(btw, includes last week’s ‘God loves them more’. Enjoy!)
Ch. 04 – Anna’s Plan for Happiness
I was silent the whole way back to our house (but I think there’s no difference, since I always stay silent in Cikgu Jerome’s car). That whole time, Uzair’s words repeated in my head. Like a cassette played over and over, and then rewound over and over.
Anna was running into the class while saying ‘why did you come out Jer? Now your friend knows that we are spying on him’ (took her time to realize that I’m the one walking into the classroom) as I was still in confusion because of what Uzair had just said earlier.
“I don’t have a father,” Uzair continued.
Anna stopped in her tracks hearing Uzair’s words. I’m still confused (and remained silent, of course). Suddenly, Anna laughed.
“Hahaha! How come you don’t have a father, Jer’s friend? Everyone has one. And a mother too.”
WHAT ARE YOU SAYING ANNA!!!!! I ferociously turn towards Anna, a worried look on my face.
Why did you have to talk? Although I myself am not really sure about what Uzair is talking about (because what Anna said was the acceptable logic for kids our age back then. How naïve!), I get the feeling that it is not something pleasant (and that instant, I remembered Hanna and her ‘instincts’).
Uzair, on the other hand, looked like he’s going to cry when Anna said the things she said. Only then did Anna’s laugh abated. A confused look embraces her cute round face.
“I’m….an orphan,” Uzair explained.
“Huh? What’s an orphan?” Anna asked in return (why does she not have the sense of not always asking questions??? I’m the one who’s embarrassed here.).
“It means that my father has passed away. He… he’s dead already!”
An awkward silence filled the air as Uzair partially shout. Then tears start rolling down his cheeks (which are now red and puffy). Anna froze in her stance while I almost cried myself (out of shame and confusion actually).
What Uzair just said does not add up to my knowledge and acceptance. Aren’t fathers supposed to die old (like grandpa. No, I mean like everyone else)?
“Dad, why are there children with no father?” Anna said suddenly, breaking the long silence in Cikgu Jerome’s car.
I turned towards Anna with a ‘why did you have to ask about that’ look. But Anna didn’t realize my stare (maybe because she’s eagerly waiting for Cikgu Jerome’s answer).
Cikgu Jerome took a glimpse towards Anna (who was sitting in front, of course. I and Abang Zack sat behind) and replied.
“Because God loves them more than their children, that’s why. Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a father, Anna?”
I instantly looked down towards my knees. Cikgu Jerome, being an adult, must have read Anna’s mind. And the one causing Anna to ask such a question is me. What will happen to me if Cikgu Jerome finds out? Anna will surely say that it’s ‘Jer’s friend’ who does not have a father (and I’ll be dead! Cikgu Jerome is one muscular man. I think he can punch holes through walls).
But Anna didn’t reply that way. Instead, she asked another question (with a trembling voice. I don’t know what’s gotten into her).
“Does God love dad more than Anna does?”
“I…don’t know, sayang. But God sure loves everyone.”
Suddenly, Anna broke into tears. Why the…..what’s happening? Why did Anna suddenly cry? I’m starting to get nervous (as maybe this is my fault. I don’t know how, but I feel really guilty at the moment). Cikgu Jerome, on the other hand, was as calm as ever. Then he patted Anna on the head.
“Don’t worry, sayang. God is not going to take dad any sooner.”
Huh!? I don’t get it.
“But dad…. Anna has always…. been a naughty girl,” replied Anna, snot oozing out her nostrils (euuuwww!!! Please wipe that off, Anna).
Now I totally don’t get what they are talking about.
“But you love dad, kan? So there is no problem. Calm down Anna. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Anna stopped crying, then wiped her face (and those oozes, thank God!). Then, Cikgu Jerome repeated his earlier question.
“So, do you know anyone who doesn’t have a father, sayang?”
Oh no! I thought Cikgu Jerome had forgotten about that. Cold sweat started to appear on my forehead. Abang Zack who was sitting beside me, realized that.
“What’s wrong Jeremy?”
At the same time, Anna replied her father’s query.
“Emm! His Jer’s friend,” she said cheerfully.
No, I’m dead.
I didn’t go to their house that afternoon. I didn’t even go out to play. I was scared that Cikgu Jerome would ask me about Uzair (since he’s always out in the front every afternoon, nursing after his plants).
After dinner, the phone rang. Mama rushed to the phone, spoke a few words, then turn towards me and papa (we were watching the TV for the 8pm Buletin Utama).
