Richard and The Miracle in Selayang
(Excerpt from Chapter 2, Jampi, a novel by Alwyn Lau.)
Dedicated to every Malaysian I know (and have yet to).
Jampi (Malay), n. magical spell, charm.
* * *
Your grandma wept? That’s poetic.
To be perfectly honest I don’t get how two people can publicly express undying hate for each other year after year, yet shed tears at the end. Does that prove the ‘power of love’ or just how shittily inconsistent we are?
Hey, I was present at that (otherwise) unremarkable dinner, too. I was one of the dudes signalled to quickly provide the old guy with ‘covering conversation’. I was probably sitting at the next table.
I vaguely remember all of a sudden one of the bride’s parents relatives or cousins or whatever jumps from her seat, runs to me and asks me to go over to where, apparently, the grand patriarch of the family sat. I was like, hey, let me shovel one more chicken thigh down my throat. But she was insistent and soon about six of us had surrounded that table, like there was commotion, or maybe the chickens were singing Kumbaya.
Now, after almost twenty years, I know why.
So they were trying to get the patriarch and matriarch in one place without them knowing the other was present, too. Nice.
However, does the fact that Kok Wai’s granny wept at his granddad’s passing show that she truly did continue to love him despite everything, despite all her so-called hatred for him, or is the juxtaposition of curses with tenderness simply how she loved him?
Like my own dad and brother.
My dad’s a racist.
Let me get that out of the way first ya.
He once walked into a bank in Puchong, wanted to withdraw money, but didn’t bring his savings book nor an ATM card. I think he’s one of those old-timers for whom ATM cards are a pain in the arse, know what I mean?
Anyway, the bank teller says Sir you can only do a withdrawal with a savings book so could I give you a new one? My dad says Screw you I don’t have time for this nonsense, here’s my identity card, here’s my withdrawal form with my signature, now give me my money.
Bank teller repeats the bank SOP which, frankly, strikes me as anachronistic despite it being, what, in the 1980s at the time. I mean, why be so anal about one of your customers taking out his own bleedin’ cash?
Push turns to shove, though, my dad gets pissed and gets absolutely vitriolic.
The teller, poor Malay abang, suddenly became the target of dad’s racist expletives. I know I’m not a Dato’ or a Tan Sri but it doesn’t mean you can’t serve me properly okay?! Apa lu punya pasal?! You need me to come in a songkok or what? Or should I get a few BRADDERS to play the kompang before you move your lazy brown ass?! What? What?! You Malay so what? Damn power ke?! Aku tahu la, you tak puasa punya ‘kan? You sentiasa tipu punya, bila Ramadhan you curi-curi makan! Aku tahu punya!
And all the while I’m standing there, wondering what the hell the teller’s Ramadhan habits got to do with anything.
The other bank tellers were by then doing that thing Asians do when ‘other people’ are pissed i.e. avert the eyes, maintain nonchalant stare and utterly fail to pretend they’re not listening. Ha, everyone in the bank and outside the street must’ve been listening at that point.
In the end, the bank teller walked away. Ignored my dad, went inside his office, and closed the door.
You know Malaysians say a lotta shit about the three races. Chinese are greedy, Indians are drunks, Malays are lazy and all that crap.
But there’s one thing I’ve noticed my whole life living here: Malays are also damn good at defusing tense situations and it’s usually non-Malay customers who throw the fits.
I once saw this Malay worker at a cinema face down a big fat Chinese guy who was screaming to the heavens about why management wouldn’t allow non e-combo ticket holders to buy popcorn from the e-combo line.
To be sure, the customer had a point.
I mean, you’ve got cinemas with more than one section selling popcorn, right? But in their infinitely anal wisdom, they often leave a million people lining up to buy popcorn from one damn area instead of opening another segment of the place to ease the queue.
Why don’t they open the other section?
Because—and check this out—that’s for people who bought the goddamn e-combo package. Like the pissed off customers give a shit, especially that whale of a guy who didn’t like to wait too long in line.
Anyway, the Malay guy in charge of the popcorn, he did the right thing. He just said Sir I don’t make the rules…and walked away (just like the bank teller). That was the smart thing to do.
We Chinese? We would’ve stood there, fought and argued like chickens and ducks doing battle, pissing up the situation even more.
We are damn brave and stupid that way.
