Friday, December 24, 2010

saying goodbye

"Let us go downstairs and meet your grandchildren", said the Angel of Death. His voice was calm and had a subtle air of command. I was compelled to obey him, for I knew this would be my last chance to meet them.

My prone body was lying on the bed. A pang of sentimentality hit me; I had done lots with that body. I had experienced a lifetime of joy and terror, of smiles and tears with it. The body had served me well. But seeing it there, so still, so...dead. It put things in clear perspective. The body was past its sell-by date. And I had to move on.

Before I died I had decided to take a nap. Who would have expected it? Me, the guy who fought the communists in the jungles of central Malaya in the 50's. Me, a person once described as "a wounded tiger" due to my fiery temper. Dying with my head on a thick pillow and kept warm under a newly-washed comforter. It was ironic, really.

My mind was clearer than it has ever been while I was alive. Clearer than when I was a young man with bright ideas; long before I grew old and my mind gradually grew weaker. Long before I grew senile and became a prisoner with a life sentence in my own mind. Funny how I had to die for my mind to come alive once again.

Suddenly I was downstairs. My entire family, down to my 23 grandchildren, were there. They were all there, around a huge cake with 80 lighted candles stuck haphazardly but lovingly in it. It was my 80th birthday, after all.

There was my youngest granddaughter, the youngest entry in my family. She was barely 4 months old, but I knew she would grow up to be drop-dead gorgeous one day.

There was my my eldest grandson, who had recently become the first doctor in my family. He had the body of a soldier, not a doctor - but I was glad that he will define his life with services in an operating theatre, and not a battlefield.

There was my eldest daughter. She sneaked out of the house to meet her first boyfriend nearly 40 years ago, and I made sure that she faced the music when she came back. Today that boyfriend is her husband of many decades, sitting faithfully beside her.

And there was my wife, now a frail creature, but as beautiful to me as the day I met her. I sat beside her, and whispered in her ear the same thing I did exactly 61 years ago:
"I love you"

My wife's eyes widened when I whispered that. She looked around in shock, as if a bomb had just exploded in her vicinity. "Something is wrong", she said.

I watched as she repeated that line, louder each time. She asked where I was. Probably upstairs, said my son. Maybe he took a nap.
"No", my wife shrieked, "something is wrong!"

I watched as they all rushed up the old wooden steps. As they found my prone, expired body. I watched as my doctor grandson attempted CPR, as another grandchild dialled 911 with her new Blackberry. It was too late. I knew it is.

"Its time to go", said the cool voice of the Angel of Death. I bid goodbye. And I left.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a little faith

A pair of slippers, a set of keys, a 5 ringgit note...everyone had lost one or the other at the mosque. It was an unspoken rule that you should wear your ugliest pair of slippers to the mosque lest a slipper-thief finds it appealing. I have always taken this unspoken rule to heart. I guess I just don't have that much of faith in my fellow men.

I guess I shouldn't have given in to my 5-year-old son's demands that Friday. He wanted to follow me to Friday prayers; and I brought him along. He was bouncing in his seat, excited at the prospect of joining the mass of men in this weekly union with God. I still remember his grin, ear to ear, as we drove to the mosque. He always had a wonderful smile.

I had him beside me the whole time. I sat near the back of the mosque, so as not to bother the other men with my son's often uncontrollable behaviour. But he behaved well that day. I was proud of him. It was after the prayers that I discovered he was missing.

Initially, I thought he had gone off to play with the other kids in the mosque. There were many of kids around, brought to the mosque by fathers such as myself. I searched calmly initially, but grew desperate as I realized my son wasn't among them. Desperately I looked for his maroon-coloured baju melayu. No luck. I went over to the stairs and found my son's ugliest pair of slippers - the ones I told him to wear. But my son was nowhere to be seen.

As the mosque emptied up after that, so did my mind. I barely remember what happened after that, but an uncontrollable chain of events took place.

Police. The media. Sympathetic strangers. My son's disappearance became the talk of the nation. Horrified whispers:
"Which monster would kidnap a child at a mosque?"
"What is our society coming to?"
"Could the father have done more?"

They did not have to ask that last question. I asked myself that question a lot as it is. I had lost faith in myself.

My wife keeps telling me I was not at fault. That I was a cautious man. That it could happen to anyone. But when I looked in her eyes I knew she didn't mean it. She, too, had lost faith in me.

Its been months now since the incident. My son was still missing. I didn't get to celebrate his 6th birthday with him. And I've stopped going to the mosque in those months. Heck, I've stopped praying altogether. But today I found myself driving to the site of the incident.

The mosque was empty, since I arrived between the afternoon and evening prayer times. I apologised profusely to God. I prayed. I cried. For in those hellish months I have never lost hope that God will do something to help me. To help my son.

I put my hands up to God. Its time to have a little faith.