The Red Couch

“You want to go back
To where you feel safe.”
That’s Okay, The Hush Sound

Vendredi, 22 mars 2013:

This is actually a re-post of a blog entry I published back in 2008 to honor the memory of my grandmother, a little over a year after she passed away. It has been six years since she left us, but her loss has never felt as strong as this before. Anthropologists believe that death may be pinpointed down to the moment when you no longer breathe and your heart ceases to beat and thereafter, but even after death one’s social self continues to live on. In short, you may no longer be among the living, but that does not mean that to those who are left behind, you have fallen off the face of the earth, so to speak.

Of all the posts I’ve published, this has got to be my all-time favorite. I wrote it while I was swimming in a very nostalgic phase, and I felt that the only way to take control of the unpredictable current of emotions passing through me was to capitalize it to produce something good, so that in the future, I may look back at this dark moment and be compensated by what good came out of it. After I published this post online, I asked my uncle to read it, and so he did. Seeing him surreptitiously wiping the few tears from the sides of his eyes, however, was something that I did not really expect, but perhaps it meant that my words had touched a soft spot somewhere in him.

But I shall say no more and get on with it.

Lundi, 02 juin 08:

I am in Batu Pahat at the moment, on the Red Couch yet again. The Red Couch is a family favorite; everyone does everything on the Red Couch. When it approaches bed time, the person who is quick enough to grab a pillow and a blanket and get to the Red Couch first will be fortunate enough to have it for the rest of the night. We gather here for conversations, and assemble our bags and things here before loading them into the car. This is also where we fold our clothes, take family photos on the first day of Eid, and say our final goodbyes before coming back again about six months later on average. Simply said, the Red Couch is certainly one of the most instrumental objects in this house, and for this family.

In the Good Ol’ Days, the Red Couch & Co. used to be in the front area of the house, where the formal living room is situated. However, after some time, nobody seemed to find much purpose in the living room, as it was far more convenient to gather in the “Old House” and have guests in the then newly-built “New House.” Besides, the living room was so far, that it seemed as if it was completely detached from the rest of the house all together, and to get to the living room, we had to cross the abandoned bedrooms and ancient libraries first. Therefore, nobody bothered to use the formal living room, and for quite a long period time, the Red Couch & Co. was left in said space for decades with the sole purpose of its lifeless existence being to merely gather dust.

The Red Couch & Co. have been in this family for more than three decades. They were made in my grandfather’s furniture factory, just next door to The House. In fact, almost every furniture in this house was made in my grandfather’s factory, from the indispensable objects such as wardrobes and dining tables, to the small things such as the garden chair and the “portable bed,” which was a single bed that had tiny wheels attached so that it could be slid in under my grandfather’s bed during the day, and slid out for use during the night. When the Tengku Mahkota of Johor came to my grandfather’s factory for a visit once in the ’70s, it was the Red Couch that he happened to sit on. (Or so the photograph says.) The Red Couch hence has quite a significant chunk of royal history too…

To me, the Red Couch is the most… not only comfortable, but also comforting place to be, too. I cannot explain why, but it was this couch that I chose to sit onon my first day back in Malaysia after hearing about the passing of my grandmother. I sat there, with my tudung next to me, and I just… sat there, not knowing what to do except to cry my heart out at the loss of the only grandmother I have ever known in my entire life. The whole house felt like her, but I felt her presence even more pronounced when I sat on the Red Couch.

Sometimes, when we had guests, my grandmother used to sit on this other chair, which although isn’t part of the Red Couch & Co., is still placed in the same cluster of chairs — part of the “set,” as they used to say. And after the guests had left, she would continue sitting there, and we would then come out of our rooms or the kitchen and gather on the Red Couch & Co. to listen to her talk about the guests. My grandfather even kept a picture of my grandmother sitting on this chair. He kept it in a quite hidden place, but I found it anyway when I was cleaning his desk.

I suspect, on lonely nights, he would lie in his bed and stare at this picture, hoping for one more day with her, or perhaps wishing that he could turn back Time…

I also remember one of my last nights with her. It was the first of December, in the year 2006 — approximately forty-five days before she left us. My mother and I came back to attend the prize-giving ceremony for the MPH Search for Young Writers ’06 competition, and after everything was settled, we returned to Batu Pahat. I was always glad that we came back, even if my win wasn’t all that substantial, because it was the last time we ever got to see her. It was after Maghrib, I think, and we stayed back at the house while the men went to the surau next door to perform the prayers. My grandmother was lying on the Red Couch in a very lazy manner, and the rest of us did the same on the carpet below. Coincidentally, my aunt was also there, and she brought along a friend of hers, who happened to be a very good masseuse. So while we were all lying down there, talking about nothing and everything, my aunt’s friend was massaging my grandmother’s feet. She always complained of pain in her feet when walking, so she adored having masseuses around. While my aunt’s friend was massaging my grandmother’s feet, she made a very suspicious comment: “Mak cik, your feet are cold.”

Everyone stopped talking.

“Oh, it’s nothing!” my grandmother brushed it off.

“No, really, it’s cold!” my aunt’s friend insisted. “Here. Feel it.” She pressed my grandmother’s feet repeatedly to prove her point. Everyone later agreed with her. Yet we were so frightened by this omen, that we brushed it off, thinking it was just a matter of very little importance. But even if we had known, would anything have changed? These things come unexpectedly, when you least expect them.

I had never seen my grandmother so reluctant to see us go the next day. Of course she was reluctant in seeing us depart before, but never so much as this.

“Nab,” she said to my mother, “Do you really have to go?”

We cried, and cried, and cried, and that was the last I had seen of her. When I came to visit her burial place later, I simply couldn’t stop crying again. I cried in the shower. I cried in the girls’ bathroom the morning after I heard the news. When I came back to Lenin’s Wife’s class for Tutor Class, everyone was so sombre and quiet that Paki, upon arriving, said, “Did anyone die?”. I looked so lethargic in Business and Management that Lenin reprimanded me for being so. “Sit up straight,” he said, but he understood nothing and knew nothing of my situation whatsoever.

And so goes the story of the Red Couch — the object to which I owe a lot of my memories, and my heritage, to. No matter what, I think, family is the most important thing, and I am proud, to say the least, to have the privilege knowing my family’s stories through the Red Couch.

So here’s to you, Red Couch.


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