Sarah & Ahmad

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Five sentences in turns and not discussed between:


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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

He watched water from a pipe draining into the earthenware pot, the cup in it bobbed furiously under the onslaught. The rain slanted under the awning, wetting the bottom of his trousers. No matter, he reckoned, I will get wet anyway. Leg aching and uncomfortable in the presence of Sarah - whom he had neither seen nor spoken with for over a month - and her mother, he considered leaving. He was here to send the message and delivered, surely they did not need anything more from him.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

"You can't leave us alone with my mother," whispered Sarah, hanging on to her friend's arm.

Aminah shook her head and said with a smile, "Don't worry. Everything will be alright. If she starts making things difficult for the two of you, just ignore it. She is too anxious about your father to care much about anything else anyway."

Ahmad stood waiting outside the house after Aminah left, trying to calm his nerves.

Friday, April 01, 2005

"No, you go with your mother and Ahmad," Aminah said to Sarah. "I can tell Kak Siti and go with her then."

"Which hospital?" Katijah enquired, looking at Sarah.

Sarah turned to Ahmad, repeating her mother's question to him.

"Changi Hospital, Makcik," Ahmad answered, properly addressing the woman he was wary of and expected her to glance at him in return but she indifferently walked away, saying to no one in particular that she had to put the groceries in the kitchen before they leave.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The silence that ensued was so thick it made the drumming of the raindrops unbearable. Katijah glared at Ahmad, who was sitting uncomfortably on the rattan chair, too afraid to move or give salaam.

Sarah emerged pale-faced from the bedroom, followed by Aminah, both rushing to Katijah, who was reeling with questions. "Emak, it's Abah, he's in the hospital right now."

Seeing her mother's shocked look, Sarah knew that she had to take charge of the situation and said firmly to the older woman, "You go to the hospital with Aminah and Ahmad, while I go tell Kak Siti."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Thunder rumbled from the east. She dropped the aluminum cup back into the earthenware pot after her feet were rinsed as a faint flash of light illumed the sky's reflection in the water. The downpour began as she wiped the soles of her feet, catching up with her like the rumble of a thousand hooves before it pelleted its cacophony on the corrugated iron over her head.

"Sarah!" she shouted upon entering the house. "Get the buckets under the leaks!"

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Walking home from the market, Katijah passed a young girl sitting on the kerb, the sweet aroma of piping hot epok-epok wafting out of her rattan basket. She backtracked and bought a few pieces of her daughter's favourite snack, her heart going out to the young peddler. She thought of her own childhood, how she had to sell her mother's nasi lemak to help ends meet.

Her reminiscence was interrupted as Katijah saw raindrops darken the ground and she hastened her steps, half running towards her house. She panted heavily as she arrived, placed her marketing on the steps and bent down to wash her feet and that was when she spotted the pair of unfamiliar male slippers.

Monday, January 10, 2005
Chapter 13.01

The voices selling and the voices bargaining; the pleasantries of housewives bumping into familiar faces mingling with the chatter of the more accustomed; the smell of blood, the pigs' at one end and the whiff of halal meat drifting from the other. Noise reverberated under the vast roof of the market as Katijah waited for her kangkong to be rolled in a piece of newspaper, then a rubber band to hold the wrapped vegetable in place.

She was not sure if Aminah would stay for lunch so she bought the day's food with the unexpected guest of the night before in mind. Judging from the silence in Sarah's room, the girls were still asleep when she left for the market - she did not wake them, nor did she rouse them as much as she had wanted to when the azan pleaded for the faithful to pray at dawn.

Money and vegetable changed hands and Katijah meandered her way out through the throng, looking at the stalls she passed to ensure all that was needed had been bought.


Ah Tee jumped out of his lorry the moment the huge vehicle was parked in front of the hospital door. The lanky driver rushed into the hospital and shortly after, he was out with a couple of the hospital staff, helping them lift Zakaria onto the gurney.

"Thank you, Ah Tee. Ali and I will take over from here, you can go home and rest. Let's not keep the ladies waiting."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

"Abang," Ahmad said to Ali, "get his legs." He was already kneeling on the lorry bearing Zakaria's weight in the viselike grip of his arms, pulling the unconscious man up from behind while Ah Tee lifted the man's midsection.

Joined by other onlookers, the Samsui women watched the flurry in murmurs.

When Zakaria was safely laid upon the vehicle, his head cushioned on a pillow of folded tarpaulin, Ah Tee spoke to one of the women in Hokkien and she in turn relayed the message to her group in Hainanese that they should be on the lorry as well.

"I'll come along too," Ali said, more loudly than necessary to Ah Tee, before jumping up to sit next to Ahmad whom he saw was grimacing in pain as he grabbed at his outstretched right leg.


"Pakcik Zakaria! Ah Tee, call for an ambulance!"

"No, there's no time for that, Ahmad. I'll take him to the hospital myself!"

