Friday, February 15, 2008

The Early Years - Part 6

Sometimes in early 1966, a sad thing happened to one of my brothers, Abdullah Waidi. He was just two years old then. One evening just around dusk praying time, he suddenly cried out loud from his sarong cradle. My mother was praying then. As soon as she finished praying, she rushed to my brother's side and held him in her arms.

Waidi was sick, seriously sick. According to my mother, while she was praying, she saw a black object came hurtling at an incredibly fast speed towards her. As that thing neared her, it suddenly, as if pushed by some powerful hands, made a ninety degrees left-turn and hit Waidi. Waidi was showing weird nervous signs that were difficult for me to describe. According to my grandmother, Waidi was possessed by some kind of devil or evil spirits.

Many people, who came visiting as soon they heard the incident, would go into a trance as soon as they made their way into our house. While in their trance, they would start telling all kind of stories regarding what really caused Waidi's strange illness.

One story was that an old couple let loose their evil spirit to plague my mother for refusing to lend them some money to start a small business. The other story was that a blind lady became very angry with my mother whom she wrongly accused of throwing old coconut fronds into her compound. For that, she let loose her djinn protector to teach my mother a lesson.

One strange and inexplicable thing about these trances was that the medium was not hurt even though the many curious onlookers made her to undergo all sorts of physical abuse. Once I saw the lady in trance went up a thorny palm tree (pokok nibung). When she came down, her skin was intact and not even a piece of the two-inch long thorn was on her body!

As much of Kampung Bukit Kuang then was still under forest and there was no electricity in the village, we decided to move to my aunt's house in Kampung Besut. I remember how the late Pak Man, the trishaw peddler and one of the earliest men to inhabit Bukit Kuang, sweated it out to send us to Kampung Besut. I still did not know how to ride a bicycle then. It is a shame to think about it now, an almost twelve-year-old boy still did not know how to ride a bicycle when my own children now are masters of bicycle riding when they were barely six!

It took two of my girl cousins, the late Jamilah and Zainun, who pushed me on to learn to ride the bicycle. It was a dream that I had one night that really pushed me to ride the bicycle. I dreamed that I was enjoying myself riding a brand new bicycle along a beautiful beach. Early that very morning there I was, trying to ride my father's bicycle.

After that I was really hooked to my bicycle. Along the way I encountered several accidents involving my bicycle. Most of the times I was responsible for those accidents. Once on my way to school, I made a short cut through the lanes in Kampong Besut. As I was speeding to the school a pair of Muscovy ducks suddenly crossed my path. I had very little time to take an effective evasive action. So I just ran over the old male duck. Its broad back was slippery and so I lost my grip on the road and came crashing down on my knees and palms. The duck just walked casually away from the spot as if nothing had happened to it. My knees were wide open after they made contact with the jagged road edge.

It was very painful. I just lie there in pain for almost fifteen minutes. A retired teacher, who was relaxing on his easy chair, saw what had happened to me. He came down the verandah and helped me to my feet. I missed school that day.

Another accident happened almost at the same location. I was also rushing to school then. Suddenly at a junction I slammed into the rear tyre of a motorbike. Luckily I was unhurt; so was the motorbike rider. After apologizing to each other and realigning my bicycle handles, both of us continued our separate ways.

In Kampong Besut, the news that our Waidi was seriously ill spread fast. Many traditional medicine men came, some of them uninvited, to try their best to cure Waidi. Two of these volunteer medicine women fell sick after trying their medicine on Waidi. A voice of a woman in trance told us that their medicine was not strong enough to fight with the evil spirits that were dwelling in Waidi's frail body. They were so seriously ill that both of them never fully recovered till their demise a few years later.

I knew very well one of the female bomohs. She was a famous mid-wife of the village. Her ability to safely deliver babies, in whatever positions the babies were, made her the favourite mid-wife in the area, even for my mother. In fact I was one of the babies whom she was supposed to help deliver, but according to my mother, I was just too impatient to be out into this world. I was already safely born when she arrived in my mother's home in Kampong Tuan.

Her condition was getting worst by the day. She was bedridden for most of the time. Strangely though, she was reported to still have a voracious appetite and was as talkative as ever despite of her weak and frail body. Whenever I passed her house on my way to town, I tried my best to be extra-quiet. I just did not want her to invite me into her house. Her house was so creepy that not many boys dared to visit her. But strangely, she knew about my presence most of the times I passed by her house. It was as if she had eyes all over her house. Bedsores were all over her body.

Then her children realized that there was something wrong with her. They called another bomoh to have a look at her. The bomoh told them that their mother possessed evil spirit. It was that evil spirit that kept her alive all these whiles. When the bomoh offered help to remove the evil spirit, she refused.

