It's been two weeks, and yet, my tears still flow unbidden. It's a strange feeling, to realise that someone who was there for so long, is now no longer. Every morning, I'd wake up and try to remember if it was just a dream and it always comes back to me.
It's real. My father is dead.
The Melayu use the term salin bantal (replacing a pillow cover) to describe what happened to him. He had diabetes for such a long time, but it was always in control. Strangely, his condition suddenly took a turn for the worse and in the end, he succumbed to renal failure, just as he started his COPD treatments. Then, a week after I buried him, my daughter was born.
Generations past consider it an omen. A switch. My daughter's life for my father's. She was in a dangerous breech position and doctors predicted complications in the birth. But when everything pulled through, people started talking. They said, Allah took my father in exchange for my daughter.
My mother said it was nonsense. Mak spent most of her life studying religion and told me matter-of-factly, "Allah takes whom He wills. No exchange, no barter."
"Put your faith in omens, and you put it in the unsure. Allah is always sure. Never forget that," she said, even as she fought back tears.
I nodded, wondering what my and wife daughter were doing now. As part of custom (and necessity), they had gone back to her kampung in Ipoh for her 40-day confinement period. There, her mother would care for her the way no husband can. Which basically left me a bachelor.
But I had issues to work out. So, I guess I could occupy myself with that. I had just rolled off a project in Kuala Lumpur and was deciding what to do next. My firm might allow me to post overseas, but with the baby here, I was now more reluctant to do so.
With my father gone, I now had to oversee the distribution of his property, and more importantly, the repayment of his debts. In Islam, the responsibility of a parent's debt repayment automatically falls to me. It was going to be difficult, since I didn't know who he owed, but I was determined to ensure his life in the hereafter was a peaceful one.
Then, I stumbled upon a project no one wanted to touch, a community development partnership in Kampung Seri Nusantara in Melaka. It was 'cold' because there were no amenities and very possibly mosquito-infested. Maybe so, but it's next door to Kampung Tanah Budi, my kampung, where we came from.
My father still had land and houses there to manage, and I'd have to make sure they were maintained or distributed amongst his employees according to his will. In that, I saw the opportunity to catch some recuperation of my own.
Within 30 minutes, I persuaded my wife of the change, persuaded a bewildered boss to give me leadership of the project, and persuaded my mother to let me do it. It was time to go home.