It was hot. Really hot. And there is only a wall fan to relieve us from our miseries. This, in KL. At the bengkel. Not Mecca.
I stepped out and walk towards the other end of the blue roofed building that houses our little industries. Next to our glass art workshop is the batik specialist cum computer geek cum designer and cum ex lecturer. Then there is the ceramics workshop, a seamstress, an office masquerading as a craft workshop belonging to a Haji Yusof. Then there is Chekgu Shamsuddin, an artist cum art lecturer in UIA, another batik artist who's not been seen the past few months. Two carpenters' workshop. Then its the old cobbler who fancies himself an artist. At least he trying. But I know, he's just mimicking other peoples' work. Like I said, at least he tried, unlike me. Sad, ain't it? Wonder why.
I don't understand why, these people who have known me for years and years and yet they did'nt even know my real name. Their preferance is to guess, listening to what others called me. Know what they called me around here? Berhajat! Serious. There is a story `bout that but that is not today's story. Along with the old cobbler is a young man, a religous scholar. I think he is a master of Islamic calligraphy, KHAT. Then an idea strikes. What if...
I ask him to write my name in KHAT style, any school. He wrote in two schools of writing KHAT. They were beautiful but, I left them at the bengkel and could not scan and upload them for you all to see. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow. His name is Hamka. Great name isn't it even if its actually an acronym. He wrote and I talked.
I remember of the time I was there. "Where?", he asked. Oh, there. Not wanting to brag. I pointed to a picture of the KAABAH. "You were there?". Yes but only because, I dragged to answer completely. "You should be thankful you were there," said Hamka. Then I asked what his age is. Hmm, that means you were only eleven when I went to Makkah . "How lucky of you. I have never been overseas. I've only been to Sabah. It's overseas, but not abroad in the real sense", he sighed.
Sea, yes, the sea.
I told him of the two malaysian students from Al Azhar whom I met in Mecca. Young. Younger than him of course. I told him, of how the young men would spend their time reciting the quran through memory everyday, to each other, in the HARAM. One would recite and the other would review. And vice versa. I met them a few days before their departure date. They had already booked tickets for the trip back to Egypt. Via the Red Sea.
The Red Sea. The sea. Sigh.
I had my brother's-in-law camera with me all the time I was in Mecca. I took photos everywhere I went and got into trouble too with it, but that too is another story.
Usually we will after asar prayers and go for a meal if they are not fasting on that particular day. Or just pick up a take-away to be eaten back in their hotel room if they are fasting. Their hotel was only about 5 minutes walk away from the HARAM. The bathroom is outside their room but its airconditioned and there's a mini fridge provided, but you have to fill it yourself with your own refreshments. There is no bed but only mattreses and a carpet to cover the marbled floor. There is no window . I took a few photographs of us in their "hotel". Even had the hotel caretaker take a photo of all three of us. Hmmm. Never mind. I'd disregard that belief. We adjourned to a shayee stall if they are not fasting, otherwise we'll just wait till Mahgrib . Maybe its spelt differently but shayee is tea in arabic. :)
The first time I tried to order tea in Mecca was a dilemma. It was on the first morning in Mecca. I don't know what tea is called in arabic. I had to search the walls for a tea advertisement. I was quite sure that there must be at least one ad and sure enough there was one poster. A Lipton ad, and I pointed to it which made the Indian and Bangladeshi staff to laugh gleefully. Ohhhohoho, shayee, shayeee.
It was so long ago, 1991/92 I cannot even remember their names but I remember where they were from. One was from Sabak Bernam, he has a dark complexion and wore glasses, the other fair and pleasant, was closer to home. He was from Kampung Medan in PJ. Sabak Bernam was the serious one, Kg Medan more easy going. Perhaps its because KM's more cosmopolitant? The other ulu? LOL. Naughty me. I beg your pardon.
Soon the the day came. "We need transport tomorrow morning. The ferry sails tomorrow. We cannot afford to miss it. We'll have to leave after Suboh. Can you arrange a taxi for us?" KM asked. Well, coincidentally, I happened to have met a Pattanian who drives a taxi. Well, I'm the type who like to meet and trust strangers. LOL. Hey, this is Mecca. I don't expect people to lie or cheat here. I met him somewhere but at the moment, I just could not recall how or where we met, but luckily I took his phone number.
After Suboh the next morning, the Pattani came to me first, and we proceeded to pick up the two young men. Since all three of us has only been around the HARAM the whole time we were in Mecca, the driver took us sight seeing on the outskirts, actually on the trails of the Haj pilgrims but we can only drive thru. There's no question of walking around the historical and religous sites.
So we dashed over to Arafah, past Jabal whats-its-name where ADAM met EVE after being separated for so long. It was said that the reason womens' buttocks are cold was that Eve only sat and waited for Adam to come and find her. :) we drove past the mountain, actually a hill where Gua HIRRAQ is located and also the three devils. It was already built up to a couple of levels even then. It was not Haj season so the place was quite empty that morning. From there we headed straight to Jeddah after that.
