It was ten years ago that I last set foot on the land where I spent my childhood days. I have not been back since the time when my grandfather died. I lived with him until his last day, which was two years after my grandmother had died. I stayed on for one more month before I finally decided that it was time to leave. By that time the fate of my grandfather’s house and the land on which it stood, was settled.
A month or so before my grandfather died, I was stuck in a dilemma. I was eighteen years old then, young, vibrant and full of ambitions. Having scored good results in my Malaysian Certificate of Education examinations, or SPM in short, I realized that my ambition to continue my studies had materialized. But how could I leave for the big city when my old grandfather was in need of my presence, more so as time progressed? Moreover, I loved my grandfather and my grandmother so much, that I would not trade that love for anything else. His death broke my heart, and at that time I thought that the world was cruel to me. Indeed, Ifelt that the sky has fallen over my head. But after a while, I realized how God does His work. Often, when He grant something, He takes away something else. My grandfathers death meant that there would be nothing else that could prevent me from pursuing my ambitions. So it seemed.
Just as I was packing my belongings into a suitcase and a sling bag, I heard someone knocking at the front door. There was a voice calling my name, a soft voice that I quickly recognized. It was Siti’s voice. My God! How could I forget her? Quickly I rushed to the door and opened it. There she was. Standing at the foot of the stairs with a somber face, she looked as if something unfortunate had happened to her.
She looked up at me and said, “I come just to give you this.” She said, holding forward a book-like thing, wrapped nicely with a pink wrapping paper.
I went down the stairs to receive the gift. “Thank you,” I said. “But why are you giving me this?” I asked, oblivious of both the significance of the gift and the colour of the wrapping paper
“You are going away, aren’t you, Sani?” She returned the task of answering back to me.
“Yes I am. But it doesn’t mean that our friendship will end. I promise you that wherever I am, I will not forget you. You are too important to me.”
“But when two friends are away from each other for a long period of time, anything can happen.”
“No. Not us. I promise you, I will call you and write to you.”
“It is easier said than done.”
“Siti ….” I call her name softly.
“Sani…” She looked straight at my face. Our eyes met.
“Siti, life has to go on. Ambition has to be pursued. People have to part one time or another. But believe me, if we trust each other, and stick to our commitment, our relationship will last a life time.” I said reassuringly. But believe me. I was myself startled at my own eloquence at the crucial moment.
She didn’t respond to my assurance, but swallowed. Then, slowly her eyes turned watery, and soon tears flowed down her pinkish cheek.
I took out a piece of facial tissue from my pocket and offered to wipe the tears that were wetting her cheeks. But then, when I was just about to wipe the tears, a car entered the narrow alley that leads to the house. It was my father’s car. My father and my mother had come to pick me up and bring me back to Kuala Lumpur, where my parents live.
After a short conversation with my parents, Siti and I excused ourselves. I let my father and my mother did whatever necessary with the house and its contents. For us, we wanted to be alone just for a while longer. There was only one place in the whole area around my grandfather’s house and Siti’s family house that we would go. It had to be the place where we enjoyed most during our younger days. It was there that we spelled out our promises and pledged to abide by them.
Without realizing, I was already walking towards the place. It was a small orchard, which was situated by the river bank. To my surprise the cashew nut trees were still there. They looked the same, only that they were taller and their stems and branches were larger and longer than they were ten years ago. I looked at the trees one by one. I could see myself climbing one tree after another. When I managed to pluck a ripe cashew nut fruit, I would throw it down. Siti would stretch her hands to receive it. We spent two hours or so picking the fruits every three to four days.
When the basket that we brought along was filled up with the fruits, we carried it together, one of us holding one strap and the other person holding another strap. Once we reached her house or my grandfather’s house, we would cut off the seeds from the fleshy fruits. As we grew up, we became cleverer .... we separated the seeds from the fruits at the orchard itself.
The seeds of cashew nuts have a though seed coat. We had to cut open the seed coat with a knife into two halves so as to expose the cotyledons inside. When the ‘skinning’ process was finished we would dry the whitish cotyledons in the sun. We kept the dried cotyledons in a tin. Each time we did the harvesting, we would add the dried cotyledons into the same tin. When the tin was full, Siti’s father, Mr. Abdullah, would sell it to someone who made a living by collecting the cashew nuts from the villagers. He then sold them at a higher price to someone living in a nearby town.
Since our childhood days, Siti and I often created activities that we did together. We enjoy every moment of those activities. We enjoyed those moments together, not because we had so much fun, but because of the joy of sharing. For instance, we shared the task of collecting the cashew nut fruits, breaking open the seeds and drying the cotyledons. We shared the money that Siti’s father brought home after he had sold the dried cotyledons by splitting it equally.
“Siti!” I uttered her name. Of course there was no one to answer! At that moment Siti was still far away from me, from her house, and from the country. It had been six years since she departed for the United States to further her studies. The years that had passed severed our connection, but not the memories. Standing at the orchard by the cashew nut trees, I could still feel the warmness and freshness of the surroundings as though Siti was there beside me.
Melancholy touched my heart. I long for Siti. How I wish to see Siti’s face again. But, it seemed that hope was the only thing that I could ask for. What Siti had mentioned years ago appeared to have caught up on us. I could remember what she said about the things that could happen when two persons are separated by time and distance. Yes, I remembered that. I remembered it clearly.