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Parking my moped in front of restaurant Selera Kaksu Kita, I sensed someone watching me from across the road. Taking off my helmet and placing it on the moped seat, I slowly turned around to look. The sun was in my eyes yet I felt certain a man standing alone across the road was gazing at me. Shielding my eyes with my hand, I tried to make out the man’s face but couldn’t. Something about the man was eerily familiar. The worn-out jeans and sneakers, the light brown checkered shirt and most of all, the man’s posture with his ever-so-slightly tilted head were all too recognizable to me.
I flashed a friendly smile as I walked toward the road edge, hoping my advance would not be deemed as intimidating and scare him away. As I drew closer to the road edge, my heart jumped and started throbbing like rebana drum beats.
“Assalamualaikum,” I shouted a greeting from across the road followed by a tiny wave.
The man seemed not to take notice of my greeting, which according to the teaching of Islam is ‘wajib’ (mandatory) and intentional failure to respond is sinful. I know if it was him, him whom I thought the man was, he would have certainly replied. Perhaps, he could not hear me because of the traffic and I called out the greeting again, louder.
This time I knew the man heard me because he straightened his head looking directly at me. My drumming heart almost stopped beating. In fact I was positive it stopped for a second or two. My head felt dizzy or more like my brain just went numb. When I recovered sufficiently and felt safe to cross the road, the traffic suddenly became heavy. As if from an unseen controller’s signal, cars, vans, motorcycles and lorries whizzed by continuously, causing me to momentarily stay still.
When it was finally safe for my still wobbly legs to carry me across the road, the man was not at his spot. My mind instantly went into panic mode. Quick repeated looks, left and right, to ensure no vehicle was suddenly going to appear and pancake me to the tarmac, I ran across the road. Hitting the other side, I desperately tried to locate the man.
I spotted him about twenty meters away from his initial location, walking his slow deliberate walk. Like a man burdened by the world’s issues. The slightly bowed head, not looking left or right, just focused on a few feet ahead. The ever so familiar walk of a man I missed so dearly.
“Hey, wait,” I shouted, “hey.”
Although he did not turn around, I knew he heard my call. Who wouldn’t, as I was shouting at the top of my smoke-filled lungs. His step seemed to be slower, or it could be me running and him walking that closed the distance between us.
As he turned into one of the streets, I shouted, begging him to stop, “Please, wait, please.”
In desperation, I did the most stupid thing in my life. I shouted, “Adi, please Adi, wait.”
He turned to look at me and hastened his steps. Then he ran. I knew he would outrun me. Unlike me, Adi did not smoke and his lungs were pure and healthy. I did not even try to give chase. I just stood by the entrance of the nameless street and watched as he disappeared between the rows of houses.
Well, the truth was, when he looked at me before running off, I actually stopped in my tracks. My heart stopped in mid-throb. My legs froze, that was why I just stood there.
Earlier when I was walking after him and shouted his name, I was conjecturing and hoping, but as I stood frozen to the spot, I have no doubt it was him: Adi.
Mahadi or Adi was my elder brother, a brother who was two years older, a brother who was my protector, my best friend, a brother I’ve never stopped missing. The thing is that he was declared dead more than two years ago, so I was told.
Adi’s demise was not due to old age, for we were only in our early twenties. Nor was it through illness or mishap. It was by choice, by design. He was an ISIS suicide-bomber who was brain-washed into blowing himself up in a crowded pub and grills killing seventeen innocent men, women and children while injuring many others. Again, so I was told.
I stopped listening or reading the news a long time back. Stopped wanting to hear or know of the carnage. Of innocent men, women and children being slaughtered and maimed by terrorists, extremists. To me it’s a given, that’s what terrorists and extremists do. What I really cannot understand and accept are the Americans, Russians, and their allies indiscriminatingly killing the very civilians they claimed to be protecting and liberating from the atrocities of terrorists and extremists. They deliberately and consciously bombed hospitals, dwellings and mosques at their whim and fancy. Furthermore, I don’t own a television and only subscribed to limited mobile internet which I use mainly for my study research and social media.
So, I knew not of Mahadi’s deeds or misdeeds and passing.
