I don’t know why, but I’m recalling stories from my childhood now and I wanted to document them somewhere. These are the stories I will share with my children, or if not them, then my nieces and nephews. Perhaps motherhood is not for me, perhaps I will always be the crazy aunt with the wild stories.
I suppose not everyone had a nanny, but I did. Her name was Rokiah. Some of my aunt’s friends called her Miss Rocky, but to me, she was Mak Kiah (Mother Kiah). After a hard life with an abusive husband, she and her two children came to live with my grandmother. How this came about was that she used to come around to do the wash when my grandparents lived in Muar, Johor, and my grandmother liked how she hung the laundry. From there, she moved into the house in Muar, and later when my grandmother moved back to the city after my grandfather passed away, she and her children went along.
The only sentences she could say in English were “Thank you,” and “I love you.” There is a funny story where she tripped on a bus and grabbed a woman’s breast, and instead of saying “I’m sorry,” she said, “thank you.” This woman played a hand in raising me. For the first eight months of my life, I had about two strands of hair – a matter of dismay for my entire family. Miss Rocky would make coconut oil for my head, and every day, she would painstakingly rub it in my head. I owe this mane of hair I have right now partly to her.
Every morning, she would brush her long hair, put coconut oil in it and put it up in a big bun. Her hair was so beautiful, long, thick and black, down to her waist, always smelling of coconut oil with a bit of jasmine in it. She hummed when she was hanging the laundry or watering the plants. She would always wear traditional Malay clothes and a batik sarong. She took me for walks in the evening, and she would walk me to my Quran reading classes every day after school where she would sit gossiping while waiting. Between the ages of six and nine, when the only thing I would eat was rice with fried fish and soy sauce, and that’s what she would prepare for me. When I was about eight years old, my mother bought me a recipe book, and Mak Kiah supervised as I made my first cake.
How she had the patience to deal with me, I will never know. No matter what I did, or didn’t do, she would always be able to handle me with a lot of patience. She never raised her voice. Instead she would just quietly coax me to calm down. Of course, there were moments when I did cause her to panic. The ones I vividly remember include when I climbed up a tree and she couldn’t find me, and another time, when I ran off to the park with one of my uncles.
Every day, when I got off the school bus, she would be there to greet me. Then one day, when I was nine years old, I got off the bus from school, in through the front door and into her funeral. Without being ill at all, she had just passed away that morning. The last time I had seen her was the night before when I had given her my usual kiss goodbye, a big hug and a “see you tomorrow, Mak Kiah.” This was my second earliest lesson in loss, a more permanent loss. This was where I learned that a person could be there one day, and be gone the next. For months after, I would come home from school and call for her at the door, not remembering that she was gone.