Like a grand steamship unloading its precious cargo onto the wharf, the warung’s proprietor, an elderly lady with a kindly face piled-up the roti jala onto a plate. She then ladled the steaming hot gulai into a bowl and brought me my mid-morning snack. But this was no snack. The serving was so generous that it made the portions I was used to in KL look like a joke. An average-sized man could easily go through the entire day on this meal alone. Then again, I am not an average sized guy: this will see me through nicely till lunch.
I smiled at the proprietor. She smiled back knowing that I was silently pleased with what she had brought me. As she disappeared to the back of the warung, I found myself thinking about what her life was like. Was she happy? Was she sad? Did she have any children? Did they take good care of her? What did her husband do for a living?
No too long ago, upon seeing her rough work-worn hands, her weathered complexion and her worn-out clothes, I would have easily concluded that hers was a life of misery. These days, I am not so sure anymore. Her life might have been a hard one, strewn with obstacles and heart-breaking challenges. But it was also quite possible – and even very likely – that she was happier than I could ever hope to be. KL had taught me that living in a full facility condominium and earning a five figure monthly income had nothing to do with happiness. It’s about being accepted for who you are – and having the freedom to live up to nobody else’s expectations except your own. In the end, its about accepting that life is under no obligation to comply with any of our plans.
My train of thought was broken when an angelic young lady – probably the proprietor’s grand daughter – brought me my kopi tarik. She had a complexion that glowed like the breaking of dawn and eyes so soft that they could melt the hearts of even the hardest of men. I was so taken aback by her beauty that I found it hard to not to just sit there and stare at her. Though she had the plain scent of Palmolive soap and Yardley’s talcum powder about her, she was even more intoxicating than any French perfume I had ever known.
“Abang, minta maaf lambat sikit, ya?”
My heart palpitated as I fought to offer a reply – any reply. After what seemed an eternity, I managed a smile and a whole-hearted, “Bukan ‘abang’ anak oi – ‘Pakcik’!”
“Baik, Pakcik. Minta maaf lambat, ya… ” she offered
“Tak mengapa, nak. Pak Cik pun bukan ada nak kejar apa-apa. Terima kasih, ya, nak”
With that she, too, disappeared to the back of the warong.
I took a sip of my coffee and smiled at myself. What had just happened? Wouldn’t the old Mat Bangkai – the one I used to know – have turned on the Henry Fonda charm, pressed his well-honed interpersonal skills into service and walked away with at least her name and phone number? Instead I found myself pondering what it would be like to have her as a daughter-in-law. She was a fine woman. She’d make a good wife for one of my sons some day.
As I was paying for my meal, I stole a quick glance at the back of the warung and caught the beautiful young lady’s eyes. She gave me a sugary smile and said, “Kalau kopi tadi tak manis, lain kali Gayah buat lagi best, ya Pak Cik!”
“Kopi kau dah cukup manis, Gayah… ” was my reply, all the time thinking of how I would get my eldest son to have coffee with me here at Gayah’s warung.
Yes, the coffee is much sweeter here in Umbai.