PAK BUILT

New Straits Times - - News -

break from the army and, now, as I dredged up mem­o­ries of days gone by, I see Pak Teh ap­proach­ing the house, grin­ning from ear to ear as he lugged fruits all the way from Bal­ing.

As we sat eat­ing in the kitchen, I swear I could feel Mak’s pres­ence; pad­ding around mak­ing sure we had enough to eat; once in a while join­ing in the ban­ter. Or, she would sit on the pangkin or raised plat­form and watch with sat­is­fac­tion her brood eat­ing what she had cooked.

I used to hide un­der the raised plat­form with a small Chi­nese boy, who fre­quently ran away from his mum whom I was told was suf­fer­ing from post­na­tal de­pres­sion. We would stay there un­til it was safe to come out.

It was on the plat­form that Tuk, when she moved to live with us, would sit by the win­dow look­ing out to the back gar­den, and sort out jas­mine flow­ers from her gar­den and mea­sure them in pots ready for the In­dian man from the flower shop.

Af­ter subuh, there would be trays of kueh that Mak had made to sell to ven­dors. That helped sup­port our monthly school fees, as did her metic­u­lous sewing on her trusty Singer.

Mak would sit qui­etly in the light sewing Raya clothes for her scores of cus­tomers. We had to be con­tent with clothes which were hastily hemmed up in the early hours of Raya morn­ing.

It was also in that kitchen that we took turns to beat the baulu mix­ture with eggs from the geese we kept in the back­yard.

Pak loved the kitchen. While we were banned from do­ing house­hold chores, he would help Mak with peel­ing onions, and topped and tailed the bean sprouts.

Although our two big bath­rooms were beau­ti­fully done up, I missed splash­ing wa­ter with Kak Cik when we had our bath, squeel­ing with laugh­ter much to Tuk’s an­noy­ance.

In her last few years, Tuk could only shuf­fle on her cush­ion to and from the bath­room.

She, like Pak, breathed her last in that front room that was and still is our com­mune, sleep­ing un­der huge mos­quito nets.

The rooms up­stairs were also beau­ti­fully done. I re­mem­ber Pak check­ing on us to see that the blan­kets did not fall on the mos­quito coil.

Mak’s last few years were spent with my sib­lings in Bangi and was miss­ing the home that Pak built for her. She was al­ways ask­ing to be sent back.

Had she gone back now, she’d be happy to see flow­ers bloom­ing in the gar­den that she so much loved. A new swing had re­placed the old one that was stolen.

As we left a few days af­ter, look­ing back at the house, we were happy to see that there’s so much life and soul that was tem­po­rar­ily lost. That’s the house that Pak built that will for­ever be Mak’s house.

The stairs, a favourite place for fam­ily group pic­tures.

The house that was left va­cant for a long time.

The house is now alive with plants and flow­ers.

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