To cut the story short, she was only pronounced dead when one of her daughters agreed to accept the evil spirit from her. From people who had witnessed the whole incident, they said that her body was already dried-up and shriveled when she finally 'died'.

It was strange and eerie, no doubt, but back then or perhaps even today, there were many older people keeping evil spirits or djinns as their friends for a variety of worldly reasons.

Waidi's condition was getting worst. In the peak of the attacks, his head sometimes turned backwards. When my father came, he decided to bring Waidi to the Hospital. Waidi was warded for a long time in Kemaman District Hospital. Despite of all the tests carried out onto him, including that much-feared lumbar puncture, they could not find out what was actually wrong with him. Strangely, while he was in the hospital, he never showed the nervous signs that he was showing at home. He was just limp; his whole body was almost paralyzed. He had also lost his speech ability. It was sad to see him like that. He was an active and talkative kid before the strange disease struck him.

I remember very well how he was very talkative and strangely naughty a few days before he fell sick. He would carry a bag on his shoulder and announced to everyone he met that he was going home to his father in Perak. More than once he mischievously announced that he was going to pee into Tok Wan's tepak sirih. Peed he did. The tepak sirih was soon flooded with his urine!

I was pretty sure that those strange behaviour patterns were the early signs of his impending strange disease. Also, one midnight a few days before the incident, while accompanying my Tok Wan who was busy processing nipah cigarette wrappers I saw something very frightening gliding through the night well above the coconut trees. It was the head of a woman with free-flowing long hair and all her internal organs trailing behind her. Comforting me Tok Wan explained to me that it was a sign that something very bad was going to happen in the village.

Realizing that modern medicine was showing no significant effect in healing Waidi's illness, my mother then decided to once again try the traditional medicine. As soon as Waidi was brought home, all the nervous signs came back! We were all greatly puzzled. I thought that it was indeed the deeds of some ghost or demon. It was one traditional man whose name was Pak Ismail or just Pak We to those who were close to him, who was patient enough to give all that he had to really try to cure Waidi.

He was quite an effective medicine man. One step at the time, Waidi began showing improvement under his care. It took almost two years before Waidi was almost normal again. Pak Ismail later told us that Waidi's illness was the act of an old couple that used to live near our house. They possess the demon. They turned against my mother when she turned down their wish to borrow money from her.

I believed him then as Waidi, in his illness, was showing all the behavioural pattern of that man called Pak Kob. His right hand was always carried in such a way just like the way Pak Kob carrying bamboo containers for collecting coconut flower nectar. Having read a lot of ghost story books those days, I was in fact very suspicious of them as possessors of demon well before Waidi fell sick.

My 'bending over test' had proven beyond doubt that they were indeed possessors of demon. It was strongly believed that real demon possessor would be very angry when we stooped over with our buttocks facing them. He was an extra jealous man despite of his age. So too was his wife. They were thin and sickly looking most of the times. It was said that they had to sacrifice a small quantity of their blood regularly to feed their masters. Their blood was usually added into chicken eggs which were left in predetermined and mutually agreed place and time, usually under the staircases of their house at dusk, for their masters to feast on. Their eyes were always red and watery. They left the village in a hurry to an unknown place just before Waidi fell sick. Nobody had ever met or seen them again after the incident.

Many strange but true incidents happened during Waidi's treatment. One was the story of a timber lorry that turned turtle as it was negotiating a tight curve near my house. The late Pak Hamid, a timber lorry driver himself, came running to our house and started scolding my aunts for suggesting to the voice of a woman in trance to go home by hitching a ride on a timber lorry!

The other was nothing less exciting. It was my half-brother Rashid. He was assigned by Pak Ismail to carry the box (it was filled with food as an offering to evil spirits) to an area in the forest. He was telling us that the load was getting heavier and heavier as he walked to the forest to deposit the box. Using all his strength, he hurriedly ran towards a big fig tree to deposit the box. Pak Ismail explained that probably there were a couple of ghosts or evil spirits hitching a ride on the box hoping to be the first to taste the delicious food offered.

For those of you who never knew what kind of materials were in the box, it consisted of a dough doll representing the sick patient, yellow glutinous rice, pop rice, thin strips of omelets and a few limes.

I know now that what we had done might be wrong religiously speaking. We knew too that it was sinful on our part to believe that it was the power of ghosts that Waidi was sick. But all in all, I thought it was our effort to see that Waidi was well again that really counted. While treating Waidi, we never forget to ask for help from God every time we prayed. Thank God Waidi gained his health after that long ordeal.

