Riding on a beca (rickshaw) was always a joyful moment for me. Every time when grandma had to go to town or the wet market, she would assign me to be on a look out for a passing beca. I would run straight to the tembok of our house and sat attentively staring focused on any passing beca. It wasn’t that difficult to find one as there were quite a number of beca passing by our house everyday. When I was five years old, grandma was already in her early fifties and that was considered quite old. She had raised fourteen children and I was added to the list when my mother passed away.
The rickshaw was the most sought public transportation in most housing areas during my growing days and it was more so for us as we had no car. Grandpa would cycle to office as our house was quite near the government building. He would always have time to return home for lunch and to perform his zuhor prayer, returning to the office later five minutes before 2pm. Jalan Omri where our house was situated was not a long stretch with three junctions away from the government building which was situated along Jalan Petri. At times he would walk to office maybe to do a little bit of exercise to stay fit.
1955 was a time when everything seemed to move slowly and it would take quite some time for the sun to set. Perhaps it was so because kids of my age had nothing better to do than running around the house and playing all sorts of games and for that we took our time.
Sometime towards the middle of December 1955, grandpa had brought me along on his bicycle to a school I would be attending the next year. The school was Sekolah Bandar Maharani situated along Jalan Arab, next to the Padang Muar Club. By the end of December, I had my school uniform ready and showed it to everyone in the house. Before dozing off, I would look at the two white short-sleeves shirts and a pair of dark blue short trousers over and over again. I was very excited to begin my school life at the age of six only to begin the first morning crying like the world was going to end pretty soon.
A few days earlier a beca man came to the house and met my grandparents. He was tall, skinny as well as lanky and wore a crumbled looking hat placed side way to the right. Pak Malek was to be the beca man ferrying me to my new school every morning on school days. For his service, grandpa would have to pay him Five dollars a month, quite a reasonable price and grandpa could afford it. Most of his children had finish schooling except for my two younger uncles Wak Yem (Ibrahim Abdul Hamid) and Wak Jis (Abdul Aziz Abdul Hamid). Wak Yem was schooling at the Muar High School while Wak Jis was still in his primary education studying at a private school called The Muar Hana English School, apparently owned by grandpa’s nephew Jabbar Abdul Majid. He was a chubby man and was always seen at our house paying his uncle a visit. A respectable man among Muarians of my time and was famously known as Master Jabbar.
On my first day of school, Pak Malek was already at the front portion of our house waiting for this new kid he would be ferrying in his beca for the next twelve months minus the holidays and I had given him the worst first impression. Inside the beca was a new student too, who would be my mate throughout our journey to school. Murad Hassan was the son of the State’s Mufti and was a few months older than me. Pak Malek would fetch him first using the Jalan Ibrahim road and turning right to Jalan Omri. It was almost seven in the morning and I was still crying in spite of having received twenty cents from grandma. It was supposed to be ten cents a day but the crying had increased the allowance to double. It was grandpa’s stern look straight into my face that made me walked slowly to the beca accompanied by grandma. As I stepped into the beca, Murad starred at me quietly and gave some space for me to sit. Throughout the journey I cried silently while Murad kept looking at this new boy who must be so very good at crying.
The road leading to my new school was filled with schoolchildren in their respective uniform. One or two black coloured cars would pass by and this could well be those who could afford them. Cars passing by our house could be counted easily by the hour and by lunch time it could well reached five or six cars.
While cycling his beca towards the school, Pak Malek kept telling me the need for kids my age to start learning the Romanized and the Jawi alphabet, write and counting numbers and eventually able to read. Although I heard what he said, that did not encourage me to stop crying while Murad sat still, once in a while kept looking at his new friend who liked to cry. When we finally reached the school compound which was passable by our beca, Pak Malek brought us to s small room where a teacher with a long black songkok was seen giving directives to those near him. By now my tears had dried but my two eyes surely gave a good clue that the crying had just stopped.
Murad and I went to a different class and during recess, I met him at the tuck shop. He offered me a packet of nasi lemak but I showed him I had twenty cents and there wasn’t any need for him to spend me. In class we were each given a small size writing board and a white chalk to write on the board. It was not until a few months later that we began to write on an exercise book. By then many of us could write the Romanized and the Jawi alphabet. When school was over, I went to the entrance of the school gate as instructed by Pak Malek earlier and there was Murad standing by the side of the entrance building looking for our beca man. On the way home, Pak Malek again advised me of the need to go to school and start learning many things. He said if I refused to go to school, I might end up being a beca man like him when I grew older. He advised me few other things but my mind was too excited to return home. Every time when it was going home, I would be very cheerful as I would always be in the next few months.
