At about 6.35 a.m. every morning, an Ah Pek – his face leathery with age and wisened by experience – putters by my house on his 30-year old Yamaha cub. He shouts, “Selamat pagi!” and I shout back, “Selamat pagi, tuan!” He smiles and makes like he wants to stop for a chat. But at the last moment he always seems to change his mind. He gives me a friendly wave and turns off into the direction of the jetty.
Maybe tomorrow he’ll actually stop for that chat. Or maybe tomorrow I’ll wait for him by the road and stop him. I don’t know. But unless he dies in his sleep tonight, I reckon that at 6.35 a.m. tomorrow he’ll be around again, passing by my house, on his way to wherever he needs to be.
It is already 6.45 a.m. and I am here on my balcony, shirtless and wearing only a sarong. Not too long ago, at about this time, I would have already been dressed in my business attire; choked by my purple power-tie, I’d be spewing all manner of expletives as I fought traffic on Jalan Semantan. I breathe a sigh of relief and light another Winston. There is no hurry. I don’t have to send the kids off to school till maybe 7.15 a.m. or so.
I hear a shy “Assalamualaikum”. I reply. It is Kak Kiah from next door. She is carrying a tiffin. She passes behind me, goes to the door and calls out to my wife. She hands her the tiffin and goes home. I say a polite thank you to her. No doubt she has come to share with us some of the food she had made earlier this morning. Tomorrow it will be my wife’s turn to return the favour.
My wife brings out the lontong that Kak Kiah has so kindly shared with us, together with a mug of steaming local white coffee. It is a far cry from the lightly browned toast, SCS butter, Chivers marmalade and Darjeeling tea that I have grown accustomed to. But I don’t seem to mind. There is something to be said about having lontong on your balcony as the birds chirp their hearts out not a metre away from you. It makes the world look like a less scary place.
The scent of lavender scented talcum powder wafts out of the house. It’s the signal that my kids are ready to go to school. I quickly polish off the rest of the lontong and coffee, slip on a tee-shirt and kopiah, and start the car. As I check the car’s instrument panel for any tell-tale signs of trouble, I see my children lugging their overloaded school bags kiss their mother’s hand. They pile into the car and off we go.
On the trip back, I notice that I have not changed into a pair of pants – I am still wearing a sarong. But like almost everything else here in Umbai, that’s OK. I smile and thank God for his blessings.
Its time to light up another Winston.