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.