Anyway, what’s this story of my dad’s racist rants gotta do with my dad and brother? Almost everything.
You see my bro’s wife is a Malay.
Hell, yeah. Now you know.
You should see my family during Chinese New Year season. We’ve got every manner of pork dish served on the table and Pizza Hut take-outs just for my bro’s family. Nobody minds and everybody loves whatever they’re eating.
Family time and Gong Xi Fa Cai and all.
But, as you might guess, things weren’t always this chirpy.
The day my dad found out that one of his sons was in love with a Malay girl? Chaos.
It was like everything that could go wrong in Sepet went wrong.
He launched a demonic tirade against my brother and threatened to do a Thanos on the family i.e. destroy half of it.
Before long, my brother had moved out and been declared ‘not my son’. My mum and aunts, they told my dad (without actually telling him) to piss off. As far as they were concerned, Nadia (my bro’s girlfriend) was welcome to be a part of our family regardless how nasty my dad treated her.
So, well, two or three years went by. My bro and Nadia got married, had a very sweet kid. And my dad? Sonofabitch refused to even speak my bro’s name (which was Ricky).
Wouldn’t attend any gatherings if there was a chance in hell Ricky would be there. Wouldn’t say shit whenever my mum spoke about Ricky’s job, Nadia’s pregnancy, the kid, etc. This was some Malaysian reverse-twisted version of Hamlet.
Then one evening, dad fell sick.
Couldn’t tell what the problem was. Hell, at 76, it could be everything. High fever, vomiting, the works.
Had to go to the hospital but no one was available. I was away for a conference, mum couldn’t drive, Uber hadn’t been invented yet and, I’m guessing, none of my aunts or uncles gave enough of a shit to help him. Maybe they were secretly hoping he’d expire, a small cost to end the awkwardness, who the heck knows.
So who else was available?
Tada. Enter Ricky.
Damn, you’d think we were in some Academy Award Nominee for Best Screenplay.
But hell yeah. My mum called my bro.
My bro—the prodigal outcast brother whose audacity to fall in love with a woman from another race and religion brought out the worst in his father—drove over, helped lug the grumpy old (and very sick) prick of his dad into his Toyota and drove him to Selayang Hospital.
I heard that nobody said anything during the 30-minute drive. Most silent medical emergency ever, I guess.
Even my mum didn’t say much, maybe she was savouring the moment, or was simply too exhausted.
At the hospital. Emergency and trauma.
The staff took my dad outta the car, within a few minutes he’s in a stretcher, within a few hours blood tests were done (it was dengue), within a few days he was recovering in the ward.
Now, you’d think that’s the end of it. But guess what happened next?
Nadia visited my dad, her father-in-law who’s hated her for loving his son.
She goes into the ward with my brother and her son, walks up to his bed, he notices her coming, doesn’t really know what to expect or say, but you know what my sis-in-law did? She takes my dad’s hand, bows her head to his fingers and, in free-falling tears, asks for forgiveness.
Wah lau eh!!
What I’d give to see my dad’s face.
Because I was told the big guy cried like Niagara, hugged the whole family, kissed his grandson and—dare I say it?—they all lived happily ever after.
The racist has been redeemed.
For Nadia? No other minta maaf moment in her life would match this.
Heck, she told us even she didn’t expect her dad-in-law-under-protest to behave as he did. She was simply hoping he wouldn’t pull his hand back and throw the hospital plates at her, that’s it.
My bro, Ricky? He had no idea his wife was even gonna do that.
In fact, he was kinda hoping she would stay outside the ward whilst he asked ‘if there was anything else he could do’. When Nadia actually walked in and took his dad’s hand, his eyes went from OMG to WTF to Thank You Buddha in 3.54 seconds.
Even the attending nurse wept.
So nowadays, every time the family gets together, my dad can’t wait to play with his grandkids. Damn straight, Ricky and Nadia got real busy after that incident, with almost half a dozen young ones popping out over the next decade.
Gotta hand it to my bro.
Gives up his religion and takes on another (however ‘superficially’) out of love, loses his loved one from his original culture but then, thanks to his new love from another culture, gets to keep everything he had and more.
Isn’t that what Malaysia should be like?
(Excerpt from chapter 2, Jampi, copyright © by Alwyn Lau)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.