Falling in love while in school could be very exciting but falling apart would surely be disastrous. While in school I was never in love but as a normal boy of course I used to admire some girls and even hoped to have a steady. But unfortunately, I happened to be a boring person when it came to girls and maybe the reason why girls whom I knew were not too interested in me. If I were among boys and girls, I would always be the center of attraction cracking jokes, showing off my guitar playing skill and even impersonating some of our local film idols and making everyone laughed but if I were to sit with a girl, just she and me, I began to loose my direction and became as dumb as a donkey. Frankly, I never had a steady girlfriend during my school days but few of my close friends had. Some of them would consult me during their courtship like as though I was a fantastic Casanova. Few would approach me for advice on how best to avoid splitting and how to keep on going steady for a long time. When it came to counseling, I was the most sought and was the champion but put me in their situation and I would surely be the loser.
In this article I would like to share with you not the thrill of falling in love in a small town like Muar of the sixties but the fatal episode of breaking up. These are true stories but to be fair to my friends, I will create fictitious names in place of theirs. They all happened to my close classmates of Form Four and Five. We were kids but we thought we were grown ups.
While on my way to the tuck-shop one morning, Salim came running after me and as he reached me, he pat my shoulder and said that he need to talk to me in private. We both had a bowl of ‘mi soup’ and a cup of coffee. While I was enjoying my indulgence, Salim seemed to have lost his appetite and just gazed at his food.
“Apa pasal kau ni, monyong aje?” (What’s wrong with you? You looked very down), I asked him. “Masaalah ke?” (Any problem?). ‘Monyong’ is a word used to describe someone who is depressed. I believe this word is still being used until today, although most have replaced it with ‘muram’.
Salim looked dejected and was not himself. He was always a jovial person but that day looked like the whole world was crumbling down upon him. Earlier he had a minor accident while cycling home. He cycled head on with another bicycle and the handle of his bicycle was dented. Imagine, in Muar town of the sixties even riding a bicycle could get yourself a head on collision with another bicycle. Maybe while riding he was thinking of his girlfriend Salmah. Now he told me that Salmah was leaving him. Pepatah Melayu kata, ‘dah jatuh ditimpa tangga’. That’s a Malay proverb and literally it means, when you fall, the stairs will fall on you. Now that is a very serious matter and something not to be taken lightly.
Salmah was a slim girl schooling at the Sultan Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS) and like Salim, she was in Form Three when they both went steady. Salim met her at a kenduri held near their kampong in Parit Raja. Since then they began exchanging letters and so every three or four days, both of them would be looking for the postman. Whenever Salim received her letter, he would reply it immediately and sometime he even wrote the letter while in class.
“Apa dah jadi?” (What went wrong), I asked Salim as he kept on looking at the ‘mi soup’. Seconds later he broke his silence and told me that Salmah had wanted to end their year long relationship. He received that sad letter yesterday afternoon after returning home from school. Since then his diet had been haywire and began his first night of insomnia.
“Hai, setahun awak berdua berendut, apa pasal tiba tiba nak clash?” (It had been a year both of you had been steady, why the sudden split?), I asked him. Those days, when you split with your girlfriend, you termed it as ‘clash’. In other word, you are no more on talking terms with each other. Now that was also another serious matter because your health could be in jeopardy. No amount of medicine could heal this terrible sickness. We Malays termed it as ‘gila bayang’. Literally it means ‘mad over your own shadow’. Now you must agree with me that this is a very serious matter.
Salim looked at me and said sadly, “Entahlah, tiba tiba aje. Kawan pun tak tau.” (I don’t know, it is sudden and I don’t know why?). Muarian Malays refer ‘kawan’ as ‘I’ and ‘awak’ as ‘you’.
Splitting with your steady during my schooling days was like the end of the world. Your mind would be very unstable and it would be even more unstable if you noticed her talking to another boy. Your heart would beat faster than the Mercedes on the road. Every food became tasteless, even your favourite ‘mi bandung’ would taste like some noodles soaked inside a boiling water with no salt. Sometime you might even forget to comb your hair. If it went on for so long, then we don’t call it ‘gila bayang’ any longer, we call it ‘gila babi’. You wouldn’t want to ask me what it means, would you?
“Habis, apa awak nak buat?” (What are you going to do then?), I asked Salim. Instead of answering my question, he threw back the question to me and asked me what would I do if faced with the same situation. I looked at him and said straight to his face, “Dia yang nak clash, clash lah. Awak carilah girlfriend lain” (She wanted to split and so let it be. Go find yourself another girl).
Salim looked quite annoyed at my answer and replied with a sad tone, “Awak cakap senang, kawan suffer awak tak tau” (It’s easy for you to say, you don’t know how I suffer).
That was very natural of me during my schooling days. To me when your female partner wish to split with you, why bother for any explanation. We just had to go ahead with our lives. “Bunga tak sekuntum, lagi pun tak lama layu”. So perhaps that was another reason why I never did have any steady.
