Coming back to a funeral

I did not come back for a funeral. My luggage is my proof.

The euphoria of returning to Singapore for the production of JALAN 2, and meeting friends and family whom I have not met for at least 6 months since my move to Canada wore off by the 3rd day of my arrival.

I remember that night. Returning late from an evening of production meeting and late supper with cousins, I was surprised when my niece told me that my mum was staying overnight at the hospital to accompany her elder sister. “Nek Ngah sakit..” was she all she knew, and my frantic self called several people at that midnight hour to confirm.

Nek Ngah, or Mak Ngah to me, is my mum’s elder sister. They are part of 4 Malaccan sisters, whose life’s journey fascinates me.Theirs is a story of lost, separation, survival and hope – one which I hope has a happy ending in their terms. My mum and her sisters were orphaned at a very young age, and had spent most of their childhood from one relative’s home to another. Some were lucky, like my Busu, who ended up in a loving home. Mak Ngah and mum did not. They were fostered out to a home where they were made to work on paddy fields so that they can feed themselves. Their little hands were tortured to carry heavy pails of water, and the fear in their kiddish hearts, were gripping.They were separated and then reunited, and then separated again.

But from all that, I learn real lessons in forgiveness. There was not strand of bitterness in them, all I get from them is their gratitude of being able to make it good here, thanks to the help of an uncle who saved them and took them out of Malacca to live with him in Singapore.

My own childhood was beautiful. Most of it has to do with the fact that I was the youngest in the generation, and lived in a big kampung house with not only mine, but Mak Ngah’s and Mak Long’s family as well. Mak Ngah alone had 6 children. In that 4-bedroom home – there were 3 families living together , with a grand total of 10 children. It was fun, much more fun for me being the baby in the family. I had always told my young friends then that I have 3 mums and 3 dads.How proud I was.

Mak Ngah, in her healthier days looked so much like mum, that they are often mistaken for one another. But I know my Mak Ngah well, she has a slightly bent set of fingers, and I liked to touch it when I was a young kid. So adamant was I to ‘fix things’, I tried many times to straighten it.”Sakit Uja…” was her plea for me to stop. I did. And two minutes later I would try again.

It was Mak Ngah’s compassion, and forgiving heart, that made me learn to forgive myself when I had the accident in New Zealand in 1994, where I lost my cousin. That cousin is Mak Ngah’s prized daughter, one of the smartest in the family. Mak Ngah was the one who told me and my friend (who drove the car) to move on and not regret what happened, and reminded that my late cousin would want us to continue our studies (we were in uni then) and not let the accident affect us. This, from a mother who had lost a daughter just a day before.This, from a mother who knew that it was at my suggestion that me and my cousin take 2 weeks off to NZ just to have a driving holiday. Like her childhood, she did not carry a single ounce of bitterness in her. I learn, again.

She makes a mean set of Sanggul Mak Inang, everytime there is an engagement or a wedding. When I was young, I used to tell her to make me one for my own wedding, and she always answered yes, only if she is is still around and healthy. And she did. Mine was the last Sanggul Mak Inang she ever made.

Mak Ngah collapsed 2 years ago, a year after I got married, on the last day of Ramadan. She succumbed to a stroke, which affected the left side of her body. I had my farewell gathering with my family before I left for Canada at her place, because I wanted her to be there and to ask her, barely mobile to help herself, to make her way to my place was unthinkable.

One the 1st of Ramadan this year, she passed on. We were all there, all 10 nephews and nieces, hordes of grandchildren and grandnephews/nieces, 2 of her sisters and her surviving 5 children. When I sat by her side and whispered to her ear that we were
all there for her, and that we all love her very much, I felt a strong presence of Mak Ngah’s daughter who died in the NZ accident as well.I felt choked and braced myself.

This trip back may not have started with pomp and laughter, but I am so glad in the pretext of coming back on business, Allah willed for me to spend Mak Ngah’s last moments with her.

Thank you Allah for arranging what is beyond me. To be able to say “Selamat Jalan, Mak Ngah” and plant that last kiss on her jenazah, was priceless to me.

Al Fateha.