A Magical Picture Book

I was having a haircut at the local ‘mamak’ barber-shop a couple of months ago when Hussein plonked himself down on the chair next to mine. I could hardly believe the serendipity of the moment; I had only been thinking of him a few days prior: And there he was! When we were done with our haircuts, we quickly adjourned to he ‘mamak’ café next door for a ‘teh tarik’ session. There was a lot of catching-up to do.

After the usual banter and ribbing, we began discussing our pet topic: the merits (or otherwise) of the Kings’s Gambit opening in chess. Things got very animated very quickly, and not wanting to get embroiled in all out open warfare, I diplomatically changed to subject to books; a subject I was certain we both loved equally and, thus, was less likely to result in an altercation.

“And has Kinokuniya accepted your proposal of marriage?” I asked. Hussein is the only man I knew who wanted to marry a bookshop.

“Nah! She’s still thinking about it.” he replied, feigning a broken heart. When he broke into that infectious smile of his, I knew World War III had been averted. “But I’ve been rather promiscuous lately; just yesterday I was at Borders.” he continued.

“You what?!” I retorted in mock horror.

“I even bought a book from her.”

“Oh? What did you get?”

“I got this book by Harper Lee called –”

“I know that one!” I interjected. “Is it any good?”

Hussein looked at me squarely in the eyes. There was no denying the dejection he was feeling.

“It was the most disappointing purchase I have ever made. I am certain that I have been duped by Borders!” he declared.

“Huh? How so? And why you did you buy the damned book in the first place?”

“It came highly recommended by a very dear friend.” He smiled a smile I had not seen in a long time.

“So? What’s wrong with it?” I demanded.

“What’s wrong with it you ask? I bought the damned book expecting beautiful prose and emotions so tender they’d make Mike Tyson weep. But what did I get? Pictures! Pages upon pages of pictures! Of the same beautiful lady, I might add! I’ll admit she’s a knockout, though.” Hussein explained.

I laughed so hard that that I almost fell off my chair. After sufficiently recovering from my bout of mirth, I offered, “That’ll teach you check –”

I stopped myself mid-sentence. Hussein wasn’t one to make mistakes like that. Then, it finally hit me.

“Show me this book! If you have it on you, that is.” I challenged. He duly did. As I had suspected, there wasn’t a single picture in it, only page upon page of some of the most beautiful prose I had ever read.

“Have you lost your mind, Hussein? There isn’t a single picture in this book.” I tried to reason.

“None that you can see, my friend.” he said as he stood up to take his leave. Before he turned to go, he added, “And it isn’t my mind that I have lost…”

It was his heart.

As he disappeared into the crowd, I felt happy for him. At the same tie, I felt sorry fro him, too.

I was happy for him because I knew, deep in my bones, that it could just possibly be that he had finally found her: The One. Whoever she was, I was certain that she must have been extraordinary – extraordinary enough to be able to steal his heart; a heart he had buried so long ago, along with all the pain and heartache he had seen through the years. How he had worked-up the courage to even dare to feel again was beyond me. Words didn’t come cheap – not to someone like Hussein. But there he was, not a moment ago, with his heart on his sleeve, smiling like some idiotic love-sick teenager. I was happy for him.

But I was sorry for him, too. Despite how deeply he felt for her, (and I am guessing that she probably felt the same for him, too), there was no denying that they had perhaps met a tad too late. I knew him enough to know that if there was anything he could do to change that fact, he would. But as it was, given his circumstances, there was precious little left that was actually his to give. I also knew Hussein well enough to know that he was damned if he knew what he was going to do about all of this. It wasn’t going to be easy for either one of them. Though no one would have guessed it, knowing Hussein for as long as I have, I knew that he was bleeding more than he actually cared to say.

I drank the last of my ‘teh tarik’ and wished them both all the very best. Secretly, I also wished that Hussein would never ever be able to finish reading that book – that her face would forever prevent him from seeing the words of Harper Lee.


23 thoughts on “A Magical Picture Book

  1. I get 15% discount in Borders.

    Umm, just saying that if you happen to want to buy books from there or just happen to visit there, let me know ahead!

  2. DearAzlin,

    We are sisters already.Are u by the way, just like me, addicted to coffee, too? If yes, then we must be twins.

    Now Mat,

    What is up with you lately? The writing forlorn, the answer to comments a tad off tangent.

    Care to share with us what is bugging you my dear?

