as fast as his legs could carry, passing the car with a body slumped at the wheel.
He arrived home shaken. It took him quite a long time before he felt comfortable enough to walk to the mosque for terawikh again.
Why Kueh Gula Melaka will never be the same again....
Thoughts of kueh gula melaka that his wife made for iftar haunted him throughout his terawikh prayers. He couldn’t concentrate as his mind kept thinking of the burst of sweetness of palm sugar that melted in his mouth a few hours earlier. The imam had decided on long verses that night and as usual it was 21 rakaats, none of the 8 that the neighbourhood surau was doing.
The doa’s after the witir prayers seemed unusually long but soon enough, he scrambled out of the mosque and after locating his slippers, said goodbye to his mates and made his way home, the lights from the houses on each side of the road guiding him on his trusty old bicycle.
He made his way straight to the kitchen only to find scraped coconuts left overs of the delicious gula melaka that had been plaguing his mind the whole evening. His disappointment turned to anger.
“Don’t worry, Sayang, I will make some more for sahur,” cajoled his wife sweetly, leading him out of the kitchen to the bedroom.
Like a dutiful wife, she woke up early, washed her hair and prepared the kueh gula melaka, inserting generous pieces of palm sugar in balls of dough before plunging them in hot boiling water. Then she proceeded to roll them in desiccated coconut. She took the pot of boiling water out to the adjoined kitchen that also served as a toilet at night, as it was more convenient than going out to the bathroom, a distance away from the house. Gently, she woke her husband up, promising him the most delicious gula melaka ever made. He needed no more persuasion and woke up and hurried to the kitchen to relieve himself before sahur.
And then, from the dark unlit kitchen came a scream that pierced that silence of the Holy night.
“Oh, dear, I should have thrown out the hot water,” thought the wife guiltily, downing the kueh gula melaka to drown her sorrows.
Stories 1 & 2 are based on real events.
Story 3 is just something my mother told again and again when we asked for kueh gula melaka. Tak ada kena mengena dengan yang hidup atau yang mati atau yang tercedera!