It is never really dark in Kuala Lumpur. The lights in the buildings and streets never go out, and the crimson glow of tail-lights and the piercing bright headlamps from cars are a constant reminder that this city, this beautiful city, is alive. It's residents constantly have things to do be it for business or pleasure. Sleep, what they can get, is time spent not doing anything inside the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
It is close to half past three in the morning. I am twenty five stories up a luxury serviced apartment in KLCC, overlooking the park and facing the Twins. This high up, the draft is chilly and I could even hear the wind whistling a lonely melody. As ever I am at the balcony, hunched over the railing on my elbows. A cigarette rests in an ashtray on my left, the embers glowing when it catches some wind. The smoke almost gracefully dances away into the cool night air. In my hand is a glass with vodka on the rocks. I sip it, savoring it, letting the fiery liquid singe my throat and warm my belly. I alternate with long, hard drags on the cigarette. A small plastic bottle with a white cap rests inside my shirt pocket, which I have unbuttoned.
I feel tired. I should be tired. I stifle a yawn and realize I should probably get to bed. My body was telling me to get some rest and crash on the bed. Yet I wasn't ready to sleep. I wasn't ready to admit the one thing that would allow me to close my eyes and just... sleep.
Damia. I could see her lovely grays and feel the gentle touch of her hand on mine. Each time I took a breath I could almost swear I could smell that delicate perfume she always wore. My mind kept playing her voice as if she was just beside me. It was calling my name.
A light on the small coffee table at the balcony caught my attention. My phone. I had put it on silent the moment I checked into this service apartment earlier in the day. I didn't want to be bothered after what had transpired today... though turning it off completely seemed out of the question as well, in case... well, nothing, really. But this time I picked it up and saw several unread messages.
Dhani, I know you're out there somewhere. Please take care. Come home soon, we love you. That was from Nisa, of course. Along with the message she had sent a recorded audio of my little nieces wishing me goodnight and that they miss me and, Uncle Dhani, when are we going to buy toys again? Admittedly that brought a smile to lips, however briefly.
Mr. D, hope to c u soon. We can go hangouts. That was Sharmini. Always concerned for her boss.
There were several others, mostly work related, some from random girls that probably remembered I was in their address books. Then there was the one name I had been waiting for to message me.
Dhani, the message said. I am truly sorry. I wish you well, and I wish you every happiness. This would be the last you would hear from me. I’m changing my number tomorrow. Have a good life, Dhani Ibrahim.
The message ended there. And there were no other messages in my inbox. I read those seven sentences over and over again. My heart ached, badly. It felt like a million shards of razor sharp glass sawing into it. I wanted the beating to stop if only to ease a pain that no medicine or treatment can remedy. After the umpteenth time, I placed the phone back on the table and returned to my cigarette(s) and drink. I had already downed half the bottle of Grey Goose. I might as well finish it.
As I poured the clear liquid into the glass and shook it around, I gazed back at my beloved city. I wondered how many people created lives and histories beneath its shimmering lights. How many of those people had found happiness… and how many more crumbled beneath the weight of its burdens? Somewhere at this very moment, someone is talking to a loved one on the phone. Someone else is fighting to feed their children. And perhaps, somewhere in this city tonight, Damia lies naked beneath a blanket after making love to her husband. And it is this thought that sends fresh bolts of pain coursing in my heart. The thought that this person, this husband of hers had, earlier tonight, taken her into a room. Undressed her, kissed her lips and neck (the way I never had been able to), caressed her breasts (the way I always dreamed of doing), kissing the nipples and touching the tender flesh of her sex (the way I always saw myself doing one day) and entering her, fucking her, making her moan (the way I always hoped I would hear but now I know never will) and making her feel safe, guided and at peace.
I threw my head back and gulped down my drink. I wasn’t even drunk yet. But my head was swirling as I thought back on what had transpired earlier today.
