Chapter 9 – The Big Day

My budget didn’t allow me the luxury of going to a hairdresser, so over the
years, I had gotten used to giving myself the occasional haircut by using a
pair of scissors and a hand-held mirror. To make myself look presentable, I
used to put my hair into rollers after every shampoo. This particular Friday
night of September 26th was no different. I had planned on going to the airport
after work the next day to welcome Rick, so after my evening shower that day, I
went to great lengths to “set” my hair and to squeeze out a zit or two and
while in the middle of deciding which outfit to wear the next morning, there
came a thunderous knock on our door!

The time was approximately 7p.m. – I dutifully opened the door to find Rick
standing there. I reacted spontaneously of course, by slamming the door shut in
his face! Mother roared at me and re-opened the door to let him in. We learnt
that he had come in on an earlier flight and came straight to our place from
the airport to surprise me. Mother solicitously enquired as to the state of his
stomach by asking, “‘dah makan?” (Have you eaten?) and innocently Rick
replied in the negative. Bad move, indeed – he was made to sit down and have
dinner with us. We had decided to indulge in having “kari ikan” (fish
curry) from the curry stall that night and Mother generously served Rick a
plateful of rice swimming in a pool of very hot curry with a piece of “ikan
(mackerel) balanced precariously on top of this mountain of
rice. I gave Rick full credit for valiantly and politely eating the whole
plateful. I watched in silent horror as his face got redder with every mouthful
he took, while perspiration trickled in a steady stream down his forehead.
Mother watched approvingly with the occasional offer of, “Some more curry,
Mahmoud?”, now and again commenting to me how much he seemed to be enjoying the

Saturday morning at work, my phone rang – it was Rick, to tell me he had just
been to the doctor with bad stomach pains. No doubt the after-effects of the
bachelor party he had in Indonesia immediately before his return and the hot
curry that Mother had very generously served him at my home did not actually
compliment each other. Doctor gave strict orders for him to abstain from
alcohol and spicy food for a week. When told about it, Mother naturally blamed
it all on the alcohol consumption!

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. I was up early to get everything ready
for the Muslim ceremony set for 4p.m. Things went smoothly and by noon, my
bridesmaid, several relatives and my Malay teacher (Mrs. Juriah Akib) had
arrived, taking some of the load off my shoulders. A beautician from the bridal
salon arrived shortly afterwards with my bridal bouquet and helped me with my
make-up, glueing of the false eye-lashes, attaching of the veil, and so on. I
was very self-conscious about my bad eye-sight and not being able to afford
contact lenses did not lessen my desire to look pretty on my wedding day. This
meant that I was totally dependant on everyone else to “guide” me through the
day as I tried to glide as elegantly as possible in a half-blind state, with my
glasses tucked away in Brother’s pocket. About 2.30p.m. Brother announced the
arrival of the groom and his best man. There was the last minute panic and
rushing around before we all got into the elevator to take us downstairs to the
waiting limousine.

I wasn’t the only nervous person that day, my bridesmaid was just as nervous as
this was a totally new experience for her. Brother was unsure of his duties at
the actual ceremony, I was praying that Mother would not break down in a bout
of self-pity during the ceremony or worse still, create a scene, my gay uncle
Bobby was biting his lips so he would not “melatah”. (Malay word
describing an unusual condition in which a person looks perfectly all right
until he is nudged, or poked. This will result in the affected person
spontaneously saying or doing things out of his normal behavior. There is no
exact English translation for this condition, although some make do with
‘paroxysm’.) There we were, standing nervously in the elevator, each deep in
our own thoughts when Mother decided to show off her ability to converse in the
English language. She turned to the best-man and asked him, “Whatsha name?”
Upon his reply, she immediately turned around and proudly repeated for all to
hear, “My namesh Bill!” By the time the elevator door opened, we were all
grinning like apes… She had unwittingly lightened the mood for everyone. Good
on ya, mum!

We arrived at the All Malaya Muslim Missionary Society headquarters and much to
my surprise and delight, I saw Wak Ali there. Apparently, Mother had run into
him quite recently and told him of my impending marriage so he put on his
Sunday best and fronted up to surpise us all. At 4p.m. the marriage ceremony
began and in the presence of family and close friends, East meets West as Rick
and I went through the formalities and were pronounced man and wife. None of
the kissing of the bride stuff though, oh no! That would be most inappropriate
in our culture. When we came out the main door half an hour later, Wak Ali
performed a ceremonial “silat pengantin” (‘silat’ is Malay/Indonesian
form of martial art and ‘pengantin’ means the bridal couple) – I felt deeply
honoured by his gesture. The oldies took it as a good omen as everything had
gone without a hitch.

From there the immediate family and a handful of friends sped off in various
vehicles to meet up at the photo studio for the photo session. At the studio,
not only do I have to listen to the photographer’s posing instuctions but also
to Mother’s constant reminder for me to not smile too broadly in front of the
camera! No, it’s not a typo on my part – it is our custom for the bride to
refrain from smiling in front of the camera and guests as this would be
regarded as a wanton display on the part of the bride. Of course Mother was
most concerned lest I be regarded as being a bit of a tart! All I could manage
was a few slight smiles as I stared short-sightedly at the camera… As soon as
enough photos had been snapped, Rick and I got back into the limousine to be
driven back to his apartment to prepare for the reception later that evening.

We arrived at the apartment with about an hour to spare… To this day, I do
not have a problem with b.o. which was just as well as there was hardly enough
time to scratch myself let alone have a shower to freshen up! A quick
refreshing drink, removal of my train and veil and a re-touching of my lipstick
was all I could manage in the short interval we had before we hit the road for
the reception.

There to greet us were almost all my relatives, colleagues, and a couple of my
high school teachers. From what I was told the food was scrumptious but I don’t
remember enjoying any of it. I was too stressed out to remember much as Mother
decided to wallow in a bout of self-pity just as the first course was being
served. She flatly refused to eat or drink anything as she moaned to all within
ear-reach, “How can I possibly think of food at a sad time like this? I have
lost my only daughter – God only knows when she will be taken from me to live
in some foreign country, THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of miles away from me. She
probably won’t even know if I’m dead or alive!” and on and on she rambled…
Seeing me on the verge of tears, my Malay teacher and Uncle Bobby decided to
step in and somehow they managed to talk some sense into her. All was well
after that. Relatives and friends, upon seeing Rick drinking lemonade and not
knowing the medical reason, considered me so very fortunate to have married a
non-drinker and therefore would be a very good Muslim indeed!

I had mixed emotions as relatives and friends waved goodbye to us outside the
restaurant – a certain kind of sadness as Mother and Brother farewelled us with
their good wishes, mingled with a sense of anticipation as to what married life
would be like. We did not go anywhere for our honeymoon as Rick did not have
much money to spare. My wedding night was not what I had expected it to be, I
didn’t hear bells ringing, no orchestra played and there were no fireworks…
It was nothing like the stuff I had read in the Denise Robbins and Barbara
Cartland romantic novels… I had finally grown from a romantic teenager to a
real-life married woman.

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