About 24 hours later, after a few phone calls between Raymond and Dato’ Nazri’s PA, Shereen and Rizwan found themselves in a three storey bungalow, seated on an expensive looking arm chairs, being served chilled lemonade accompanied by short breads and waiting anxiously to be called into Dato’ Nazri’s room.
Shereen did not remember who Dato’ Nazri was until she asked Raymond. Raymond reminded her that they were competing with Dato’ Nazri’s company in one of the big tenders last year. Rumours had it that Dato’ Nazri was more interested in her than the tender; so when his company lost it he continued his pursuit.
Nobody knows what actually happened between Dato’ Nazri and Shereen. Rizwan received some photos showing the two of them together, having dinner, walking together, holding hands, the old guy hugging her, Shereen driving his luxurious car and a few other unclear long shots from an anonymous sender. The pictures were part of the reasons why Rizwan started to believe that Shereen was cheating on him. But that was almost a year ago; today he was about to find out the truth.
Shereen did not flinch on the silver coloured arm chair. She was still trying hard to remember what happened during that period, was she really seeing Dato’ Nazri, were they going serious or they were just being friends? She couldn’t remember anything, and that frustrated her a lot.
When the PA finally emerged from behind the mahogany doors, the anxious Shereen and Rizwan gave away a long, heavy sigh. The PA signaled both of them to follow him. He’s in his mid forties and was a good friend to Raymond; thus explained why they managed to get an appointment with Dato’ Nazri on such a short notice.
When the PA opened the bedroom door, it was nothing both of them expected to see. There, in the middle of the spacious room was a king sized bed with medical equipment on both sides, none that Shereen and Rizwan could identify. On the bed, was Dato’ Nazri, looking pale, thin, frail, tired and almost 20 years older than his actual age. He was covered with a thick blanket tucked beneath his chin, but anybody who saw him then could have guessed that the once stout body was then skinny to the bone. The protruding cheekbones and sunken eyes gave out a clear indication of him suffering from a cruel illness.
The three of them entered the room in silence, while Dato’ Nazri stared at his bedroom window, his gaze was distant. The moment the P.A announced the visitors’ arrival, his tired eyes suddenly lit up and he turned to face them while struggling to carve a friendly smile on his face. The PA moved forward to help him sit upright on the bed.
‘I’m so glad you could come,’ his words were almost a whisper, Shereen and Rizwan stood closer to the old man’s side.
‘We’re sorry we didn’t come and visit earlier, we only learned about your illness yesterday,’ Rizwan spoke in a low and soft voice. Shereen stood beside him in amazement, thinking; after all the things the old man had done to him, he could still treat him that good. What a man! What a man to be in love with!
‘Rizwan, Shereen… I’m so sorry I ruined your relationship. I admit, I was so selfish;’ Dato’ Nazri paused to draw short breaths. Then continued,
‘You were good to me, Shereen. You were a good friend, but I mistaken that for love. Please forgive me,’ the old man was suddenly sobbing. Rizwan and Shereen exchanged glances.
‘Dato’, let’s not think about it, you are not well. Let’s be positive and turn over a new leaf. I want you to get well soon,’ maybe that will comfort him a bit, Shereen thought. Dato’ Nazri looked up at her in his teary eyes.
‘I have to warn you of that guy,’ his tone was suddenly strong and rather commanding. ‘He has ruined us all, these are all his doing.’ Both Rizwan and Shereen were holding their breaths, patiently waiting for the old man’s words.
‘He made Adel, your best friend went away then he sent Rizwan our photos together. He’s just evil. I wish I could kill him,’ he was coughing and almost choking from the anger that was blanketing him.
‘Dato’, I don’t understand. Who are you talking about,’ Shereen moved closer and hold the old man’s bony shoulder softly, tried to calm him at the same time.
‘Jamil. Don’t you remember him, Shereen? Jamil Dahlan… ‘his sunken eyes became darker as he mentioned the man’s name with such hatred in his voice; Shereen thought he’s going to spit.
