Pak Din sipped his tea as daintily as any Englishwoman would. I never understood that. He was as Melayu as the next Tuah, Din and Harun, but his mannerisms and sense of humour sometimes seem hardly local.
He loved his tea and biscuits, but often complained of the difficulty in finding crumpets and scones in the kampung. Other than that, he never actually talked to us, making Pak Din a mysterious silat-teaching figure who loved English culture.
“How’s the tea? You haven’t touched it,” Pak Din inquired, his right index finger and thumb pinching the handle of the teacup, while his three other fingers extended outwards. His left hand carried the edge of a saucer.
“Never fostered a liking for tea,” I whispered.
“Your loss, then.”
I sat on my hands, not knowing what to do. Pak Din had just today revealed to me a secret that he had kept for the last, what, 20 years? As we made small talk there, waiting for our hosts to prepare lunch, I wondered what it was I felt.
Shock? Surprise? Horror? Something inside of me cringed, not at the fact that Pak Din kept the secret, and not even at the discovery that Azizah’s whereabouts was known to Pak Din, but by the vision of the amuk that was Rashid, Pak Rashid Hamzah, extending his hand to greet me just several minutes ago.
I was speechless as Pak Rashid and his wife, Kak Azizah ushered Pak Din and I into the house and sat us down to tea and biscuits. They took our leave to the kitchen for a few minutes and left me to stew in my own santan, wondering what in the world we were doing there?
“What in the world are we doing here?” I whispered, concerned, to Pak Din.
“To make things right,” he replied.
As I was about to continue my line of questioning, Pak Rashid walked out of the kitchen, with a tray full of food and set it down on the dining table. He smiled at us and looked set to invite us to lunch, when Pak Din piped up.
“Rashid, before we eat, I think we had better get the purpose of our visit out of the way,” he said in a formal tone.
Pak Rashid nodded solemnly. He wiped his hands on a pink cloth and indicated to his wife that us boys wanted to be left alone. I was struck dumbfounded. It’s obvious Pak Din has been here many times before. He didn’t need me to drive him, unless he wanted to save on bus fare. The purpose of this visit had my inclusion a big part of it.
Pak Rashid sat down on the rattan settee opposite us and clasped his hands together, his head bowed slightly. Pak Din brushed off the biscuit crumbs from his hands and began.
“Bismillahirrahmanirrahim. Rashid, thank you for having us here, and Saiful, thank you for coming. I apologise to the both of you for not telling you why I brought you together. But, I think the moment you saw each other, you had some idea what I had in mind”.
We kept silent.
“Rashid, twenty-three years ago, you did something that you weren’t proud of, and you’ve paid the price for that mistake. However, there is still one matter that you need to resolve. I’ve brought Saiful here to help you rectify that matter,” Pak Din indicated by turning to me.
“From the time I met him, Saiful has never talked about you. But his mother has told me several times that the incident never left him, that he often had nightmares about you. You owe him something, and I want you to repay that now,” Pak Din said in a chastising tone.
Pak Rashid kept his head bowed, but I could hear him sniffing. He was on the edge of tears. What Pak Din said struck a chord. I wondered, why would Pak Rashid care so much? I doubt he even remembered me, him being in an amuk state at the time. After what seemed to be an eternity of silence, the old man suddenly raised his face, and looked me straight in the eye.
“Yes. I was wrong. It’s been so long. I… I don’t know what to say now,” he stuttered.
“Say what you feel,” Pak Din said blankly.
A deep regret seemed to well up from within him. His shoulders shuddered and his tears flowed. It’s obvious, he was searching for the right words, but sometimes no amount nor choice of words can truly make the message. As he was about to burst, he let out a most emotional, “I’m sorry”.
Suddenly, my eyes started tearing. A surge of emotion came over me, from somewhere. All the spite, the hate, the fear, I felt for him just washed away. It was at that exact moment, I noticed Pak Din. He was reciting something, but I couldn’t hear what it was. He caught me looking in his direction, stopped immediately, and smiled at me. The moment passed.
It was an amazing feeling. The past seemed to be recoloured in a brighter hue. Over lunch, we joked over how the locals reacted when Pak Rashid decided to play madman. Apparently, Kak Azizah’s husband peed in his pants. He called off the reception and pronounced talaq (divorce) upon her, a moot point since she went missing immediately after.
What I didn’t know was that Pak Rashid was never sent to prison, but was interred at the Bahagia psychiatric hospital in Tanjung Rambutan, Perak for two years. It was less embarrassing to tell the kampung folk that he was in prison. Being gila (crazy) carried a very negative stigma back then, as it still does now among the Melayu.
After Pak Rashid was discharged, it was none other than Pak Din who fetched him from the hospital and brought him to the Johor Fisheries Department to set him up with work, which he did well enough to establish his own fisheries training centre.
