February 26, 2009

Evie Nadia II: These Photographs, A Note In The Dark

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When she was growing up, and all the way through her college days, Evie’s family had lived in the area of Wangsa Maju, just outside Kuala Lumpur. It was a busy place, with good connections to the city centre and beyond. After she married Rafar and moved to the apartment at Jalan Ampang, Evie’s parents decided to step away from the busyness of the Wangsa Maju area and moved somewhere quieter.

They settled in a double-story link house in the quiet, somewhat upscale neighborhood known as Bukit Jelutong, which was part of Shah Alam. Evie’s father, Mr. Hakimi Ubaidillah, was a lecturer who has since retired and made a small fortune as a consultant. Her mother, Mrs. Nadzrah Abdul Nadzri, was a lecturer as well, now retired. Nowadays she passed her time selling cookies to her friends and acquaintances.

It was to their house that Evie found herself driving one late afternoon. She had called in advance, and asked if she could stay the night. Her father, eager as always to have his only child home, of course said yes. Evie was grateful. She knew they kept a room just for her at their house; an ‘Evie’ room.

“No matter where you go you can always find home with your Ayah and Ibu,” Mr. Hakimi said when they had first moved in there. The room was, much to Evie’s amusement, pretty much the same as her old room from before she got married, before she grew up. It was still painted a soft shade of pink, and the Ikea bed and furniture were still irritatingly cute and girly. The funny thing was that the decorations and equipment were the choice of her father; perhaps it was true then, that daughters, in one way or the other, never stop being daddy’s little girls.

Her parents are, to her, the most perfect human beings ever. Her father was straight, sharp and seemed tough, but only Evie knew how gentle and kind the man was, especially with her. Evie’s mother was likewise; tender and kind hearted, and funny to boot, although Evie did and will always remember her mother as the more ‘garang’ of the two. They were like yin and yang, duality. She was their only child; when she was about nine years old, however, she learned from them that she should have had an older brother named Ezra, but he was born prematurely and did not survive.

Evie loved her parents to death. As it should be, she thought. And her love for her Ayah and Ibu was never clearer than when Rafar divorced her. She remembered how supportive they were, and how they did not become petty and hate Rafar or condemn him. Mr. Hakimi was very displeased, of course; but he also did not deny Fate. Her father was a source of great strength that time, and her mother the greatest comfort.

It was them who had helped Evie through the divorce; they had lent a shoulder to cry on, ears to talk to and a home to come back to. Her father had offered her to come stay with them, but Evie thought she should be independent. She did, however, promise to visit often.

And she kept that promise; she visited them at least a couple of times a month, driving from Kuala Lumpur to Shah Alam, as she is doing now. In her white Golf she brought a change of clothes, though she knew the cabinet in her room was well stacked. She also brought a chocolate cheesecake for her father. As she pulled in the driveway of their house she saw her father tending to his orchid garden. It was somewhat his passion lately: he kept orchids of different kinds and colors.

Evie killed the engine and stepped out; she was dressed casually in a pink t-shirt and comfortable, billowy white pants.

“Ayah,” she called out, smiling in the late afternoon sun. “Isn’t it too early to start tending to your flower-patch?”

Her father slipped off the gardening gloves he had on; he was dressed in a comical mix of a Pagoda t-shirt, denim shorts and a cheap rubber slippes, with a wide brimmed straw hat perched on his head. His face was deep and thoughtful, but the eyebrows made him look kindly. His eyes were the same bright eyes Evie had.

“First of all, it’s an orchid garden, not a flower patch,” he said as he walked towards his daughter. “Secondly, why are you so sibuk as to what I do as a hobby?”

“Oh please,” Evie said. “Admit it: you were waiting for me, isn’t that right? Miss your daughter much?”

Her father made a grim face and nodded. “Just a little bit. How are you honey?”

Evie salam-ed her father and kissed his cheeks. “I'm okay. I brought chocolate cheesecake. Your favorite.”

“Wah, good, good. Now go inside before you burn your skin.” This was a joke he always mentioned to her because of her fair skin, even if it was no longer funny. “Your mother is cooking dinner.”

He went back to tending his orchids as Evie took the cake and her bag inside. She shouted “HAH!!!” and surprised her mother who was in the kitchen, and got scolded as a result.

Evie laughed and apologized and salam-ed and hugged and kissed her mother, who was still babbling. Her mother was cooking her favorites: Asam Pedas Ikan Pari, fried chicken, stir-fried vegetables with oyster sauce, sambal belachan and cool, fresh cucumbers. Evie offered to help and her mother told her to prepare the chicken.

“So,” said Mrs. Nadzrah as the two of them prepared the food. “How have you been dear? Busy?”

Evie nodded as she cut the chicken into small pieces. “A little.”

“Are you alright? You look tired. Are you worried about something? Haven’t you had enough sleep? Have you been eating well? Are you ill?”

“Ibu, I'm fine,” Evie said. Her mother looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “I'm a bit stressed with work, is all.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Nadzrah. “Alright. How’s it going with Adam?”

