Chapter 1

I have already told you about the problem of choosing a starting point in life. For the sake of this book, I shall choose the day of my birth as my terminus a quo. I was born in the tiny village of Kampung Kemubu where my parents lived and worked. They were simple farmers who lived a simple life dedicated to bringin up their children, my three sisters and I.

Every day, they worked in the fields growing a wide variety of crops from rice to vegetables. They had an entire routine. Tapping rubber in the morning, tending to the rice paddies through the day, and visiting the large vegetable gardens at sunset.

In the evening, they went back home to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors, which in truth wasn’t much but was more than enough for their heart of contentment. They were happy. Not the empty kind of happiness gained by working tirelessly and chasing after worthless luxury, but the peaceful kind of happiness that comes from simplicity. They chased after nothing, wanted for nothing. They weren’t rich and yet their fortune was boundless.

In their simple cocoon of peace and love, no pain or sorrow could infiltrate. And it was in this bubble of perfect love and peace that I was brought into this world to bask in the paradise they had created with their hands under the burning heat of the sun.

As a baby, I was nothing more than a potential human. The stories of my birth are nothing more than stories. I was there yes, but my consciousness had not yet awakened and so I saw and didn’t see, heard and didn’t hear. It was only after I had grown into infancy that I was told of the epic story that surrounded my entrance into this world.

As the story goes, the excitement and fear surrounding my birth began as soon as it was confirmed that my mother was pregnant. An extremely beautiful but quite frail woman, most people in the village feared she might be unable to carry me to term. By the sixth month of her pregnancy, her entire body was already bending under the strain of the pregnancy. As she grew weaker, a miasma of anxiety swept through the village. She was much loved, for her smile was enough to spread joy and her kindness was as pure and limitless as the sea.

A gem, treasured by my father and the whole village, the fear of losing her gripped the hearts of all and sundry. As the weeks rolled by, the anxiety worsened and her body grew weaker. Her smile vanished due to the sinking of her cheeks and her lips shriveled up like an old tuber.

When her water broke, it was with swift alacrity that the midwives came to her aid. They knew the urgency of the situation. It had only been eight months, a premature child was about to be born and there was no way around it. My mother begged for me to be allowed to stay in her womb for a little while longer, she feared the worst. However, the midwives would hear nothing of it. They shared her fear but they preferred to lose an unborn stranger than to lose the most precious damsel in the village.

As she lay on the mat and pushed, she cried bitterly, believing that with each push she was enacting my death. When I finally came out, I was small and skinny as was expected. My lips were sealed in deathly silence that held the breath of everyone present. A second passed and a sigh swept through the tiny hut. Understanding came and acceptance followed swiftly. I was presumed gone.

They say my mother broke into tears, a sound different from her laughter and different from the screams she had let out during labor. It was a sound so heart-wrenching that the midwives feared could break her mind. But alas that sound served a purpose for it seemed to have slipped into my ears and soothe my soul, impelling it back into my body. I like to think of it as a song, not a lullaby but a special type of music, a heartfelt imploration of mother to child, pleading, begging, and praying for me to stay.

For better or worse, I did. A cough broke open my sealed lips and was followed by the painful tears of a newborn. Painful to child but joyous to all who heard it. Suddenly the air in the hurt changed. My mother still cried but her tears were of joy as she held on to my frail but alive body, holding me as tightly as her weak arms and my fragile body could allow.

There is a bond between all mothers and their children. But I swear to you, the bond between me and my mother, forged in the realms between life and death, for we both danced in that realm within those silent moments, that bond is unbreakable, it is made from the will of the creator himself. For what else would have saved the life of a frail mother and a premature child other than the will of Allah.

The circumstances surrounding my birth were quite special. However, it didn’t change the circumstances into which I was born. Yes, my parents lived in paradise but it wasn’t wealth and there was only just enough. As a baby, I noticed nothing and this state of oblivion continued for me well into the first few years of my life. But as I began to grow, I started noticing things. I started noticing the lack, the emptiness.

There was nothing to compare life in the village to. It was all I should have known so it all should have felt perfectly fine. However, something within me knew there was more. This couldn’t be it. There was surely more to life than farming, eating, and sleeping. It was a simple life, and it made my parents happy. But for me, it only made me wonder and burn with curiosity.

However, irrespective of how curious I was, with nothing to compare life in the village to, I was stuck in the tiny and limiting cocoon. The cocoon of love where everyone was nice and happy. Where leisure and peace filled the air and a steady routine of normalcy dominated every aspect of life.

However, all this changed when I hit the age of three and my education began. The school closest to me was in the next village which was much bigger than ours. There, in the midst of strangers did I see the more that I wished to know. There did I find that life wasn’t all good, as I was introduced to the good, the bad, and the ugly. And within all this did I see the countless possibilities that life offered and developed an immense hunger for knowledge.

Unfortunately, just as I began to feel a strong thirst for more, I was also introduced to the idea of limitations and inadequacy. In a simple village of love, a frail boy with weak legs and a weak heart is treated with love and respect. But in school, with kids who haven’t learned the word compassion or how to hide their meanness, the vilest of words and actions abound.