I flipped the pages of my book patiently, one by one. I wasn’t actually reading but it was more like browsing what’s the content was all about. I just bought the book from the SACC Shah Alam MPH. A thriller novel by John Grisham entitled ‘The Runaway Jury’. I heard that it was a great story, another great job by Grisham. Well, I’ve always admired his work but I didn’t really have the time to read, and that’s my problem. Time constraint.
Even right now, my precious time was flying away from me as I had to wait for him. My fiancé, the one I was supposed to love. Well, I loved him but if I could ever get anyone better, I might have left him for his disbelieving in punctuality. No wonder he was working as a freelance photographer. Lucky him his photos were highly demanded. If it’s otherwise, well, hi, hi, bye, bye!
As I waited here on the bench, I wandered my eyes around. Evenings in Shah Alam Lake Park are always welcoming. Coming here once was not enough for me when I first came here. Squirrels ran up and down the trees for food given by generous visitors. But I never did that. Not me. I enjoyed looking at them but I didn’t want to trouble myself feeding them. Sighed.
"hi!" I looked up. He stood right in front of me, holding a plastic of canned drinks, and few packets of sandwiches.
"hi dear, you’re early. Again." Sarcasm was me. I guess.
He smiled, as usual. One innocent smile.
And I smiled back. I thrust the book into my handbag. Looking at him.
"so, where are you taking me this time?"
He didn’t answer straight away. He made this action of thinking deeply before directing his gaze upon me again.
"let’s just take a walk for a while."
I nodded, unsure.
"ok. I’m ok with that."
I stood up and joined him in the walkway. He took out a cool canned soy drink from the plastic and handed it over to me. I took it, thanked him because then I remembered I was actually very thirsty. I opened the can and looked at him again.
He looked puzzled for a while before he reached inside the plastic bag again. There’s no way he had forgotten that I wasn’t going to drink this like people always did, as if you’re drinking from a glass. It’s improper for me, as a woman.
"oh, here you go."
"thanks." I took the straw and pushed it into the hole of my can and started drinking it.
I glanced over my shoulder to quietly look at him while he was drinking. Handsome? Well, for me he was a very handsome guy. He had a very long dark hair tied back neatly, sideburns for each side of his face and not to forgotten a goatee. One more thing for sure, he was neat and tidy, and he smelled nice. That’s why I liked being with him. He didn’t annoy me with his appearance.
But of course I had never told him all these. It’s better for him not to know.
"well, Dian, we are getting married by the end of this year." Suddenly he said something.
I nodded. The straw was still in my mouth.
"so?" I was waiting.
He smiled again. Warm smile.
"I just would like to know, how would our, you know house arrangement would be. The house that we are going to live in soon after we got married." Yet, I didn’t get his point.
I was getting really impatient. Remember, time management for me was important!
"Azmil, what is it that you are trying to tell me?" I urged him, and our steps became smaller as we talked.
He took a deep breath, but he still didn’t look at me. He averted his eyes and I knew straight away this must be something that can be considered as a sensitive issue for me and something I didn’t like to talk about. The smile also disappeared slowly.
"well, Dian, it’s your, brother." Slowly, the words came out.
I hesitated for a while.
"what about him?" I asked again.
This time, he looked straight into my eyes.
"will he live with us when we get married? You know your mother can’t take care of him anymore. She is getting older." Finally.
I took my eyes away from him.
My brother. Was it what this was all about? My brother? His welfare, his life after we get married?
Well, I haven’t told you about my brother. My younger brother, and my only sibling. He was suffering from syndrome down. And at the age of 21, he couldn’t get himself straight, let alone manage himself. Right now, he was staying with my 65-years-old mother. My father passed away long before I graduated. Well, I had everything in life, but my brother only had me, and my mother, that if he could realize that. That’s all he had got.
Despite the fact that I was the one who was supposed to take care of my folk and retarded brother, I wouldn’t like the idea of having my half-sane brother and my old mother with me as I was increasing the number of member in my very own family.
And I didn’t want him also to feel uncomfortable with my family around us every second at almost every corner of the house.
"do you want me to let him stay with my mother? And hire a maid for them instead of having them in the house?" I asked him and I demanded for a frank answer. He had always been kind for my brother and my mother and I didn’t see any sign of nodding with my suggestion there.
He glanced over his can of Pepsi and smiled, again. As usual. The usual him. The normal him.
"no, I was just asking Dian. I’m not mad by the idea of having them around us in the same house later on. It was merely a question of confirmation so that you and I could plan something with them together in the picture. Ok?"