“Jeremy, it’s for you,” said mama softly.
Who in the world would call me? Somehow, I get a bad vibe about this call.
“Its Uncle Jerome. He wants to speak to you.”
The instant mama said Cikgu Jerome’s name, my heart skips a beat. I tried to evade him all afternoon, but guess I can’t. (Well, we live next to each other, and I hitch a ride with him every afternoon, so technically, I can’t escape him after all.)
I walked to the phone, knees a bit trembling. I could hear papa asked mama ‘what’s up?’ in the background. This must be about Uzair, I said to my self.
I took the phone handle and talked with a meek voice (or rather a little squeak).
“Hello Jeremy. Its Uncle Jerome here. Say, can you come over next door? I have a few things I’d like to ask you, if you don’t mind. Tell your parents first lah.”
If I don’t mind? I do mind. Can I just say ‘no, I don’t want to go there’?
“Good. Okay, bye! See you soon.”
Then line went dead.
I put down the handle, my hand a bit trembling. Sweat started to pour (yes, pour!) down my entire face. Then I turn towards mama and papa. They just smiled towards me.
“It’s okay, Jeremy. You can go,” said papa.
“Yes. Don’t be afraid. Uncle Jerome just wanted to ask a few questions. He’s not going to scold you or anything like that,” said mama after papa, trying to sooth me, I guess.
“Yes. He just wants to ask a few questions. If he dare lay a finger on you, he’ll get to taste these,” papa interrupted with a big wide smile on his face while showing off his biceps (is this his idea of a joke? I dunno. But papa saying about ‘laying a finger’ just makes me even more afraid to go).
I just nod silently. Then I went out the front door.
Just as I came out, I could see Anna already at the fence, smiling towards me. I just smiled back (wearily, of course).
As I enter their living room, Cikgu Jerome was already sitting on the sofa, waiting for me (perhaps). He smiled towards me (the first time I saw him smile. So, he can smile) and asked me to take a seat. As I sat, Anna sat beside me (wonder where Abang Zack is at the moment). The place went silent for a moment. Then Cikgu Jerome started to speak.
“So Jeremy. Anna told me that your friend’s an orphan. Is it true?”
I just nod silently. I don’t have the strength to speak it out loud in words.
“What’s your friend’s name?”
“Uzair, is it?”
I nod, silently, again.
Cikgu Jerome, being an adult, must’ve seen the fear in my eyes, the shakes in my body. He suddenly smiled, then said ‘don’t be afraid of me. Uncle may look like he’s going to eat a person, but he can’t even lay a finger on an ant’ (what’s with these grown-up men and the term laying a finger? Is it a trend? I dunno).
“Yes, Jer! Dad couldn’t even talk back to mom if mom is angry, hihi,” Anna said in return, then giggles.
Then, there’s the ‘Annaaaaa’ from the kitchen (which we all know is Aunty Betty’s voice). Cikgu Jerome just laughed hearing Anna’s words. I followed suit (just so that I don’t feel left out).
That night, Cikgu Jerome asked me about Uzair. How’s he like in class, how does he look like, does he talk to the other classmates (first time hearing that word) or not, and so on. I answered obediently (of course lah) and sometimes laugh at Anna’s way of expression (she’s weird. A good weird. I think lah).
In the middle of nibbling ABC biscuits (which Aunty Betty had served earlier), Anna suddenly stood up, a determined look ablaze on her cute round face.
“Dad, if Jer’s friend is not happy because he doesn’t have a father, can we replace that happiness with some other happiness?”
I totally don’t understand Anna’s question. But Cikgu Jerome seems to.
“Happiness does not differ from one another, sayang. Its only the feeling that’s not the same,” answered Cikgu Jerome, calling Anna ‘sayang’ as always.
Anna sat down, a serious look on her face (wow! So, she can make a serious face after all). Then she stands up again.
“If so, can we take things that make us happy and give it to Jer’s friend, so that he can be happy? If everyone is happy, why not share a little? Kan, Jer!”
She looked towards me with determined eyes (please don’t look at me like that Anna, you’re making me nervous). At the same moment, an ‘oh, know I get it!’ thought passed through my head.
Now I see what Anna’s up to. I nodded hastily. Cikgu Jerome seemed to be impressed with Anna’s idea.
“That’s a good idea, sayang. You and Jeremy can make a little fundraiser for him. You can ask for Xavier to get help from the school prefects while I secure more aid from the PTA.”
