Aiseyman! A touching tale of the relationship between a boy and his Makcik

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I’ve had a privileged life. Since I was young, I've never had to worry much. Everything that I wanted and needed to succeed was given to me. My parents were investment bankers, who as part of their job, travelled often. Because of that, I hardly ever saw them except during holidays. When I was eight, my parents hired a caretaker, Mak Su, a Malay Muslim woman in her late forties. She would arrive as early as 5am in the morning, and leave for home at 11pm.

My relationship with her started rocky. I was a spoilt and arrogant kid who treated others badly and looked down on them as inferior. The kids in school didn't like me much, and rightly so. I wouldn't either if I met the young boy I was then. Mak Su would wait for me after school hours, under the shades of the trees, outside the school gate. I would walk towards her, throw my bag across the cement pavement, and run ahead of her. I would then wait for her to arrive at our house gate, and scold her if she made me wait too long. She would look me with such sadness in her eyes, "Sayang," she said, in bits of broken English, "My legs not fast like last time I young. Forgive me ok, Sayang?" 'Sayang' was a term I grew fond of listening. It was her way of letting me know that she loved me very much, even when I gave her reasons not to.

Things bettered between Mak Su and I when I was 12. I was involved as a long distance runner in an inter-school sports competition. I had asked my parents to come. They promised they would, but alas, work took priority for them. I felt sure that I was going to bag the gold, but I was wrong. Halfway through my sprint, I felt an excruciating pain in my hamstring that rendered me to my knees and in tears. The medics came quickly to tend to my injuries, but I refused them.

Though I knew I had lost the race, I wanted badly to finish it. So I picked myself up and limped my way slowly to the finish line where I saw a familiar face. It was Mak Su. She was jumping up and down, and tirelessly cheering me on. When I did finally cross the finish and made my to her, I fell in her embrace. She knelt down on her knees and held me tightly by my sides. "Sayang, you fall, you get up, you finish strong. Is all is important in life." She took her hands to my cheeks, wiped the tears and sweat off my face, and like the healing touches of an angel, I felt my spirit restored. And as to what she said — to fail, and to have tried and to still finish strong would later form the basis of my formative years.

Though she didn't had any formal education and spoke very little English, she was an avid reader of the Malay literature. My fondest memory of her was watching her read while I did my homework after dinner. It seemed as though she had been transported into a world where all her worries and fears in life had disappeared. From time to time, I would ask her to read to me. Though I didn't understand a word of Malay, I felt oddly comforted and safe hearing her read.

Sunday mornings over the next few years (up till I was in JC) became my favourite part of the week. I would wake as early as 5am to accompany her to the wet market. The good folks there would ask her, "Ini anak lu ah? Muka manyak china." She would smile, shyly, nodding her head, as if to say that I was her son.

Mak Su was a widow. She had two kids of her own, both of whom were girls and in junior college at the time when I was still in secondary. I spent many holidays at Mak Su's two-room HDB in Jalan Kukoh each time my parents failed to return home for the holidays. Though she wasn't required to, Mak Su didn't want me to spend my days on my own. She included me in every holiday and every celebration, and a lot of my childhood memories were of kueh raya and fire sparklers during Eid. Her girls treated me like their own brother, offering me guidance in my school work, and I too looked to them as my sisters.

In secondary school, I decided to take Malay as a third language. At first, I did so only because I wanted to converse with her better, but soon, I found myself falling hopelessly in love with the Malay language. By the time I completed my GCSEs, I was conversant in both written and spoken Malay, and was able to speak to Mak Su in greater depth. Our conversations, I felt, had finally reached full circle.

Throughout my secondary school and junior college years, I struggled a lot with my identity as a gay person. Each time, after track and field practice, when my team mates and I were in the showers, I remembered feeling so guilty when I looked at their bodies, and lusted after them. It felt wrong and yet, right at the same time, and I didn't know how to make sense of it. I couldn't tell anyone in school. I was too afraid to let anyone know despite having many close friends.