Murad did not stay long in the school and was sent back to his father who was staying in Johor Bahru. In June 1959, his father Dato Hj. Hassan Yunos became the Menteri Besar of Johor and I heard later that he had gone to Australia to study. He was my first schoolmate way back in 1956 and today he is among my very close friends.
On the second day of school, Pak Malek’s confidence in me was far reached as I was already crying when he arrived. Again it was grandpa’s stern effort that made me headed for the beca with Murad looking very puzzled at me.
There was one morning when I was found missing and the whole household was alerted. Grandpa immediately organized a search party with Pak Malek taking the lead. They all searched everywhere; under every bed in the house, under every table there was, inside the toilet, besides every door, at the bangsal behind the house and even inside the small wooden house where we would pay a visit at every call of nature. While everyone was busy searching for me, I was crouching under a nearby belukar like an innocent prey being hunted by fierce predators. It was my auntie Mak Jah (Azizah) who spotted me and the alarm sound echoed. That morning I had to skip my classes as grandpa did a fine job of spanking me. Later grandma gave me something nice to eat and ten cents reward if I’d stop crying.
It was only after a month that my crying mellowed, from shouting akin to a Tarzan’s call to a silent and careful whisper. Pak Malek had always been helpful to me and finally going to school with Pak Malek peddling the beca made me cheerful.
Pak Malek was a kind-hearted man and had two sons both older than me. He lived along Jalan Khalidi in a small wooden house not far from the main road. He earned his living ferrying passengers on his beca around Muar town. Much as I can remember, a trip of one mile would cost thirty cents, the normal price charged by most rickshaw operators. On rainy days it would cost slightly more, maybe about ten or twenty cents extra. Riding the beca with passengers during rainy days must be truly tedious, as I could remember observing them. Somehow I always have a soft spot for poor people and I would feel very sad whenever I saw these beca men riding their beca during rainy days. I could feel their sadness, peddling with their clothes soaking wet and shivering to the bone. But life had to go on for these people for they had many empty stomachs to feed at home. When I was older, I would normally pay them extra voluntarily and I could see the smile in their faces which obviously gave me satisfaction. Once I gave one dollar to a beca man for a ride from town to my house and he almost burst into crying out of happiness and that made my eyes watery. How I wish I could give him more.
Back to Pak Malek my beca man. When I was no more crying going to school, Pak Malek would tell me stories, telling me some of his ‘adventures’ during his younger days. He told me at one time how he was almost beheaded by a Japanese soldier for stealing a packet of rice but was let off the hook when he told the Japanese soldier his family was almost dying for not having eaten for days. Never mind if he had lied to me because I always enjoyed his stories. Sometime he would sing while peddling and the songs were mostly that of R. Azmi’s. He loved singing Hindustani songs too but I would always ask him to change the song to a Malay song because I could not understand a word that came out from his mouth.
At the end of every month when Pak Malek came to see grandpa for his monthly service fee, he would take me out for a ride on his beca along Tanjung area and would treat me for a bowl of cendol. Sometime I would invite my female cousins living next door to come along and we would sit inside the beca like the whole world belonged to us.
When I attended Standard One at the Sekolah Ismail School Two, Pak Mak ferried me only for three months citing his deteriorating health condition as the reason. He was almost fifty years old at that time and one of his sons had decided to take over his father’s role and responsibility. Pak Malek came to see grandpa on that last month and I remember besides receiving some cash, he was given some old clothes that grandpa had stopped using. Grandma too liked Pak Malek and she gave him some of her clothes for his wife. Memories like this will always make me longing for those days when life was truly wonderful.
I was almost sixteen years old when one day while cycling to town I saw Pak Malek sitting at one coffee shop chatting with a group of friends. He looked quite old and I immediately stopped my bicycle and had it parked and went straight to him. Pak Malek could not recognize me not until I told him who I was. He gave me a wide grin and held my hand tightly and said, “Waaaa, Din dah panjang dah” (Waaa, Din, you have grown taller). He introduced me to his friends and how I was so very good at crying going to school at the Sekolah Bandar Maharani way back in 1956.
I brought him to another table and we talked for a short while. It was a wonderful reunion and before I left, I gave him some cash and although reluctantly accepting it, he gave me another wider grin. When I walked towards my bicycle, I stopped, turned around and asked him, “Pak Malek, mana pegi seme gigi, dah lopong nampak?” (Pak Malek, what happened to all your front teeth?).
He smiled at me even wider and replied, “Gigi Pak Malek seme dah kena makan tikus, apa nak buat?” (My teeth had been eaten by mice, what to do).
Rest in peace my dear Pak Malek. Such a wonderful people like you will always stay in my heart.