But the coup de grace came when Kak Azizah revealed that it was Pak Din who, through his many contacts, traced her whereabouts to Kuala Lumpur and persuaded her to come back to meet Datin Mariesa, her mother, to seek forgiveness. It took several months, but finally, with Pak Din’s silver-tongue and the help of Kak Azizah’s own grandmother, the old woman’s heart softened.
However, her mother insisted Azizah marry, even if it be Pak Rashid, who unknown to her and the rest of the kampung, was already a successful man living in Ulu Tiram. When Rashid, with Pak Din’s help, came to ask for Azizah’s hand in marriage, Datin Mariesa found herself trapped by her own words and decided to forgive them.
There were smiles all around at the table and something seemed to have come full circle for Pak Rashid and Kak Azizah. Once again, thanks to Pak Din.
“Din, for old times’ sake? See if I can still get the better of you?” Pak Rashid suddenly challenged. Pak Din washed his hand in the bowl of water on the table and ceremoniously stood up, his face smirking cheekily. Pak Rashid smiled and got up, leaving Kak Azizah sighing, knowing she would have to clean up alone.
She saw that I felt uncomfortable, stuck between helping her clean up and actually watching what the two old boys were up to. She shooed me with her hand, literally telling me to get lost and not bother her. I nodded and thanked her, running off outside to join Pak Rashid and Pak Din.
When I got there, they were already standing facing each other, hands meeting at their chests to salute the other. A beat-up cassette player sat in the corner of the yard playing a strain from the collection of the late Pak Din Lambung, a champion gendang silat player from the last few decades. Lack of a live band didn’t stop this duo from playing pulut with one another.
Pak Din launched into an interpretive bunga which never looks the same every time I watch it. Pak Rashid on the other hand, did something familiar, the standard sembah salam Pak Din taught me when I was very young. They stepped gracefully around an invisible circle in the very small yard and once they had completed 360 degrees and returned to their original starting point, they approached each other in the middle of the circle.
Both of them in a crouch, their hands crossed but didn’t meet, as they waited for who would make a move first. Pak Din didn’t have to wait long. Pak Rashid slowly parried his hand and sent a left fist towards his ribs.
Slowly but surely, Pak Din turned on the balls of his feet clockwise and pressed down on Pak Rashid’s right wrist, simultaneously parrying and moving out of range. He followed this up with a backfist to the stomach. He let out a faint laugh.
Pak Rashid was in a pinch, but not for long. With a wink, he pulled his right foot back and swept Pak Din’s right wrist with his left while his right hand parried the backfist. They were now facing square, with both arms spread wide.
This friendly pulut play went on for several minutes, with either of them getting the better of the other but quickly recountering. Sometimes, they played selangkah, where they avoided stepping but only used gelek to parry, lock or punch. However, when pressed, like in Pak Rashid’s case, they were forced to use an extra step to create leverage. They even rose and descended along the vertical whenever they needed to open a lock or unpin themselves.
It was a wonderfully entertaining sight to watch, something I myself hadn’t trained in in a long time. I almost wished I had a partner, but I had put silat behind me a long time ago. I appreciated Pak Din’s effort these last few days to persuade me to train again, but I wonder if I would truly ever fall in love with it like I did before.
“Go very far?” Kak Azizah asked. I was startled and a little embarrassed, not because I failed to notice her sitting next to me, but that she caught me in a slightly reminiscent mood. At that instant, a stark ‘Aduh!’ came from the men.
Pak Rashid had Pak Din in a particularly painful lock and Pak Din had cried out. I was surprised and a little disappointed. I knew that lock well, because Pak Din had taught me many a time to release myself from it. To watch him now immobilised by the same made me wonder if the release was even effective.
Pak Din indicated defeat and Pak Rashid gamely let go. The pair stood up, saluted one another and hugged as tennis players who congratulate each other do after a good game. They were drenched in their own perspiration and decided to walk around the neighbourhood for a smoke. Kak Azizah told them not to be too long for the tea was almost ready. They just waved at us as they left.
As she was about to go inside, Kak Azizah saw the look on my face. She quickly discerned the cause.
“He didn’t lose, you know,” she quipped.
“What?” I asked, surprised.
“Din. He didn’t lose the game. He just made it seem that way,” she explained. I looked at her, astonished.
“Rashid and Din have been playing like that for years. And Rashid always lost. He’s never been a good silat player anyway. I mean, Din’s been doing this all his life. Rashid only just picked up silat a few years ago.
“But Din noticed Rashid’s dejection every time that happened, so every once in a while, Din would throw the game. He was good, I suppose, Rashid never noticed. That way, Din could help Rashid save face, and potentially still be his friend every time he came around here,” she laughed.
“How do you know this?”, I asked.
“I studied Silat Tapak Sendeng when I was a young girl. Saving face during pulut was a big part of what I learnt. It’s exactly what Din did for Rashid.”
“Hey, that’s the same style that Pak Din studied,” I cried, only now realizing the significance.
“Yes, that’s where I met Din. He was my sparring partner,” she revealed, as she disappeared into the house.