Mak Su had become such an important figure in our lives, for both my parents and I. I felt I owed to her the truth about me. A few months before my A-levels, I decided to come out to her. Somehow, I felt that she would understand. She was cooking dinner for two that night. The menu was plain rice, fried chicken, and my most favourite of all, lauk tempoyak. Noticing I was behaving oddly, she said to me, "Makcik kenal sangat dengan rupa tu. Rupa yang sama apabila you pecahkan cermin kegemaran Ibu you tu." ("I know that look, it is the same look you had when you broke your Mum's favourite mirror.")

I smirked, and playfully denied that it was of my doing when in truth, it was. And then I told her that I had something to say. She turned off the stoves and sat me down at the kitchen table. It took me awhile before I told her that I was gay. She was surprised, but assured me that nothing has changed, and that she loved me no matter what. She said that it was something that I needed to tell my parents. For the first time in my life, I felt seen and accepted for who I was, and it gave me courage to come out to my parents.

Both my parents retired some time during my second year of junior college, and became adjunct professors at NUS. I used to be angry at them for missing out on my formative years, but I know now that they were just working hard to provide for me. I knew they loved me. Couldn't have been more obvious from the numerous phone calls they made from overseas which went unanswered by my refusal to speak to them. When I enlisted in the army, Mak Su was in her late fifties, and ready to retire. I was sad to see her go, but I wanted her to enjoy her limelight years. She had worked so hard for our family while having to take care of her own.

At my commissioning parade, I invited Mak Su and her daughters. I had asked my parents the night before if they would be fine to save one side of the rank epaulette for Mak Su. They agreed, and said it was the right thing to do. Mak Su, surprised by my gesture, refused at first, insisting that I let both my parents have the honour, but after a great deal of persuasion from my parents and my teasing her to "hurry up leh, Makcik!", she eventually did. I saw her cry for the first time that evening. I gave her a tight hug before having to rush off elsewhere.

I came out to my parents after army. They accepted me, but I think they were slightly disappointed, too, but were just glad that I was being honest to them. Shortly after coming out to my parents, I left for further studies in Cambridge. At the airport, Mak Su, her daughters, my parents and some cherished friends came to send me off. Though I had taken my dinner at home, I was reduced to tears when she took out from the plastic bag a home cooked meal, the same dishes from the night I came out to her — plain rice, fried chicken and lauk tempoyak. She wanted me to have a piece of home. I sat down with her at the departure hall, and savoured the meal slowly as she watched me eat. She told me how proud she was of the man I was becoming, that she always knew that I was going to achieve greatness.

Mak Su and her daughters came to London last December for a holiday. I had agreed to meet them at St. Pancras station where I would show them around London for two days before making our way to Cambridge. She had seen the photos I sent her of the university grounds, and she wanted to see it for herself. While the sisters explored the town by themselves, I took Mak Su to lunch. Afterwards, we went punting down River Cam. During the ride, she recounted to me stories from her childhood in Malacca, how just being on the boat reminded her of her first date with her husband. I listened to her speak for over an hour, and then she broke a devastating news. That she was dying. Cancer, she said. I sat by her side, and asked if there was a chance of survival. She shook her head no and immediately, the waterworks began.

Last Monday, I arrived home after being granted a short intermission from school. I had received news prior from my parents that Mak Su was in the hospice, and chances were, I was told, that she wasn't going to survive the week. She passed away this morning at 3am. Her daughters — now both doctors — buried her at 8am this morning. I was there at the burial. I'm deeply affected and saddened by her death, but I'm glad that I at least knew her. Her life has touched mine, and I know for sure that henceforth, it would never be the same again. My flight leaves this evening, and though my heart feels heavy to leave so soon, I know she would want me to go on and not grieve for those no longer here on this Earth.

Salam terakhir dan selamat tinggal buat selamanya, Mak Su. Akan kita bertemu lagi diakhir masa.


Source: Gay SG Confessions FB page