I was fuming. I had this great urge to start shouting.

“What do you mean we have to get a permission? Are you saying you’re not going to help her?”

“It’s the college procedure. We need to get the permission from the Student Council before starting any collection. We could be suspended from our studies if they found out about this.”

He was a shy guy, stooped a little but affirmed his point. He knew I could be verbally abusive sometimes and the last thing in his mind was trying to invoke more misunderstanding in these difficult times.

But I really did not want to give damn and I will make them do it anyway.

We were in college. I passed a message to the student in the front row and made the Biology lecturer repeat the message written in the scrap piece of paper.

“Praktikum Hayat 18 please stay back after the lecture.”

29 students waited after our last class at about 5 PM. They knew exactly what was going on. Somebody would dictate everything and that somebody is going to be me. Their job is to obey. No comments were allowed.

You can assume I’m a bit of a dictator during my past life.

The class used to be 30 students. We were missing one.

Her name is Shida Aina.

She was another 18 year old student like us in so many ways. Coming from Gua Musang, Kelantan, a journey to Londang, Melaka is a big sacrifice but people do it anyway. It doesn’t matter how long or how treacherous the journey, the students go there to learn and get good results as the college is one of the best there is, according to some listing produced by the government.

We were promised a place in the public university, that is why we bypassed a 2 year system of pre-university called STPM (Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia), a compulsory certificate that didn’t promise anything. But this new system, called Matriculation College is the same thing compressed in one year and that includes a better deal.

The downright thing about the ‘best’ college is that I knew about 10 students who lost their mind in the road to success. You have no idea how depressing and backstabbing sight you would see behind the scenes. The college year for me served as something insignificant because I don’t want to end up in an asylum. All I did there was making jokes in the class, made fun of the lecturers and the drill officers (we had marching in the evenings) and more laughing and jokes. I really didn’t take my life seriously.

Who wants to be a doctor anyway?

Shida Aina would join in the crowd, cheering and laughing timidly. She rarely spoke in class but she would inform me (if I missed a class) about the notes and the assignments. I remember her as a chubby girl in green baju kurung with her big glasses and had a suppressed giggle every time she laughed. She would cover her round face and blissfully looked at the source of the joke.

Me.

I didn’t think that I was that funny but I find the cemetery nearby was far more interesting than a class with the Biology lecturer so I would start inappropriate jokes every time she showed any diagram of fascinating feature of any part of human body (my favourite was the male genitalia), I casually created a small explosion in the chemical lab and the list of attention-seeking-me was endless. I was just looking for a bit of a trouble and everything was entertainment. I would only be serious in Physic class because the lecturer was damn good looking and everything seemed to be effortlessly easy.

Shida Aina would remember every single joke.

So when she was absent 2 weeks in a row, of course you would wonder what happened. She never skipped class. Me, being the complete opposite started to ask questions. They told me she had a severe food poisoning and was warded in a hospital nearby.

I see. But 2 weeks? She had some allergies with the first injection and turned worse than the first week, was the reply.

O.K. I could live with that.

Another week passed. She was missing awful lot of things.

The roommates was worried too. She was not getting well at all, in fact she was getting more frail and degenerating each and every day. Pale and wrapped in her own skin.

Then it hit us, quite briefly.

It was pancreatic cancer and it was terminal. There was nothing that the doctor could do as it was too late.

And this came from something diagnosed as food poisoning?I really should not be a doctor. I might saw a leg off from someone when he just had an ingrown toe-nail.

Meanwhile Shida Aina was sent back to her hometown. Her brother came and he didn’t look very well. It was a sad day. We recited some surahs for her and made an announcement that if anyone would help her anyway they can, in the form of prayers.

I was hoping to talk to the parents but Shida Aina had more problems that she could ever handled. The mother was diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer and the father was on bed rest since the past 6 months for liver cancer.

Imagine their surprise that their only daughter would leave them first.

So the only thing besides countless prayers that I could suggest was to have a fund raised for her but it seemed that it was a long procedure and I did not think that she would last that long.

Living up to my reputation as a dictator, I told them to just do it.

“I don’t care what is your excuse but we have a friend in need. She needs us. What else that we could have done to make her pain less? Nothing! She had been tested with an chain of events that even during your best day you can’t possibly win so quit complaining. I would take all the responsibilities if the Student Board caught you in the act. They could throw me out. I don’t care. What I do care is all about Shida Aina and we don’t have much time left. Girls, we have 2 days to complete 10 blocks and boys, you have 4 blocks. We’ll meet Monday and I’ll send the money the same day.”

They seemed to agree.

On Monday we had close to RM2000. Nobody complained, not even the Student Board.

We sent the money and that was the last thing I heard from her.

I knew she was gone in the following week.

That was my first experience dealing with a death of a person I knew well and it was absurdly real.

I was quite glad that I was a dictator.

 

 

 

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