Chapter 2

Most of my childhood memories before the age of four are nothing more than bits and pieces, they are mostly faint and surreal images that seem to be in the process of fading out of my mind but never quite getting erased. I have very few images of when I was child, and even fewer scenes and events. However, the few memories I do have, are absolutely indelible, as if they have been etched into the very neurons of my brain.

While I can’t remember most of the things I saw, heard or smelt as a kid, I do have a lot of stories that were relayed to me by my Ma and sisters. It is these stories that give a narrative to the bits and pieces that linger in my mind, it is their stories that put it all in perspective so that I can see my childhood with some level of clarity.

As a child, I was quite sickly, sickly to the extent that my life always seemed to be under threat. There were nights where my life hung in the balance between life and death. High fever they called it, and at nights when the ailment struck heavily, I cried at the top of my lungs causing great anguish and anxiety.

I can only imagine how everyone that could hear my screams would have felt. It is a painful thing to see a child in pain and be unable to help. Their hearts must have broken a thousand times into a million pieces as my temperature rose as if my boil was boiling within my flesh. My lungs screamed out without fail, continuously and endlessly for hours on end until they gave out and the only sound I could make was a weak squeal.

Everything they tried failed, until they turned to Allah. My parents were told of an imam in the mosque of another village, about an hour’s walk from our house. According to the people of my village, the man was blessed by Allah himself and unto him was given the gift of healing.

Now as I have said, I can’t remember these events perfectly, therefore, I can only say what I was told and how they fit into the few memories my mind has managed to hold on to over the years from that time. As the story goes, the imam bathed me with water from the Mosque’s Kolah. I was also given to the Imam to be his adopted son and to be under his spiritual fatherhood which was said to protect me from the evil spirit. As the adopted son of the great Imam no evil spirit could dare to torment me under the light of the day or in the cover of night.

God works in very mysterious ways and I wouldn’t dare to claim understanding of his workings. However, I can say what I was told with immense confidence without an iota of doubt. After the bath in the Mosque’s Kolah and my adoption by the Imam, I was free from the shackles of the sickness that tormented me. I ceased to be an invalid and I grew into a strong healthy boy.

The jokes in school stopped as my legs and heart grew stronger. In time, I began to play with the rest of my mates, making friends and joining in dangerous activities that young boys are obligated to engage in. I began to chase grasshoppers and fireflies with the vigor that only complete health could afford. Bathing in Kolah water is not medicine neither is it a scientific cure, but it was the cure for me and it wouldn’t be a lie to claim that it quite rightly saved my life.

I have told you about the unbreakable bond that was formed between me and my mother during the process of my birth. I must now tell you that this bond was strengthened a hundred folds by my prolonged sickness. When I was sickly, I had a tendency to fall unconscious unexpectedly or break into a terrible fever without warning.

This meant that my mother dotted over me, night and day, watching me at every moment with apprehension, dreading the next attack. After being cured, my mother grew somewhat laxed and she allowed me to play with the boys more often. Nevertheless, she still always wanted me to be with her. I loved being with her so it worked out perfectly and I didn’t mind her overprotectiveness at all.

We spent a lot of time together. However, I think that of all the many times we spent together, the time I love most are the times we journeyed together to visit her relatives. See, when I was sick, she was always scared to take me out with her on long journeys. In fact, the journey to see the imam was quite scary for her. Every step of the way did she worry that I will break into a sweat and suffer a terrible fever. Stranded on the way with nobody around, she would have been unable to get anyone to help her.

However, after the trip to the imam and my miraculous cure, my mom was confident in my health. Confident enough to take me on the long journey to the village of Bukit Mas, Tanah Merah, where her relatives lived.

The journey to Bukit Mas, Tanah Merah was quite long and I can still remember a few glimpses of the road. The road wasn’t a monotonous unending route, instead it was a long winding path that changed from large well-trodden paths to thin almost invisible routes. We walked through thick forests and heavy bushes, and also through vegetable gardens, and paddy fields. I remember walking through a plantation of rubber trees, the thick canopies of the rubber trees shielded us from the heat of the blaring sun.  I can still vaguely remember the smell of the rubber being harvested, how it hit my nose as alien but quickly became soothing the more we walked.

While the changing sites we walked through were interesting and the various scents that greeted my nose were quite impressionable, it was the stories and the teachings she gave me, that truly made the journey special.

As we walked along the paths, alternating between me riding on her back and walking on my small legs, my mother told me many folktales. She filled my ears with ancient stories and lore that made my mind burst with imagination. However, she didn’t just treat me like a mere kid who could only understand or appreciate stories. She treated me like an adult, telling me important things like where we were going and the people we were going to meet.

Other parents would not have bothered to tell their kids where they were going as they would have assumed that a little boy wouldn’t understand or cared.  To be honest, I didn’t fully understand or fully care, but I did understand that what she was saying was important and I cared enough to remember. Perhaps, it was her words and constant explanation, coupled with the love and acceptance I always found when we visited her relatives, that came together to make me have a full appreciation of the importance of family.

We visited my mother’s relatives on many occasions and each time was a truly special experience. It was always a mini-feast with lots to eat. The smell of meat and stew filled the air, mixing with the laughter that rode the airwaves constantly. I passed from arm to arm, everyone eager to carry me and greet me with smiles. I always felt like the star of the show and in their midst did I always find genuine unadulterated excitement and happiness, the kind of happiness born out of love and a sense of longing due to distance.

They understood the sacrifice my mom made each time she made the trip to visit. As a kid I didn’t really notice or feel it. I spent most of the journey on her back. But when I grew up, I realized that she had walked for more than two hours each time she visited her relatives. Such sacrifice, in hindsight, is beyond what most people today can make to connect with their loved ones.

Two hours under the sun, step after step, muscles aching, bones protesting, it is more than most people will dare in this day and age. Today, most people even struggle to reply messages in the family group chat. I learned from my mother the crucial importance of reaching out and staying in touch with those we call family. They are the circle that surrounds us, giving us life, protecting us from the attacks of reality and healing us from the strains that life puts on our souls. We lose them and we become like a feather floating in the wind, flying aimlessly without purpose.

Those we love are like anchors, keeping us down to earth and reminding us of what is most important in this word we live. My mother, never lost sight of the most important things, she was in fact an anchor herself. I have vague memories of her young beautiful face, smiling down on me as she carried me in her arms, her beautiful hair flowing down across the side of her cheeks.

There was an ever-present sense of love and unity that flowed out of her, it was what made people in our village gravitate towards her. It was also what made her go through the long journey to meet the people she loved. From her did I learn how to love family without question, and sacrifice boldly without holding back, all in the name of the bond that can never be broken, the bond of family.