I had arrived later than I said I would. Pak Din, as always, accepted my apology as soon as I gave it. I sat down next to him on the pangkin (raised platform) after we exchanged greetings. It was a long drive, but I didn't mind it. It was time for me to finally visit him.
"How is your wife?," Pak Din asked.
"Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), she's recovering well. She was initially worried about the birth, but I guess the baby makes up for all the suffering," I told him.
"You know, when I was younger, all babies born in this kampung were natural births. And the midwives never had to make any incisions on the mother," he proclaimed proudly.
"I know. Mak (Mother) told me that too. But I asked a doctor friend. He says, that's because back then the babies born were much smaller. The food they ate was different, less nutrition," I replied.
"Hmmmm...," he shot a cynical glance from the corner of his eye. "Still the same, you are. Always have something to say. If I remember right, Mak Jah named you the student from hell".
I laughed, remembering how I first got that name. I professed innocence, and I still do. It was the other students who convinced me that one of the shows of skill of a pendekar was how many chickens you could pluck while chasing it. And I plucked them all. All of them belonging to Mak Jah, my teacher's wife.
"You know that..." I began.
"I know, I know. It wasn't your fault. You've said that already," he cut me off.
"Besides, I paid for them in full, didn't I?"
"That, you did," he said while reminiscing the time I helped out with Mak Jah - and her lady friends after school - to weave mengkuang leaves into mats to sell at the weekend markets. I swear, by the time I had finished my two month job placement with those gossip mongers, I knew everyone who was doing who, or who wanted to do whom in the whole kampung. I was never the same again.
"Still practicing?" Pak Din suddenly asked.
Oh dear, I thought. I was afraid this would come up.
"It's been awhile, Pak Din. I've been terribly busy with work, the wedding and now the baby. You know how it is," I managed feebly.
"You can do better than that! You used to have such vibrant excuses everytime I ask you to train. This is what you've come to?" he smiled thinly.
"I'm sorry. I know I've disappointed you. But, silat just hasn't been that big a part of my life for awhile now. Kuala Lumpur is a dangerous place, but it's not like I have a big 'Rob Me!' sign on my back. I have no one to train with, and I can hardly use it either."
SLAPPPPPPPP!!!!! A tight one finds its way across my cheek. Reflexively, my hand comes up too late to parry but catches his wrist just as Pak Din's palm leaves my face. Then I realise the mistake I made. I feel my wrist buckle, and I try to order my fingers to let go, but it was too late. He had started his rotation and the rest of my body got caught in the spin. It was going to snap.
Whattodowhattodowhattodo??? A thought occured to me. My college roommate, Zakaria, once taught me a flip he learned in a Japanese martial art. Can't even remember the name. Maybe I can do that! No! Pak Din already has his knee out. I'd snap my back on if I land on that.
Another thought! Shoulder? Shoulder! Suddenly I see the flow. I follow Pak Din's rotation and force myself past his grip. There's slack! I rotate my shoulder and the energy snakes across my biceps, through the elbow into the wrist. I have leverage! I have control!
Then, as soon as the feeling came, it left, as I heard the word "Impressive!" blow pass Pak Din's lips. He reversed his motion into my flow, slid his whole weight into my hip and I lose traction. I saw the night sky and I saw my foot pointing at the moon. A split second later, my spine met the earth, with a thud.
I stared up at the old man.
"As long as irate slap-happy women and decrepit, chain smoking old men don't attack you, I guess you're safe, then," he said as he stood over me, fixing his kain pelekat (sarong), which was dangerously ready to come undone.
"Yeah," was all I could manage.
"But you still have it. A little bit," he backhanded. I got up and dusted myself off before manually searching for broken bones. I sat next to him again, but this time, slightly out of reach of the old tiger.
We sat together on the pangkin and just stared at the gelanggang. No one was left to train. All the kids grew up and moved out of the kampung. Like I did. The new generation had their PlayStations (albeit pirated copies) and Wiis. The Pak Dins of the world had their pangkins to sit on.
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Pak Din asks, "So, what's this visit for?"
"I'm moving back here," I declared quietly.
His eyes widened, his mustache stiffened and suddenly the thin lips became a wide smile. I know that smile. It's one of purpose. And that purpose has probably got something to do with me. I sigh resignedly, and he laughs heartily, knowing that I know.