Friday 18 October 2019
#fridayflash: A preview of Takpe from A Kind of Death
There is a nail in the back of Nur’s neck. She doesn’t know why.
She doesn’t think about it often, though sometimes when she bathes, her fingers touch it and she shudders. She doesn’t pull it out; she can’t, she’s not allowed to. Her husband Bakri doesn’t talk about it, changing the topic whenever she brings it up. She doesn’t anymore.
She wants to please him.
No one else she knows has a nail there. She’d seen a girl before, on that one trip to Kuala Lumpur for her daughter, Alia’s, medical check-up, a mat salleh with short purple hair and two little metal balls at the nape of her neck. The mat salleh had a lot of other metal pieces all over her body, so Nur doesn’t think it’s the same. Nur has looked carefully at all the other women in her kampung, her village. Most of them keep their hair in buns, under scarves, out of their faces. She leaves hers down, black and silky, reaching to the curve of her back. Bakri doesn’t like her to cut it, so she doesn’t.
Bakri comes in the front door, kicking off his shoes, and stooping to scoop Alia up. “And how has my little Alia been all day?”
Alia wiggles and squeals as he tosses her up in the air. For a brief moment, her fine, wavy hair circles her round face like a halo, then flops down, tussled bangs across her forehead, fluffed up around the back of her head like a little button mushroom.
Bakri winces as Alia tugs at his goatee, catches the small hand to still its grasping. His smile is wide and generous, filling out the sharp contours of his sun-darkened face.
Nur smiles, getting up from the couch. “Her birthday is coming up next week, abang. What do you want to do?”
“Ooo, my little Alia is going to be one, huh?” Bakri perches the little girl on his hip as he steps closer to Nur into the living room. Three steps to the right, and he would bump into their dining table. She’s not sure why she keeps this distinction in her mind when it’s all one cosy room. She lifts his leathery hand to her forehead, brings it to her lips.
He is all that fills her soul.
When he pulls away, she notices the sadness in his dark brown eyes he always gets when looking at her. Why, she wants to ask, but doesn’t. He never tells her, only shakes his head, saying takpe. It’s nothing.
“Should we have a party, abang? Invite the everyone from the kampung?” she asks. Birthdays are meant to be village-wide celebrations, a matter of pride—she knows this much. He keeps apart for her sake, but for this, for Alia, maybe he would want to do it right.
“Let’s keep it small, eh, Nur? No need to call everyone.”
She nods, making a mental list of their close friends. The neighbors on their left, Pak Ali and his wife Timah, but not the ones on the right; they don’t like Nur. The Penghulu, definitely—the village chief would feel slighted if he and his family weren’t invited. The two little girls Alia plays with and their families…
“Nur, is dinner ready?” Bakri asks, pulling her out of her thoughts.
“Ya, abang. Sorry!” She puts her thoughts aside and heads into the kitchen. Everything is prepared. She left them in the pots to keep warm and all she needs to do now is serve them.
Tonight, there is kari ikan, with more ladyfingers than fish, and nasi putih, the rice steamed and fluffy. Nur wishes there were more dishes, but it’s all they can afford. If they slaughter a chicken, tomorrow they might have meat, but then what would they do for eggs in the future? The banana trees in the back make up for it. She finds them comforting. Alia loves them as a snack, whether fresh or fried in batter. Bakri—he turns away from the fruit, looking sick. Although she remembers, somehow, that he used to love pisang goreng, loved it fresh and dripping with oil, the batter they’d been dipped in a recipe handed down from her grandmother. She remembers that, although she cannot remember anything else, not since the incident.
“What’s wrong, sayang?” Bakri stops eating, fingers smeared with curry.
She shakes her head. “Takpe.”
The phrase passes between them so often it too means nothing: Takpe. Takde ape-pe. Doesn’t matter. It’s nothing. Never mind. It’s fine.
They talk about birthday parties instead.
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