Evie paused for a moment. Her eyes seemed to drift away. When she had first started going out with Adam, she had told her mother about it. And when it seemed that things were going great with him, her mother said she was thankful that Evie was seeing people and that this ‘Adam boy’ seems like a really nice guy.

Mrs. Nadzrah has always been worried about Evie; ever since the divorce she has been trying to make Evie at least date again, and though Evie has done so to an extent, this Adam fellow seemed the most promising, and more importantly, Evie was always happy when she talked about him. Mrs. Nadzrah sensed her daughter liked the man, a lot.

“Evie?”

Evie snapped out of her momentary trance. “Hm?”

“I asked you, how are things with Adam?”

“Oh. Oh, they’re okay...” Evie trailed off. She did not feel like divulging the subject, at least not yet. “So what have you and Ayah been up to?”

Mrs. Nadzrah accepted the rebuke and the change of subject, thought she suspected Evie was troubled. But soon mother and daughter were chatting away about what was new and what was rumored; typical, harmless, amusing mother-daughter talk. Mrs. Nadzrah complained about Mr. Hakimi, and Evie would defend her Ayah. Mrs. Nadzrah would then say how much of a daddy’s girl Evie is, and Evie would say she learned from the best: Ibu. And so they went on talking and cooking, until Evie excused herself to take a shower before dinner.

Evie stepped inside her room and closed the door behind her. As always whenever she slept over at her parent’s, she scanned the room; aside from its layout, it was almost exactly like it was so long ago. Even her old, almost decade old pink Sony laptop was on her desk. She felt like a giddy nineteen-year old being in such a youthful room.

But a quick glance to the dressing table mirror dispelled any such thoughts; the woman in the mirror was clearly older; the eyes still bright but no longer sparkling and eager. It was a woman who, at thirty, has learned quite a lot. Evie took a shower and afterwards spent about half an hour lying wrapped in a towel on the single bed with its purple sheets. Then she flipped open her old laptop. It was slow and a bit ‘wheezy’, but she was just curious to see if her old pictures were still in there…

They were. All (Evie glanced at the stats below the window) 3356 pictures. She opened the folders one by one: Family, Friends, and Stuff. And then she came upon her once most cherished folder: ‘Sugar+Wiseguy’. She hovered the cursor above that folder, thinking over in her head if she should open it and look at the photos. Finally she just sighed and closed the lid of laptop (which creaked, much to her annoyance). She got dressed and performed her prayers. When she got out of her room she saw her mother and father praying, so she went down to see most of the lauk was already on the table. In her house, dinner was always taken early. It was already evening, and the sun was setting on the far horizon.

Evie strolled around inside the house; it was all so familiar from her younger days. The sofa set was still the same as it was since years ago, although it had been reupholstered. The curtains were the same, and the dinner table and chairs were the same as well. What was new to their household was an aquarium with colorful tropical fish. But the carpets, the decorations, even the pictures hanging on the walls were all familiar. They spelled out, in loud, colorful and comfortable letters to Evie: H-O-M-E. Later her parents came down and Evie helped her mother serve dinner.

They ate together, and for a ridiculously childish reason and inside joke, Mr. Hakimi forced Evie to read the doa makan before they dug in. Evie laughed the moment she finished, and her father was grinning. He spooned Evie her rice and offered to serve her the lauk on the table.

“Ayah! Thank you so much but I'm not nine years old!” Evie said. But her father insisted. It occurred to her then just how much he missed having her around, and Evie made a mental note to her self to visit more often than the usual once or twice a week. She supposed her parents were bored with no one else in the house. The three of them had their dinner, and Evie thought nothing tasted better than her own mother’s cooking.

She ate a lot; her belly felt like bursting, although to an outside observer, there was barely a discernible change in her physique. After dinner she took out the chocolate cheesecake and cut out a large portion for her father and mother, and only a little bit for her self. Normally she would have had a bit more, but tonight was one of those rare occasions when she refused sweets.

They talked a bit more and had some tea, and then Evie’s father said he wanted to catch a football game on television, and her mother wanted to watch some television.

“Evie, get some rest. Go to bed early and sleep. You look very tired, Yang,” her mother said. As Mrs. Nadzrah got up she put a hand on her daughter’s shoulder and squeezed. Evie smiled and nodded. For a while she sat there nursing her rapidly cooling cup of tea. Her mother had noticed how tired she looked, thanks (or no thanks) to her lack of sleep and her tons of work. So she decided that tonight she would heed her mother’s advice and get adequate rest. So she went up to her room, closed the door, turned off the lights and lay down on her bed.

Except she could not sleep. She kept thinking about Rafar and Adam. Their images came alternating in her thoughts; the recent ones with Adam, and the more mellowed, aged but no less wonderful ones of the times she had with Rafar. She felt it odd that ever since the day Rafar broke down in tears in front of her, she no longer thought about the bad times. That is to say, she no longer thought about the divorce and the bitterness that had ensued. No; instead now, only the sweetest memories came snowballing in her head.

