There’s a special joy in meeting a childhood friend.
Returning to Malaysia from Poland where my father was serving as a diplomat in 1984, I remember walking into Cikgu Abdullah Hj Mohd Salleh’s Bahasa Malaysia class a few days after the school year had already begun. 30 pairs of curious eyes stared back at me as I made my way to the back of class. There was an empty seat next to this boy, he gestured for me to sit. At the time I spoke no Malay, he knew a few words in English. I might as well have been an 👽 from another planet.
And so began my lifelong friendship with Abdul Razak Yacob (Ajak) for nearly 4 decades since that very first day at Sekolah Menengah Sains Muar, Johore. Over the 5 years at this science boarding school, I came to know his siblings, his parents. I spent short breaks at his humble home in Sagil at the foothills of Gunung Ledang. His father was a teacher, his mother a home maker. They treated me as one of their own. Afternoons we spent out in the verandah because the zinc roof made the noon day heat unbearable. Evenings we ate together on the linoleum covered floor and slept in the living room.
It was with Ajak that I discovered the joys of kampung life. We hiked and swam the nearby waterfalls. We rode kapcai through oil
palm estates and coffee plantations. We climbed coconut trees. He taught me how to open a coconut with a parang (and how to eat the flesh without a spoon). During Ramadhan we would visit suraus near and far. On one occasion after coming back from terawikh prayers his motorcycle ran over what felt like a speed bump – we turned around and the lights shone brightly on a huge python slithering across the pitch dark estate road! Kampung style weddings were the best, we got to help with communal duties gotong royong style for days on end. Girls would be in their Sunday best 😉. Hari Raya was another food filled delight, we would visit every neighbour in the village and selawat marhaban for nights on end. We took every opportunity to camp up on Gunung Ledang and one time, I cut myself pretty badly while trying to chop wood for fire with a parang – the deep scar on my left hand is a fond reminder of the many adventures we had together.
Our friendship greatly influenced our attitudes towards studies too. Ajak taught me Malay and I taught him English, the quid pro quo was too obvious. He was always curious about my life in far away lands. For SRP, Ajak was the school’s top student scoring straight As and remarkably, I was among the top 10 with my rudimentary Malay three years before. Two years later for our SPM, I emerged top student and Ajak among the top 5. Funnily, after years of his tutelage, I scored A1 for BM and he A2; he scored C3
for English (Ajak, you were the better tutor 😂). We both won full scholarships to do A Levels in the UK under the Government’s British Top Universities (BTU) programme. I truly believe if it wasn’t for our friendship, neither Ajak nor I would have made it to England to further our studies. Allah intended for our paths to cross.
Thirty five years on, Ajak’s destiny is that he and his family have made England their home for over two decades now. A boy who lived his whole childhood in and around Sagil and Muar. Having lived overseas my whole life until the age of 13, followed by university and later, work in London, I’m now happily settled in KL. Like a lazy Susan, the tables are now turned.
So when Ajak and I met again recently on one of his rare visits home, we simply picked up where we left off, swapping stories about kids, work and life. I pray that you will continue to be blessed with peace and happiness old friend.