Siti’s decision to pursue her PhD degree in Kuala Terengganu had made me very happy. That she was going to stay close by to where I live was something that I had liked to happen. It would be an ideal situation for nurturing understanding and reliving the sweet old memories. But of course, the cashew nut orchard will take a backstage while the marriage plan will take the centre stage. We could always meet and discuss our coming wedding after work or during the weekends.
We carefully examined the university’s prospectus. We considered the various factors that are important for a successful spell as a PhD student at a university. Registering for a PhD programme is not something that you want to take likely. It is a promise that you will give your life and time to carry out a research project for a solid three year at the least. Hence, you must choose the university that will give you the best chance of completing the research project in the stipulated time.
First, we looked at the academic strength of the Department and the Faculty that Siti intended to join as a graduate student. We went through the list of lecturers, their expertise and their research programmes. We were satisfied with the availability of prospective supervisors of a PhD research project. Then, we scrutinized the research facilities and the availability of research grant to support the research. After much discussion, we decided to choose the one that had with commendable cv. This characteristic is essential for a successful PhD research project supervision.
That was done, we began ease our discussion into the things that we had done the pass two weeks. One thing led to another and before I realized it, the time was already approaching six thirty. In the village with many trees around the houses, darkness can creep in much earlier that is in the city. The journey from Kuala Lipis to the East Coast highway is quite a distance away. At night it can be a lonely one since not many cars will be commuting along the road after nightfall. So, it was time to leave.
Siti’s parents bid me goodbye at the door. Siti followed me to my car.
“Well Siti, It is three more months to go. When you come to Kuala Terengganu next week, we can start shopping for our marriage rings. Besides, we have yet to decide on our invitation card.”
Siti did not seem to be happy about the suggestion. There was a mixed feeling of worry and dissatisfaction. I could see it in her face. I waited anxiously for her response.
“Let’s do it one by one. Let me settle this application form first.”
Before I could respond, her hand phone rang. She looked at the screen and rejected the incoming call.
I looked at her for a few seconds, then I said, “It’s okay with me. I am only afraid that we will be running out of time.”
Just then the hand phone rang again. Siti looked at the screen. “Excuse me,” she said, glancing at me as she moved away from where she was standing.
I watched her while she had a conversation, paying extra attention to the expression on her face. From the distance of about ten metres, I could see that the conversation with the other person on the line did not go smoothly. I wondered what that was all about.
“Siti. Can I help?” I asked when she came back to where I was standing.
“It’s alright. Let me settle this once for all. Hmmm… about the rings. I am sorry Sani. I am still not in the right frame of mind to start thinking about those things yet.”
“But the rings and the card are important to both of us. They are our future. Something that we you and I can share and enjoy together.”
“Yes, I know. You and me. That’s why I just don’t have the mood to do it yet.”
“Siti. Is it because of the other person?”
“The other person? Who?”
“The one that you were talking with on the phone a moment ago.”
“No. Certainly not. To be frank Sani, dear, it is only about you and me.”
“Me! What about me? What have I done?”
“That’s for you to find out. You have time until Wednesday to figure it out?”
I looked at her face intently in bewilderment. She stood there like a stone, with her eyelids not even winking. Obviously, she was serious. She meant every word that she had said.
“What if I can’t figure it out?” That was the obvious question that could easily come out of my mouth. But, I had to restrain myself. Under the circumstances prevailing at that moment such words should not be said even if they were meant to be a joke.
“Siti,” I called softly in a low tone of voice.
“Sani,” She answered in similar tone. Her face lit up a little bit. The tense had mellowed down.
“Call me when you start your journey to KT, this Wednesday.”
“I will.” She muttered, followed by a sigh. The expression in her face had reverted to somber. There was despondency.
I swallowed, temporarily in loss for words to respond. But my was busy trying to conjure a reasonable explanation. Was she giving me a signal of unfulfilled hope and aspiration?
After bidding goodbye, I left Kuala Lipis for Kuala Terengganu with more questions than when I arrived earlier in the day. The thought of Siti actually having another person in her life had introduced a new twist into our relationship. Who was the person on the other end of the phone? What was the issue that Siti wanted to settle once for all? It seemed that our relationship become more complicated than I first thought.