Ali, too stunned to respond, simply watched the strangers lift his colleague up into the lorry.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Ali exclaimed his friend's name. A dozen or so Samsui women who had gathered at the bus stop waiting for their lorry to take them to their worksite shrieked. Their clamour upon witnessing Zakaria's fall drew the attention of the men at the kedai kopi nearby. A couple of them got up from their table and walked to the scene. They were Ahmad and Ah Tee.


Ali noticed that Zakaria kept massaging his left arm during the bus ride. "What's wrong with your arm, did you lift heavy things?"

"I don't know, it's aching like mad," replied Zakaria, beads of perspiration trickling down the sides of his face.

"Ah, here we are, maybe a glass of teh tarik will make you feel better."

The door opened but instead of going down the steps, Ali watched his friend fall, his right hand clutching his chest.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

"I scared you," Ali said with a chuckle, "Come on, your bus is here. Let's go to the kedai kopi near your place since I haven't had their prata for some time now. Is that okay with you?"

"Yes, anywhere is fine with me," Zakaria replied as he got up next to Ali who was already flagging the bus. "I'm sorry you had to break your appointment with Said, Ali."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

"Is that what I'm trying to do, sweep everything clean so that nobody can see the mess in my family? What concerns me more - the happiness of my daughter or my wife's worry about her image among the villagers?

I know Tijah has never approved of whatever Sarah does but Sarah is like that dried leaf, having a mind of its own, unwilling to be swept away with the rest.

Should I be just like the sweeper, leaving that stubborn leaf alone to take its own course?"

Zakaria jumped when he felt a tap on his shoulder, so involved in his thoughts that he didn't hear Ali approaching.


Not much traffic zoomed by at that hour as Zakaria sat on the rounded orange seat at the bus stop. A road sweeper gathered litter and leaves of the many angsana trees with his broomstick of coconut spines. An aluminum dustpan - a kerosene container or a biscuit tin in its previous existence – accompanied the swishes of the sweeping with clangs and thuds. He knew the man was mute and as he swept along the bus stop Zakaria greeted the man with a wave of the hand. The man briefly smiled back with a nod before continuing to look at the ground as his broom danced in semicircles before him.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

"Ali, let's go for a light breakfast together."

"Alamak, Zakaria, I already promised Said, how about you joining us?"

"Actually, there's something I want to discuss with you in private."

Ali hesitated, bearing in mind that he had rejected Said's invitation twice but Zakaria looked like he really needed to get something off his chest.

"Alright, wait for me at the bus-stop while I go let Said know that I can't have breakfast with him."

Friday, September 03, 2004
Chapter 12.01

The dayshift guards came at six as Zakaria was completing his morning prayer at the little room where all the guards signed in and out of their duties. Ali had already punched his card out and was waiting for Zakaria to clock his. They took different buses home but waited at the same bus stop.

The night had seemed longer than any before; contemplation had him walking up and down the row of locked shops instead of the usual dozing off on the wooden chair at his post. Twice he had walked to the other side of the building to tell Ali his intention but both times saw his colleague sleeping on the job.


"No, I prefer to spend the night with Sarah, if that's alright with Cik Tijah," replied Aminah defiantly. She knew that both she and Sarah would be spared from further interrogation should they stick together.

Katijah, who was still stunned by the exchange between Aminah and her mother, simply nodded her head. Rokiah walked away from the house, her face flushed with embarrassment.

"Have your had your dinner, Aminah?" asked Katijah as she walked to the kitchen, trying to appear casual.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

"You told me to get out of the house if I were embarrassed of your gossipmongering," Aminah said, "So out of the house I went. You don't care how I feel so why should you care where I go?"

Taken aback by her daughter's reply - her usually resigned daughter - and shamefaced that they were in the presence of others, Rokiah exhaled a citation to God and turned to Katijah and Sarah for salaams. Further discomfiture she did not welcome. She walked past her daughter and without looking at her sternly said, "Carry that bag of yours and go home right now."


Aminah wasn't surprised to see that her mother had gone to Cik Tijah to look for her and as usual, make things even tougher for her and Sarah. She knew that Sarah would cover up for her but at the same time, she had nowhere else to go.

Between backtracking to Kelly's house and risk whatever danger the darkness holds, and going to Sarah's house and face her mother, she chose to latter to save her friend from incessant berating.

She could hear Cik Tijah's loud voice as she approached the house. Before she could even give her salaam, her mother got up from her seat and asked her where she had been.


"Where have you been then if you were not with Aminah?" buzzed Katijah, grabbing Sarah's upper arm and pulling her indoors. "Have I not made it clear that you're not to leave the house?"

Unbeknownst to them, Aminah watched the unfolding drama from the darkness under the mango trees. She saw her mother stepping into the house after Sarah and Cik Tijah had gone in, carrying her bag of clothes with her. Intimidated by the night and fearing the stray dogs she knew would be roaming the street to Kelly's house, she had decided to walk back and spend the night at Sarah's.