I had held my piece for half a year. In that half a year, I fought every chance I could to win back Damia’s heart. To stop her from marrying a man she barely knew yet for some fucking reason put so much faith in. I wanted to tell her I could be that man. That man she could count on in all ways. But in that six months, all my efforts were futile. All my calls and messages were rebuked. All my attempts to see her stopped. At one point her father, Mr. Isahak, actually called and asked to meet up with me. I had agreed, and I had met Mr. Isahak at a cozy coffee shop in Taman Tun. I had been fully prepared for a verbal lashing, but he had been very… accommodating. He tried to reason with me and talked in a slow, comforting manner. Mr. Isahak told me to move on, and please stop bothering her daughter who has made a firm decision. I wasn’t even sure I was listening. All I remember for certain was I tried pleading to her father to let me see her and talk to her. I had stooped that low. Eventually Mr. Isahak had said goodbye and warned me in his most gentlemanly tone to not bother Damia.
In that torrid six months Nissa questioned why I was so obsessed with getting her back. Why was this different. Why why why. I told her it was simply because… it was simply because Damia had opened a door in my heart that I cannot close. It was because I wanted Damia to be my full-stop. My closing chapter to a life of vice. I wanted her to be my savior. Nissa had listened like only an elder sister that was very worried for her only brother could. But she never asked to interfere, nor would I have asked her to. After that horrible conversation with Damia’s father, I decided that this was to be my battle. If Damia needed to see that I could become that person, then I had to show her myself.
If I could actually get to see her, of course. But in that six months, I never did.
And so I had come to today. Her nikah day. The day that she would fall out of my grasp forever if I didn’t stop her. How did I come to find out? Because earlier, very early this morning, I tried to call her. One of her sisters answered the phone. It was Dianawati.
“Yan, please let me speak to her, please,” I asked, trying hard not to sound pleading though I suspect I failed terribly.
“Abang Dhani, please. Stop this. Please leave my sister alone,” Diana said. She said it in a voice that sounded flustered and disappointed.
“Diana you don’t understand. I’ve waited for half a year. Please Diana, I need to tell Damia that I can be the man she needs. I can be that man. God, Diana, if only you knew how much I love your sister. Please.”
“I do know, but I’m sorry Abang Dhani, this just can’t go on. Especially not today. We’re at Putrajaya already,” Diana said, and something in her voice sounded that she had let slip something she shouldn’t have.
“Putrajaya?” I asked, fully aware without Diana explaining. “You guys are leaving for Putrajaya? Where? Why?”
“Abang Dhani, enough.”
“Diana, are you going to the mosque? Diana is she getting married today? Diana, please, answer me!” Panic had begun to set in me.
“Goodbye Abang Dhani. Don’t call anymore or… or I don’t know, I’ll call the cops,” she said and hung up. I tried to call again and again but got the engaged tone. They must have left the phone off the hook. I paced my apartment. My heart was racing. Putrajaya? We’re leaving for Putrajaya already. That’s what Diana said. Was Damia getting hitched today? It can only be so. My hands began to shake and in a sudden burst or rage I punched my bedroom door hard enough that the wood splintered. Those splinters cut into my fist. I went to the washroom and cleaned my hand, using tweezers to pull out as many splinters as I could. Then I grabbed my phone and called Nissa.
“Nissa she’s getting married today,” I said the moment I heard her answer.
“What? Who?” Nissa said, a bit bewildered.
“DAMIA! Damia! She’s getting married, today!” I said, barely being able to contain myself.
“Don’t you yell at me!” Nissa said. “Dhani Ibrahim, get a hold on yourself!”
“But Nissa, I’m going to lose her forever. I have to do something!”
“NO, Dhani. No. Please. Stop this. Stop this, please. You have to stop this. Cukup lah, sayang. Let her go.”
“Nissa, I can’t. She’s my everything, Nissa. Damia is my everything.”
I heard Nissa sigh. “Dhani, there are somethings in life you cannot change. Please, Dhani. Mengucap. If she’s getting married today, it means she’s put you behind her. I know it’s not what you want to hear. But if she was waiting for you, she wouldn’t have gone ahead. Please, Dhani. Let her go. You had your time with her. It’s not meant to be. Please, please, I beg you. Don’t do anything stupid. Please, Dhani.”
