At my workplace, I would normally park my car near the workshop area, familiarly known as “longhouse” amongst the staffs for its ala rumah panjang shape. In front of the longhouse, there was an old wooden bench. Almost every morning, there would be a permanent figure sitting the bench. An old man, perhaps in late 60s, a MAS retiree, selling simple pre-packed breakfast. Everything was at RM 1, be it a packet of nasi lemak or 3 pieces of kuih, which made his business easier.
I bought his kuih almost every day. He only sold one type of kuih a day - karipap or kuih koci or cucur badak or apam kelapa. Sometimes I would buy his nasi lemak, which I would often share with Liza. The sambal was fabulous, very spicy, much to my liking. If I didn’t see him and his old motorbike parking near the longhouse, I would start asking everyone where he was. So fond I was of him that my colleagues referred to him as “Pakcik nasi lemak si Dieya”.
There was once I didn’t see Pakcik for two days. When he returned the week after, I asked him where had he been? He told me that he went for dialysis treatment. His kidneys were failing. No wonder he looked so weak. He showed me his swollen hands. “Merata dah kena cucuk ni,” he said.
A colleague once told me that some people had apprehensions against his food. Many of the company’s staffs stayed at Kampung Melayu Subang, where Pakcik also lived. They often saw Pakcik digging trash bins looking for recyclable materials to sell for a small living. “Petang dia korek sampah, esok pagi dia jual nasi lemak pulak,” said a guy. He never bought Pakcik’s food. Apparently he couldn’t get over the fact that same hands that sold nasi lemak also handled trash.
I was speechless. Angry even. What was wrong with digging other people’s trash? The old man was just trying to earn an honest living! And it had nothing to do with the nasi lemak that he sold. I doubt he cooked it, he wife did. He only brought it to the bench to sell.
Yes, I have a soft spot for the old man. Because every time I look at Pakcik, I remember my grandpa at kampung whom I love dearly. I never want to see my grandpa working that hard to make ends meet at his golden age. Alhamdulillah, my grandpa is living a great life under the care of my parents. At 80+ years of age, he’s still fit to ride his motorbike to the mosque, look after his kebun and enjoy football games on tv.
Back to Pakcik, he was just like any other old man.
He noticed that I prefer karipap over anything sweet, so he would sometimes warn me “Esok kuih koci ye!” so that I would be prepared to buy other kuih elsewhere.
If it drizzled in I the morning and he saw me walking without an umbrella from the parking lot towards his bench, he would scream “Jangan jalan dalam hujan! Nanti demam!” and I would walk as fast as I could to get cover.
To get to his bench, I would have to climb a few wooden steps in my 5 inch heels. He often reminded me, “Baik2 naik tu.. kasut tinggi..”
When I walked along the longhouse’s corridor before/after buying his kuih, my heels often made loud tapping sounds. As I took each step he would say “Kiri.. kanan.. kiri.. kanan..” and I would laugh every time. Sometimes I would reply, “Pakcik nak saya angkat tabik ke?”
Many times I thought of taking his photos and introduce him here. Many times I felt that I should get him a little souvenir from my next trip. Many times I told myself I should ask what his name was. After all, like what Kak Rosmah said, “Awak tu membesar kat MAS dengan karipap Pakcik!”
A couple of weeks ago, on Thursday, I dropped by Pakcik’s bench to get my usual daily kuih. “Kuih habis,” he said. So I bought his nasi lemak. Since it was also my first day at my new office, it was a very busy day for me. I neither had time for breakfast nor lunch. The nasi lemak stayed untouched until I finished work for the day. By that time, it was already spoilt. Still in a red plastic bag, I threw it into the dustbin, though I did feel strangely sad of doing so. Never mind, I could get a new pack the next day.
On Friday, I didn’t see Pakcik at the bench. Perhaps he went for his dialysis. I would get his nasi lemak on Monday. I had been a while since I last ate it anyway.
On Monday, I still didn’t see him. Maybe the next day then.
On Tuesday, he still wasn’t there. I headed to the canteen to get my breakfast. Then I went to the office. A few hours later I got an e-mail from Zaza...
“Cik kak dh tau ke pakcik yg jual nasi lemak pagi2 yg duk kat kerusi long house tu dh meninggal hari sabtu hari tu? I br tau semalam dr en Kamil tu pun lepas I tanya pelik nape takde nasi lemak pg semalam.”
I was shocked. Pakcik had passed away.
No more his karipap. No more his nasi lemak. No more seeing him sitting on the old wooden bench, waiting for customers to come.
The wooden steps that I climbed nearly every day, right in front Pakcik’s bench.
He used to sit there, with two big plastic bags filled with nasi lemak and kuih to his side. I could almost see him still...
Al-Fatihah buat roh Pakcik. Bangku tu nampak sangat sunyi sejak Pakcik takde. Walaupun saya tak pernah tahu nama Pakcik, saya akan selalu ingat Pakcik yang jual karipap dan nasi lemak paling sedap di Subang Airport!