He picked up the yellow pamphlet from the table as he tossed the crushed can into the trash. How much of this was to be faulted? He had read it over and over and he didn’t see why it should have caused so much trouble. It was what any reasonable minded man would support; at least it appeared to be as it was printed. Who could know the intent of those behind it?
He turned his head towards Sherise. She sat on the couch watching television, twirling hair around a finger.
She jumped in her seat, giving a small shriek. He frowned. She had been jumpy ever since then.
“It’s late. Do you want to go up to bed?” he asked, trying to make his voice gentler.
“Oh, okay. Yes,” she turned off the television. Another change: she was afraid to be alone. She absolutely refused to stay alone in a dark room. Was it the dark or was it being alone that frightened her? He took her hand as they climbed up the stairs, but she drew away. Afraid to be alone and yet afraid of human contact. Maybe she was just afraid of the dark.
He settled into bed and picked up a book to read whilst she prepared herself for bed. She came out from the bathroom in pink striped pyjamas and stood at the door glaring at him.
“Alright, alright, I’ll go wash up,” he grumbled. Wives!
“Sorry, Daniel,” she said as he came out of the bathroom, his face buried in a towel. He looked up. His pillows were on the floor again along with the sleeping bag.
“I can’t. I just can’t.” Her voice quivered and her eyes swam. She huddled on the bed, the comforter wrapped around her like a shield.
“It’s alright, dear,” he answered, his heart making a hole in his belly. “Do you… do you want to talk about it?”
“There’s a good doctor you could see,” he cut in as he unrolled the sleeping bag. “The lawyer said she might be able to help.”
“Just think about it, okay?”
“Do I get to kiss you goodnight?”
She hesitated but nodded, so he walked round to the side of the bed and planted a kiss on her forehead. He couldn’t help noticing that she had flinched. He waited until she had settled down on the bed before he switched off the lights and got into the sleeping bag.
How had it all happened? Daniel asked himself over and over again. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t add up. Sherise was the most harmless, bubble-headed woman in the world. He went over the events of that day again.
“I’m going shopping with the girls, Dan,” Sherise had told him early Saturday morning.
“Am I invited?”
“You could hang around if you want,” she said. “Some of the boys are coming, I think.”
“Okay.” He looked up from the newspaper. “What’s with the flowers?”
“The girls said they’re wearing yellow. I thought these would go nicely with my outfit,” she twirled in front of him, making the skirts of her yellow sun dress flare up around her.
“Very pretty. Just remember you’re mine,” he caught her in his arms and kissed her, hard. She giggled breathlessly.
They met up with the girls at Midvalley Megamall. Daniel didn’t listen much to their excited chatter. None of their boyfriends or husbands had decided to come so Daniel headed to Starbucks for a coffee. The call had come about an hour later, a frantic burst of information and then a sudden silence.
“What do you mean they have my wife?” he growled into the phone.
“Man, you do know about this whole Bersih thing, don’t you?” Azman said. “They’ve been asking everyone to wear yellow to support their rally next week, and you know how Farizah is. She’s been going on and on about it all week. I thought Sherise…”
“Sherise just said that the girls were wearing yellow to go shopping. I doubt any of the other bits filtered in through her ears. So why…”
“Don’t you read the news? The government’s gone ballistic! They’re arresting anyone wearing yellow.”
“Anyone at all?”
“Well, I suppose those they link to the campaign and… Farizah had a bunch of flyers with her… so…”
“Why hasn’t Sherise called me?”
“She might not be able...”
“And you know how?” Daniel felt rude, almost yelling into the phone. He realized that he was starting to attract attention but he couldn’t think straight anymore. No one threatens my wife! No one!
“Farizah and I have an emergency code,” Azman admitted. “If anything were to happen she just has to send a pre-written SMS to me and I would look into it.”
“How good of you to be so prepared.” He was being a jerk and he knew it. “Sorry, Azman. Where are they now?”
“They’re at the station in Bangsar. Meet you there?”
It turned out to be a long two days being led around by the nose trying to get the two wives and their two friends out of lockup. They were frustrated at every turn, even with the lawyers from Bersih attempting to help them. No one believed that Sherise didn’t have any knowledge of what was happening.
What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Daniel stormed to himself. What happened to truth and justice?
He had read over the pamphlets Azman and his friends had given him very thoroughly during the day. There had been nothing else to do except worry. So he read. And he agreed. Fair points. Anyone with sense would agree with them. Even the government would – should have – agree, he thought, even if they did not exactly practice it. Agree. And then forget about it. There were rugs enough for this to be swept under and forgotten for maybe the next five years or so. But no.