One early Saturday morning, at about two; I distinctively remembered it was a Saturday because I was having a restless night. I was anxiously waiting for the sun to rise, looking forward to my first date with Farah my wet-dream girl, when the door of my rented room blew off its hinges. Accompanying the blast was the stampede of half a dozen men or women with balaclava, helmet,-black khaki shirt, pants, boots and webbings, into the tiny room. Their mean looking weapons pointed directly at me. I almost wet my boxers but not from a wet dream. My ears were stinging from the blast and shouts of ‘POLIS, POLIS’.
Before I could react, several gloved hands violently yanked me off my bed, a hood was pulled over my head, my hands snapped to the back and cuffed. I screamed in pain, loudly cursed all of them and protested. No one gave a shit. I demanded to know what was going on and as expected on one gave a horse-ass. With the hood over my head, I heard a man ask, “Are you Mohd Anil Bin Abdullah?”
“Yes. What the hell are you doing?” I demanded.
The response to my question was, “Take him away and search the room.”
Take me away and search my room? I spun around to protest and felt a sharp pain on the back of my neck. I felt my knees jelly and everything just turned dark, not that it wasn’t dark in the hood. This new darkness was my consciousness bidding me goodbye.
When I came to, I was seated on a hard steel chair with two of the creepiest-looking men I’ve ever encountered seated across the table. One of them had a forehead a Klingon would be envious of, and the other had a scar above his left eyebrow and was missing the top half of his left ear. They greeted me with attempted smiles, which made them look more frightening. I winced and tried to stand up. That was when I discovered my legs were shackled together and my left hand cuffed to the solidly fastened chair.
It was in this position and state of mind I was told of Adi’s death. That was it. Nothing in the form of proof, official certification from any foreign agency, or photos was shown to me. Just their words and I may add, convincing words of two fearsome- looking men.
I don’t know how many days I was held by them, because I didn’t get to see the sunlight or moonlight. I was disoriented, confused, scared and exhausted. They repeatedly asked me about Adi and his involvements with ISIS. I repeatedly told them what I knew that Adi was in Australia picking grapes and silently envious of him having great times with the Shelias.
After three days of Spanish Inquisition while being deprived of sleep and repeating what I knew of Adi like a broken record, I guessed the Klingon-Head and Half-Ear believed me. I was blindfolded and delivered back to my tiny now-not-so-safe sanctuary with the unhinged door.
I stopped thinking about my mother since I can’t remember when. However, since being back I couldn’t stop thinking about her, more precisely her actions. Why the fuck did she has to leave us at a mosque? If she had left us at a church or a temple or even a garbage dump Adi may still be alive.
Slipping off into snooze-land from exhaustion, I guessed people jealously guard their faith, even a sinner like my mother. Desperately, hanging on to an iota of a chance that they will eventually somehow get to heaven. So, if they were to have sinned, they would rather have sinned in their own faith. That was most likely why we were deposited at a mosque rather than a church or a temple: sin within your faith.
Adi and I, we grew up in an orphanage in Johor. I don’t have the complete details as to how we ended up in an orphanage. The official version told to me was, we were found by the Bilal of Kampong Wadi, Johor Bahru mosque when he went to call for the Subuh prayer. Adi was seated leaning against the stairs with me sleeping on his lap. Adi was at that time around three years old and I was almost a year old. It seemed that our mother had left a note in Adi’s shirt pocket which conveniently was a baju Melayu, a traditional Malay costume.
The note stated that we were Malay and therefore Muslim by law. It also claimed that we were legitimate children and gave our names as Adi and Anil. She claimed that our father had abandoned her. Although she loved us very much, she has no means of caring for us. Our dear loving mother however, did not leave our birth certificates with Adi, nor did she note her or our scoundrel father’s name.
When we were handed over to the Welfare Department, the religious agency JAKIM gave us our full name which was Mahadi and Mohd Anil. We were given our father’s name which was Abdullah – the servant or slave of Allah. Both our birth certificates did not list our mother’s name.
We could have been adopted and lived with foster parents but Adi and I were inseparable, or Adi would not be separated from me. The orphanage staff did try to separate us, but Adi would scream and scream until he turned blue and unconscious or until he and I were reunited. The thing was, most of the childless couples were only interested in adopting one child. As a result, we were never adopted.
