Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Cashew Nut Orchard


The cashew nut orchard had a special place in my relationship with Siti. It was the place where we had shared a significant part of our childhood life. It was the place where we had played together and had learned to understand each other. It was the place where we had made our promises. It was the place where we had obtained the money that we had saved, and then used to initiate the building of our village house. It symbolized a promise being fulfilled. If I were to write in detail the significance of that small piece of land to our relationship, I could have made a full-page list of them.

Of all the memories that were associated with the orchard, the most that I cherished was the discovery of Siti Rahmah as a woman. It was the discovery that expectations change as one is experiencing shifts in one’s phase of life. It simply means that things that were important in childhood days would automatically becoming secondary as one enters teenage phase. The same goes with the teenage phase. As one shifts into adulthood, shift in expectations will follow suit. Changes in expectations could possibly be more important in women than in man. Thus, when the decision to get married came, knowing each other and sharing many things together since childhood days, were quickly became demoted in importance. A woman as exemplified by Siti Rahmah will look for something else…. something that men can easily overlook, and sadly I was one of them.

The first time that I seriously talked with Siti about replanting the cashew nuts orchard was three months after our engagement. As Siti was still staying with her parents in the village, I had to travel all the way from Kuala Terengganu to Kuala Lipis to see her. She had not search for a job, because she wanted to make up for the lost time, being away from them for six years. To many people six years of separation may not matter much, but for the only child of a family, separation is hard to bear. In extreme cases it can have emotional impact on one or the entire family member. For Siti’s family, their strong religious background, helped them getting through trying times. Uncle Abdullah had always been philosophical in his approach to life.

“There is no need to feel sad about. All that happen has already been written in the great book Luh Mahfuz, long before the universe was created. In essence, all that we are doing is following the life scripts.”

I fully agree with his philosophy. After all the belief in destiny (qadar) it is the sixth tenet of Islamic belief. But believing in qadar without full knowledge of its meaning can lead to unwarranted behaviour, which vary in significance. One such behaviour is to take things for granted. Looking back, I realized that I had taken many things for granted. Aunty Aminah, for example. Aunty Aminah had been kind to me for the eighteen years that I lived with my grandparents. In fact when my grandmother died, she took care of my needs, as if Siti and I were brother and sister. I did not bother to know why she was very kind to me ….. and I knew about our familial relationship only when she told me about it three months before.

I had not appreciated all these until very recently. We often forget about the goodness of someone until that someone has passed away. Luckily Aunty Aminah is still alive and well. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to make up for the ten years that I had gone away. Thus, despite my busy work schedule, I tried to visit Siti’s family once a month.

So, after three months of engagements, I had made three visits. For the third visit, there was an additional motivation, which was to talk about the preparations for the wedding. The physical aspect of the preparation did not concern me. Most things had gone according to schedule. It was the personal aspect of preparation that seemed to have gone a bit sticky. I couldn’t help thinking about it throughout the journey. Why was Siti still not enthusiastic about the wedding? Why was she still not keen to go shopping for the presents, which will be exchanged between the bride and bridegroom during the wedding ceremony? May be I should ask her directly and demand the answer…… and the issue will be settled once for all. May be…..

When I reached the village, I straight away went to Siti’s house. As I parked my car, I saw Siti coming out of the front door to greet me. We greeted each other with salaam and then smiled at each other as we had done for so many years.

“This is for aunty,” I said as I gave her two plastic bags containing grapes and apples that I have brought from the supermarket the day before.

“Thanks. Let's go in. It’s time for lunch. I have cooked your favourite dishes.”

“Oh... That’s wonderful! Thank you.” After a short pause I continued, teasing her as I did, “ Is it the make-believe dishes that we used to ‘cook’ together?”

“Nope. Of course not! For the past three months my mother has taught me how to cook all the traditional Malay dishes.”

We reached the front door as Siti completed her sentence. There, I was greeted by Mr. Abdullah and Aunty Aminah. Mr. Abdullah and I sat at the living room while Aunty Aminah and Siti went straight to the kitchen. Mr. Abdullah talked a little bit of the preparations for the wedding that they had made thus far.

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