Herie was 14 when he first started joining us on our mountain biking jaunts into the hills of Bukit Katil, Melaka. Since he didn’t have a full-fledged mountain bike, he tagged along with us on his trusty BMX. This took a tremendous amount of guts since a BMX has a much smaller wheel radius, shorter wheel-base, and is a single-speed machine that had no suspension whatsoever: not exactly ideal for mountain biking. Nevertheless, he doggedly tried to keep up while we occasionally ‘took it easy’ so that he wouldn’t be left too far behind. We never saw him as a burden, though. In fact, many of us secretly admired his tenacity in his commitment to keep up with the big boys.
Always smiling and eager to help, Herie was accepted as one of the boys despite his slight build and tender years. He was one of us. To us, Herie wasn’t just the 14-year old who was riding with us because his step-dad was a close friend of mine. He was part of the group. He belonged; just like the other 30-something former ‘tough guys’ who had fallen into a routine but were desperate to inject some excitement into their lives. Naturally, the rest of us banded together and got him a fully-decked out mountain bike so that he wouldn’t be handicapped during our rides.
Herie lived 3 doors down the road from me and was a regular visitor to my home. He was, in fact, treated as part of the family. However, one day in June of 1996, his step-father – who was more of a dad to him than his real father had ever been – was admitted to Hospital Melaka. Eleven days later, he passed away. Herie was devastated and carried on as best he could. Not long after that, his mother remarried and they re-located to KL. Except for a few calls now and then (which tapered off over the years), I lost all contact with Herie.
Last Saturday, I found myself reading a newspaper (which is quite unlike me). There was something about a 20-year old suspect being apprehended for the double murder of a husband and wife couple in Senawang. I read on and found out that the husband was Herie! It took a while for me before it finally sank in. But when it did, all my fond memories of Herie flooded back. Naturally, this was followed by rage at what had happened to Herie.
The only thing I could do was offer a quiet Al-Fatihah for the couple. I should have been there for Herie – who was almost like a son to me – when the muderer came that day.
But alas, I wasn’t.