And then the four women were released; Farizah, angry and yet triumphant, Devi, glowering, Li Na, hard and sullen and Sherise… broken. She had been delicate before. Now she was just fragile. She refused to talk about anything that had happened, though the others were fairly vocal in their indignation of their treatment – of beatings and nude squats and threats and violence and the rumour of rape. No one was certain, but they had heard that one of the women had been raped. No one would confirm if it had happened to one of their party, or to some of the other women detained, but the rumour persisted. Only no one knew who it had happened to.
Was it you? Daniel couldn’t help asking. She had denied it but her persistent refusal to talk about what happened frightened him. She looked a wilted flower herself, the flowers in her hair long discarded, the sun dress disheveled and dirty. There was bruising on her arms and legs that he could see, but he hadn’t been allowed to see the rest of it. She refused to go for a checkup and insisted that he take her straight home, where she had marched into the bathroom and taken residence for at least two hours until he tentatively knocked on the door, afraid that he would find her drowned in the bath.
Had it only been a week? Everything seemed different now.
He ran over the details of the rally again. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would march. Even if he hadn’t believed in all they were trying to ask for, which he did, he would march. He would march because of what they had done.
And if they brought violence to his door, so be it. They had done it once and destroyed the only part of his life that held meaning. If they did it again… he shrugged in the darkness. Whatever came tomorrow, he was ready for.
The story above is fiction. Seriously. But writers reflect the emotions of their times and I can't help but be drawn in by the raw emotions and all the drama surrounding the Bersih rally.
If you want to know more about Bersih, visit their site here.
Briefly, Bersih's 8 demands are as follows (taken from their site):
1. Clean the electoral roll
The electoral roll is marred with irregularities such as deceased persons and multiple persons registered under a single address or non-existent addresses. The electoral roll must be revised and updated to wipe out these ‘phantom voters’. The rakyat have a right to an electoral roll that is an accurate reflection of the voting population.
In the longer term, BERSIH 2.0 also calls for the EC to implement an automated voter registration system upon eligibility to reduce irregularities.
2. Reform postal ballot
The current postal ballot system must be reformed to ensure that all citizens of Malaysia are able to exercise their right to vote. Postal ballot should not only be open for all Malaysian citizens living abroad, but also for those within the country who cannot be physically present in their voting constituency on polling day. Police, military and civil servants too must vote normally like other voters if not on duty on polling day.
The postal ballot system must be transparent. Party agents should be allowed to monitor the entire process of postal voting.
3. Use of indelible ink
Indelible ink must be used in all elections. It is a simple, affordable and effective solution in preventing voter fraud. In 2007, the EC decided to implement the use of indelible ink. However, in the final days leading up to the 12th General Elections, the EC decided to withdraw the use of indelible ink citing legal reasons and rumours of sabotage.
BERSIH 2.0 demands for indelible ink to be used for all the upcoming elections. Failure to do so will lead to the inevitable conclusion that there is an intention to allow voter fraud.
4. Minimum 21 days campaign periodThe EC should stipulate a campaign period of not less than 21 days. A longer campaign period would allow voters more time to gather information and deliberate on their choices. It will also allow candidates more time to disseminate information to rural areas. The first national elections in 1955 under the British Colonial Government had a campaign period of 42 days but the campaign period for 12th GE in 2008 was a mere 8 days.
5. Free and fair access to mediaIt is no secret that the Malaysian mainstream media fails to practice proportionate, fair and objective reporting for political parties of all divide. BERSIH 2.0 calls on the EC to press for all media agencies, especially state-funded media agencies such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama to allocate proportionate and objective coverage for all potlical parties.
6. Strengthen public institutions
Public institutions must act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy. Public institutions such as the Judiciary, Attorney-General, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC), Police and the EC must be reformed to act independently, uphold laws and protect human rights.
In particular, the EC must perform its constitutional duty to act independently and impartially so as to enjoy public confidence. The EC cannot continue to claim that they have no power to act, as the law provides for sufficient powers to institute a credible electoral system.
7. Stop corruptionCorruption is a disease that has infected every aspect of Malaysian life. BERSIH 2.0 and the rakyat demand for an end to all forms of corruption. Current efforts to eradicate corruption are mere tokens to appease public grouses. We demand that serious action is taken against ALL allegations of corruption, including vote buying.
8. Stop dirty politicsMalaysians are tired of dirty politics that has been the main feature of the Malaysian political arena. We demand for all political parties and politicians to put an end to gutter politics. As citizens and voters, we are not interested in gutter politics; we are interested in policies that affect the nation.