Growing up in an orphanage wasn’t as bad as one might imagine, but it wasn’t that good either. We did have all the basic comforts of modern living such as bed, mattress, bed-sheet, pillow and pillowcase, fan, fridge and so on. No, we didn’t have the luxury of a maid doing the cleaning and washing. That was all ours, DIY. Television, yes, we did have them but we were not allowed to watch it as we pleased. Most of our spare time, we were performing chores, reciting the Koran or listening to some Ustaz with huge white turban and goatee talking about the beauty of Islam.
Unlike me, Adi was never the bookworm type. He was gifted with his hands and he had a big heart. Always ready to lend a hand to anyone in need and always ready to share whatever he had. When he came of age, Adi went to work in a motorbike repair shop. I left the orphanage and stayed with him in a rented room above the shop and continued my schooling. I didn’t achieve an excellent result like 9As or anything close to it, but because I am Malay and supported with my orphanage background, I secured a scholarship to UKM Bangi.
Just before I left for Bangi, Adi told me that he and a few friends had registered with a labour agent to go to Australia as grape pickers. He told me, the money was good and it didn’t need much brain power to do the job. At the same time it offered him the opportunity to see other cultures.
That was the last I saw of Adi. We did however keep in touch through WhatsApp. He sent me photos of vineyards and the place where he said he worked. In his text messages, he always sounded happy and all was going well for him. He hoped to make enough to come back and start his own motorbike repair shop.
The night after the strange encounter, my mind was pegged to Adi. He occupied a special place in my heart and was always in my thoughts. Tonight, he took center stage. My head was full of questions, questions I’ve asked myself all day long.
Did I really see him? Could I’ve been mistaken? Could the man have been his lookalike?
Was Adi still alive? Did the two weird-looking men who told me of his death get their facts wrong? After all, they said Adi blew himself up, a suicide-bomber. How did they know it was him? I’m sure his body was scattered all over the place, so how did they identify him?
If it was indeed Adi, why did he run away?
Even if it was Adi’s lookalike, why did he run away?
Questions to which I’ve no answers then and most likely, questions that will never be answered.
If I was ever to get any sleep, I needed a plausible explanation. Not the mumbo-jumbo hocus-pocus explanation but a rational one which an ordinary brain can accept. I finally settled on stress with a capital ’S’. The letter from the scholarship administrator stating they were reviewing my eligibility due to my average performance at the last exam. Should I fail to improve on my midterm exam, they have no alternative but to pull the plug on my scholarship. The midterm is three days away.
Seeing Adi or thinking that I saw Adi was how my subconscious brain tried to warn me of my inattention. Adi was like a father, a mother, a brother, a protector and a motivator. An elder brother and an individual, although he had not achieved much in life, still commanded my highest respect. He was my blood and flesh and the only one person in the world I truly loved.
In my desperation and perhaps even depression, my subconscious mind and my eyes played tricks on me. I equated my situation to a dehydrated man in the desert seeing a mirage. I know it may not sound very rational but that was all I can come up with and that was enough for me to let myself be taken over by the emptiness of sleep.
The next day, I woke up around noon. Again missing my morning class, a class which I really needed to attend and pay attention to. One of the two subjects, as mentioned in the letter, where I did poorly on the last exams.
After a quick shower, I put on the same jeans I wore yesterday but decided to change to a fresh shirt. The one I wore yesterday was getting to be a little smelly after the sweat of running after the mirage. I suddenly felt hungry for having missed breakfast. Riding the moped, I somehow rode to Selera Kaksu Kita. I said somehow because I really did not plan to go there but I just did.
Before making the turn to the parking area, I automatically scanned the area across the road. My instinctive actions were reflective of what was going on in my heart. The hankering that it was Adi I saw yesterday evening and the one in a million chance I will see him again today. Although my brain said Adi is dead, my heart was hopeful he was not.
Parking the moped, I looked around. There was no one watching me and there was no sensation of someone watching me, like I felt yesterday. All I got was my stomach growling, screaming for food. Dejectedly, I walked into the restaurant.
There were a few of my course mates having lunch. I piled up some rice, a fried fish, fried vegetable and poured some curry on a plate and I joined them. They gave me their oh-here-comes-the-slacker look but asked nothing about my absence from class. After filling my tummy, I asked if any of them took notes from the lecture. As expected, all the girls did. One of them, whom I knew for a fact had eyes for me, immediately took hers out and handed them to me.