‘Dato’, I hope you know that I couldn’t recall some of the things that happened before the accident,’ Shereen explained and Dato’ Nazri gave a knowing look.
‘I reckon you’ve also forgotten that I used to be a homosexual,’ the old man looked up at the ceiling as if pleading to God to forgive his sins, before he continued,
‘Jamil was my live-in partner. I gave him everything; love, money and everything my money could buy. Then, I met you, Shereen. I’m sorry I have to say this in front of you Rizwan, but I was really in love and I thought it was about time I changed my life. It was a turning point for me, when my heart was opened to accept a woman.’
‘I understand Dato’, it’s okay. Shereen is a wonderful girl, I never blamed you for loving her,’ an unexpected compliment came out of Rizwan’s mouth that made Shereen turned and gave him a warm smile.
‘Rizwan, I was in denial then. I knew you two were in a relationship, but I kept on trying to win Shereen’s heart. Not long before the accident, I realized I have lost. That was why I tried to contact you Rizwan, to apologize. ‘
‘Dato’, I need to know whether the messages you sent me were some kind of warning about Jamil. ‘Shereen suddenly remembered about the confusing messages she received earlier.
‘Yes Shereen. After I met you, I wanted to end up the relationship with Jamil. He was furious; he could not accept the fact that I won’t need him in my life any more. We had a big fight. Before he left this house, he swore that he will make our life a living hell,’ Dato’ Nazri clutched his chest, maybe remembering those bitter fights made his illness worse.
‘What did he do after that Dato’?’ Rizwan asked slowly although he was dying inside to know all the details.
‘He disappeared for a while. Then he came back, with his first attack.’
‘Me? Did he attack me?’ Shereen’s pulse quickened, trying to remember what happened to her then.
‘No, he befriended Adel, your best friend. He made Adel fell madly in love with him. Of course, by then you had no idea that he used to be my lover. ‘the story was getting more twisty than what Rizwan and Shereen expected. The old man could see the confused look on their faces.
‘Then he broke Adel’s heart. He made up stories that you were trying to seduce him and he was getting attracted to you, Shereen,’ Dato’ Nazri gave her a sympathetic look. Shereen lost her best friend because of that guy.
‘Was that why Adel applied for that post in New York?’ Shereen was half shouting then, filled with fury. Rizwan held her palm and signaled her to lower her voice. Dato’ Nazri gave a nod, confirming Shereen’s suspicion.
‘He’s an evil, Shereen. After he made Adel went away, he started a rumour that I was having an affair with you. He snapped our pictures and sent them to Rizwan. After Rizwan confronted me, that was when I hired a P.I to track him down; but I assume you don’t remember that part too,’ Shereen shook her head, she never expect it was that serious. ‘He sent us death threats too, remember? The roses? We knew it was him the day before you had that accident,’ Dato’ Nazri coughed again, heavier than before. Right then Shereen realized the initial J.D was actually Jamil Dahlan.
‘Where is he now?’ Shereen asked after the old man stopped coughing.
‘I don’t know. He was last sighted not long before you had the accident. He disappeared after he realized he was being followed. He changed job, moved elsewhere and I don’t know what has happened to him,’ Dato’ Nazri gave a shrug, he really didn’t care anymore, he just wished him dead. ‘I’m afraid, he was the one who tried to kill you that day, Shereen,’ Dato’ Nazri was referring to the accident, and the statement surprised both Shereen and Rizwan.
‘Do you have any proof?’ Rizwan asked the old guy.
‘I have a lot of information gathered by the PI. You can talk to my PA should you decide to take this matter to the authority,’ his voice started to grew weaker. He was looking paler than before. There was an alarming look on the PA’s face as he paged for the nurse to come in.
‘Enough for the day, Dato’ needs to rest now,’ said the PA to Shereen and Rizwan. Shereen hesitated for a while, she didn’t want to leave yet; there’s so many things she needed to know.
