Inspired by dad's life/experiences, living through the Japanese Occupation, WWII.
|As I shut my eyes, I saw myself as a young rambunctious boy back in my hometown of Tampin, Malacca, Malaysia.
Standing in the huge compound of my grandparents' kampung house, I saw myself in the company of my now long-lost childhood buddies. I saw the twins - Amran and Imran, Cheng Chye, the son of the rich rubber tauke and Raj Kumar (my best friend), the friendly Indian boy.
I saw them all forming a circle and the twins holding a ratty bag, full of marbles. Raj was motioning for me to hurry up and join them. In a haste to get to them, I tripped over a branch and I fell to the dusty ground. Just as I was about to get up, I heard a deafening sound. A sound I've never heard before. A sound I learnt to accept for the next few years.
I opened my eyes instantly. The feeling of fear overwhelmed my being, paralysis taking over. Beads of perspiration were rolling down my forehead. My shaven scalp felt sweaty. I thought, 'Why was I suddenly dreaming of them?'
My wife stirred in her sleep. I tried to dismiss the images playing in my mind, but they are persistant. Reluctantly, I played along.
Picking myself up from the ground, without bothering to brush the dust from my simple white T-shirt, I rushed to get my friends.
"Hey! What was that noise?"
"What do you think that was?"
So many questions hung in the air. What was that? Was that a bomb? Was it the Japanese? Without questioning each other further, we inquisitive young souls scampered off, in search of the incident site.
All five of us headed south. We could see the smoke from the bomb rising up, shrouding the area in a thick, black blanket. Amran was coughing; choking, really. He took his hanky and wrapped it around his nose and mouth, just like the way when we would play Cowboys & Bandits. The rest of us followed suit, using the handkerchiefs our mothers would force us to bring around when we play.
The site that was devastated was at the edge of the kampung. And that was where Cheng Chye's father's factory and rubber plantation was located. Was located.
Cheng Chye dropped his handkerchief and surged forward, amidst the crowd of curious on-lookers. All over were the bodies of his father's workers - the rubber tappers. Or at least parts of them. I saw Cheng Chye recoiled in terror when he almost stepped on a bloody arm.
Just then I saw Amran and Imran's father. The twins ran forward and hugged him, no matter the blood and soot covering his body. At least he was alive and had all his limbs intact.
Cheng Chye's face was hopeful. He asked Che' Ibrahim, the twins' father, if he had seen his father. Che' Ibrahim's face changed. He was hesitant to tell the whereabouts of Cheng Chye's father but when he was asked again, he broke the news to Cheng Chye.
"Ah Chye, I'm sorry but you're father's no more", he said in Malay, voice hoarse.
"The impact was too strong", he said, shaking his head. "We were in the office when this happened but he died as he got hit by flying shards of glass. I'm sorry, son", he continued.
Cheng Chye's eyes turned glassy. Standing next to him, I could clearly see that his eyes were brimming with tears.
He gnashed his teeth, a determined look added to his steely exterior. I know that look so well. He would wear this expression after a caning from his father. An expression where you can tell that he was hurt, either physically or emotionally, but determined to go through the pain and not to let others know.
Che' Ibrahim knelt in front of Cheng Chye, his height the same as his. He placed his hands on Cheng Chye's shoulders and told him that he had to be strong, now that he was the man of the house. Our little hearts felt sad and we sympathized with him. His grief was our grief.
We hugged him, expressing our condolences and sadness, but his body was still as straight as a rod. He did not soften. Moments later, he let out a sigh, body relaxed, as if he had accepted the death of his father.
Just then, I felt that my T-shirt was damp on the right shoulder. I wondered what it was until I realised that Cheng Chye had been crying quietly as he rested his chin on my shoulder.
1 kampung - literally means village; used in the above context as a village hut
2 tauke - colloquail term used commonly in Malaysia and Singapore to describe a male who is the boss, or owner of a shop, business etc. Origins possibly from the Hokkien dialect
3 Che' - means mister (Mr.). A Malay word, Che' is the old spelling, as used widely in written form in the Malay Archipelago in the early 1900s to 1970s.