Monday, October 16, 2006

The Powdery-scented Envelope

by Farah Mahadi

It's early and I don't want to get out of bed yet. I'd been working so hard all week and just wanted to rest more. But then my mobile phone begins to ring. The kind of shrill that irritates you. The ringtone is always constant, it doesn’t change, but this one felt different somehow. It had a sense of urgency to it. I could guess who it was, without checking the phone screen.

"Hello?" my voice croaked.

"Along, are you up yet? Come on, be a responsible girl, you're twenty-seven now for god's sake. Did you receive The Card?" probed my mother, drawing emphasis to The Card.

"Thanks, mother, I'm fine thank you. And how are you?" I responded blatantly.

"I'm fine, dear. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

Goodness, was she persistent this time of day. Typical. My mother. The doting mother. The nagging mother. Okay, I'll cut her some slack.

"What card are you talking about, mum? I didn't receive any card," I replied.

"Of course you know what I'm talking about. It's your cousin. She's getting married! Before you, I might add," she said with a tinge of disappointment.

"Does it matter? Anyway, I'm not going."

"Oh, yes you are. You'd better! What would the kampung folks say if you didn't?" she agonised.

"What would she think if I came? I don't think so."

Beep. That's right, I hung up on my own mother. Truth is, I think I did receive the Walimatul Urus card from my once-revered cousin Fatin. But after what happened between us some ten years ago, I have not spoken to her since. I couldn't bring myself to it. It's just too painful.

What was it that's so bad? Imagine, your whole life you grew up in a close-knit kampung where everyone knows everybody and they're nice to each other. So nice that I had once befriended the toast of the town, the dishy Khairul. And like everybody else, he was nice to me. Really sweet and kind, too. With all the other half-wits of a guy running around (you see, not everybody's that nice), he was naturally the best choice of almost any dreamy-eyed girl there. And guiltily enough, I was the biggest dreamer of them all.

We had been dating for about year; all along he would read aloud to me personally-penned poems, he was such a romantic. Always the gentleman, never demanding and pretentious or expecting any favours in return. Pretty much a guy beyond his years. Until I began to hear stories of him courting another girl. I was flabbergasted. How could my Khairul do this to me? So one fine day I confronted him.

"What in the world do you think you're doing sneaking around behind me? I thought you were better than that," came my acerbic inquisition.

"What are you talking about? I'm not going out with anyone else other than you," he answered back, defending his innocence.

"But ... buuuttt ..." all of a sudden I was faltering.

"Look, if you can't even name the girl, then forget it. Obviously it's just the rumour mill talking," he shot back with confidence.

At that moment I left it on status quo. Even when we dated, he was still quite popular with the girls. And one too many times I observed Fatin acting besotted silly around him. But I never suspected the chain of events leading from that giggly barrage.

Before I knew it, Fatin had landed her grubby hands on him. I couldn't believe it. The betrayal, her insolence. What's worse, she snubbed the fact that he used to be mine. Later, I learnt that those choking chortles, as I'm wont to call them, were practically the only quality that had attracted Khairul to her. Every time I attempted to confront them about what they had done to me, her secret weapon, that wicked laughter rolling out in peels, infected him too. Insofar both acted as if I never existed anymore.

To me, this should be reason enough why I'd decided not to attend Fatin the Watin's (this is what I used to call her) wedding. Except now it would be Fatin the Crackin' (insert your own expletive). I know it all seems aeons ago, but when it involves your first love, you can't truly forget. Puppy love, people called it. That's an overstatement. Your firsts aren't ever puppies. They're kittens - because it's all cute and cuddly and charming ... puppies are supposed to be loyal. And that, he clearly was not.

So what am I to do now? Just sit whining at home all day, flashing back to those wayward times ... not a chance, I'm a woman about town and it was time to paint the town red. I had so many other worthwhile friends to keep me company, folks who knew how to party. Not that this was my weekly weekend jaunt. Nowadays, it seems, I'm more apt at curling up at home reading a good book.

I didn't feel like going out today. So I slogged around sloppily, trying to do some cleaning, pruning, whatever. I was windexing the windows until my nose caught a whiff of a scent that was definitely not Windex. It smelled powdery. The odour became stronger and stronger as I inched forward. Eventually, I found the source. There on the floor laid a pink envelope. It was addressed to me.

I had received this in the mail a week ago, and it was still unopened. Suddenly my mother's revelation hit my face like a hot iron. However, I'd decided to ignore this pink thing. I just wanted to rip out her insides rather than the envelope, every time I thought about her. Sordid, I know; that's how bitter I felt. But what if it's not her?