I didn’t answer. I was mad actually, because he would never protect and stand for his own right when I wished him to do so. After all, our own life was in concern. Not only mum’s and Dini’s life. I strongly disagree with that.
"why wouldn’t you say “Dian, I will follow you as you wish, after all, it’s your family, not mine.”? Then it would be easier for me to make the decision." I raised my voice, inadvertently.
I was angry. I turned my head away from him, as a sign of mad. I heard his sigh. Now he was about to take back his words. And I would win, as usual.
"Dian," I kept still, not looking at him, not even an inch I moved. We had stopped walking. Now standing right beside a huge tree. I didn’t know its name.
"Dian please. Ok, I’m sorry. Up to you, do as you wish. Ok?" got him!
I turned my head to his direction.
"sure?" I asked again.
"yes dear, do as you wish. I won’t stop you." Finally he gave in.
"ok," I smiled, awkwardly. And he smiled back.
"let’s sit here. We can eat the sandwich." He suggested. Without waiting for my answer, he had sat down on the green grass beside me.
I sat down too, and eventually, things turned back to normal. We ate, we laugh, and we chatted over sandwich and canned drinks.
What was my plan actually? Well, it’s not that I was being ungrateful or whatsoever, but it’s just that I wasn't that kind of girlfriend who would give my all to Azmil before we were legally husband and wife. So, when we were married, I would want my life that was going to be shared with him to be something memorable for him, and for me too.
Whatever it was, how was I going to achieve my life plan that I had been planning all this while with them in my house? I mean, with my old mother and retarded brother? Wouldn’t it be inconvenient for me? That’s what I had been trying to say.
For almost an hour we spent our time together at that side of the lake and what happened after that was what actually the thing that I was eager to tell all of you about. It’s the can boy, and our meeting, that had changed my life in total.
We were about to leave, when a tiny voice suddenly broke.
"err, can you give me the cans?" I turned to my right side, and saw him standing, tired yet determined. I assumed he was at his age of 8 or 7. My gaze fell down to the plastic bag with empty cans at his right hands.
He smiled. A very thin, worried, and awkward smile, but he didn’t look afraid at me, nor at my fiancé. My fiancé gave me the plastic with our leftovers and empty cans, a sign telling me to just give away the cans to the boy.
I took out the cans and handed them over to him.
"here you go." He took it happily and I could see that my not-really-big action had brought happiness in him.
He thanked me repeatedly but before he could go away, I stopped him.
"may I ask? How old are you?" I asked with the warmest style I could ever do so that he wouldn’t feel offended and he could see my sincerity.
He didn’t answer straight away, but he looked worried and insecure upon listening to my question.
"don’t be afraid. I won’t harm you. I mean it. I just want to know." I assured him, and he looked a little bit relieved, fortunately.
"I’m 7 years old." The tone had confidence.
"what are you doing here, alone, collecting cans? Where are your parents? You shouldn’t be doing this." I expressed my disagreement but with the most relax tone I could ever do.
He wasn’t the one who should be blamed. His parents were. I didn’t like seeing little boy like him earning something for his stomach when he shouldn’t be doing that. Let alone collecting cans. How outrageous!
"I have to sis. My mother passed away and my father had lost his two legs. Now, I’m looking after him. I collect cans so that he could sell it when the Mamak comes and asks for cans. That’s all I could do for him, for the time being. Well, you know, grown-ups could earn more money and I wish I’m 20 years old."
I was taken aback. Silence got me, and I was totally speechless. He, the 7 years old boy was the breadwinner of the family plus taking care of his handicapped father and he could still do it without complaint.
But me? And all my thoughts about my old mother and retarded brother? Oh my God, what had I done? I couldn’t utter a word at that moment, but looking at him blankly.
"sis, may I go now?" he asked politely, and then I realized that I was still there, in front of him, and he was looking at me suspiciously by my sudden silence.
"yes, you may go. Work hard boy," my last words for him.
And then, I kept silent again. I thought my sudden silence had also made my fiancé worried.
"Dian, are you okay?"
"yeah, I’m fine."
"Dian, are you troubled by the boy’s words?" well, he sure knew how to read me well.
"yeah, a little bit."
He didn’t answer me, and I didn’t bother to make him answer me. I looked into his eyes.
"Azmil, I think, what you said is very much true. I’m sorry, for getting mad at you earlier when you were talking about my brother and my mother." He smiled warmly.
"it’s ok dear. I’m not mad at all. People make mistakes." His words didn’t comfort me at all.
"I think I want them to live with us when we get married." Sternly, I said this. He looked shocked, but he didn’t say a word of rejection.
