It was a public holiday but Pak Cik had, nevertheless, decided to run my Almanar classes as usual, scheduling a two-and-half-hour one in the morning and another in the afternoon. By 8.20 Pak Cik was already crossing the road to Almanar, all very enthusiastic to deliver my royal New Year message to Form 3 pupils. Then came an uneasy feeling when no one was in sight. ‘These lazy children,’ ran my thought. But when the clock showed 8.30 and there was still no sign of them, I was beginning to lose my cool on the 1st day of Muharram.
A few form 4 and form 5 pupils began to turn up to study in private, greeting their obviously irritated Pak Cik. I strolled to check the time-table on the notice board then my diary. ‘Oh, this is an absolute cock-up!’ I told myself. It began to dawn on me that a few days earlier I decided to alter the morning group to the afternoon without telling the afternoon group to come in the morning. Pak Cik could now expect two groups fighting it out in the afternoon. A flurry of activities followed, sending messages of cancellation of afternoon for one of the two groups. That done and feeling somewhat relieved, Pak Cik decided to drive down town to buy some books and a pair of new sandals. A few shops were open that day.
“Baguslah pakai sandal baru hari pertama tahun baru,” commented the shop-keeper when Pak Cik put on my new purchase to walk out. Just as I was about to step into the car the hand-phone buzzed. This was not at all a welcome news after the morning’s mess-up. At the other end of the line was Pak Cik’s brother-in-law. His voice was terse to announce the death of Pak Cik’s uncle, Hj Ismail, whom Pak Cik lovingly addressed as Ayah Cik. In September this year he will be 92. By Maal Hijrah he is 95, a grand old man by any standard. In my new sandals Pak Cik dashed to his house.
So around ten in the morning of 1st Muharram 1429 the final curtain fell and Pak Cik’s uncle made his exit, his final ‘hijrah’. One moment he was seen resting on a couch and the next slumped on his side breathless. How easy and what an appropriate and auspicious date it was. May Allah bless his soul.
In his life Pak Cik’s Ayah Cik had two loves, collecting religious books ( kitabs ) and flower plants. Never tell him of your going to do Umrah and you could be sure of getting a shopping list of kitabs to buy in Mecca . I felt guilty that, at times Pak Cik avoided telling him of my intended umrah for fear of having extra weight to lug around.
Frail as he was he would not miss visiting the twice-a-week ‘pasar tani’ days (farmers’ open market days). He simply must stroll around ogling admiringly at the display of orchids and other flower plants, hoping to see a new breed. More often than not he would take one home. He ceased visiting the pasar tani when one day he was given a lift home without his trusted motorbike. He claimed that he had forgotten the place where he parked it, though many of us believed that it had been stolen. In a way it was a blessing as the family feared for his safety riding his motorbike shakily along the busy main road to and from the pasar tani.
Pak Cik visited this uncle a couple of weeks ago. After parking my car in front I walked straight into his house passing his many plants on the way, hardly noticing his small body among the plants. He was squatting on his bended knees watering a couple of potted orchids. “Kasihan nampak pokok-pokok ini tak kena air,” he murmured to me. To him his plants were as much alive as little children that needed to be loved and cared. Gone is Pak Cik’s Ayah Cik – a hijrah on the first day of Muharram 1429 - one new year day that I woke up to greet with high expectation only to begin with confusion at Almanar and a sad farewell to someone who had shown a lot of kindness to me in particular. Semoga dicucuri Allah rohnya.