Huh? What’s a fundraiser? And what’s PTA? I dunno.
But one thing I do know is that Anna looked happy that night.
A week passed. Uzair suddenly became cold to me (and I think this is all thanks to Anna and her ‘logic’). Well, he said hi every now and then, but it was, I dunno, dull or something like that.
And as if she already knew from the beginning, Erica also started to give me cold stares (as if saying ‘this is all your fault’). I don’t think anyone else in this class (besides me) knew that Uzair is an orphan. So how come she knew? I dunno.
The day came when we (Cikgu Jerome and a few teachers, including our class teacher Cikgu Hamdan, Abang Zack and a few prefects, me, and of course, Anna) went to Uzair’s house. To my surprise (or more like shock), Erica was there also, along with Kadir the class monitor.
So that’s how she knew. Cikgu Hamdan had ordered Kadir and Erica to do some ‘fundraising’ (as Anna suggested to Cikgu Jerome, who, it turns out, to have forwarded the idea to Cikgu Hamdan) without letting Uzair know that something was done for him.
That explains Erica’s cold stares. Maybe she thought that I was the source of the work she had been given. I dunno.
Uzair was shocked to see all the people at the entrance. Maybe he’s also a bit shy about his house, since it looks more like a small hut (but of course, I didn’t say a word about it). He was even more shocked to see me, and then he tried to smile. An awkward smile, to say the least.
“Please come in. Ummi’s not home yet, but do come in,” said Uzair, ever polite.
Everyone smiled towards him. Including me (although I would like to know how I pull off that smile. It was pretentious, awkward, and I’m not one that knows how to do one. I dunno how I did it back then).
The house itself was a simple construction. There is a wide (or spacey?) living room and one room (I think lah, not really sure if it is one) on the right. Then there are some stairs towards the kitchen at the back. No sofas. No television. No sign of luxury.
Then, Cikgu Hamdan started to speak.
“We’re sorry for the sudden intrusion, Uzair. We came here to meet your mom”
“She’ll be here any minute. She’s usually back by now.”
As if on cue, Uzair’s mom gave the salam. We all turn towards the door.
Uzair’s mom was a frail person. A bit skinny (wonder how old is she). She seemed shocked to see the company she had, but still politely smile (just like Uzair. Or should I say Uzair is a portrait of his mom’s kindness? I dunno). Uzair quickly explains.
“Ummi, these are my teachers and friends from school.”
“Oh, yes. I remember Cikgu Hamdan from the first day of school,” said Uzair’s mom as she saw Cikgu Hamdan. Cikgu Hamdan smiled as he was mentioned.
Cikgu Hamdan explained the whole visit thing to Uzair’s mom. Uzair kept quiet all the time. From time to time, he would pour coffee (that he made himself) into the empty cups in front of us. Besides that, he remained silent as ever.
“So we were thinking that this is a community matter. We should all help. Thus, the school wants to give a little bit of…. how should I put this. Help, maybe?” said Cikgu Hamdan at the end of his explanation.
“Happiness!” Anna suddenly interrupted.
Eh!? Everyone looked towards Anna. What does this girl mean? Happiness?
“Happiness….?” asked Uzair’s mom.
“Yes, aunty. Happiness. Everyone gives a little bit of their happiness to Jer’s friend, so that Jer’s friend can also be happy. Ermm…. what did they call it again? Sikit-sikit lama-lama bukit-bukit?”
Again, stop with the ‘Jer’s friend. He has a name, Anna, and his name is Uzair.
“Sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit, Anna,” Cikgu Jerome corrected Anna.
“Yes! Sikit-sikit, lama-lama bukit-bukit! So, Jer’s friend, please accept everyone’s happiness, hihihi.”
Everyone became silent hearing this girl’s words. Including me. Who would’ve thought that this girl thinks this act of kindness, this form of help, as giving ‘happiness’? who would’ve thought?
At least I don’t.
And, at least I know Anna does.
Uzair and his mom burst into tears. I panicked (mainly because I thought Anna has said something wrong again) looking at them crying, but everyone just smiled on (even Erica!).
What’s this? I don’t understand.
Then Uzair suddenly stood up, tears still running down his cheeks.
“Thank you all! You’ve been so kind. I promise I’ll do my best in my studies!”
That is when I know that the tears that came rolling down their cheeks are not tears of sadness. Rather, they are tears of joy. Now I understand the smiles.
Now I know what Anna meant by giving ‘happiness’.