CEKIK - a novel by Ridhwan Saidi

When the call to prayer is heard outside, my mobile phone rings. I am in the kitchen cooking Maggi instant noodles while listening to the Yuna song Decorate coming out of my laptop speakers, which must be the ideal musical accompaniment for cooking Maggi noodles. This is not because the song is about two minutes in duration, which is the same amount of time Maggi noodles need to reach the condition of al dente, but because its rhythm seems to slowly give hope and life to the Maggi noodles boiling in the pan. At first I do not intend to answer because the song Decorate has already reached its peak, which means that my Maggi noodles are almost done. I do not like Maggi noodles that are swollen from being overcooked. This is because their elasticity when chewed will not give any pleasure to my tongue and throat. The phone stops ringing. I stir and, with a fork, gently fiddle around with the Maggi noodles boiling in the pan. The heat permeates the entire kitchen, making my forehead sweat. I break two eggs into the pan. I watch as the two egg yolks slowly harden. Suddenly I hear the phone ring again. I reduce the heat and then move to get my mobile phone that is next to the laptop on the living room table. This time it is not a call, but a short message from the Village. I do not use this mobile phone very often, so I just let the ring-call tone and the short-messaging tone be the same even though this can lead to confusion. I click open the inbox and there is a message, YOUR FATHER DIED. FUNERAL TOMORROW. EVERYONE IN THE FAMILY EXPRESSES SYMPATHY. My gaze shifts to the window that faces the kitchen. Are my Maggi noodles swollen by now? ............................................

2010, The Village. At that time I was 6 years old. Father earned a living as The Village imam. He was small in stature, and had brown skin. His hair was short, his moustache thick. Usually when he went to the small mosque, he would wear a Malay top of pale yellow, with a red and white keffiyeh around his neck, a sarong of the Sitting Elephant brand, and a pair of expensive sandals that he had bought while performing his mini haj in Mecca. He was 51. Father had a habit that I found strange. Each night after dinner or before sleep, Father would iron his clothes with care. He would continue to iron in the living room as long as there was even the slightest crumple or imperfection. Father would sometimes take hours to ensure that all his clothes were in immaculate condition. Because the shaft of the florescent light would penetrate the bedroom, I would find it difficult to sleep. This ... is something I will always remember. Father would spend more time at the small mosque than at home. It could be said that in an average day, aside from ironing his clothes before sleeping at home, he would spend hours and hours at the small mosque. He would be there before dawn to perform the pre-dawn prayer. Then he would wait for the afternoon prayer close by, at Opah's coffee place. I knew this because I always accompanied him when I was 6 years old. "Father, I want to come along," I would say. "You're too young Warith, wait till you grow up," he would reply while starting his Vespa. "But I want to come along," I would shout above the sound of the Vespa engine. "Then come up," he would say while patting the back seat of the Vespa. I would latch onto Father's sarong-clad thigh and try to climb the Vespa, whose seat was as tall as me. My little hands would slip and Father would grab them again. Father would then carry me up to sit on the back seat. This is how I wanted Father to treat me. But it never happened that way. Father never gave a damn about me. Father would just go off, leaving my 6 year-old self alone at home. Father never taught me how to pray, read the Quran or do anything religious. I was left adrift. My home in The Village was very big and spacious. Or perhaps it seemed so because at that time I was small. The walls

looked far from each other, and the roof seemed high. Seven steps led to the porch, which led to the main part of the house with its one bedroom, and then seven steps led down to the kitchen. From the kitchen window you could see the outhouse toilet, with a river as a backdrop. Father forbade me from leaving the house. I obeyed, even though village houses are naturally open. The furthest I would go was to the outhouse toilet, which was still within the confines of Father's ancestral land. I once ventured out to the river to see the fishes swimming there but I got scolded by Father. I forget what happened next but after that, I did not dare venture out of the house, even to the compound. Except to the outhouse toilet, which I rarely used. Sometimes, Grey and Orange in the back of the house accompanied me. But they were still too small to know anything (still nursing). Every day I would spy on them by looking down through the kitchen window. A few weeks before, their mother Bedah came to the back of the house to give birth to them. Father and I accepted them gladly. We provided food and water for Bedah to help her raise her children. Our lunch dishes like fried fish-head were also given to them. After Grey and Orange were old enough to stop being nursed, their mother Bedah left them both in our house. We took over the duties of raising them. When they reached their youth, something strange happened. One afternoon while I was eating lunch alone in the house - rice, chillied mackerel, a little soy sauce - I saw Grey and Orange outside making noise. Since they were both tomcats, I assumed they were fighting, but they were actually making love. This I found out when I was on the way to wash my hands near the kitchen door. I saw Orange licking his cute dick, which was pink and erect. Grey was bending his head down towards Orange's body. I thought about this all day. Since they were both male, what were they doing? ............................................ Returning to the kitchen, I see that my curry-flavoured Maggi noodles are swollen. I am not happy. I dump the Maggi noodles into the food container for our pet cats, Ash and Amber. Yes, 'our'. I live in this apartment with my lover Suria. We have been a couple for two years. I see the Maggi noodles are still

