During my growing days until I was ten years old, I did not have many male cousins who lived nearby except for my three elder female cousins who lived just next door. I have four other male cousins but they lived quite a distant and I would stay with them only on weekends and so for my daily activities, I spent most of the time with my three female cousins namely Kak Shidah (Hashidah Ahmad), Kak Arah (Zaharah Ahmad) and Kak Fuzi (Zabedah Ahmad). They were my childhood companions running here and there, climbing windows and jumping down and running back to the windows and jumping down all over and over. If we fell, we tried very hard not to cry although sometime we knew it was quite painful and said “Aleh, tak sakit pun” (No, I don’t feel a thing) but we always braved ourselves and ran back to the window limping. These three female cousins of mine were my three ‘sisters’. There are far too many activities we shared together and what I can now recall are just some fractions of all those wonderful memories.
The four of us were sitting at the tembok of our grandparents’ house one evening with one common purpose to wait for the sound of the siren from the town mosque. The sound of the siren served some important purposes for the Muslims who lived nearby and one of them was to announce the beginning of the fasting month. We had been informed earlier that either tomorrow or day after tomorrow we would begin our fast. Grandma had told the four of us to be on the alert and to keep our ears well opened and we gladly obliged. It was almost six thirty in the evening and we were already sitting at the tembok discussing the number of days we would fast for the month of Ramadan. Kak Fuzi always said she would complete the whole month and ended up fasting for two or three full days and the rest for half days. Kak Shidah and Kak Arah were quite strong with their will power and could sustain more days than Kak Fuzi but Kak Shidah not only was more strong in her will power, she was ahead in her thinking like what would be the best cakes to eat during the Aidilfitri.
As for me, I was determined to fast at least for half a month and always ended fasting for not even a full day.
“Haaa, bunyi apa tu? Besok puasa lah” (Haaa, what sound is that? Tomorrow is fasting), exclaimed Kak Fuzi who had just heard a sound resembling that of a siren. All of us lent our ears to hear but Kak Shidah then said, “Tu Bai Roti lah” (That’s the bread seller lah). Our daily bread supplier was a sikhman and would normally passed by during the evening and from afar we could always hear the honking sound of his old made horn. Then I laughed at her and to make her feel more agitated, I showed my finger at her while laughing and she just stared at me with her eyeballs at the edge and her face the other side of mine. Then the real sound of the siren came and Kak Fuzi heard it first and this time it made her proud and within seconds all of us ran home so fast like we were chased after by a fierce wild dog. While running Kak Fuzi shouted that she heard it first before any one of us could claim credit. Kak Fuzi and me ran to grandma while Kak Shidah and Kak Arah ran to inform their mother. After informing grandma and Mak Pon respectively, the four of us ran back at the tembok to discuss what to eat for sahur and what to eat for the breaking of fast tomorrow evening. We were so enegertic and so excited to begin our fast.
The next day on the first day of the fasting month, all of us were in no mood even to talk. We were lifeless like as though the world was going to end pretty soon. We kept looking at the wall clock and complained that the clock must be spoilt because the clock hands did not seem to be moving at all. By 11am we were almost dead and the scenario was even worse when nobody was at the kitchen preparing for food. I would lay down frequently at the cement floor to feel some cooling effect and grandma always pretended not to notice. Then maybe she felt pity looking how frail I looked and she suggested that I could break my fast by 12pm and my spirit began to recover. My immediate reaction was to contact Kak Fuzi and informed her of the good news. She thought that was a fine idea and she then told the good news to Kak Shidah and Kak Arah but the two insisted to complete their fast although it was very tempting. Grandma began to fry something and the smell rejuvenated my spirit even more while Kak Fuzi’s face began to show signs of great relief. When the food was served, the two of us wasted no further time and began to enjoy feeding our empty stomach. Kak Shidah went home and slept while Kak Arah kept passing by maybe trying to reconcile her thoughts. Halfway while enjoying our lunch, Kak Arah suddenly appeared with an empty plate smiling.
On one ocassion I remember Kak Arah suggested that we bake a cake for ourselves. She said she saw how her mother make one and it looked so simple. All it needed was some flour, some sugar, a bit of butter or margarine, one or two eggs and we needed a small container to make ourselves a small cake. And so Kak Fuzi and me began searching for an empty margarine container at the bangsal (shack) behind our house. Kak Arah stole some flour and sugar at her mother’s kitchen. Kak Shidah was oblivious of our plan but their younger sister Kamal (Kamariah Ahmad) was curious why the three of us talked to each other whispering like some important mission need to be undertaken. Then Kak Arah told Kamal that she could watch but must promise to keep her mouth shut. She nodded obediently.