Using my mobile phone, I took photos of the notes to be printed and read later. While snapping photos of the notes, a thought hit me. Shit, why didn’t I think of snapping Adi’s or the man’s photos yesterday? If I did, I could’ve gotten one of the IT students to work out the image. I would know for certain if it was Adi or his lookalike or my mirage.
I sighed heavily and the girl asked if I was alright? Was there something wrong with her notes? I told her, her notes were fine and that I just remembered something that I didn’t do. Excusing myself, I left them and not having any plan or particular destination, I headed for the library.
The library was not a place I usually hung out in, but these few days the heat was terrible and the library is air-conditioned. There are comfortable chairs and I don’t have to buy anything to sit in them. The best thing is there are girls, a lot of girls to be picked up. I supposed with a full stomach and a disturbed mind, those were good enough reasons for me to head there.
As usual the library was full of tudung-covered girls. It dawned on me that if there were no girls, libraries would be more like a book warehouse, devoid of humans except for librarians. Actually there were a few boys but the number was too insignificant. Anyway most of the boys were there because of the girls; either pressured into accompanying them or to impress them.
Sitting by myself at the furthest end, my eyes felt on a group of girls wearing niqab or mini-telekung with face veil. From their voices they sounded female but in actual fact how the hell do you tell their gender? I can see nothing of them. Not their faces, not even the contour of their boobs or butts to indicate their gender. How on earth did they manage to get their library card with their face covered? What about their student cards, or passport, or even their identity card?
The sudden pressing urge to answer nature’s call stopped my mindless wondering. It must be the curry I had for lunch. I thought, it did taste a little sour. Leaving the comfort of the library, I headed for the common toilet next to the canteen.
The moment I was out of the building, I had the sensation someone was watching me. The exact same feeling I had yesterday at the restaurant. I stopped dead in my tracks and slowly scanned the surrounding area. Nothing, no one was watching me, yet the feeling persisted. After a few awkward minutes of standing in the middle of the footpath in the blazing sun, I attributed the feeling to my body reacting to the sudden change in temperature. From the cold air-conditioned library to the scorching heat and humidity of outside.
I shrugged it off and continued my walk towards the toilets. It was then that I saw him. He was standing next to the canteen kitchen wall which was about thirty meters away, looking directly at me. Again, I stopped dead in my tracks. My legs refused to move. My heart was beating at the speed of a double-pedal base drum of Deep Purple – Smoke On The Water.
There were a few people walking in and out of the kitchen but none seemed to take notice of him standing there. Oddly, although he seemed to be out of place, no one even gave him a second look.
Suddenly I panicked. My heartbeat almost stopped as I saw him turn away from me and slowly walk away. I willed my legs to move, my stomach to stop grumbling and hold on. Then I ran after him. This time, I had the sense of mind to have my mobile phone ready.
As I approached the canteen, I heard my name called. I turned and saw several of my course-mates in the canteen gawking at me. Their amused faces said it all: what was it this time with the dickhead? One of them shouted, asking where was I running off to? I slowed my pace but then decided to ignore them. I ran round the canteen and I saw Adi about fifty meters ahead. How the hell did he widen the gap so fast? I was puzzled. He was still walking at his usual easy pace, with the familiar not looking-left-or-right manner. His gaze focused on the path ahead.
I fastened my pace as fast as my legs could carry me. When I was about twenty meters away, I called out to him.
“Adi, Adi, please wait, please.”
He turned to look at me and I swore I saw him smile at me. I was running my lungs out, he was walking at an easy pace but the gap between us did not close. It was the most unbelievable experience I ever encountered. It was like so close yet so far away.
After what my lungs felt was a hundred kilometers, Adi made a turn to his right. I looked ahead of him trying to figure out where he was headed to. It looked like he was headed for the old abandoned guard post. More precisely, I prayed he would head for it, as I don’t think my lungs could take much more of the torture.
My prayer was answered. He did. The strangest thing happened, or at least that was what my mind perceived. As he stepped into the guard post, the gap between us narrowed. I began to catch up to him.
Panting like a horse after losing a hard-fought race, of course without the foam at my mouth, I stopped at the gaping door of the abandoned guard post. It was dark inside. The only light came from the opened door and I was blocking it. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and saw Adi standing at the far corner looking at me.
