“One day, you’ll find a good man who will open doors for you and laugh with you and you’ll spend the rest of your life with him. Insyallah you’ll find him when the time is right, kalau ada jodoh.”
My mother used to tell me that God made everything in pairs. Fire and water; joy and sadness; man and woman. God was fair.
Jodoh was for men and women to find happiness in each other. It looked like an invisible rope that bound the two tightly together. In a weightless realm of white, jodoh was God’s eternal promise to his beloved creations. A promise for a chance to love and be loved.
* * *
A wave crashed hard on the breakwater under me, spattering specks of water on my skin. I turned my head to look at the faint outline of my extended family at the barbeque pit nearby.
It was time to tell them. I had already decided and there was no going back.
I pushed myself off the breakwater and strode towards the pit.
The animated buzz of my family’s incessant chatter grew louder as the warm glow of the pit’s headlamps grew brighter. I took deep breaths in attempts to steady my racing heart.
* * *
The first time I knew I was in love, we were on the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands. Overlooking the glamorous blinking lights of the Esplanade and historical magnanimity of the Merlion, we sat nestled in the quiescent heart of the city– away from the discord of the crowd below.
I burrowed my head in between Fai’s neck and shoulder.
“My mum would force me to wear these frilly pink dresses and hairbands and I was like ‘no mama, pls’. So ya, I threw so many tantrums as a kid,” I shared.
“I’m sure that made her very sad.”
“It’s ok, I was like that also. I only wore ‘boy clothes’. T-shirts, jeans, hats. I think my mum was slightly relieved though, don’t need to teach me to dress up ‘properly’. Kan anak perempuan, kene tutup aurat .”
“You still wear boy clothes, Fai.”
“Fuck you–”, Faiqah pretended to be annoyed. I laughed cheekily. She followed suit.
“–But ya la, you’re right.”
We held each other without reservation the entire night, in the tranquility of that vacant rooftop.
* * *
I found my mother amidst my aunts and uncles; a final breath before the plunge.
I pointed to where I came from. She followed me without another question. Maybe she could already sense what was going to happen. You know, maternal instincts or something.
“I need to tell you something,” My heart leapt into my throat, threatening to jump out and drown itself in the ocean.
“Apa, Farah? Bilang mak lah.”
“I… I can’t marry him, ma.”
“Are you having cold feet? It’s normal sayang, I did too before marrying abah. You’ll be a great wife! I would know, I raised you.”
“I… I don’t love him ma. I tried, and I can’t. I just can’t.”
My throat began constricting. I had to do it before I changed my mind again.
“Yeah ma… and–”
“Are you sure, Far? The wedding is in two days, dah berapa lama rasa macam–”
“Ma, I love Faiqah.”
Everything was still.
“No, you don’t.”
“What… did… did you hear… what I said?”
“Yes, Far. You’re having cold feet. And as I said, I had it too before marrying abah. You will get over it after the nikah.”
She walked away before I could say anything else. I stood paralyzed in the sand, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
The sight of two growing silhouettes disrupted my contemplation. Two people emerged from the pit, walking straight in my direction. I faintly made out the faces of two of my uncles– the established imams of the family.
They lunged forward and grabbed my wrists, hissing Arabic words at me. I twisted and pulled my arms towards my body, thrusting my feet into the sand in attempts of resisting their indefatigable dragging. I struggled in vain as they gripped my hands and feet, firmly steadying my feeble frame in mid-air like a deer up for slaughter.
Satu. Dua. Tiga.
* * *
“What? Who the fuck is he, Far? I thought you were going to tell her about us?”
“I know, I know. I mean. I was going to tell her. But she just kept talking about him. She was so excited, talking about jodoh and shit. Ugh… I don’t know lah Fai. Maybe I should give him a chance. Just a date?”
* * *
Eyes clamped shut, I tried to scream; no voice, just bubbles. Adrenaline rushed straight to the heart. I was thrashing my limbs but that was pointless too. I was powerless in their hands.
Freezing cold wind suddenly slapped my skin. I gulped the air, filling my lungs as fast as I could.
Saltwater stung my eyes. I shut them tight once more. Twisting and convulsing my body, I struggled to break free.
* * *
“A date? Farah, do you fucking understand the concept of a committed relationship? You’re my girlfriend. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a guy, if you go on a date with someone else, IT’S CONSIDERED CHEATING! For fuck’s sake, I thought you of all people would understand this.”
I stayed silent. I knew she was right but I wouldn’t admit it to myself.
“So what, are you going to drag him on for months? Go on ‘halal’ dates? Pretend to be something you’re not?”
* * *
I was shrieking when they pulled me out the next time, as if to say– please God, let this end.
Keluar… Jinn… Sucikan…
Lowered again. One of my legs slipped free and I almost gasped in momentary relief. I felt around for the sandy floor. Not a chance; I was in the air once more.
Homoseksual… Sucikan… Ya Allah…
* * *
I couldn’t bear to look at her. I just fixed my eyes on our cat, Saph, not saying a word.
“I can’t fucking believe you… Fine, go. Go on your fucking date with this man and keep lying to yourself… And keep the fucking cat too. She’ll probably remind you of how much you hate pussy.”
* * *
Their voices dulled a final time as they submerged me in the sea again.
This time, they held me down a little bit longer. I felt the air slowly escape my burning lungs. I felt light-headed. I was weak, and darkness began to swallow me.
Then, there was only black.
* * *
I woke up to the sound of purring beside my ear. I opened my eyes and Saph began rubbing her face against my cheek. I scratched her head as I rolled onto my back, resting my eyes on the brown stains scattered across the white ceiling where my glow-in-the-dark stars used to be. I lay still for a while to soak in the silence.
Saph licked my fingers– she was hungry. I turned to kiss her head then roused up the energy to get myself out of bed.
I walked out into the living room to find my mother sitting at the dining table, sipping her cup of morning tea. She looked up and watched as I walked towards the main door.
“Good morning, Far.”
“… Morning, ma.”
“Where you going?”
“Buying food for Saph, she’s hungry.”
“Isn’t there cat food in the kitchen? Bibik will handle it. Come have tea with mak.”
We sipped in silence.
When I was done, she took my cup and told me to take a few days off work.
“We postponed the nikah to next week. His family understands that you’ve been sick.”
I said okay, I would take a few days off in preparation for the ceremony.
That night, I put Saph in her cage and packed all my essentials into a large, worn-out backpack.
When I was done, I stood outside the house with all my things and peered in for a moment, glancing in between the gate’s bars to take one last look at the place I once called home.
Locking the door, I picked up Saph’s cage and walked off.
* * *
On one of our MBS-rooftop-nights, I asked Fai how she reconciled religion and sexuality.
She told me she believed that God loved everyone, no matter who you love. She painted such a beautiful image of Islam, delicately constructing an explanation for ceaselessly choosing a life of peace and sincerity.
For a few hours under that vast night sky, the universe for once seemed to be an arm’s length away.
“I love you.”
“Is it you my jodoh?”
“Can you not! So Melayu. Ugh.”
“Hehehe… I love you too, Farah.”