“Zaharah masak apa?” she asked for the fifth or the sixth time in between coughs, while Eena held the microphone close to her mouth and the speaker close to her right ear.
“Masak nasi tomato, Mak!” I lied, loud enough for her to hear and clear enough to prick my conscience on this Hari Raya day.
“Masak apa lagi?” she was adamant to know, as she knew how limited my culinary skills are.
“Ah masak Ayam Portuguese macam Mak ajar tu, ayam golek macam Pak suka makan tiap-tiap hari Raya, daging masak kicap, banyaklah lagi”, I said so convincingly that I was beginning to it believe myself. There were chuckles in the background; chuckles of disbelief coming from the other half and the children who had been denied of a Raya meal.
“Yang tu sajalah dia tau masak,” she said turning to Eena, my niece. Such is the confidence Mak has in me.
Mak and I skyped this raya morning my time and evening Mak’s time. When she was aided to the front of the computer, I didn’t think I could continue the conversation with her. She looked so frail as she had been seriously fasting for the past week. I said seriously because at other times, she didn’t even know that it was Ramadhan. Sometimes, she thought my siblings were doing puasa sunat. But during the last week of Ramadhan, she fasted. And on Raya day, with visitors all day long in Lilah’s house, Mak decided to help with the dishes. And no one could stop her. Lepas tu dia penat. It was in that state that I saw her on my screen and I wanted to look away, because I didn’t want to see Mak like that. For a few minutes when she asked me how I was, I couldn’t speak for the lump in my throat.
I lied to Mak about cooking because I wanted her to believe that her son-in-law and her grandchildren were well fed that Raya morning. I didn’t feel so bad because they joined in the conspiracy as well. My other half had actually bought a whole lamb but because of the unexpected announcement of Raya on Tuesday, the lamb in several parts, is languishing in the freezer.
For several days and nights, all we, (husband and I) saw was the computer screen. Raya morning after subuh, I stopped a while just to change the tablecloth I bought from Fenwicks and put some jam tarts and biscuits that Nona brought back from Malaysia. (I don’t do kueh raya. Last year I tried, but I suspect, it was mainly so I could blog about it.) Then we were off to Malaysia Hall for prayers. All along the way, I had the laptop on my lap, typing away until we reached Whiteleys where Rehana parked the car. Rehana is our driver these days as Nona, after gallivanting in Thailand and India, has gone to spend Hari Raya in Geneva.
And all the way to the High Commissioner’s residence in the leafy suburb of Hampstead, I was furiously banging on the keyboard. As the car turned into the exclusive enclave with big houses behind tall hedges and walls, I plugged in the mobile internet thingy, pressed the right keys and voila! mission accomplished! I could at least enjoy the rest of the day. And my family had free food at the open house hosted by our Foreign Minister.
Raya mornings, come rain, shine or thunderstorm, Mak would have a spread ready for us. Ayam Golek was a must. Pak’s favourite. And of course, nasi tomato to feed the whole clan that would descend soon after prayers at the Mesjid Sultan in Alor Star.
How she managed it, we never knew. Pak helped her with peeling the onions and slicing the vegetables. The rempah and chilli paste would have been done by the little Indian lady who came weekly to grind our chillies and spice on that big slab of stone just outside the kitchen.
All these Mak did quietly but efficiently to ensure that her husband and children got their hari raya feast. All these, in spite of the fact that she had tons of baju kurungs with tulang belud to make for her regular customers. Yet, there’d be the food ready on the table.
“Selamat Hari raya, minta ampun minta maaf, Mak,” I half whispered. “Minta ampun minta maaf sebab Ah bohong pagi raya ni – bohong sunat, Mak! “