‘Dato’, before I leave, may I ask one quick question?’ she was almost kneeling beside the old man’s bed. Dato’ Nazri stared long into her beautiful eyes and gave a weak smile. ‘Jamil has made my life a living hell, did he do anything bad to you?’
It took Dato’ Nazri a few seconds to gather his courage to mutter the words, before he finally said,
‘He gave me AIDS, dear.’
Epilogue/Prologue/Monologue/Errorlog/Whatever logue there is lah….
They drove back in silence, there’s so much to talk about, but none of them really have the energy to discuss anything. The funeral was a sad affair, only a few of the late Dato’ Nazri’s friends attended. The rest were all his neighbor and people from the mosque who arranged for the burial. None of his family members came. Shereen sat a few yards away when ‘talkin’ was recited; she knew she was going to cry, so she decided not to join the small crowd. Before leaving, she picked up some plumeria that have fallen to the ground and put them in a small rattan basket she had in the car. The smell will always remind her of the late Dato’ Nazri, who once appeared in one of the chapters in her life; the chapter that she’d never want to revisit.
‘Can you drop me off at Melia’s place?’ she looked at Rizwan who was driving, complete in his blue ‘Baju Melayu’, looking all handsome and loving.
‘Sure, are you going to be long?’ it was a Sunday; they’ve originally planned to have lunch at Shereen’s mom’s house.
‘No, fifteen minutes the most,’ she hadn’t seen Melia for 2 weeks. She’s just going to say hi.
When she rang the apartment bell, it took a few minutes before Melia came to the door. Shereen could see that her eyes were blood shot red and slightly swollen, with traces of tears on her face. Melia hugged her tight in the doorway and when Shereen hugged her back, her sobs became clear. She just let her cry, and it was a good 5 minutes before they were finally seated on the two-seater, facing a switched off TV set. Shereen put the basket filled with plumeria on the coffee table. Melia gave a perplexed look before she broke down and cried again.
‘I buried a friend today, and I can’t help but wonder why you’re the one crying,’ Shereen touched her shoulder, while Melia cried uncontrollably.
‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me Shereen,’ she was on her knees; her head buried on Shereen’s lap. Shereen patted her back softly.
‘I have all the proof to charge you Melia, I can lodge a police report anytime now. I’ve even started talking to a few lawyers on this case,’ Melia looked up and started to shiver.
‘Please, please Shereen, don’t send me to the prison. Please give me another chance in life. I know I’ve sinned, I’ve been bad, I don’t deserve this freedom, but please help me. You’re my friend,’ she pleaded in between her sobs.
‘I forgive you and I hope you repent and seek forgiveness from Allah. He’s the only one who can help you,’ Shereen held Melia on both shoulders and she was sitting upright. ‘Pray for your ex-lover too. No matter how much he said he hated you, but I knew he really cared for you.’
‘He loved you,’ Melia covered her face with both hands.
‘No, he was just confused. Now that he’s gone, I want you to know that he had always loved you and I never have any feelings towards him, understand?’ Shereen was getting rather mad, why did she have to be dragged into all these?
‘I’m leaving; I wish you the best of luck!’ Shereen stood up and picked her handbag. Melia didn’t move, she was still crying; crying for her lost love, her future, her life.
Shereen closed the apartment door slowly behind her and went two floors down to get to the lobby. As she passed by the pigeon-hole, she noticed Melia’s post-box: B2-12: Jamelia Dahlan. Why hadn’t she realized it earlier? She couldn’t blame herself; she never suspected it.
Rizwan was all smiles when she opened the car door.
‘Everything ok?’ he asked.
‘Well, I still can’t understand why people opt for sex change. What’s wrong with men being men and women being women?’ Perhaps Shereen was still in denial. It was not easy for her to accept that Melia was once a man.
‘Life is strange, babe. Life is strange,’ Rizwan gave her a light peck on the cheek before he sped off to Shereen’s mom’s place. A more serious discussion was expected to take place on the dining table that afternoon. Rizwan silently prayed that this time everything will work well, ‘insyaallah’….
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