Sunday, April 08, 2018

What shall I do with a drunken sailor

This happened long past long ago when I was young, innocent and fresh out of school. I discovered that a certain corner shop sold clothes which made my heart beat faster. I loved the beautiful fabrics and soft colours. The styles were simple and uncluttered and they fitted me perfectly. So I was often at the shop looking through the dresses, skirts and blouses which were hung in a crowded corner away from the greasy salted fish, the stinky wax-paper umbrellas and red wooden clogs,  the bottled coconut oil and hundreds of other things normally sold in small town sundry shops.

The first time the shopkeeper's arm brushed my body I dismissed as an accident... the space was narrow and crowded and a little dark. However, the accident happened every time he walked past me. His elbow seemed to have a magnet that flew to the side of my body. Sometimes the elbow landed softly on the fleshy part of my body. Sometimes it felt like a shove.

I wasn't smart and it took me a while to realize what was happening. It was a pity to have to stop going to the shop but I learnt an important lesson. And I began to ward  off unwanted attention by running away, acting stupid or being abrupt and sarcastic... "You want to walk me to my door? You don't even know me! You only know my name." It was simple enough to scare new acquaintances who saw themselves as potential 'boyfriends'.

However, it was an entirely different story with one guy I had known for ages! And this is what I want to share here... so you can cry with me or laugh if my story tickles you.

I knew Gaman (not his real name, of course) before he got married and he struck me as Mr. Nice Guy, the one you could trust to not take advantage of you and who was helpful and considerate. I saw our friendship as nice and easy and completely platonic. So when he knocked on my door early one evening I let him in without any hesitation although I was home alone... my housemates being out of town for the weekend. I wasn't surprised to see him. Maybe he needed some company... someone to talk to... because his wife had gone back to her family to deliver their much awaited first baby. I was a little surprised to see a small bottle of beer in each hand, though. He hadn't struck me as a 'kaki botol'.

We talked... seated in two armchairs which happened to have been positioned side by side... in the sitting room. He talked about his family and new baby. I can't recall what I talked about but I remember we drank the beer straight out of the bottles.

I was never fond of beer but did tolerate the occasional glass with close friends and I don't remember ever getting more than a little tipsy. Me drunk? Never! So if Gaman's intention was to make me drunk, it completely backfired because it was him who was quite drunk after a few sips from his tiny bottle. Whether he was really and truly drunk, or it was just good acting, I would never know. But then he started to move his hand up and down my forearm which I had draped on the arm of my chair! It was completely unexpected. How dare you, I thought. Aloud, I said, "You are drunk!"

"I'm drunk," he agreed.

A drunk man man could do horrible things then later not remember doing them. The skunk could even say I invited him over to my house. He put his half-empty bottle on the table and got up unsteadily. I said I could get our neighbours (who were our friends and colleagues) to help him home. He didn't want me to call the neighbours... It would be embarrassing, he said.... and staggered slowly towards the toilet. I couldn't wait for him to be out of the house so I could lock up and feel safe.

After what seemed a long time, the quiet of the night was broken with a crashing sound coming from the toilet. Oh no! I knew what had happened. He had managed to break the cover of the cistern which someone had left "up" after pouring water into the empty tank to flush the toilet. He came out with one hand covering his mouth. He was still in one piece and there was no sign of bleeding but broken pieces of white porcelain were scattered everywhere.

"I think I've broken a tooth," he announced.
"It's not a tooth, you drunk, it's a huge porcelain cover!"

Sympathy from me? I thought he deserved more than one broken tooth.

I locked the door as soon as he stepped out the door.. And I had one friend struck off my list. No one knew what happened that night except my housemates... I had to explain what happened to the cistern cover.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Until We Meet Again

Having more than your share of siblings doesn't dull the pain of losing one of them. We said goodbye to another brother a few days ago. One day he was fine and the next day he was gone forever. The suddenness shocked us but we don't want to wallow in grief or regret for things undone, for words unsaid.

So we celebrate Morris's life and treasure the precious memories we share. We thank God for sending us this amazing person to be part of our family.

He was a middle child and was born one month before I turned six. I remember carrying him in a sarong strapped onto my back. I remember watching him him sleep and making sure the bigger kids didn't disturb him.

Whereas most babies normally crawl before walking, Morris never did. He just sat on the floor and used his legs to drag his bum forward so he could go exploring all over our one-room home. One day nobody noticed he was missing from the house. A car (which was very rare those long-ago days) honked on the dirt road in front of the Penampang Police Station where we lived. We all stuck our heads out the single front window of our house.  And there was Morris toddling alone on the road. At the grand age of two he was on his first real adventure!

There were many adventures after that first one. School was one long adventure. Like all of us older siblings, Morris was sent away from home to live with relatives so we could have a 'better' education than what our kampung school could offer.

When he had passed the SPM he went on another adventure. This time it was across the South China Sea to study Radiography. On his first visit home he surprised me with a huge, framed batik painting and a beautiful fruit bowl--- I still have both today--- to show his gratitude ( I had always thought) for having given him some money before leaving that first time.

Morris was the not-talkative one among us siblings. He did things quietly, without fanfare, without expecting pats on the back. He saw things that needed to be done and he frequently did them quietly: giving a loan so a relative could go to college; donating his blood to a family member; chiding a farmhand for poor work etc.

He sat as Chairman in our Family Meetings and never complained that he was tired of the added responsibility he had been holding forever... unlike me who complained that seven years was too long to be the family Treasurer.

At 61 he had enjoyed but one year of retirement after serving the community in various government hospitals. There is still so much to look forward to. He was going to build a house nestled in the trees on a hill so far from the city that he'd wake up to misty mornings. He was going to meet the members of our extended family and trace our paternal family tree up to our great-grandfather, the mysterious Laksamana Dulamit. His son had just left to continue his education on the other side of the world. He was going on more picnics and adventures with family and friends. He was going to be more relaxed and feel comfortable sharing silly jokes and singing funny Dusun songs... It's a long list.

Although we mourn his passing we celebrate our brother's life and remind ourselves that almost 20 years ago he had a serious health issue. He fought the beast and won. We will remember him with fondness and try to emulate his example: be good, be generous and charitable, don't pass the buck, persevere when faced with life's challenges, be humble.

Until we meet again...