While looking for an empty margarine container, Kak Fuzi remembered one hen always looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs somewhere inside the bangsal (shack). I followed her and then she shouted, “Aaah dah jumpa, ada telur lah” (Aaah I found it, there are eggs). So we stole two eggs from the poor hen and later she would surely wonder why two of her eggs were missing. When we finally found a margarine container, we had it washed and proceeded to the back of Mak Pon’s kitchen.
Kak Arah was busy mixing the flour with some sugar and added with some water. Kak Fuzi handed her the two eggs while I went to make the fire. I looked for two bricks and placed them in between the small fire which I made from burning some papers and twigs. Kak Arah then broke the two eggs and mixed it with the flour using her right hand. Kamal was squatting silently but must be wondering what on earth were we up to? Then Kak Arah remembered that we needed some margarine and so I ran back home to steal some. Grandma was taking a nap and that made my mission more simpler. I managed to steal a small scoop and ran back to the scene. Kak Arah was busy again and Kak Fuzi and Kamal squatted in front of her inspecting her works. By now my margarine container was already placed on top of the two bricks and the fire underneath kept on burning as I kept on feeding the papers and twigs onto the fire.
Their mother Mak Pon was taking a nap just like grandma but Kak Shidah was not. While reading something at the living room upstairs, she could smell something burning. She began to suspect something amiss especially when her three younger sisters were found missing. Quietly and slowly she walked downstairs and her nose sniffing like a dog looking for a bone. Then she saw some smoke passing by the kitchen window and now her suspicion began to show merit. When she showed herself before our eyes, little Kamal said, “Dia buat kueh lah” (They are making a cake). Kak Shidah was always supportive of whatever we did and she just said, “Ok, dah siap minta sikit”, (Ok, when it’s ready give me a piece).
Kak Arah then poured the mixed flour into the margarine container and the cooking began. The four of us squatted around the fire waiting for the cake to be cooked. Fifteen minutes later we could see the mixed flour turning brownish and when the colour became more darker we thought it was now fully cooked. Little Kamal ran to Kak Shidah to inform her that her share was ready and Kak Shidah went down again to claim her share.
“Apa ni, rasa kuih tak, roti pun tak” (What is this, it neither taste that of a cake nor a bread), Kak Shidah said as the first piece reached her mouth. We all did the same and we thought we agreed with her. Then she said again, “Petang karang beli je lah dengan bai roti” (This evening I suggest we might as well buy it from the bread seller).
Two houses away from ours was an Indian house with a cherry tree in front (Not the English cherry). This Indian man whom we called Aya was married to a Chinese lady we called Mak Chik Kamala. They had a dog and always leashed inside the house. He was a very kind man and would always allow us to climb the tree. They had three children, the eldest Maniam became my very close friend in later years. One day both Kak Fuzi and me went to the house and climbed the tree to look for some ripe cherries. Apparently the whole family was out leaving their dog unleashed. While both of us were up on the tree, suddenly we noticed the dog came out from the house. Now we had a problem, we dared not descend from the tree. We stayed quietly up on the branch hoping not to attract attention on the dog. Somehow the dog sensed the smell of intruders inside their compound and the dog began sniffing and eventually reached the tree. Both of us were trembling and we kept vigil without a sound. The dog somehow refused to budge from the tree and kept walking slowly under the tree while we were silent and kept looking at the dog.
Suddenly I felt like sneezing and Kak Fuzi told me to control it but somehow I could not control and so I sneezed. Immediately the dog looked up and saw the two of us and of course it began to bark. Worried that the dog may reached us, we climbed slightly higher and the dog kept on barking and even tried to climb the tree. Kak Fuzi then shouted for help and I echoed even louder hoping to get attention from the immediate neighbour. The neighbour, an elderly lady we called Mak Yang (not our maid-servant Mak Yang) came out from the house and when she saw us up on the tree, she could not do anything except to shout at the dog calling out loud of..”shoo, shoo, shoo” with both her hands showing signs of ‘get away you dog’. The dog must be wondering what on earth was this fat woman shouting about? This went on for about half an hour and everytime some people passed by, they would stared at us and just smiled. Then luck came to our side and there was Maniam returning home and when he saw the commotion, he called upon his dog and brought it inside the house. Immediately we descended and Kak Fuzi said to me, “Tu lah kau, siapa suruh beresin?” (Who asked you to sneeze?). Maniam came out from the house laughing at both of us as I walked straight home leaving Kak Fuzi behind. I was angry with her and refused to talk to her for few hours. We called this attitude as ‘tak tegur’. Later that evening Kak Fuzi gave me some cakes she received from grandma and we became friends again.
These three ‘sisters’ of mine will always be a part of my many memorable events of my growing days. There are far too many events we shared together and I can only remember some. When we became slighly older, we had our own set of friends and when we reached our teens, we were more reserved towards each other and talked only on serious matters but no matter how serious we may be, we will always recap those moments when we were always be seen running around the house and our presence surely made the house that we once lived such a lively house.