Are any of my friends getting hitched? Not that I heard of. So it's got to be her. Though I couldn't for the life of me think why she'd send me an invitation. Oh, yes, I get it now. It was through the sheer force of family. Blood ties. Grannies, uncles, aunts, cousins, and of course our own set of parents whom would've persuaded her to send me an invite. "Because you're cousins," they'd grill at her.

The rest of the day, I just lazed around, feeling miserable, not wanting to go out and see anyone. Not miserable because my arch-nemesis of a cousin was getting married and I didn't even have a boyfriend to pore over, but because of the drab that life has become. I felt hopeless. I opened the television, and as usual, there was nothing interesting, so I switched it off. I began to read a book that I'd just purchased, titled The Devil Wears Prada.

Just as I became engrossed with the book, suddenly the wind outside grew so strong that I had to shut the windows. When I came back down to sit on the settee, there laid the pink envelope. I was stupefied to silence, lifeless as a statue. What was this, a sign? Did God really wanted me to go? To patch things up with her?

With a swipe of a hand that could cut like a razor, I brushed it away. I sat down again to read. A trickle of red fell on page 57. I shrieked. I looked at my pinkie on my right hand; no wonder a brief moment ago it felt a slight singe which I gallantly ignored. Sure enough, it was bleeding from a cut. The envelope's undoing?

It seems that the powers that be really didn't want me to turn aloof towards this piece of paper with a card inside. The one thing I wanted to shrug off, yet I couldn't. Immediately, I went to the bathroom to clean up the mess on my finger and bandaged it. Then I called my mother.

"Mother, I'm so sorry to hang up on you like that earlier. Just that, I wasn't feeling myself ..." I had to give an excuse.

"It's okay, sometimes all of us has a bluesy day. I know it's hard on you, the relationship with Fatin," she said gently.

"But ... I thought you didn't know ..." I said, surprised.

"Well, word travels fast, my dear. And what was that, ten years ago? I'm sure she will not ignore you on her own wedding day. She can't be that bad. People change over the years, you know," said Mother.

"Well, some people for the better, others for the worse. I wonder in which category she falls into," I jested.

"Over the many years, I visited her family often. She always asked me about you. In fact, she was the one to tell the story about you two. And every year during Raya she'd ask for my forgiveness about that incident. She's grown up now, Ila. Just come back," Mother's comforting way of cajoling resonated through my ear like a slow beating drum.

"Are you crying?" mother asked.

"No, no," I sobbed.

"See you in two weeks time, okay my lovely Ila. And I promise I won't pester you about your own life plans. It's a time to rejoice, be happy, merry. And I hope both of you will talk again when you're here."

And that was that.

Even though every year I'd balik kampung for Raya, strangely enough in all that time we never cross paths. Perhaps she saw me a few times but was too abashed to come and see me.

At this point, I had no idea how her life was; the fact that she asked for me through my mother endeared her to me, to say the least. I had no idea who she was getting married to. In all of ten years, could it still be Khairul who captured her heart?

I made my big move. I picked up the envelope from the floor and sniffed at it. It had a sweet, lingering scent, not the tacky kind. Even with my bandaged pinkie slowing the process, I managed to open it. My eyes remained closed while I slid the card gently upwards and out. I opened my eyes again.

Then I saw it ... inside a heart-shape trimmed with lace, my cousin's name appeared, "Nur Fatin bt. Mohd. Deraman" and…below her name..."Mohd. Khairul bin Ahmad Tajuddin ..."

With my mouth agape, I plonked down hard on the settee feeling dazed, confused, left to ponder. Is he my Ex, Khairul? After erasing him from my memory bank ten years ago, I had virtually forgotten his full name. I frantically searched a box labeled 'Memories' wherein I kept greeting cards from occasions such as birthdays, farewells, graduation, get-well, Raya. Then I remembered that I had burned all the love letters he gave me.

I kept on searching, until I came across a page of poetry which I remember explicitly was penned by him. No name, just words, not even a date. I turned the paper around. He had written it on used paper. It was an application form of some kind. Under 'name', it was stated as, 'Mohd. Khairul bin Awang'.

What are the odds! I felt a sense of relief awash over me. I had practically stopped breathing from the time I opened the envelope until the point of discovering the poetry note. Now I can exhale again, knowing that Fatin and Khairul Awang didn't make it that long.

This also brings with it a wish for, at last, a reconciliation for me and Fatin. I'm definitely packing my bags a fortnight from now to head back from bustling Kuala Lumpur to my serene kampung up in Kelantan, where the Sandiwara-style drama of my early life took shape. It may have distressed me all these years, but now I can finally bring it to closure. Fatin the Watin, here I come, clutching the one envelope that will transform our lives from this moment onward ...