“The plans I make still have you in them…”
– The Background, Third Eye Blind
Samedi, 27 juillet 2013:
Lin, three years down the road, and your death is still something that I find so difficult to reconcile myself with. Your sudden passing caught me off guard. Ever since we were children I’d imagined us sharing stories of our college years when we grow up, going to each other’s wedding, telling our children stories about our childhood shenanigans in Accra, growing old together… But this was all not meant to be. You left, and with your departure I could sense a huge gaping hole where my childhood used to be. I hope to refill this gap by writing this post in your memory.
Maizatul Adlin, or Lin as we all fondly knew her, was my best friend when we lived in Accra, Ghana from 1999 to 2001. Ours was a friendship with rough beginnings; at first we’d see each other at Malaysians’ gatherings both our families used to attend and we had a couple of mutual friends, but we never used to talk to each other. I don’t remember how we eventually got close, but the moment we did we became inseparable. We were born in the same year and were in the same grade at Ghana International School (GIS) — she was in 4R and I, 4L. We were both the youngest child in our family, but she had much older siblings and was hence the ‘baby’ of the family, more than I ever was. Her father was a diplomat while mine was an engineer, but our parents got along very well, mostly because we were such a needy pair; sleepovers at either my place or hers was something that our parents had to tolerate, and required a lot of communication between both her parents and mine.
I can’t imagine what my childhood would be like without her. Lin was the reckless type while I was always the party-pooper, the one constantly asking, “Aren’t your/my parents gonna get mad?” But what did this matter to Lin? If her parents got mad, worst case scenario was they would tell her off, she’d sulk for a minute or two, and then we’re back to scheming our next shenanigan. Conflict resolutions were not so simple with my parents whenever I got into trouble however, which was why I had to contain much of my craziness in front of my parents.
The reason I was thinking about Lin when I wanted to write about Ramadan was because it was with her that I had one of my craziest nights in Ramadan. This incident happened when we were still living in our first house in Accra in a residential area called Manet Cottage. Our house was a modest pink single-story three-bedroom bungalow with a living room large enough to accommodate around 30-40 people for the special evening prayers we perform only in Ramadan known as the Tarawikh. I must have been around eight or nine at that time, and so was Lin.
When the adults started praying Tarawikh, Lin and I joined in with the rest of the mothers at the back. We both prayed side by side but Lin’s inability to stay serious sometimes (particularly on that night) was highly infectious and I too was extremely susceptible to it. Throughout the first couple of rakaat Lin and I couldn’t stop giggling and nudging each other — and we weren’t even giggling about anything in particular — but this was very distracting to the other mothers. Lin’s mother decided to punish us by banishing us to the men’s section at the front. The solution, of course, was simply to separate us, not send us both elsewhere, but this was still early on in our friendship and I suppose our parents were still just about to get the hang of things between us.
And so we went, excusing ourselves shamelessly as we squeezed into the second row of male attendees. Little did we know that we were both about to have one of the biggest laughs of our lives. When the prayers started again, Lin and I tried to contain ourselves, and we succeeded for the most part — until it was time to bow down in prostration, and we noticed, very clearly through the kain pelikat the man praying in front of us was wearing, the outline of his underwear.
By this time there was no use trying to suppress our laughter into giggles because it was spilling uncontrollably, like bubbles from an overflowing champagne bottle (not that I’ve ever opened one personally). The worst part was we couldn’t stop; every time we looked in front of us, we saw the man, and the outline of his underwear. The poor unsuspecting man had not a single clue what we were laughing about. He turned around briefly in puzzlement but all we could do was laugh.
When the prayers were over, we were banished from the congregation completely and we took to my room, much to our great relief. I recall getting an earful (or two) from my parents, who strongly disapproved of such childish behavior from me, after all the guests had left, but that didn’t make the ‘underwear incident’ (as we called it thereafter) any less hilarious.
Now that I think about it, it’s actually quite odd that one of the fondest memories I have of Ramadan actually involves laughing at some guy’s underwear with my childhood friend while praying, and I have a good mind to erase what I’d written above and write a more decent story. But I thought this would be an insult to your memory Lin, mostly because I always look back to this particular incident to remind myself what a crazy pair we were. Whenever my childhood self was with you I felt like no one else and no rules existed and we could do anything. You know you’re in the company of a good friend when you feel this content and reckless and carefree.
I found out about Lin’s death when I was in Paris on exchange in 2011. She’d been ill for a time — perhaps for about a year — which I knew mostly from her Facebook status updates. On her Facebook she documented her deteriorating physical state: back pains, paralysis from the waist down, difficulties with being bedridden, medical check-ups at the hospital, doctor’s prognosis… The thing about Facebook is that it truly turns you into a voyeur, whether you admit it or not. One can know literally everything about another person’s life, yet not a single word is exchanged between the two. That was how I felt when I read her depressing status updates, which I found a bit frustrating because I thought they sounded a little attention-seeking.
But then a small voice at the back of my head actually asked, ‘What if she’s seriously ill? And not just seeking attention?’ I decided to give in and talked to her on Facebook chat. I asked how she was doing, to which she replied something along the lines of ‘Not too good.’ I went straight to the point and asked about her illness — apparently the doctor found some kind of tumor in her spine, which was the reason behind her paralysis, but she said there was still something about her illness that was baffling the doctors. Perhaps they didn’t know what kind of tumor it was, or how to get it out, but she did mention that she was in a lot of pain.
I tried to stay positive when I heard this, and made sure to send her some of my (not so strong) positive vibes too. At that point it didn’t occur to me at all that time was running out for her, and also for me to make amends with her, even if any mistakes from our childhood together would’ve long been forgotten by now. I told her to keep her faith steady, and to pray as much as she could, for miracles do happen. She didn’t reply.
The conversation that I had with Lin that day left me feeling guilty. I mean there I was, the same age as her, healthy, blessed with opportunities to do things that kids our age do: study, travel, love, adventure… There is still so much that this world has to offer, but maybe these are already reserved for you in the next life, my friend.
No one told me she passed away; I found this out through voyeurism. One night on my Facebook home page I was getting updates about people writing “May you rest in peace… Al-fatihah” on her wall. I couldn’t believe it so I checked her Facebook profile and there were loads and loads of the same ‘Rest in peace’ messages, and I knew death had already claimed her.
All my questions about Lin’s premature passing were answered just this afternoon when, upon googling Lin’s name, I stumbled across a blog post Lin’s sister wrote in her memory just after she passed away. In photos of her from her healthier days, she looked exactly as I remembered her, but she appeared almost unrecognizable in the more recent photos. Photos from her funeral left me feeling somewhat confused… I find myself still asking, ‘So it’s all true?’
Death, you may have used Malignant Perpiheral Nerve Sheath Tumor to claim one of my best friends, but rest assured, this amazing person has yet to die a social death — not until she ceases to live in our memories. And you’ll live, Lin. You’ll live.