It was 7.30pm when I heard Halim’s whistling, a short tune known only among our own fraternity. I had just started reading a novel by Harold Robbins’ A Stone For Danny Fisher’, the page turner author who always managed to keep his readers glued for hours but Halim’s signal was more irrestible that the book had to take second place. I answered his call with another whistling tune indicating that I had received his mail and would be out pretty soon. I had my jeans on while still holding my shirt looking for my pair of Clarks. As I locked my room, there was Halim walking towards my direction but he was not alone. Yem was sitting at the tembok, he had come along with Halim and both had decided the three of us take a walk to town. They left their bicycles at my house and together we started walking.
Jalan Omri, the road that stood my house was not too far from the town center with only five junctions away and the Grand Paradise could be seen. The first junction of Jalan Omri and Jalan Ibrahim was just five houses away from mine and we turned right walking straight towards the western side of Jalan Ibrahim that would lead us to the Simpang Lima, the only junction in Muar town that connects five roads. We passed the football field with its fronting stood rows of tall stout trees with its branches spread over the other end of the roadside. From afar it was like a dark tunnel with no light to indicate its end. Further inside was the police barracks housing almost all of Muar’s policemen and their families. While walking, the three of us talked about yesterday, about this afternoon and what to do when we reach town. We decided that the first stop would be Pak Mail’s Mee Bandung and tonight after our Mee Bandung, we decided to enter the Grand Paradise and to see for ourselves how the elders enjoyed their moments in a small area that provide many ‘extra activities’ that purportedly could shame some world standards.
As we walked we passed the second junction of Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Mariam. Towards the right side of Jalan Mariam dwelled many sikhs most of whom many of us believed were money-lenders. There were about four to five bungalows belonging to these sikhs. It was profoundly noted that on every pay day of the month, many government servants who came to collect their salaries at the Post Office would surely encounter smiling sikhs waving at some of them and few others. Further towards Jalan Ibrahim was the house of the famous Muarian Hj. Ismail Penambang, the entrepreneur who operated the Muar ferry service. Then we passed the house of Dato’ Ahmad, the first Malay Chief Police Office of Muar district. During my time, there were only three well known Datos and they were highly respected and they themselves upheld their dignity and could only be seen in special functions. At the next junction to the right was the famous ‘Aman Work Shop’, the most sought Malay car repairer among many Muarians. Further towards the Simpang Lima to our left was the house of Midah Mata Sepet and we noticed her house was dark and it was obvious that by now Midah had her eyes even more ‘sepet’.
Finally we reached the Simpang Lima and at the left side stood big signboards owned by cinema operators, the Rex, Cathay, Asiatic and Victory, all displaying their respective movies now showing. The Grand cinema need not advertise as the name itself carry its own special branding. As we walked further we passed the exterior gate of the Grand Paradise and eventually our destination of Pak Mail’s restaurant. It took us approximately half an hour of brisk walking to have our Mee Bandung. Pak Mail’s little restaurant was situated in an area of about four shophouses what was then known as the Kedai Siang Malam along Jalan Sisi. There was a tyre repair shop whose customers were mainly bicycle owners as well as few car owners. There was also a shop selling nasi briyani and it was surely among the best.
We were enjoying our Mee Bandung when we heard a commotion not far away but everyone took no notice and did their own usual business. Minutes later that noisy disturbance became even louder and still nobody took any notice. No wonder, it was Tukirah chasing after her husband Othman Turki. They must have had some recent misunderstanding and both could not come to a compromise. This couple was a common scene in Muar town of the early sixties, and frequently they would quarrel in the middle of the town sometime over such minor issues. You may want to ask how did Othman get that ‘turki’ title? Thats simply because he was indeed a Turkish by birth. They were homeless and slept on various pavements of the town. Othman Turki normally wore a sarong and everytime when his wife Tukirah chased him, he would fold his sarong tighter. By doing so, the sarong would be shorten and everytime his sarong became loose, he would again tighten it that eventually the sarong looked like a mini-skirt. Don’t be too alarm guys, Othman surely had his underwear on.
We saw Pak Bedot the coconut tree climber bringing his family for dinner. He saw me, smiled and waved and I returned his gesture. “Wah, Pak Bedot, bawak keluarga makan nampak!”, I said smilingly as he neared us. “Yelah, siang tadi banyak panjat pokok, sekali sekali bawaklah isteri jalan jalan”, answered Pak Bedot while his wife who was behind him smiled closing her mouth with her hand to avoid her missing front teeth visible.
It was almost 9pm when we walked across the road leading toward the entrance of the Grand Paradise. The entrance was fitted with an arch fully decorated with coloured neon lights with the center written in bold of this intriguing amusement park. As we entered the area, ‘Mr.Mary’ of Mary Tailor had just close his shop ready to indulge into his night profession of a bartender and even his night outfit was different except still maintaining his missing front tooth. Practically the whole area was not cemented keeping in existence the natural carpet of soil so you imagine how it looked like during the rainy season. However, the cinema and the stage hall were obviously cemented. In one corner was the amusement park offering few games of chance and you must show and prove your talent perfectly to bring home some prizes. The pin-ball machine outlet was the place Yam Tetek Besar earned her extra income but tonight she was not at sight, maybe she had a toothace and preferred to stay home because the terrible sound of the machine could agitate her suffering even more. The grand cinema was showing a Chinese movie and it must be a classic movie of ancient China as the cinema goers were filled with old men and their women walking like ducks due to their very small feet. Many Chinese ladies of my time maintained their tradition of keeping their feet small and they did this since their childhood days by wrapping their feet to disallow its growth.
Tonight we were not so lucky as the stage hall was empty and Rose Chan could be somewhere in other states doing her routine. The ‘Kopi Korek’ where Mr. Mary served alcoholic drinks was filled with drinkers and we decided to enter to experience its environment. It was dark and smokey as we stepped in and all eyes suddenly turned toward us. We saw many familiar faces whose names I would rather keep to myself and some waved at us and we waved back blushingly. Many young women were busy serving their customers hoping for a big tip. Halim then told me that this place was not suitable for us and so we left.
The smell of the ‘sotong bakar’ was too tempting to ignore and we decided to have a light supper. The dried cuttle fish was first knocked flatten by using a hammer and then grilled to perfection and the aroma began to fill the air. It was the sambal that made it even tastier. The owner was a middle-age Chinese also with some front teeth missing. No wonder some dentists of my time never made it and opted for a different trade.
It was almost eleven when we left the Grand Paradise but new newcomers kept coming in as the night was about to begin. As for the three of us, the place was definitely not suitable for school boys our age. Whenever we visited this place later, it was because of the sotong bakar.
Pak Mail’s restaurant was still smokey and his customers kept coming. Tukirah and Othman Turki had by now slumbered somewhere on some pavement, maybe they managed to reconcile because the town was quiet. It was now time for us to go home and we took a different route because the same route would lead us back to the tall trees where owls always took a rest before flying to other destination. Late night in Muar town was always eerie and we never took chances. This time we used the road leading to Taman Selera and passed the Police headquarters right to Jalan Omri. When we reached my house, they both left for home and tomorrow night Halim’s whistling could be heard maybe at the same time when he first came this evening.
When I began reading Harold Robbin’s novel, it was on the third line that I dozed off.