Monday, 23 May 2011

The A List Girls in His Life...

Afzal was more into sports than girls. Not that he did not like them. He oggled pretty celebrities just like everbody else. But, he once told me, "Saya nak bercinta lepas kahwin.." (I want to fall in love after marriage.."). He was a big fan of Siti Nurhaliza's songs (I suppose Siti's clean image appealed to him). He knew all her songs and sang them well too (We sang them together all the time and I never failed to post him Siti's new albums). As far as I knew, he never had any special girlfriend. I guess between football, badminton, rugby, bowling and all the other games that he played, he did not have time for anything else!

However, he was very close with three girls... Siti Nor Aiysha and Siti Nor Atiqah - his little sisters and Ainul Mardhiah - his cousin-cum third little sister!

Afzal and Aiysha

Afzal was 5 when Aiysha was born on July 12th 1989. They both grew up in Kota Kinabalu, fighting and competing like any other siblings. Yet, when Afzal left to read medicine in Sheffield back in September 2004, Aiysha was the one who was still crying long after Afzal's plane left KLIA. She did not say why she felt so sad then and I did not press her for the reason, but I think it was because it suddenly dawned on her that she was not sure when would be the next time she could cuddle up to her big brother again. Unlike the times when Afzal was studying in KL, she could always count on meeting him during semester breaks or at least during festivities or even when she herself made the trip to KL. And that made her feel like she had "lost" him. Throughout those years that Afzal studied in the UK and came back occasionally for holidays, I noticed that Aiysha would be very excited in anticipation of his return.

Aiysha is my first-born daughter. After 3 boys, we welcomed her into our family with heaps of dresses, baju kurungs and dolls! She fitted in well with her brothers,and was always close to Afzal. Both of them share the same passion for football and are great fans of Manchester United.
Afzal would send her mementos from Old Trafford's Superstore - magazines, key chains, mini radio, mufflers, figurines etc. She kept them all in her bedside locker, together with the envelopes/wrappers that came with the postage! Each time Afzal came home and there was a match with MU playing, Aiysha would stay up with her brothers, shouting and screaming (I think she screamed louder than her brothers!). She knew all the footballers' names. But Afzal said she only memorized names of the cute players!

Being a student at UPM (doing mathematics), she lives in KL and was able to meet Afzal in KLIA when he arrived on February 1st, 2010. I am so grateful that she was around because that meant an extra helping hand to look after Afzal. Aiysha proved to be such a gem. She helped brew Afzal's medicinal tea and pestered him to drink them (all 4 - 6types per day, depending on his condition), apply moisturizing cream to help with Afzal's consistent itching and gave him massages upon request. She also kept Afzal company when I was away at work and accompany Afzal when he needed to shop for things. She took so many pictures with Afzal and uploaded
a few on Facebook that some friends thought they were a couple... he.. he.. he..

Afzal and Atiqah

Atiqah's the baby in the family, born August 15th, 1994. Aiysha was 5 when she came into our lives. She was born in Kota Kinabalu. I remember when my husband brought Afzal and the rest of the brood over to meet Atiqah for the first time, their first comment was, "Wow, banyaknye rambut dia!" (Wow, she has so much hair!". Her brothers used to tease her, "...nanti kan, bila kita nak kena pindah balik KL, awak tak boleh ikut tau, sebab awak orang Sabah.... pegawai imigresen tu takkan bagi awak ikut!" (".. you know, when it's time for us to move back to KL, you can't come with us because you were born in Sabah... they'll stop you at the immigration!"). Back when she was little, this teasing used to make her cry.

Afzal adored Atiqah (well, all her siblings do actually, especially because they were already grown up by the time Atiqah was born and as such were more appreciative of a new addition to the family). I remember when Atiqah was old enough to understand and respond (about 2/3 years old), she would always be the one I'd ask to coax Afzal whenever he was angry or sulking.

Eventhough she's the youngest in the family and got all the attention and could get nearly anything that she wanted, Atiqah is no spoil brat. She is a strong-willed and good girl. When I got transferred to KL in November 2007, she refused to follow saying she was not comfortable living in busy KL.
My husband and I didn't insist. So, she stayed behind with my husband and I visit them as often as I could (before Afzal came back, I used to travel to KK nearly every weekend, but I cut it down to every fortnightly or monthly because I could not bear leaving Afzal alone in KL). Every time it was school holidays, she would travel alone, by plane, from KK to KL and back to KK. She did it on her own for the first time when she was hardly 15 years old. I was skeptical at first but it turned out fine and she has been doing it so much, she's a pro now!

Atiqah did her part to help take care of Afzal, but what surprised me most was her willingness to apply moisturizing cream, scratch and massage Afzal, every time she was in KL. It really filled my heart with pride to see my little girl doing the grown-up thing of chipping in when it mattered most - taking care of our loved ones.

