I still remember the days Ayah took me by his green scooter, turning round and round in our small village. In those evenings after dinner, he used to let me seated in front of the scooter, and took me to the wind.
After I grown up, uncle told me that our neighbour ever asked him, “Why do you let that Malay guy take Ashi, aren’t you scared he will take her away?” No, uncle never worried about that. Ayah is a simple good man with a stable job. For his “P. Ramlee” nature (open, nice, kind, moderate, like to joke), he is popular among the villagers. Some of the aunties, uncles and kids in my village used to follow my way of calling him. They called him “Ayah”.
As ayah only speaks Malay, sometimes the illiterate villagers find it difficult to communicate with him. Despite the language constraint, ayah and uncle get along very well. Uncle would mix some Cantonese into their conversation and to my surprise ayah could actually understand him. After years spending together in the same neighbourhood, uncle improved a lot in his Malay language.
My uncle is a big fan of Chinese songs of thirties to sixties and ayah shows a great interest in them. Sometimes Uncle lends his discs to ayah but ayah also has his own collection of Chinese oldies.
As a Telekom staff, Ayah was assigned to work in this remote area almost 40 years ago, and never leave. He is part of the village and the village is part of him.
However, during these four decades, things changed a lot. Although love between these two families can never change, some precious moments have sunk in memories, and will never come back.
I remember in my school days, ayah liked to “yam char”(drink tea) with uncle and me in a Chinese café at the main street of our village. There used to be a satay stall operated only during Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. Ayah and his wife (I call her kai mah, not Mak. It is Cantonese way of calling godmother. She is a Chinese) together with uncle and I would have one day sitting together at the café and ordered satays for our lunch during these festive seasons. Ayah would be busy saying hi to friends, and proudly announced to all his friends, I was his anak angkat. And I, I would be busy spending time with the satays.
I did not notice when it all started but things changed from there.
Since then, ayah and kai mah never steps into any Chinese café in our village. And the Malay satay hawker never set up his stall in front of the Chinese café during festive seasons. And since then, kai mah puts on her scarf when going outside of the house.
Until one day a Malay male student politely refused to shake my hand, and a Malay cashier in supermarket used a plastic bag to wrap her hand before holding my pork tin food and tin beer, I yet came to realize that ayah and kai mah have been taken by a fierce stream running down from some fundamental minds. This big stream is going no way but heading back to this piece of fantasy land created in the minds of this group of religion fundamentalists in the country.
I have no idea if there will be happiness on this piece of land, but I am quite sure it will be a land with no pork, no alcoholic drink, no Malay sitting together with Chinese enjoying tea in a Chinese café.
Selamat Hari Raya and maaf zahir batin, to ayah & kai mah and all my Muslim friends out there.