Thursday, September 9

And to all, a good night

I knew this day would come. All my life, my family and I would drive back to JB to celebrate the Eid (or Raya, in my language) the day before Raya itself. I can still recall our trips back in the days before the North-South PLUS highway. It would take us between 6 and 8 hours to get there from KL. My parents would be up front in our silver Isuzu trooper, with Kasha sprawled across the back seat, and Faiz and I, well, our parents would organize our luggage, the food warmer, a large number of tubs and containers filled with rendang, biscuits, cakes, and other foodstuff, and then lay the pink-and-gray-stripes sofa mattress over the cargo. That was where my brother and I hung out for the duration of the long drive. We would always stop at this particular mamak shop at Yong Peng, and Mama would take the chance to do some pottery shopping (typical). Back then, Raya used to be magical. Partly because we were eligible to collect packets of money whenever we went visiting relatives, or when they came to our grandparents' homes. But most important, we got to meet up with our grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Yeah, we're bad relatives that way, only meeting up occasionally (at least once a year, though). But life happened. My favorite cousins, the Roslans, moved to Perth in 1989. Then my dad's parents passed away one year apart. Dad's siblings sorta drifted apart (family drama). We made new traditions. Every year, on the first day of Raya, we would go visiting our grandparents' graves. We would always get ourselves lost, but whenever I go there, I can recall their general position, as well as the grave numbers. We'd stay at Mama's parents' house for the whole duration of our stay in JB, and when we could no longer visit relatives in Singapore (more family drama), we'd meet them at my grandparents' house. With the completion of the highway, our drive became significantly shorter. It usually takes us just over 3 hours to get there, but since I started driving, I would aim for a shorter time. I once drove there just over 2 1/2 hours. I always get sleepy midway, and have to stop at an R&R whenever I notice the car veering off sideways, but whenever Mama asks if I am tired or sleepy, I'd just wave it off and tell her I need to pee. Inside the gents, I'd splash water on my face, and give my cheeks a good slap to wake myself up. Our little secret, hear? In 1999 I went off to Kulim, Kedah, for my 1-year pre-university course. The environment during the last days before Raya was amazing. We would exchange cards -- well, truth be told, the girls were the ones giving out Raya cards. I'm not so good at returning in kind. I made an early trip to Bukit Mertajam (1 hour bus ride) to secure tickets for myself, Reza, and Izwan (my 2 best buddies). They insisted I was overdoing it, but when the actual day came, quite a number of our coursemates ended up stranded at the bus station because they couldn't get any tickets. Hah! It was just as fun when I was in Kubang Kerian, Kelantan, during my 5 years in Medical school. The only difference is, I had to buy A LOT of serunding (beef and fish floss) for Mama to distribute among family members. I had 1 whole big suitcase for the serunding alone. I kid you not. And since I would always carry my heavy CPU along (didn't have a laptop; I like to upgrade my computer system, so laptops didn't give me much freedom in that department), I would have luggage almost impossible for me to carry alone. Somehow I managed. Looked like a turtle doing it, but I managed all the same. For the whole five years, I made the 8-hour bus trip with close friends of mine, Zay, Zila, Sina and Ayue (also known as the KLites). However, the Raya environment itself had lost some of its magic. Maybe because I was growing out of it. Maybe because I no longer received money packets. Maybe because my cousins were growing up as well, and had their own friends they'd rather hang out with. Still, we maintained our family tradition, with improvisation. When we reach JB, we don't go home straight, but we would do some last-minute shopping. On our way to our grandparents' house, we'd stop by this awesome stall to buy ikan bakar (smoked fish) and the famous JB-ABC (they use cocoa instead of the funky-colored syrups used elsewhere). In 2007, my grandma passed away. It's a shame you didn't get to know her. She was one supremely lovable lady. Most of my fondest memories going back to JB revolve around her. Naturally, Raya that year was bleak. Mama and Mak Su kept on weeping whenever they recalled the things Tok Mak would do during Raya. After that, Raya was never the same. There's always something missing. Kasha got married the same year. The following Raya, she celebrated the first days of Raya at her husband's parent's in Pekan, Pahang. Ayis and Kasha gave us a surprise, though. They arrived at my grandparent's doorstep on the third day of Raya. They wanted Tok Bak to meet the latest addition to our family, Arwen. Suffice to say Mama went watery-eyed. Now, back to my opening statement. I always managed to celebrate Raya with my family in JB. Not this year, though. I started my General Surgery rotation in July, and when I found out all the Medical Officers in the department are Muslims, I immediately offered myself to be on-call on the first day of Raya (which is tomorrow). The major reason is that I don't want to rush back to KL to get to work and be on-call the third day of Raya or something. So now I'll be on leave for one whole week. Word. Since Raya has lost its magic for me, I thought it'll just be another weekend call. Oh, boy, I thought wrong. I let Faiz drive my car back to JB, and I'm using Ayis's Satria to work (manual transmission -- lucky I still remember how to drive it!). Kasha, Ayis and Arwen have gone off to Pekan earlier this morning, so I didn't get to send them off. Most of the Medical Officers in my department took the latter half of the day off, but I stayed (until 4pm, at least) because I had to cover my ward. Fair enough, since I'll be on leave next week. I thought about breaking my fast at the Curve, but ended up buying Burger King on my way back, and popped on a movie while I waited for Maghrib (19:20). For the first time, I heard the Raya prayer-recital from the mosque near my house. Well, every year I hear the same recital during Aidil Adha (another Eid, but not as grand as this one -- in my part of the country, that is). But it doesn't feel the same, that recital. Hearing the recital, it all came to me in a rush. I miss celebrating Raya, one of the supposed constants in my life. I miss being with my family while ushering the Raya in. I'm taking the 10:30 bus to JB on Saturday, but I've already missed the greatest joy of all: the night before Raya. The magic has never disappeared; I'm the one who tuned it out. @23:45 Took a break; ended up waiting in queue for 1 1/2 hours to buy lemang Pak Ali (glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk, within big bamboo trunks). Promised my nurses working tomorrow I will bring the lemang, while they bring other Raya-related foodstuff. I always treat my workmates as an extended family, so I hope tomorrow I won't feel so bad missing out on my own family gathering. So, for the first time ever, I'll be spending the first day of Raya alone-ish. I asked for it, so I'm not complaining. Just didn't think I would feel so hollow inside. At any rate, for those of you celebrating Raya, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. I hope you'll forgive all my previous transgressions. I hope you're having a fine time with your family, be them your own, your in-laws, or your fellow colleagues. As for the rest, I bid you all a good night. May your dreams be pleasant, and may tomorrow be sweet. Peace be to all.