By Najmi Mamat
A few split seconds of my childhood memories suddenly lingered at the back of my mind. It’s a kind of flashback. A voice of my sister said, “Massage your grandpa.” A flashback of me walking to the funeral with my sisters shedding tears was so vivid. That was somewhere an episodic memory of our late grandpa. God bless me, I’m still able to get a lovely kiss on my cheek from my only grandma.
Those thoughts came soon after I reached here. I didn’t know what to expect of the visit as I was told that the visit to the care centre for the elderly could turn you towards remorse and to start thinking of your parents. Sometimes, you may burst out of tears listening to their sad and grief stories. So, I tried to put my strength together as I live far away from my parents. It reminded me the last time I had a video call with them was a week ago and I couldn’t wait for my next mid-semester break.
The first thing that caught my eyes was three old men sleeping on a big cosy sofa and a woman with scarf sitting on a wheelchair, talking to one of the assistants. Not to disturb them, my friends and I decided to have a look into the house.
My first step into the house seemed shocked, more than I would have expected. Soon after greeting the medical assistant, I heard a yelling voice of an old lady coming from nowhere and I had no idea of what she was talking about. Suddenly, she came out from the wash room like a crazy frightened woman and came close to me and my friends, her face looking restless. She muttered incoherently. Not to misjudge her, I asked, “Is she insane?” I believed she was in a poor state of mental health. Literally, she asked for help.
The medical assistants seemed calm at that time. Their faces revealed that they were used to such situation. Mak Odah has been diagnosed with dementia. Sometimes, she is stable but sometimes she forgets about the world. Somehow, the feeling of entering into the house was like exactly entering into a kindergarten or nursing home. They were too fragile to handle.
The house turned back into silence. This double-storey house had different floors, upstairs and downstairs. At the right side of living room was a medium-sized space where six beds filled the space. There were three weak and effortless old ladies sleeping soundly on their beds. They looked so tired. A middle-age man was sleeping with a white tube connected to his nose and few others with wires attached to their bodies.
It seemed like there was nothing to do at this level, then the assistant offered us to go upstairs. There were a few of them staying in four rooms upstairs. It was quite a big number of them. I took a glance into this room. I saw this man lying on the bed, covered with grey blanket. He had no words to say as he could not do so what more to make a move. His left hand was a bit bending in position. The wrinkles on his forehead were like telling me about the many things he had gone through in his life.
Tok Wan suddenly alighted from his room, asking to bring him out to mini garden outside. I had no objection and straight away held his shoulder, carrying his walk to the outside. He looked lost and dragged his feet across the room. It’s true that people said you’ll become childish when you become older, like a kid who wanted to get attention, affection and guidance.
I was speechless with Tok Wan’s simple question. “Kita kat mana?’’ (He asked me where we were now). I just paused for a few seconds to answer the question as I’m very particular in responding to the elderly, so as not to offend them.
I answered, “Rumah.” Tok Wan suffered from hearing problem and I then had to repeat my answer again. But Tok Wan was yet to figure out. He asked me for second time and this time his question was so hard to tell.
“Rumah orang tua ke?” he raised his voice a bit as he himself couldn’t hear clearly as well, unexpectedly asking me the elderly house was. For the second time, he trapped me into this killing question but I just took a deep breath before denying and convincing him that everything is safe. And I said, “No, it’s our home”.
I found calmness in Tok Nik’s face. He just couldn’t stop smiling whenever I saw him. Tok Nik is a Kelantanese and he was the one who chose to stay here while his son worked in the city. Tok Nik is a bit different as compared to others as he is still able to manage his daily routines on his own.
“I still can recite it but must be through this one as it is big,” he said while pointing out to the large size of Quran on the desk. He stammered and his voice almost became a whisper.
Unlike the rest, it’s good to know that he remained strong and healthy to perform prayer and worship Allah. Perhaps, there is where the calmness coming from.
It was lunch hour and we spent time together. Shah, one of the teammates, fed Tok Ayah with a spoon. He kept looking forward for the next feeding, filled with excitement on his face. I then went to the mini garden, joining others enjoying the meal.
“I like, I enjoy this moment,” said Aunt Ida, while mixing up the plain rice and cooked fish. She admitted that eating together was better than alone. That moment celebrated her appetite. Aunt Ida is a talkative one as she loves to have conversation with us. Talking about her young lifetime, she was a former public relations practitioner in Employees Provident Fund (EPF). Somehow, it was interesting to listen to her story.
“I’ve been to Paris, you know. I boarded its fastest train in the world and I screamed like the world is mine.
You must travel the world. Then, you’ll know how wide it is,’’ she advised as she kept a low tone of her voice.
“Most of my friends don’t like me because they said that I’m talking too much, sometimes plain nonsense. That’s why I’m not good in respecting people, I admit that. But, you must know respecting the eldest, be generous to them.”
The most meaningful advice of her was about studying hard and getting a good job. Although she is not married yet at that age, she looked so independent and matured enough to make me believe that life is too short to live. The advice she gave was far beyond her eyes.
Hour by hour past and spent here, despite it was not a day, I really wanted to express how much I cared for them. But the awkwardness and the barrier were too huge in front of me.
Parents are our treasure. I still remember listening to Sudirman’s song, titled “Ayah dan Ibu”;
Ayah dan ibu (Father and mother)
Itulah permulaan kami (There are our beginning)
Dapatlah melihat bulan dan matahari (that we can witness the moon and the sun)
The lyrics in the popular Malaysian song said that parents are our beginning. “Looking after them while they are still breathing, that’s our responsibility.”
This visit was like a receipt that displayed a reminder to me. It was like a message from the above. It was like telling me that soon I may be in this situation. However, we never know the future. It’s beyond our ability to foresee what lies ahead. ***