He had to go through the process of crawling, walking and learning to talk all over again. Except for his unstable temperament and stiffened muscles, he is otherwise all right now. In the process, his younger brother, Mohd Nor Azmi was sort of left out by my mother. Waidi is now a Medical Technologist in the Universiti Sains Malaysia and Azmi is a lance corporal in the marine police.

The house in Kampong Bukit Kuang always gave me the creep whenever I visited it for a drink of young coconut water, long after that incident. My body hairs would always stood on end whenever I was alone in the vicinity of the house, even in broad daylight. In short, our small wooden house became an almost haunted house for us. The house was only inhabitable again after we did a lot of prayers in it to clean the house from any leftover roaming evil spirits.

In Standard six, Cikgu Yong Hitam was my class teacher. He was the best teacher that any student would like to have. As far as I could remember, no one ever came close to him, be it in terms of commitment, love for teaching and most important of all, being our very good friend. He understood our real needs. For the nine of us, he went all out to make sure that we would pass the examination with flying colours and be selected to the various boarding schools.

He organized free extra classes for us just to make sure that we were good in all the subjects. Finding suitable venues for our extra classes was a real problem. We had to move from one venue to another just because he wanted to be sure that we were comfortable and that nothing distracted our attention from our lessons and exercises. Our very first venue was his house. It was all right with us, especially with those cookies prepared by his wife, but he later found out that his children were a big distraction for us.

Then we moved to an empty room in our school that later turned out to be too far for most of us. Later it was decided that we should have it in a boys scout's room. Despite our constant moving the extra classes were really helpful to us. Finally we were all ready for the big examination.

The examination was held in Sekolah Kebangsaan Chukai. I came early to the examination hall. Selected students from all over Kemaman district were there. My second cousin from Ibok, Mokhtar Ali Bashir, was there too. Looking at their school uniforms and accessories, I felt inferior, as mine was not as brand new as theirs. Many of them brought with them fancy pencil box, whereas in my case the pencils (three of them), a ruler, and an eraser were just banded together with a piece of rubber band.

The minute I began looking over the examination papers, my self-confidence grew and I answered all questions well. Looking by my sides, I saw many students who were so full of confidence a few minutes before were now with blank faces. I guessed they were not mentally ready for the examination. Physical appearance and materialistic aids were just not enough to perform well in examinations. There and then I strengthened my philosophy of not to judge one's academic ability or intelligence by one's mere physical appearance and how well dressed one was.

When the results were announced, everybody was jubilated. The teachers, the students and the parents were all very happy to know that all nine students from Sekolah Kebangsaan Pusat, Kemaman were successfully selected to go to boarding schools. Chikgu Yong appeared to be the happiest person alive in the school. Chikgu Wan Ibrahim, the Headmaster was all praise for his achievements.

Tok Wan fasted for two days in being thankful to Allah for my success. That achievement itself was a record for the school. Two of us (Abu Bakar Kassim and Wan Azlan) were selected to go Sekolah Tunku Abdul Rahman (STAR), Ipoh; three (Ahmad Zaidan Hussin, Zakaria Osman and myself) to SDAR, Tanjong Malim; and four (Aminah, Azizah, Shamsiah, Wan Esah) to STF, Johor Bahru.

My father came to know about the good news when a friend of his yelled at him breaking the news while he was busy playing snooker in the police clubhouse. The news of our success, complete with our photographs, was in a Chinese newspaper that he was reading. To tell you the truth, I was not ready when the newspaper's photographer came down to get our pictures. If you look closely at our picture, you could see that I had used a safety pin to secure my faded short pants!

I did not pay much attention how I was dressed before going to school then. All that matter to me was that I was mentally ready for school. Also, there were no fancy leather belts like school children used today then. The price of a pair of canvas shoes that we used to go to school was only a few ringgit compared to the present MR29.90 or more. I never had a pair of long trousers when I was in the primary school.

I remember how excited I was when my father bought me a pair of drainpipe Saddle King black jeans when he visited me in SDAR when I was in Form Remove. I first wore the jeans in public when I was visiting Taiping zoo together with my schoolmates. It was also in Form Remove that I first had a watch. It was a brand new Timex watch. Along with the watch, I also received my first pair of expensive and branded Clarke shoes and a pair of rugged-looking black jackets from my father. Shamsuddin, a guitarist of the school's rock band was so attracted to my jacket and shoes that he even borrowed them for one of his shows.

"Finally I am accepted into a boarding school. That was all that I have been dreaming of all these years - to be a successful person." I soliloquized as I got myself prepared, both mentally and physically for the second part of my education, secondary education in a residential school. Without realizing my real academic strength, my first ambition then was to be an engineer! A few years later I found out that additional mathematics and physics were not the subjects I adored. In fact they were the subjects that, if not for my resilience, would pull me into the great failure pool.

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