I hung up the phone. Not because I was angry at my sister. But because I couldn’t process what this could mean to me and my endevour to win Damia’s heart back.
Don’t do anything stupid, Dhani, Nissa had warned.
I grabbed my helmet, practically ran to my bike and within fifteen minutes I was on the MEX Highway towards Putrajaya. I knew it was a long-shot. But I also sort of calculated the odds. I went almost full throttle and reached Putrajaya soon enough. I threaded my motorcycle between traffic and ran red lights to get to mosque. She will be having her nikah ceremony there. I knew it.
Sayang, if we get married, where do want it to be? Damia asked me close to one and a half years ago, back when we were happy. I had answered I wasn’t sure. I had suggested we got married at a hotel or country club. Damia had smiled patiently. I meant, she had said in that sweet, husky voice of hers. Where would our nikah be? Again, I answered I didn’t know, but anywhere that would make her happy is where I would want it to be. Then, can we have our ceremony at Masjid Putrajaya? It’s a lovely mosque with a view… and Putrajaya is where we first said ‘I love you’ to each other. I had agreed, anything for Damia, you see. So even though I’m not the fucking man she was marrying today, I knew that was the mosque she’d be in. I just knew.
I arrived at the mosque. Damia was right: it was beautiful. It looked like the Hagia Sophia, resplendent in its rose walls. This was the first time I would be stepping into a mosque since… ages. Nonetheless, I parked my bike (not even bothering to lock it), took off my helmet and ran inside. There were a few tourists, wearing the necessary robes. They looked at me oddly. Perhaps the sight of a man in jeans and a tshirt running around with a helmet was not something they thought they’d see in a mosque.
The mosque was huge. I paced back and forth until finally a kindly looking young man approached me.
“Assalamualaikum, ay I help you, sir? You seem a bit… lost.” he asked.
“Yes, sorry. Uh, Waalaikumussalam. Sorry. But where do you hold your nikahs? Is there a particular area of the masjid, like a room or a dewan or something?”
The young man smiled almost apologetically. “Oh so you’re here for a nikah? Actually today they’re doing it in the main prayer hall. After all it’s still quite early, so we granted them access. Just walk straight ahead, sir,” he said. Then he added, jokingly, “You seem rushed, are you the groom?”
I had already walked briskly towards the main hall. “I wish I was,” I said quietly. I managed to tear off my shoes and I ran into the main hall. Even in that panic, for a moment I was taken back by just how beautiful the mosque was: the inside was lushly carpeted, and Quranic verses adorned the dome high above, where a majestic chandelier hung. Then I refocused and scanned the massive hall with my eyes. Up ahead of me, just in front of the mimbar, was a party of people. They were sat in groups: a group of men directly below the mimbar, and a group of ladies. It had to be Damia and her family. I quickened my footsteps just as soon as I saw a tall man with a neatly kept but full beard, wearing a white Baju Melayu, take a seat on a cushion in front of three men dressed in somber black robes. The nikah must be starting. I saw them talk to one another, smiling, and then I saw her. I saw Damia. She hasn’t seen me. Her head was bowed down slightly. None of the others, her family and by now I know for sure the grooms’, noticed me yet, even if I was carrying a helmet that bobbed wildly in my hands.
I stopped in my tracks. Time seemed to slow down. She was sitting on a cushion, too, just slightly behind the men. In front of her I saw several platters of gifts: hantaran, I told myself. But I couldn’t take my eyes off Damia. She looked… she looked absolutely beautiful. She was in a shining white abaya with gold detailing. Her hijab was a satin cream shawl that had been so, so beautifully wrapped and styled around her. Her make-up artist had had an easy job: Damia looked her natural self, with only mascara to accentuate her eyes, and faint blusher. Her lips were a lovely rose pink. Her hands were intricately decorated with henna.
The world seemed to cease to exist to me. Again, it was like being in a mess of watercolors, with only Damia and myself distinct and tangible. My heart sank, out of love and fear for what was going to transpire soon if I didn’t stop it. Needles and pins began to prick inside my chest.. and then Damia raised her head and saw me. The look on her face… the look was of disbelief. I ran towards the group of people.
