When Ramadan brings out the blues in me

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It was a wonderful day yesterday, until I saw a note in dad’s handwriting, pinned to our family notice board. Felt as if I died a little inside.

Having travelled for work in the past two weeks, I returned home late last night. Too tired to entertain any form of conversation, I headed straight to bed. Four hours later, mom woke me up for sahur.

“You stink. Go take a bath,” she ordered.

I took a long bath and while drying my hair in the hot steamy weather of the morning, I updated mom about work. It’s funny how she always seems interested in what I do, though I do not think she actually understands everything I tell her.

“I’m making myself some Kopi O. Would you like me to make you some tea?” I offered.

As usual, mom declined. She has a habit of doing everything herself. Even when I offer to help, she’ll still end up preparing everything herself. And when I grumble, it’s always the same excuse I hear – “As long as I am capable of doing it, let me do it.”

At five, dad finished his daily Quran reading and took his seat at the dining table. He smelled as if he had taken a bath in minyak attar – a smell I have begun to love lately.

I find dad a little quiet these days, ever so often wrapped up in his own thoughts.

After serving dad rice and rasam, mom makes her regular phone call to my son in campus to wake him up for sahur. Having got used to receiving such calls myself over the years, I smiled, admiring mom for the things she does for the family.

“Arshad says he is up. But he sounds half awake. I hope he doesn’t go back to sleep. He needs to eat sahur or else he’d struggle to focus in class,” mom grumbled as she mixed her bowl of oats, her usual sahur meal.

“He sent me a video of himself and friends at campus the other day, Ma – he has lost so much weight in these past ten days of fasting,” I said as I spread butter on my toasted bread.

“He has to learn to manage,” dad finally spoke, “and he will. Just give him time.”

“Oh, by the way, did you see Adam’s latest pictures on Viber?” I asked my dad, knowing so well that any conversation about my little nephew brings him joy.

My dad smiled.

“I miss him so much!” mom said, tearing-up.

Realising the conversation was going down the wrong path, I swiftly changed the topic to our Hari Raya cookie-making plans. “Let’s make everyone’s favourite cookies and not experiment with any new recipes this year.”

“Muruku and ‘Kolicha’ (a traditional mamak cookie) is a must,” mom reminded me. “But we have to make it soft. Your dad has no more teeth left to chew.”

We all laughed.

Everything was so pleasant this morning during sahur.

At the sound of the Subuh prayers from the mosque in our village, I checked on mom and dad. Dad was in a dazed state, his legs nicely folded on the sejadah while mom prayed sitting on the chair as her weak knees refuse to bend multiple times.

I closed their bedroom door gently and decided to switch on the Wifi and start catching up on work. And that was when I saw the unfamiliar note pinned up next to our mini family notice board. It was in dad’s handwriting.

“Imam Masjid. Urusan jenazah. Kain kapan. Gali kubur. Nombor telifon….”

My heart sank.

Not wanting to burden his children when his time was up, dad has made preparations for his funeral at our village mosque.

I crawled back into bed and hid myself under the blanket like I used to when I was a little girl. Back then, dad would come get me. “Everything will be okay. As long as I am here, you don’t have anything to worry about,” dad would say.

Now at 42, I have learned to crawl out from under my blanket myself, though I have to admit, I do still pretend to hear dad whisper those magic words into my ears – “Everything will be okay. You have nothing to worry about.”

Today, mom and dad are still trying their best to take care of everything. Even with three adult children and two adult grandchildren, they still make sure all our needs are taken care of and that we are not burdened in any way.

I wonder how many times have we, as their children and grandchildren, thought about taking care of their needs and unburdening them with our countless requests?

How many of us have rung-up our parents to ask what they had for sahur and breaking of fast?

How many of us have queried them about their daily medication intake during this fasting month?

How many of us have taken the effort to prepare cookies, dodol and the wajik they love so much for Hari Raya?

How many of us have called them just to say “I miss you” or “I love you”?

Sigh. I am in such a sombre mood now.

I suppose fasting does this to you. It doesn’t only cleanse your digestive tract, it also cleanses your thoughts and brings to surface all sorts of emotions. It makes you vulnerable and in touch with the deepest parts of your soul. It gives you the blues.

I am no longer hiding inside my blanket, but I remind myself every moment not to take things for granted. And having my parents by my side this Ramadan, makes this holy month seem much holier.

It has brought new meaning to Ramadan for me.

Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.

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