Last weekend I found myself in the kampong where my father was born; a secluded little village called Parit Nipah, near Muar. Now, after a week has passed, why I was there in the first place is no longer as important as what I had experienced with my friend, Jamil, while I was there.
Jamil and I grew up together. But life – being what it is – had not dealt him very many good hands through the years. Though he works hard, and is in many respects smarter than I will ever be, he has never managed to make it out of Parit Nipah. Today, he supports his wife and five kids by tending to a small plot of rubber trees and doing odd jobs in and around the village.
On my last day at Parit Nipah, I was walking with him and his two sons to the local surau. The elder boy, Din, is six and the younger one, Zam, is four: both polite and respectful little boys. Having spent time with both of them day before, I knew that Jamil – despite the disadvantages he faced – had brought them up well. I was as proud of them as if they were my own.
The walk to surau took us past a small, dusty provision shop. That was when the trouble began. The boys had fallen behind, and Zam (the younger one) was throwing a tantrum. I urged Jamil to turn back and investigate. He just shook his head slowly and asked to let the boys be. As usual, I ignored him and went to see the boys anyway.
From the distance I could make out that Zam wanted a small Kit Kat – the two-finger variety that cost RM1.20 – and his brother, Din, was trying his very best to pacify him. It was then that I heard Din pleading with his younger brother. As he was rubbing his brother’s chest he said “Adik, please don’t cry. Ayah bought that for you just after Raya, remember? Ayah doesn’t have money to buy us everything we want. Please don’t make Ayah sad. Ayah is sad enough already.”
That was when my heart broke. In front of me was a six year old who was more concerned with his father’s feelings than anything else in the world. Before I could rush into the shop to get him his Kit Kat, Din had managed to pull Zam away from the shop. As they walked past me, I heard Din whispering to his brother “When Ayah as money, he will buy you the Kit Kat, OK? Come, along now. Stop crying. Please don’t make Ayah sad.”
After prayers we walked home, all four of us, together. When we got to Jamil’s house, I excused myself and went out to get a whole box of Kit Kats for the kids. When I got back, the kids were already asleep. I handed the box of chocolate to Jamil and asked that he give them to his children. I could see the gratitude in his eyes. But there was also something in them that was disturbing.
“Why? What’s wrong, Jamil?” I asked.
“I was afraid of this.”
“Why? No harm in giving them chocolates once in a while, right?”
“You don’t understand, my friend! What if they get used to this? What happens when they want this and you’re NOT around?”
At this, I almost broke down. I put my arms around my friend and told him that as long as I lived, his children will always have chocolates.
That trip to Parit Nipah reminded me that life, despite its twists and turns, has been very good to me; but at the same time, I had taken too many things for granted for far too long.