“Damia, stop!” I shouted. “Please!”
Everyone turned to look at me. I felt the piercing gaze of a lot of eyes, judging me. I saw Mr. Isahak, looking disappointed beside the imam and his would be son-in-law. I saw Damia’s siblings jaws drop, and her brothers got up and approached me. I saw Damia wanting to stand up, only for her mother and sisters to keep her in place.
“Damia, please!” I shouted. “Don’t do this. I know you love,” I said. Gasps emanated from the guests. Her brothers approached me and tried to show me the door but I just barged through. I barged through the people and just kneeled in front of Damia. She was so beautiful it broke my heart. Her brows furrowed, and after so long, I was finally looking into her gray eyes again, and once again I saw myself drowning in them. But today they seemed distant, and cold. I choked back a sob.
“Damia,” I said. “Please. Don’t do this. I know deep in your heart you still love me. I have waited for you. I am here because I know you love me and you know how much I love you. Don’t leave me, Damia. Don’t go where I cannot follow.”
Her mother, sisters and family were too stunned by my rude interruption to say anything. So I continued.
“I beg you, Damia. Give me a chance. I am not the person I was before I met you. You make me good. You make me better. And if you give me this chance I will spend my life, our lives, to make us better. To make us happier that we’ve ever been. I love you, Damia. I’ve loved you since the day I looked into your eyes, even if I didn’t admit it back then. I love you, Damia.”
She just sat there, quiet. But her eyes started to water. Then I reached for her hand. That’s when I felt strong hands grab my arms and pull me up. It was mosque security. They dragged me away from the ceremony, where most of the family members were still too surprised to say anything. From the corner of my eyes I saw Mr. Isahak cradle his head as if in shame, and I vaguely saw a man I did not recognize scold me. But my eyes were fixated on Damia, only on Damia. She looked at me being dragged away. I didn’t fight. I had ruined this day enough, and I wanted this gamble to pay off.
“I love you, Damia!” I shouted repeatedly as the two security guards dragged me all the way to the outside entrance. They shoved me and warned me that they’d call the police. Then three men came up to me. It was Mr. Isahak and the groom, with someone I assumed was the grooms father.
“Mr. Isahak, I’m sorry…” I started but that’s when he slapped me. Hard.
“Please! You have shamed me, my daughter and my family! I did not want this to get out of hand, but you’ve just forced me to!” Mr. Isahak said, vehemently. I accepted his scolding, and was feeling smaller every second. Then the groom spoke to me.
“Assalamualaikum. You must be Dhani Ibrahim,” he said. He was a kind looking man, with a hard, burrowing stare. He was about three inches taller than me, and heavier built. His skin was creamy white and he had an air of Arab around him. His forehead had dark marks.
“Damia told me about you. I had told her you were nothing to worry about. Seems I was wrong. By the way, I am Saladin Yaacob,” he said. “I am to be Damia’s husband, before our ceremony was so rudely interrupted. And I believe I have a right to tell you not to be here. Leave. You’ve caused distress to Mr. Isahak and his family. They are my family too, now.”
“I don’t fucking care,” I said. “Damia loves me, she rightfully belongs with me, she..”
“Stop, Dhani,” came a familiar voice. Mr. Isahak, Saladin and the other man turned around. Damia was behind them. She came up to us. She looked so very tall… and strong.
“Daddy,” she said to her father and then address the other men. “Abang, Ayah. Please let me talk to him alone. I won’t take long. Please wait for me inside the mosque. I will come back and we can finish the ceremony.”
Saladin opened his mouth to protest, but Damia hushed him. “Please Abang Deen. Izinkan saya, sementara saya belum menjadi isteri Abang. Allow me to speak to Dhani. It will be the last time.”
Saladin nodded, then the three men turned away. Saladin kept looking back.
Finally it was just Damia and I. After so long, I was finally facing the love of my life, in person. How I missed her. She was gorgeous. She looked like a princess on… why, on a wedding day.