Afzal was passionate about supporting the fight for Palestinian rights. When he came home a few years back, he was armed with this tiny card that held a list of brands/food outlets that he would stay away from because sales from them would contribute to buying arms to slaughter Palestinians. And of course when Afzal was around we would avoid McD, Starbucks, Burger King and a list of other frequently visited places. What tickled me most was when Afzal was not around (gone back to UK) and any of us wanted to visit these "prohibited" eateries, Atiqah would be the one to stop us "...Afzal tak suka la!" ("...Afzal would not like it!") and somehow after a while, we got used to not frequenting these places. Actually, Afzal never stopped us from frequenting whichever eateries or buying whatever brands that we chose. His principles applied to him alone. Others were free to follow only if they chose to.

Afzal and Ainul

Ainul is my younger brother's 9 year-old daughter. back when Afzal was studying in KMYS/KMYUEM, he could not always come home to KK during his semester breaks. During those times, he opted to stay at his uncle's (whom we all refer to as Paktam) place in Putrajaya. Apart from the fact that Paktam treated him like his own son, Afzal loved to stay in Putrajaya because he could bond with Ainul who was about 2 years old then. I believe Ainul helped ease his longing for Atiqah too.

These two did all sorts of things together, including watching the whole of Akademi Fantasia series. We found a CD filled with pictures of Ainul among Afzal's possessions. To Ainul, Afzal was her big brother. When Afzal left to study in the UK, he kept close contact with Paktam and Ainul through phone calls and emails and Putrajaya was a mandatory stopover each time he came back for holidays.

As fate would have it, Mak Tam got a scholarship to do her Masters in London for a year in 2009/2010. Paktam followed eventhough he had to lay off work and became a household husband for a whole year! I was thankful because it meant that family was close-by to look in on Afzal while he received his chemo. When Afzal was in hospital for his high-dose chemo treatment, even Ainul got to visit him at Royal Hallamshire Hospital. I remember when Afzal was warded at Ampang Hospital in December 2010, Ainul queried why she was not allowed to visit Afzal because she could do it in UK.

Afzal was a good influence over Ainul because he imparted all the good values on her. I remember in September 2009, when I visited Afzal, weboth went to London to help Paktam move into their new home in Mount Pleasure, Tottenham. We all went out household/grocery shopping and Afzal was in-charge of Ainul. Each time Ainul wanted to buy something, Afzal would grill her with twenty questions on why she needed the stuffs and more often than not, she would end up not buying them. I also remember one day when Afzal and me had to babysit Ainul while Paktam accompanied Mak Tam to settle matters at the university, we went out marketing. All the way back, Afzal taught Ainul to sing "How Do You Like Your Eggs in the Morning", a song for orange juice commercial that he saw everyday over TV while he was hospitalized. By the time we were nearing home, Ainul had memorised the song and just as we were about to enter the gate to the house Afzal said to Ainul, "okay, cuba baca surah Al-Fatihah pulak!" ("okay, now recite surah Al-Fatihah!"). Luckily she still remembered the whole surah.

Afzal was also close to his cousins but I believe he held these 3 girls very close to his heart. These are 3 girls that he would hug and hold hands with anytime he wished. All 3 of them are girls who are still missing him very much........

AND THEN.... a 4th girl entered Afzal's life.

Afzal and Afifah

Nur Afifah is Jep's wife, my daugher-in-law. Her father hails from Sandakan while her mother is a Terengganu lass. She was introduced into our lives back when our whole family was living in KK. She is such a lovable character that she fitted in easily when Jep married her in December 2009. Jep described her as someone "...with a very kind heart". And I agree totally.

Back when she was just Jep's girlfriend, Afzal would complain every time Jep spent more time with her then with us, his family.Afzal used to say, jokingly, "Itu la kau, melebihkan orang luar dari keluarga sendiri..." (How can you put an outsider before your own family..."). And Jep would answer, "Engkau belum bercinta bah... kau ndak faham..." ("You are not in love... that's why you don't understand..."). And as if understanding this, Fifah (as we fondly call her) was actually quite concerned about how Afzal would react to her joining the family. Of course her fears were actually unfounded. Afzal was just putting on an act to irk Jep and because to him they were not yet married, thus should abide by the restrictions between men and women as stipulated in Islam.

By the time Afzal came back in February 2010, Fifah was already a member of our household, living with me and my children because Jep was in Melbourne pursuing his PhD. She had to stay behind to finish her Master's degree. As it turned out, she was another blessing in my household because she took over taking care of Afzal while I was at work an Aiysha was in campus. Every morning, I would prepare Afzal's breakfast and medication, but she would be the one responsible to prepare Afzal's lunch and any other needs while waiting for me to come home in the evening. She is heaven sent into my life and I thank Allah for that. Afzal told me, "Saya memang selalu terfikir nak ada kakak. Saya anggap Fifah kakak saya. Tak sangka dia sanggup jaga saya macam ni..." ("I've always wanted a big sister and I now have one in Fifah. I never thought she would be willing to take care of me like this...").

So.... these are the A list girls in Afzal's life. When I reflect on all that they had done, I realised that being young is no obstacle for them to learn the meaning of sacrifice. They sacrificed their time, energy and emotion, to take care of someone they loved very much...Afzal. Sometimes as adults, we can be so full of ourselves and think that we know everything compared to our children, when in actual fact there are a lot we can learn from them too......Mama Afzal.

P/S : Thank you Eliyana Saliha Elias for giving me that much needed push to write this entry.