Sunday August 29, 2010
Counting the hours
By Asrif Yusoff
One boy mans up when he confronts his own thirst and hunger during Ramadhan.
AS a 10-year-old, nothing gave me more joy than not being treated as a 10-year-old. It was a time when I wanted to do everything I couldn’t. Drive a car, go out on my own, work, earn money, buy stuff, snore, curse ... I practically wanted to do everything adults were doing. Except pay taxes.
I feared fasting. I couldn’t imagine playing the routine round of catch during recess and not chugging away my 1.5-litre tumbler afterwards. I may have been the school’s catch champion but, without water, I was only as fast as Kuala Lumpur traffic at 6pm.
I began fasting a bit later in life compared to my peers. Some started as early as seven. When Ramadhan came, as my friends diligently observed the holy month, I diligently observed them coping with hunger and thirst instead. Meanwhile, at the canteen, I’d shamelessly wolf down a plate of mee goreng.
I had tried fasting earlier. But my initial attempts either lasted no more than three hours, or didn’t actually count. I would “accidentally” drink, or, as a last resort, beg for my parents’ mercy to end my starvation.
Realising my frustration with my own vices, I was often consoled by my mother, who told me that I would still be rewarded with pahala (spiritual merits) for my effort.
However, as the Ramadhan of 1993 approached, I made a resolution to fast properly for a whole day. No more “half-day” fasting. No more accidentally breaking my fast.
And more importantly, no more recess with the small kids. It was time for me to man up, and be one of the big boys. Which is why I chose a Saturday to fast for the first time. We didn’t have to be in school.
The challenge began as early as 5am. As I was (again) playing catch with the Care Bears on a rainbow in dreamland, I was awakened by my mother’s voice to get up for sahur. But waking me up at five is no different from waking me up at eight. You’d need to rev a Harley near my ears before I could open my eyes. And as she didn’t have a Harley, I had to be dragged to the dining table.
It was a battle between the mind and the heart. While my favourite dishes had been prepared for me to prepare for the big day, I had the appetite of a runway supermodel. I did realise that I had to fill myself up to face the next 12 hours.
But even after washing my face, I still could barely munch anything. After a bite of bread and a gulp of water, I was on my way back to my beloved bed to continue running with the Care Bears.
Waking up at 8am, I headed straight to the living room to catch my weekly dose of Saturday morning cartoons. “This should be a breeze,” I thought. The usual sequence of cartoons would run until noon and I wouldn’t even notice the time.
Or so I thought.
By the end of Goof Troop and the beginning of DuckTales, my stomach was grumbling as I recalled the bowl of cereal that would usually sustain me through noon.
Images of golden frosted flakes swimming in a pool of milk began to appear in my head. But the young warrior in me didn’t budge. As I held tightly to the sofa and kept my eyes straight on the TV – switching it off whenever the junk food commercials came on – I managed to reach the end of TaleSpin as the clock struck noon.
Half the battle, won.
I had expected the rest of the day to be tougher. The temperature was rising and I could feel the scorching heat even under the ceiling fan, which was on full blast. There I was in the middle of the living room staring at the clock whose hands seemed to defy gravity. Time was moving slower than ever. I felt powerless. “Five more hours,” said mum, as she witnessed her son’s misery.
“Five more wha--?” I said.
The sound of running water in the kitchen alerted me to the majestic beauty of its flow. And its ability to quench my thirst. A part of me wanted to just run and drown myself in a full tub of water and drink it all. But I barely had the energy to lift the TV remote, let alone crawl away.
“Two more hours,” I heard as I blinked and took a glance at the clock. I’d slept. But was too tired to dream of anything.
The rest gave me some willpower to carry myself to the dining table, where I sat with my head lying flat on its surface. The aroma of the dishes mum was preparing crept into the hall and one plate after another made its way to the table.
I could only look and hope that the clock would miraculously go to 7.28pm suddenly. Or that somebody would mistakenly recite the maghrib prayers earlier than he was supposed to.
As the clock finally ticked down to maghrib, my hand was holding tightly on to a huge jug of ice cold air tebu. Nothing would ever come between me and my first drop of liquid for the day. Not even the never-ending stream of commercials on TV leading to maghrib.
As the sound of the azan filled the air, I had probably the longest chug of water ever. I could feel the air tebu branching out into my veins, turning my blood green.
It was one of the most satisfying drinks of my life. A treasured memory I could barely describe in words. One that taught me the wonders of Ramadhan and its reward for those who fast.
After our meal, I reflected on the day and, surprisingly, found myself looking forward to my second day of fasting.
But that didn’t happen until the following year.
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