His voice is quiet and firm, slightly hoarse with a steady rumble, but what she remembers whenever it echoes in her head is the way his eyes shine with a thousand things that he will never say. But she knows. He loves her and she will always love him. Theirs is a love story that began in the days before Singapore’s independence and never truly ended.
Back in the old days, her father was the kampong chief in Sumapha, and his sternness as a principal of an elementary school on Pulau Tekong and his steadfast religiousness as an imam in the community mosque translated into a strict upbringing. He would hit her if she met with boys outside of her home, and the great amount of care she had while fraternising with the boys in her school meant that none ever appeared at her doorstep to face her imposing father. Then came Abdul Rahman in one sweltering summer. They met for the first time at her school near Scotts Road, both of them members of Uniformed Group– she a Girl Guide and he a Boy Scout. It was meant to be, and in the next few years, he was the only boy who ever dropped by her house to openly pursue her. Each time he came by, they would sit in direct view of her father, and they would simply talk. And that was how they fell in love, in a courtship that spanned several years. The first time their hands touched was during solemnisation, where she had to kiss his hand. After her lips had landed lightly on his smooth brown skin and fluttered away, he had grasped her hand. It felt like coming home.
There is the saying that one must “eat like a man”, and with this comes ideas of how men should act – loud, rowdy, brash. But Abdul was nothing like that. It took her an entire lifetime to get to know Abdul, with all his quietness and seriousness. And even when he passed away at 40 due to a kidney disease, when the devastation numbed her and glazed all her memories, it never seemed as though he was truly gone. The twenty years she had known him had given her a lifetime worth of memories.
Abdul was not one to leave Madam Zainon saddled with household chores despite his strong belief in the traditional roles of husband and wife. Abdul relished Madam Zainon’s food as much as he enjoyed helping her in the kitchen: during the Hari Raya period, he would help her with marketing and preparing food for the festival; even after he returned after a long day of army camping he would tirelessly clean the house for her. To Madam Zainon, this was the most endearing thing about her late husband – that he wanted to be a part of the family and that he longed to make her feel loved.
Today, Madam Zainon lives with her son, Mazlan. He works as a chauffeur whose clients have included Prince William and the Sultan of Brunei – it is little wonder she is so proud of him. Mazlan has taken over his father in helping Madam Zainon with preparations for Hari Raya, and she continues to make delicious Lontong every year.
“Oh, awak masak lauk ini sedap sekali.” (Oh, your cooking is delicious.)
Although her husband has departed, memories of him stick closely. She keeps her favourite present from him, a necklace, safely by her side, along with fond memories of their time together. She recalls every part of their romantic journey with longing and affection for Abdul, and it is clear she misses him dearly. Perhaps what Madam Zainon and Abdul have shown us is that love does not to assert itself through noise – sometimes, it just needs a little quiet to show itself.
Madam Zainon’s story first appeared here on the Singapore Memory Project portal.
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