Stepping aside to let the light in, I noted that the post was about four meters deep and three meters wide. The floor bare concrete, the windows were all shut tight and it was furnished with a rotting wooden table and three similarly rotting chairs. On one side of the floor was an old exercise mat and hundreds of cigarette butts. A few burned out candles and used condoms were beside the mat. The air was musky and reeked of urine.
Adi stood at the far end, what looked to be the entrance to a toilet. He was dressed in his favorite light brown Levi’s shirt and jeans. The shirt he bought with his first salary from the motorcycle repair shop.
I approached him saying “Adi it’s really you,” but before I could give him a hug, he raised his hand to stop me. I was bursting with excitement but something about his demeanor baffled, perhaps even frightened me. There was no expression on his face, or maybe I could not see it in the low light. Certainly, there was excitement in his body language.
“Adi, what’s wrong? Where’ve you been all these years? Why have you not contacted me? The police said you were dead, but obviously they were wrong,” I blurted out, unable to control myself.
I again tried to step closer to him. This time he stepped away and started pacing the length of the post.
“Adi what’s wrong? Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“Sit,” Adi said pointing to one of the rotting chairs.
Like when we were kids, his words were words that I never dared disrespect. So, I sat as he kept pacing up and down. Slow and deliberate as he always did when there was something heavy or serious that he wanted to tell me.
I unnervingly watched him pace the floor. I needed every fiber of strength to stop myself from jumping up to hug him as he passed by. Finally he spoke, softly and slowly.
“You’ve been in my mind up till…”
His sentence hung.
“Till what?” I asked.
“Every day since I set foot on the godforsaken land, I prayed to God that He grant me the chance to see you once before I…”
Again his sentence hung.
“What? Before what Adi?”
“They’re all around you, watching and waiting for the right moment and opportunity to befriend you. Unlike what you may have imagined, they’re not Arabs or Afghans or Pakistanis in turban and robes with long bushy beards. They’re Malay dressed ordinarily just like you and me, people in the government, institution of higher learning, NGOs and private sector. They’re subtle, patient and very obliging. Be wary and don’t be deceived by their lies.”
“Who, ISIS? Why me, I’m not into the IS shits?”
“Because Anil, you’re at your most vulnerable, making you a perfect candidate. Like the dogs that they are, they can smell your susceptibility. You performed poorly in your studies. You’re depressed and struggling with the fear of losing your scholarship. In addition to your dilemmas, your brain like most Malay men is corrupted with sex. They’ll offer you money, women or anything you desire. They’ll promise you that all your past sins are forgiven for you’ll be one of Allah’s soldiers fighting a holy war. They’ll promise you that you’ll go straight to heaven.”
He stopped pacing, paused and gazed at me with unblinking eyes.
“Anil my little brother, it is all lies. Their claim of jihad is lies. There is no jihad. They are a bunch of heartless rapists, trigger-happy terrorists, ruthless killers of children and innocent people. You’re not going to heaven and there are no 72 virgins waiting for you. There is only pain, endless pain and suffering until judgment day. Then there will be more pain and suffering for your sins.”
“So, it was true, you did join ISIS. Did you become a suicide bomber?”
His face told me all that I needed to know.
“But you are here. You’re not dead. How could this be?”
Adi kept staring at me without answering.
“Are you a ghost? You can’t be. You don’t smell like a dead man and this is daytime, ghosts don’t come out in the daytime. Adi, please, please tell me what happened. Tell me you chickened out at the last minute and did not blow yourself up, please.”
“They lied and lied until the lies became the only thing you lived on. They had random sex and said it was okay, the women were sex jihadists. They gave you drugs. They called it Jihadi drug and said it was okay for it gave you courage and energy to fight a holy cause. They said all those not with them are infidels and are to be killed. Yet everything they wore, used and enjoyed is made by those they claimed to be infidels.”
He became quiet, like there was something he was thinking of.
“Adi please tell me you did not go through with what they said you did, please Adi.”
His shoulders drooped; regret, remorse and sadness were written all over his face and posture. I knew the answer to question. Salty tears rolled down my cheeks. I heard Adi repeatedly say — Lies, they were all lies. I blinked several times to clear my vision. When my eyes regained its clarity, Adi was gone.
I sprang off the chair to the door but Adi was nowhere to be seen. Running out of the abandoned guard post I frantically looked left and right but still there was no Adi. His words kept echoing in my head — Lies, they were all lies.
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