MAY 25 — Spot checks notwithstanding, I soon became less of a curiosity to the women; I was just one of the many relatives who came to visit the women at the pondok. My days and nights were a blur, as I joined the community in their prayers.
There were activities which had almost everyone excited. There was a flower arrangement competition that took me back to my student days and Kelas Serirumahtangga. There were talks, and one day, there was a homeopathy fair. Because it was so hot where we were, very few came to the booths to be treated.
The speakers blared out verses and prayers, and at one time, I thought they were recited by women. Tok M told me that it was the prepubescent orphans who read out the verses over the speakers. They were no different from other boys – when they were done with their classes and duties, they darted about the area, laughing and joking.
In the evenings, the women gathered at their friends’ little homes. They all seemed to agree on one thing: one died alone, one’s husband didn’t follow one to the grave and only God is with you. Living there was good practice for the afterlife.
There was also a pecking order when it came to Jemaah prayers. Power and status came into play one day.
I had decided to pray at the front of the ladies’ section because it was cooler, when one of the women pulled me back. I couldn’t pray there because the wife of a VIP who had come to visit the commune, was joining in the prayers.
I protested. “I thought in Islam, there’s no such thing…” She hushed me. “Even in Mecca they do the same!” Then she whispered, “You are right. If you really practise the real Islam, she’d be the same as us.”
That night, there was a concert organised by the people who lived there. There was a very off-key all-male choir and a poetry recital. A silat performance by a bunch of young girls had the men chuckling and clapping at their feistiness.
However, it was a recital by a group of older men that broke my heart. The idea of these men, widowed, divorced and alone, living here, forgotten by their children, and seeing them cheering each other on as one fumbled through a song, hugging each other after their performance – it was a most uncomfortable experience. So this was old age. The women were right: you die alone. Only God’s with you.
My last day at the commune can only be described as a macabre comedy.
It started with the usual dawn khutbah. We should emulate our Prophet’s ways and the glorious days of Islam, once upon a time, the imam told us. I wondered why we Muslims always keep looking back to the past. Surely we have come far. Were the current crop of Muslims that bad?
I went back to Tok M’s house, tired. I was grumpy. I wanted to go home. And two things happened, which drove me to call my taxi driver, G, to come at 3 in the afternoon, instead of at 5.
I had taken a nap. I dreamed that someone kept calling out, “Assalamualaikum! Dik! Dik! Open the door!”
I woke up with a start, to find a group of men at my room window, staring at me and calling out to me, to open the door, an ustaz from Thailand wanted to see the house, he wanted to build something like it in his commune.
I had mentioned earlier that it was hot over there. Sticky, muggy, smelly hot. Because of the humidity, I had taken a nap wearing only the top half of my baju kurung.
The men had seen me with the top part of my kurung all rolled and creased up to my navel, leaving my legs and undergarment exposed to the whole world.
Now I wonder whether I had either blinded them or made them flagellate themselves for seeing such sin. But at that time, all I could do was squeal.
After the "architectural visit", and once I had calmed down, I decided to take another nap. It was not to be.
Just as I had laid my head on the pillow, a banshee-like scream emanated from the house next to Tok M’s.
“It hurts! It hurts!” a woman cried out.
I peeked through the window.
The woman kept calling out for help. Another woman started screaming for the ustaz. Women from the nearby houses ran and tottered to the house, tying their scarfs over their heads hurriedly. The group of men who had given me a heart attack earlier, arrived too, shouting, “Allahuakhbar!”
What on earth was going on? Tok M pushed me aside.
One of the women had been possessed by a demon.
Everyone shouted, “Allahuakhbar!” and immediately everyone had a story to tell. The area before it became the commune it was, was once the dumping site of bomohs. When a healing was done, they’d throw the spirits there.
Oh this used to be a jungle, so this could be a jungle djinn. More men and women thronged the house. I heard a man yell at the djinn to leave the place, the woman’s body was not its to possess.
What a to do.
I crept to the corner of the house and called G. If I wanted any sleep and sanity, I’d have to go home.
At 1pm sharp, I was by the roadside.
“G?” I called out.
Glossy permed hair appeared from behind a lamp-post.
“Hallo Missy, you okay ka? Aiyoyo, I already knew. When you sms me to pick you up at 4, and then 3, and then 2, I came here by 12!”
The pondok I stayed at for about five days would be a considerable conversation topic at dinners, parties, forums. The people I had met would be thought of as freaks in rather sophisticated circles.
But I remember them, until today, for their simplicity and sincerity. They only wanted one thing: to devote their lives to Allah.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.