Thursday, August 14, 2014

Across the Causeway

Farewell Shot With the Clan 
I remember
It was December ‘65
School holidays
Ma sprang a surprise:
Siddi said it’s best we shift to KL”
What seemed like a few short days
She threw most of our stuff into some suitcases

And when the Fateful Day came
Yat and I put on our new stripe dresses with the Peter Pan collars
And pulled on the bright, white socks tucked into the brown Mary Janes
“Don’t forget the white hankies and zipped shiny purses for purchases”

When Ma heard the ‘Beep, beep’ sound of the horn
And sighted the taxi without the permit   
With its engine running
And emitting smoke
On the dusty road
She said,
“Hurry up, girls, we don’t have the red carpet and the Rolls Royce at our disposal”

No sooner than the doors were slammed
It raced to the FMS Railway Station at the Cape of Fence
Sending us and our baggage flying for defence
Neighbours and uncles and aunties and cousins and friends
Were already there to say
Selamat Jalan!

Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM)

I tagged along
As Mal and Yat paced the platform
Trying to catch the sight of the Station Master in uniform
On the side of the grimy red engine
Were written the words Senandong Malam
The Rhythm of the Night was the night train's name
Which will transport us to our destination

As we passed by the shells of the cream and dark brown coaches
We thought of dust-covered vanilla ice cream blocks on thick chocolate wafers
No doubt thrown on the tracks by the grumpy Sun Sun Ice Cream Seller

The restaurant car was deep in the belly of the train
With shiny long tables and metal benches
And cooks-waiters in white aprons behind steel counters.

At the last few carriages, the writing Muatan Busuk Segera had us baffled
What indeed were these Perishables
That must be instantly loaded
At the tail of the iron centipede
Before they rot and stank and caused a stampede?

Soon the first ‘phritt’ was heard
T’was time to trace our steps back
We kissed our uncles’ and aunts’ hands
Hugged our cousins and friends

By the second ‘phriitt, phriitt’
We had to get our feet on the three short steps
Unless Ma let us pull some stunts
We daren’t jump on rolling wagons!

Our eyes in tears
Our cheeks wet
We jammed the stairs
Our bodies jerked
As the train made a sudden start
When the third ‘phriiittt, phriiittt, phriiittt!!!’
Trilled from the Station Master’s whistle
And his tiny, green flag was unfurled. 

We leant on the thin rubber padding 
With blood red vinyl covering
What passed as benches
On third class coaches
Our arms rested on the open window ledge
The glass was heavy and thick  
And the steel shutters slid down
Like guillotines!

The yellow lights were kind
But the ‘whrrr, whrrr, whrrr’ of the small ceiling fans
Kept yanking our eyelids up
Dozing off was really hard
When so many were milling about
And the ‘clacketty, clack, clacketty, clack’ as the ticket collector made his rounds
Punching holes into thick paper stubs
    Making sure no free riders were aboard


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