She turned on the bedside lamp and grabbed her old laptop. She was slightly amazed it was still working at all. She turned it on and immediately opened her pictures folder, and the folder titled ‘Sugar+Wiseguy’. There were about 1600 pictures in that folder. Most were of her and Rafar together, in various sweet and memorable situations.

For example, there was one picture, taken using a cell phone at the time they just began dating, that showed the two of making faces into the camera. Evie smiled at the photograph, and part of her was amazed that the picture was about ten years old. She clicked on another thumbnail, bringing up another photograph. This time it was a photograph of Rafar, again taken using a cell phone. In that picture he was looking straight into the camera, his smile lazy and relaxed, his dark eyes calm and shaded beneath the messy crop of hair.

Evie made a mental comparison of the Rafar in this picture and the one she had seen some weeks ago: in ten years he has not changed at all. Not by much anyway. Evie tried to place this smiling young man in the picture with the crying, thin man she saw; they did not correlate. Despite the obvious similarities, to Evie it was as if she was looking at two entirely different people.

She sighed and browsed through more photographs, including the one photograph that had sent Rafar on his study trip to Japan, the same one that had convinced Evie eleven years ago that Rafar was truly in love with her. It was the portrait of her. Evie studied it, and just as she could not parallel the Rafar of old with the current one, she found herself detached from the image, despite it was her, just eleven years younger.

In that beautifully taken picture, her hair was longer and she wore spectacles; her face was thinner, the cheekbones more prominent. Evie found it hard to believe that was her at all. But when she clicked on to the next photograph, she knew just how far along she’s come from those days when she was young and full of ambition.

This next photograph was of the two of them during their first anniversary; Evie remembered it well. They were at a fancy restaurant and Rafar had propped his camera on a mini tripod (that he had comically forced Evie to carry inside her handbag) in front of them to take the picture. In it, he was sat slightly behind her. Though the picture did not show it, Evie remembered Rafar had one arm around her waist. They put their cheeks together in that photograph and both of them smiled at the camera, their faces full of joy and of promise.

Evie sighed. She felt a thickening in her throat and realized she was about to cry. She browsed through more photographs: Rafar and Evie holding hands; Rafar wearing a silly novelty hat; Rafar and Evie sharing a banana split; Evie with her eyes crossed; Evie with her chin on Rafar’s shoulder; all these pictures opened the floodgates and Evie began to weep, out of both, sadness and happiness for those memories. Evie clicked through more photographs. She did not know if this would count as self-torture.

She came upon a set of pictures that were uploaded about a month and a half before their divorce. How happy they looked, so blissfully unaware of what their future held for them back then. She browsed through that set, and came across the last picture they ever took together. It was a portrait of them in black and white; in it, Rafar’s gaze was cast downwards, and the shadows and light brought out his features; Evie was kissing his cheek, her eyes closed. Evie remembered that Rafar said he wanted to print that out and frame it.

It never came to pass.

She cursed her luck. Why, of all times, must this happen now? Why did this not happen maybe a few months earlier, or perhaps two years ago, when she was in a less compromised situation? Maybe she would feel less confused. But now two men were clearly very much in love with her. Was it a choice she would have to make? She did not feel like making any despite the fact she knew that the day would come when she will simply have to, by hook or by crook. But she could not bear to think which one would she hurt when that day comes.

She also had her self to think about, because above all, she wanted to be happy. But happiness it seems comes at a price. And who would think that it could be so complicated… and yet so simple. Evie probed the depths of heart, trying to dig out a clue as to where her true feelings lie. She found no answer. Instead she just found more questions to ask.

Evie closed the lid of the laptop and cried. The last time she felt this vulnerable was four years ago when Rafar divorced her. She had wept and mourned. She thought Rafar was cruel and heartless, leaving her like that. At one point she even thought she would hate him for life. But now she realized that she has never hated the man for what he did. She was angry and hurt, yes. But she has never hated Rafar. Not once. She remembered after the divorce she had spent day after day just wishing, praying for him to return to her. She had missed him terribly, painfully that time.

As, much to her surprise, she found herself now: missing Rafar. For the first time in a few years she was admitting to herself that she missed being in his arms; she missed the touch of lips on hers, and the way he would wake her up in the mornings with a kiss to her cheek...

Evie took out a small notepad from her bag and a pencil. She began to write a note, though she never intended anyone to ever see it:


(please click image to view the note)


(please click image to view the note)



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Your voice was the soundtrack of my summer
Do you know you're unlike any other?
You'll always be my thunder, and I said

Your eyes are the brightest of all the colors
I don't wanna ever love another
You'll always be my thunder

So bring on the rain, And bring on the thunder

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3 comments:

Mardhiah said...

Add sketches to illustrate the pictures Evie was looking at :)

I soo can relate to the letter-writing-for-no-one-to-see thing hehe.

Would have liked more conversation, but its a pretty warm episode.

nuraainaa said...

does she still keep the letter that wiseguy gave her before he went to japan?

i trust evie to make the right choice. ;)

Maiza said...

her heart's articulation would surely make rafar ever so delighted kan? i think i'm joining the rafar FC. hehee..and that makes how many of us..?