It's quite funny how Arabs erected monuments decorating the streets. Just about every circus/roundabout in Jeddah have a monument or decoration. But these monuments cannot resemble any living thing. So they make giant pots, teapots and guess what else? I don't know if it was specially built or if they were actually ship wrecks! They put tug boats and fishing boats as monuments and decorations. :)
At least now that we are in Jeddah, we were comfortable with the knowledge that we still have some time on our hands. We went to dip our feet in the RED SEA!!!! Yea...!! Hantu air sampai ke sudah. LOL That's me. It was my idea anyway. There is not going to be a 2nd chance anyway. There was a quaint little mosque on the edge of the beach, waves actually lapping its foundations. Over here, the seaweeds were right up there on the waters edge. There was also a young arab family frolicking on the beach. I presume they were arabs because the lady was in full purdah, head to toe in black, even. Then it was time to go. We headed for the ferry terminal.
At the terminal, we found the gates closed. No entry except for tickets holders. Ouch! I forgot something. While we were passing the HARAM for their last time, not mine, KM said to me. "I prayed the "istikharah" prayers last night. I wanted to see my wife. I ask to be shown what my future wife would look like. "And what did you get?" I asked. Er, I had a wet dream. He sounded disappointed. I asked him, "how many people had sex before marriage and got away with it in Mecca? Its a gift!" Ya laa, tapi..... he murmured. I'm sure there is a reason for it, I added. Back at the terminal, the Cafe was not fully opened. We remembered, we did'nt have breakfast! The cafe only had sandwiches. So I bought a few for both of them. I said, me and the driver can have our breakfast back in MECCA . I shook SB hands vigorously but when it came to KM, funnily I hugged him, I don't know why I did. He said, "macam ada salah apa2 saja ni". I don't know why he said that either. :)
Then we part company. Of course they paid for the cab. I only have RM200 or 240 riyals to spend for my whole trip there to Saudi Arabia. Anyway, I did the most ikhlas thing I can afford. I think that was the rate at the time. I'll get to that another time. It was still daylight when we reached Mecca.
The next evening, I was watching the telly. The news was on. Of course I didn't understand a word they were saying, but what else was there to do? One can only read so much and zikir so much.
Did I tell how hard the bread loaf here is? The loaf was small actually, about the size of our local 70 sen cream bun, today's prices. If you hit a plate really hard with it, I think the plate may break, but put that loaf in a micro wave, and its soft and fluffy. No, don't get me wrong. The loaf's as hard as wood. I still had a full set back then. I dare bet that you'd break a few if you tried to bite through a cold one. :)
Anyway, on the TV screen, they were showing a map of the RED SEA, starting from Jeddah going up to a port on the Egyptian side, there were dots denoting some kind of track or route. Then there pictures of crowds, of people and women wailings and crying.
Then the phone rang. My niece's husband came out from his room and answered the call. "Its for you," he said. Huh? For me? Its the cab driver. Oh. Ok. The ferry sunk! What? What ferry? Who? why?
My heart is sinking as I write this. The ferry the boys were on, sunk! It hit a coral shelf. The captain was trying to avoid a storm and tried a dangerous and narrow short cut. The Pattani said. There were almost a thousand passengers. I went blank. Whats there to say? My niece said a little prayer and comforted me with a legend.
She told me of a story about a young ship hand who had a very cruel master. When the ship they were on was caught in a storm, it sank but the young sailor chose to save his cruel master from a watery death. Why? Why did you help me? Why did you save my life after all I've done to you. The young sailor answered, I heard that those who drown are accepted as martyrs and I cannot let you die a martyr. People who drown at sea are martyrs, according to the story and also my niece. I found that comforting.
A week or so later we returned to Malaysia. Among the first things I did was to pay a visit to the address that KM gave. The family was not expecting me. They didn't even know me or that I've met KM in Mecca. No knowledge of me at all and were very surprise with my visit and even more with the last photographs of their son. His father couldn't accept his son's fate, prefering to believe his son was found by nomads or Tauregs and living with them as a slave. One of the pictures I took made it on the front page of Mingguan Perdana the week after. Half page full. It was the pic taken by the hotel's caretaker. All three of us in it. :( I still disregard that silly belief.
I still couldn't locate that picture. Or that issue of Mingguan Perdana. And I don't understand why I'm publishing this story now. In memory of one I can't remember whose name it was?
SB regained conciousness aboard a US naval vessel. That bit was related by Wisma Putra officials to that poor family and they related it to me. SB said,, he was in their cabin down below deck. KM was on deck but came down to fetch SB when the ship struck the coral reef. As they were climbing up to the deck together, there was a black out. There were more than ONE THOUSAND on board, that fateful night. Passengers and crew. You can imagine the panic. KM said in the darkness and mayhem, it's every man for himself now. That was the last SB heard of KM.
I may have the time of events all wrong, but the story is true.
After so many years, now I do recalled. The events above happened between after Christmas 1991 an