Grandpa was neatly dressed and ready while enjoying his smoke at his favourite corner. This corner was always his favourite place whenever he had his free time, sometime he would sing some Japanese songs while strumming his fingers at the table to the tune of the song. I had just finished bathing and grandma held me to the dressing room to dress me. She then put some talcom powder onto my face, some hair cream on my hair and had it combed center parting. I didn’t know where I was going but grandma had told me before bathing that grandpa would be bringing me to a very important place and I must follow him. I had always been scared of grandpa who seldom talked, but I had no choice and I’d better not cry.
My mother Kamariah died at a young age of twenty six when I was three months old. As my father had to work outstation and later overseas, I was placed under the guardianship of my grandparents and to me they were my parents. My grandfather whose name was Abdul Hamid Hj.Taib was born in Muar town but his father Hj.Taib bin Talib came from Terengganu bringing along his wife to work at the government office in Muar town. I can still remember going to Kuala Terengganu with him when I was very young to visit his Terengganu kins and one name I still remember is Wan Harun. Likewise Wan Harun would bring along his family to our house in Muar town. After grandpa’s death in 1967, all ties with my Terengganu relatives were broken. How I wish I can still be in touch with my relatives in Terengganu. One thing I am pretty sure is my grandpa was of a bugis descent whose grandfather Juraggan Talib, a bugis sea warrior settled down in Terengganu after marrying a local girl. My grandmother, Hamidah Hj Andak likewise was a bugis, a second generation of a bugis named Jamak who came to Parit Bakar for a greener pasture.
Grandpa was holding his Raleigh bicycle while grandma held my hand and carried me to the center steel bar of the bicycle where I would be sitting the whole journey. I held tightly at the center of the bicycle’s handle and grandpa got himself seated and began peddling. Throughout the journey, I was as still as a log just gazing at the surroundings which was unfamiliar to me. It was 1956 and I was about 5 years plus.
We reached the building about ten minutes later. It was a two-storey building, very British in design and I observed there were only two or three people walkng at the compound. When we reached at the parking area, grandpa stopped the bicycle, got down and then carried me down. He held my hand and we proceeded to a small hall. At the hall grandpa told me to sit on a chair at one corner of the hall while he went to the counter to see someone who was writing. He talked to the man, then I saw him pointing his finger at me and the man just nodded and kept on writing. Grandpa wrote something on a sheet of paper and soon his business was over.
On our way home grandpa took his time. He cycled to Muar town and went straight to a Chinese coffee shop. This was perhaps my first trip to Muar town. I was obviously amazed at seeing concrete buildings everywhere in contrast to the green surroundings I was adapted to. We sat at a big round marble table when a Chinese male waiter came to take our orders. I was so small that my head was just above the table. Grandpa asked me whether I would like coffee or tea, but I thought I would prefer Ovaltine, at least it tasted like chocolate. Then he orderd some satay for us to enjoy. Those days we could have two sticks of satay for 5 cents. When my Ovaltine arrived, grandpa poured some of it into the cup’s plate and he blew it to make the drink cooler. Having done so, he gave it to me and I began to sip slowly. I had three sticks of satay and it tasted so good. Before we left, grandpa ordered some satay to bring home for grandma and others at home. After paying the bill, he hung the wrapped satay at the handle of his bicycle and for the gravy, it was stuffed inside a used milk tin. He carried me and placed me back at the steel bar and began peddling home.
When we arrived home, grandma did the talking. She told me that I was now big enough to go to school where I would be learning how to count numbers, how to recognize the Jawi and the Roman alphabets so that I could read. The building that grandpa brought me would be the school I would be attending to. It was then known as the “Sekolah Bandar Maharani” which was situated right beside the Muar Padang Club. Then she showed me my two school uniforms, dark blue shorts and white short sleeve shirts. My shoes were rubber shoes white in colour. In three days’ time, I would for the first time be going to school. The three nights before school began I had terrible nightmares.
That day arrived and it was almost six thirty in the morning when I woke up, naturally awaken by our roosters. We needed no alarm clocks those days, the roosters did a fine job to wake us all up. Grandma and grandpa had just finished their dawn prayers. Our maid-servant Mak Yang was busy at the kitchen preparing breakfast; boiled tapioca with desiccated coconut mixed with sugar. I was whisked by grandma to the bathroom and she bathed me. I was beginning to cry and she pretended not to notice.
I was still crying silently when she began to dress me. Then my crying tone became louder and this time grandpa just stood in front of me and I immediately stopped crying. When he was no longer at sight I cried again and grandma gave me ten cents but instead I cried even louder and so she gave me twenty cents. My crying tone became a bit softer.
The beca man and another new student were waiting for me outside the house. Grandpa had to pay the beca man five dollars per month. Then grandma brought me to the beca and I sat beside the new student still crying silently. Throughout the journey I cried silently and the new student kept looking at me. When we reached the school compound I saw grandpa standing at the front portion of the building. I didn’t notice that he was following us all this while and so immediately I stopped crying.
At the school I was brought to my class by grandpa and few minutes later a teacher came and showed us all our seats. Then he gave us each a writting tablet and a white chalk. He was wearing a black songkok and introduced himself as Abdul Rahman Mahmood. We began our lesson in learning the Jawi alphabets; alif, ba, ta..The teacher wrote it on the blackboard and we all copied it on our tablet using the chalk. I was quite attentive and began to recognize these alphabets. I remember very well one of my classmate was my close realtive named Shahroldin Ali because I always saw him in some of our family gatherings. Then we learned how to write numbers and how to count them. One plus one and two plus one were quite easy, but when it came to five plus four, all of us were speecless. All of us scratched our heads pretending to think, actually we didn’t have to think because we didn’t know.
During the interval I had a glass of orange juice and a plate of Mee goreng costing five cents. So most of the time after school I had extra five cents, sometime fifteen cents if I cried louder before going to school. The extra would be ideal to wait for the ice-cream man later in the evening. Our class teacher Abdul Rahman Mahmood later became a politician and eventually an Exco member of the Johor State administration. Those days most politicians were teachers.
After the interval, we had lessons in ‘Rumi’ alphabets..a, b, c and the first day we learned until ‘g’. School ended at twelve in the afternoon. I was extremely happy to go home and as I ran out of the class I saw the beca man waiting for me. The new student who rode along with me in the beca in the morning was already seated inside the beca. Later we became very close friends. His name is Murad Hassan whose father later became the first elected Johor Menteri Besar. The present stadium at Johor Bahru is named after his father “Stadium Tan Sri Hassan Yunos”. Murad later studied in Australia and today he is among my very close friends.
That was my first day in school and for the next two weeks, I was a real nuisance every morning. Every night before going to bed, I would plan what and how to coax grandma, to plan a pretty good excuse to be absent from school. Sometime I pretended to be coughing and so grandma suggested that I skipped school but hardly an hour later I was already running around the house.
On one ocassion, I hid inside a bush next to our house. They organized a search party headed by the beca man. It was my auntie (Mak Jah Wak Man) who spotted me squatting and immediately alerted the rest. On another ocassion I hid under the table and this time grandpa saw me crouching like as though I was hiding from a fierce predator.
Thank God, none of my children had this useless trait of mine. In fact all my three children were excited on their first day in school but their father was certainly not.
About ten years later, while I was buying something at a nearby sundry shop I saw Pak Malek the beca man. By now he wasn’t peddling any more as age did not permit him. When he saw me, he grinned so wide but he was toothless and so I asked him, “Pak Malek apa khabar…mana gigi semua dah hilang?” He answered with his grinning even wider, “Apa nak buat, dah kena makan tikus”.