"ok." That’s all.
"ok," that was my reply.
And after the next half an hour, we went our separate ways. I went straight home, with the can boy’s words lingering in my mind. I just couldn’t stop thinking about him, and his kindness, determination, and honesty. Unlike me. Well, I had everything you could say in life, stable career, assets, everything, and I’m getting married. How on earth could I ever think of abandoning my own family, especially my mother, after everything she had gone through her whole life to give me my current life?
Ya Allah, please forgive me! And I kept thinking of going back to my hometown, to hug my mother, whom I hadn’t met for the last 2 months straight. And my brother, whom I know, was afraid of me as I kept yelling at him, as I was annoyed looking at him acting like 7 years old child when he was actually already a young man. Pity him. And pity me. For thinking bad of him.
What’s worse was the fact that my fiancé was far off better than me, in thinking about my family’s future. He thought about it, when he didn’t have the same blood as us running in his blood vessels. How could I let myself be a jerk like that? Oh my God!
I kept repenting myself all the way back home, and I kept thinking of going back to my hometown, to meet my mother, and hug my brother. Suddenly, my phone rang.
Azmil. We were talking just now and he was calling me again? Must be something serious.
Still just the sound of the air. Weird, he called me and yet he was not talking?
And suddenly his voice came out, but he wasn’t calling my name. It was another girl’s name.
"lisa, I’m sorry. I have to marry her. We agreed on that before, right?"
My heart beat was pounding faster, as I heard this very statement. Who was ‘her’ and what was the agreement about? Most importantly, who was Lisa?
What on earth was happening? Did Azmil happen to miss-dial my number when he actually had no intention of calling me?
"Azmil, we agreed on that but I don’t think I can wait any longer. My parents are asking and you know what they are like!"
Wow! This girl must be very mad of Azmil.
I heard his sigh and I didn’t have any intention to end the call as I was keen to know about their content of conversation. I wanted to know the whole picture. I had the right to know, after all.
"Lisa please. You know my photos are not doing very well know. I need her, at least for financial support. Whatever it is, she is my only hope now, to marry you, you know that." He was begging, oh yes he did.
Silence. Well, well, now I know why he was clinging to me very bad lately. And he seemed to look forward for the wedding more than I did, and his intention was obvious now. He didn’t love me, he loved my money, and another girl. Maybe it wasn’t courtesy after all, but it was bribery. He was bribing me now for my money.
"Azmil, I don’t know, I don’t care. If you want to marry me, you have until the end of the month to prove it. Otherwise, I’m sorry. I’ll have to marry that guy. Sorry Azmil."
"Lisa, Lisa, please.."
And I wouldn’t want to listen any further. I ended the call and took a deep breath. Oh Allah, what was it that you wanted to tell me today? That I had done so many sins and now I’m punished for that?
Well, I didn’t know, but I was sure about something. That life was a matter of choice and now, I had to choose. I dialled his number.
"hello," his voice sounded weak. He must be very upset about Lisa. For sure.
"hi Azmil," on the other hand, my voice was confident. And I was in euphoria.
"yes, dear, what is it?" that sounded insincere.
‘well, I think, I can’t marry you. I want to call off the wedding.’ Confidently, the words kept coming out from my mouth.
"yes, Azmil, you’re not day-dreaming, I’m sorry, but I want to call off the wedding. We are not meant for each other, and yes Azmil, I’m serious." I ended the call without waiting for his reply.
I smiled all the way back home, and then I realized, I was driving back to my hometown, not to my house. Mother! Wait for me!
5 months passed by. I was still here, reading my John Grisham on the bench beside the lake. My brother? He was playing happily with Asrul, the can boy who was now the new member of my family at the playground. I took him in, together with his father. I enrolled him in a nice school, and I got a place for his father where people like him were trained for hand-skills, so that he could make use of his hands, a gift from God.
Azmil? Never heard of him after that. He never called. I didn’t wish him to call me either. My mother? She was resting at my house, with my maid. I took them to live in with me, all of them.
Weird was it? How people changed your life. It was just a matter of whether you would give yourself a room to change. Well, it was always a matter of choice. Life was. And I know for sure, what happened to me was not a punishment, it was a gift after all. A gift in a story of me, a can boy and him. Him, Allah. My ultimate love. No regret, live life to the fullest Dian. Love what you have, and live for it. Just listen, and you will hear it. The voice of your life.
p/s: my first attempt writing in English fully. comments are mostly welcome! sorry if there are verbs that are not in past tense. maybe have overlooked at this post. after all, its 2.06 a.m. and my eyes are hardly opening...;) happy reading!