“Dhani,” she sighed. She looked at me with a gaze that was laced with sympathy. I tried to reach for her hands but she pulled them away and hid them beneath the loose sleeves of her abaya. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I burst into tears. I dropped my helmet and held my hands to my face.
“Dhani,” Damia said. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I fucking love you!” I said. “I fucking love you and I have missed you. I have tried hard to show and prove to you that I can be the man you want me to be.”
“Dhani, please. Listen to me. Please, just listen, because this will be the last time I will ever speak to you,” Damia said in soft, pleading tone. “Dhani, I am going to marry Saladin. I have come too far to to change my plans.”
I remained quite, and just wiped my eyes. I felt like a child denied candy. Damia continued, “I am going to marry him because this is what needs to happen. I feel… I feel at peace, with him. He has taught me how to be at peace with myself… with my past. And he is gentle, and kind. He has never once touched me before this.”
“What are you trying to say?” I asked.
“I guess I’m trying to tell that he makes me better person. A happier person,” Damia said. A single tear fell from her eyes. She wiped it away. I had nothing to say. To hear Damia say she loved another man was gut-wrenching. Our eyes locked, although both of us knew now it meant nought. But I saw something in her eyes… and it told me that I would never win her back. That look told me I had lost her, forever. That look in her eyes told me to abandon all hope, and it told me that she was never going to come back to me, regardless of how she felt. Because –
“I love you, Dhani Ibrahim,” Damia said. I knew she meant it, too, the same way I knew despite her finally professing those words to me after so long, she wouldn’t turn back now.
“I’ve loved you since the day you first took my hand and lent me a shoulder to cry on. I’ve loved you since those days we went out on lunchdates, and then on dates. I’ve loved you, since the day you told me how you felt beneath fireworks not too far from here. I have never stopped loving you, Dhani Ibrahim. You’re always in my dreams and prayers. But now…”
“Now,” I said. “Now, finally, you can stop loving me.”
More tears fell from her eyes, which had become red. “Yes,” she said, trying hard not to sob. “Now, I can finally stop loving you. Despite what I feel for you, despite my heart. Because…”
“Because you can never forget,” I said. My tears had dried up. Now I just felt tired, and lost. “Because you can never forget who I used to be. Because nothing I say can make you forget.”
She nodded. We stood there in silence: two persons that knew each other so well, but in a few moments, would become complete strangers.
“Goodbye, Dhani Ibrahim,” Damia said. With that, she turned away. I watched her walk back. She didn’t look back at all. Not even once.
I left as soon as I could no longer see her form walking. I rode back to Kuala Lumpur, feeling… nothing. But in my head I saw that man, Saladin, reciting the lafaz and handing over her mas kahwin. In my head I saw him kiss her forehead, breaking their barriers, and then leading her in prayer. In my head I saw how calm and at peace Damia seemed to be. For the first time in my life, I cried inside a helmet. Once I reached Kuala Lumpur, I checked into an expensive serviced apartment and ordered in a few bottles of vodka and told the doorman to get me some cigarettes.
I fished out a polaroid photo of Damia and I that I kept. The date on the photograph showed it to be from a year ago. The photo was out of focus, but that somehow added to the charm of the moment. I remembered the day the photograph was taken. It was when we went to a Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra concert. Damia had worn an all black dress that clung to her lovely figure, with a belt to add some sass and a smokey gray hijab that almost perfectly matched her eyes. I wore a matching suit. The photograph was of us, cheeks together, smiling for the camera. Looking at it, I saw nothing but happiness. There was little to indicate an impending fallout.
I stared at the picture, and lit another cigarette. Then I brought the lighter to the photograph. It tasted the flame and immediately caught. I held on to it as it burned. The fire slowly singed away our picture. And even as my fingers felt hot from the fire, I could feel tendrils of cold ice envelope my heart. I let the photograph crumble to ashes, and a wind blew away the fragments into the cool Kuala Lumpur night.
E P I L O G U E
Click play to watch the epilogue.
The Flower Heart
Muhammad Edwan Shaharir
May 2013 - July 2014