Salim was a different person altogether. He was very emotional and could easily fall apart when faced with this kind of situation. I had to tell him nicely and convinced him that splitting with Salmah could be good for him and furthermore what good for him to moan over someone who had no further interest in him?
Salim finally split with Salmah and it took him quite a while to recover. Although he did make some attempts for reconciliation, Salmah refused. I knew Salmah quite well and months later when I met her in one gathering, I asked her what went wrong with their year long relationship? She smiled at me and said it was a secret and she would not reveal it to anyone. Later, most of us noticed Salmah was going out with another boy. Maybe Salim was a boring person just like me.
Johari was in class Form Four A while I was in class B. We became close friends since we were in Form One and we split classes after our LCE examination because obviously he was more intelligent than me. He obtained excellent results compared to mine with just credits with no distinction.
He had been dating Faridah for quite sometime and often seen together at the Kim Leng restaurant, the place where lovers met. They were an item and everyone knew they belonged to each other not until at one house party when they both came separately. Those who knew their relationship were quite surprised at the turn of event and gossips began to spread.
“Joe, awak clash ke dengan Faridah ke?” (Have you split with Faridah?), I asked him inquisitively at the party.
“Aah aa, dia nampak kawan berjalan dengan Siti kat Tanjung. Lepas tu dia terus tak nak jumpa dengan kawan”. (Yes, she saw me walking with Siti near Tanjung. Since then she refused to see me), answered Johari. Both Johari and Siti were just friends with no intimate relationship. According to Johari, he was at Tanjung together with another friend enjoying their ‘rojak kamal’ when he noticed Siti walking with her friend. Siti stayed two doors away from his house and it was only polite to greet a neighbour and to say hello. Johari then invited Siti and her friend for a plate of the famous ‘rojak kamal’ which they both obliged. Little did he realized that not far away from where they were eating, Faridah was cycling with her friend along the same path.
The following afternoon when Johari went to Faridah’s house to invite her for a stroll, she stormed out from her house and told Johari in an angry tone that he should be asking Siti for an outing instead of her. Then she demanded that Johari stay away from her life. Johari said that he felt so flabbergasted at such an outburst which was unnecessary and uncalled for. She did not even give him some space to explain. Although he went home dejected, he felt that it would be good for both of them to split.
“Oooh, ni kes jealous lah” (Oh, this is a case of jealousy), I remarked. Notice the word ‘kes’ in my sentence. ‘Kes’ is ‘case’ in English. Muarian Malays of my time used this word quite frequently. Supposing if you feel lazy to go to a certain place and tell your friend so, he would remark by saying “ni kes malas lah”. Another example is when you are shy to meet someone, the remark would be ‘ni kes malu lah’.
“Yelah, tak pasal pasal nak jealous, biarkan dia lah” (Yes, it’s just jealousy. Let her be), answered Johari.
I thought Johari was very strong willed and for that he had my respect. However that night he was not quite himself and did not seem to be enjoying the party. Faridah on the other hand was merry talking to her friends and dancing with few other boys. Later I noticed Johari was not at sight. It seemed he left the party early.
I was wrong when I thought that Johari was strong willed. In fact he was worse that Salim and he took it so badly. It was only two weeks later when I found out that Joe had suffered terribly from the split. When he told me of his plight one evening at Tanjung, he was practically crying. I could not do much to help me and could only console him to be more strong and to face reality. To him, breaking up with someone you love and care is truly hard to do. Joe remained single for a long time, even after our Form Five was over. In later years when we were already working, I met him at a wedding and during our short conversation over a stick of cigarette outside the hall, Joe still think about Faridah who perhaps by then had been married. I smiled at him and said that there must be something special about Faridah that made him still think about her. Few months later, I received a wedding card inviting me to his wedding and believe it or not, he got married to Faridah. They met accidently in Kuala Lumpur and things seemed to be working very well ever since. When I shook Joe’s hand after their wedding, I said to him, “Don’t you ever make her jealous again because this time if you did, not only the stairs would fall over you, the whole house would come down crumbling over you. Faridah looked at me and just giggled. Ever since they had lived happily and are being blessed with a girl and two boys. He would soon become a grandfather. He personally called me inviting me to his daughter’s wedding.
Talking about girls during my schooling days was a natural thing to do. Yem and me used to talk about this subject quite frequently but not my other close friend Halim. He was more inclined towards doing something adventurous like riding to some spooky places during the night.
Yem agreed that breaking up is hard to do because he experienced it himself. How could you erase those fond memories of going to parties together, enjoying the ice-kacang together at the Kim Leng restaurant and riding to Tanjung in the evening to enjoy the breeze together? Before you go to sleep, you would be reading some of the letters she wrote, telling you about the good things she likes and the places she would like to visit. Falling in love during those school days was truly exciting. Just by passing by her house could make your day. If she followed her parents for an outstation trip for a week how you yearned for her return. Falling in love those days was platonic because we knew our limit.
I may not have fallen in love during my school days but I have to agree that breaking up is really hard to do.