  3. Bro’, next to Mish’s, this is where I come to learn or two about The Craft. Where do you get all these ideas; deft sentence constructions, brilliant imageries… Astounding!

    Angau? Angau ’bout who bro’? Long legged Lohni ke? BTW, I’m still racking my brains trying to place you at MH back in ’81. I visited that place a lot at the time and could’ve even borrowed Quids and probably gave you a Barclay cheque that bounced. Did I? Did we share a bung too?

  4. [mat salo]

    You are too kind, sir. I’m just a drunk who has read too many bad books and has had his insides kicked out one too many times.

    I was in MH in ’81 and used to hang out at the piano/stage outside the Dining Hall more than I should. Picture the ugliest mug there… That was probably me.

  5. By the way, I get 30% discount at the Starbucks in Borders. So, you know who to call 😉

    Elviza, the funny this is I hate coffee!!!! I only drink anything without coffee there.

  6. Azlin,

    Oh, what a pity, you should really try that addictive beverage 🙂

    And what are you? A niece to Vincent Tan to be getting all those discounts from Berjaya Group?

    Mat Salo,

    You picked Barclay over National Westminster to bank with? Tsk tsk tsk…

    And you Mat,

    Hmmmm, there is really no cure for ‘angau’ and the likes of it. You probably just have to wait until the novelty wears out and see this person in his/her own true colors.

    Spellbinding? That’s because you haven’t met me in person just yet. Do call Mat Salo for he will verify what a messy schmuck I am!

    Now sleep off your angau for everything will be better tomorrow. 🙂

    p/s: and why on earth am I answering to everyone’s comments here as if this is my own blog? Sorry Mat, I can’t help it.

  7. [elviza]

    You are welcome to do with this blog as you please – always. Having a blogsphere celebrity put in a guest appearance is always a good thing

  8. again, i am facing difficulties in trying to figure out what’s what and all that but i love the way you put the words together and despite not understanding the story, i love the feelings the words evoke.


  9. [scout finch / jem’s sister (?)]

    Thanks for the kind words. I don’t exactly understand it either, except for the part that Hussein has lost his heart to a mystery woman. She must be really something.

  10. Mat,

    I read this post again and there are two things bugging me –

    1) You go around using the word “altercation” in your life?

    Altercation = pompous!

    2) The last time we were exchanging comments you are married (and still married I hope). So, how can you are going through this “angau” space-out?

    Please tell that Hussein friend of yours that he missed nothing not being able to read Harper Lee. I can’t even go pass 2nd page of that book! May be I need a picture book. 🙂

    p/s: don’t worry about the answer, even if you lie, that Mat Salo boy will come to your rescue.

  11. [elviza]

    Did I actually use the word “altercation”? Oh, no! I was thinking maybe “donnybrook”, or “ruction” or maybe even “fisticuffs”, or…

    BTW, did you know there’s another way to spell ‘pompous’? B.A.N.G.K.A.I.

    Just ask anyone who knows me 🙂

    But that Mat Salo guy is really something, eh? A right gent he is! If I were a girl… angau kat Mat Salo kot

  12. Join me for coffee (for yourself) and non-coffee drinks for me and you’ll know why I get the discounts!

    If I’m Vincent Tan’s niece, I’d get everything for free lah! FORTUNATELY, I’m not related to the Tan family in whatever ways possible.

    Yelah Elviza, I think I write more on the comment section here than my own blog!

  13. [cipan]

    Perhaps so, sir.

    But for cut-and-thrust, heart-pounding open chess action, the King’s Gambit (Accepted or Declined) is the way to go!

  14. Azlin,

    So since this person is Jordan (hello Jordan!), does that mean I am invited as well?

    And if in the affirmative, are we inviting the blog owner too? Hmmm… I must go then for I am dying to see how he looks like, aren’t you as well?

    But you know what they say about a man who can write right? I absolutely have my doubts, and if history bears any significance at all, I am usually right.

    p/s: thanks for the space brother!

  15. [elviza]

    Close your eyes. Relax and think of that black-and-white movie heart-throb, Gary Cooper. Try to picture him as clearly as you can, OK?

    Well, I am NOTHING like that!

    Now think of Winston Churchill getting out of bed… No, don’t throw-up, yet. Think of him also as as a Malay (and not a particularly attractive one at that)… Now multiply that by a factor of 10.

    There you are! Spot on!

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