steaming in the yellow catfood container - in dismay. I feel a bit sorry for these Maggi noodles. I can feel empathy for their fate: how sad it would be to be fed to two nasty cats which would chomp and tear me apart. They would not eat me but rather play with me. I would accept this fate and not fight it, because I would be just a powerless bowl of Maggi noodles. I slip my hands into my shorts pocket and bring out a pack of Wrigley's Doublemint chewing gum. I tear, I chew, I try to relax. They say chewing gum is good therapy. Our studio apartment is on the first floor, and is owned by Suria. I started living with her two years ago. It measures 6 x 9 metres, has a mezzanine level and a main section. Aside from bathrooms at the top and lower levels, there are three main areas: a bedroom upstairs, a kitchen at the mezzanine level, and a high-ceilinged living room. This house has an open concept with no walls except for the bathrooms. There are no solid barriers such as walls between kitchen and living room, and from the bedroom we can look straight down into the living room. From the front door, we can see a full 5 metre-tall glass window that gives a view of the Warisan Merdeka Tower. This 100-storey skyscraper is shaped like the number '1'. On a night like this, the lights from the sky-scraping concrete headstone glimmer and colour The City. I hear a train pass by. The clock says it's eleven at night. Suria usually returns from work at ten, bringing me food. But tonight she might be working late - she's still not back. I cooked the Maggi noodles just for the sake of eating something, because I had not eaten since morning. In the morning, I ate a bowl of corn flakes with milk. But strangely enough, I was reminded of Maggi noodles while eating that breakfast. How could corn flakes with milk remind me of curry-flavoured Maggi noodles? The Yuna song Decorate plays again from the laptop speakers that decorate my lover's studio apartment. Suddenly my mobile phone rings again. At first, I am not sure if it is an incoming call or an incoming short message. I will only know if it reaches the third ring, because the rings for a short message do not exceed two. First ring, second ring, third ring - it's a call. I hurry to get my mobile phone from beside the laptop. I take the call, but for a moment no one speaks. "Hello?" I say. "Warith," says the caller.

"Yes, that's me. Who is this?" I say while chewing gum. "Did you receive any news from The Village?" the caller asks. The voice of the caller sounds like that of Faisal Chal, better known as Kuzi, from the film Wild Teenagers. There is a childish quality amidst the seriousness of his voice. Sometimes the voice sounds like it belongs to the dubbed cartoon series Detective Conan. "Yes, I just got it -" The caller ends the call. Strange, I never use the mobile phone to call anyone except Suria. I have never once been unfaithful to Suria. So who just called me? Did Suria give my mobile phone number to one of her colleagues? Or does this have something to do with Father's death? Something doesn't feel right. If this has something to do with Suria's friends, well, I have long since left the socialite world. I no longer accompany Suria to hang out with her hipster friends. It's like this. Suria works from seven to five, but only reaches home at ten at night to bring me food. She always asks me out for dinner with her friends but I refuse. I am not fond of those bourgeois friends of hers who are snobbish but lacking in taste. I believe they have are the new generation of the backwards elite that was sparked off by the government's affirmative action policies. They live only for material things. They are staunch buyers, wearers and consumers. I am dismayed whenever I try to discuss the philosophy behind the fashions they adore - on the contrary, they understand nothing. They follow fashions just to be trendy. Even sadder is that many of them are teachers. Their philistinism is then passed on to the children of this land. Suria once told me that, in just her first month of lecturing at a private university, she was already shocked at the extent of corruption in that place of learning. Each time the students had to make a trip to a place, they were charged up to four times the amount. These students, who comprised the children of the middle-class, bourgeoisie, foreigners and plantation shareholders, just went along with what their lecturers commanded. For example, if a trip required just RM50 per person, the charge would be RM200. In that way, the lecturer would fraudulently gain a profit of RM150 per person. That was just for one person, but what if the trip had 100 students? The lecturer who was in

charge of organising the trip would easily get a quick profit of RM15,000. If, for example, a lecturer wanted to buy a Leica MP camera, he or she would just organise a compulsory trip to nearby Sungai Buloh! This cycle of corruption will persist and be perpetuated when some of these dumb students who got conned then become lecturers in the future. If this has something to do with Father instead, it has been two years since I last went back to see him in The Village or even communicated with him. In fact, I can't even remember Father's full name.

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