First foot forward

It made sense, at first. I had to perform the ghusl before Fajr prayers, and it didn’t make sense to shower, run and then shower again. I’ll just do it tomorrow, I thought to myself yesterday morning. My running schedule is spaced out on alternate days, but it’s not like I’m running a 10km every morning so much so that I’d constantly need a whole day’s recovery.

Of course, I didn’t actually check the weather forecast.

And as I looked out of the window at the frost on everyone’s car (and clearly, poor old Gomo too even though I covered him well last night), I figured a shower-run-shower-again combo would have been better than a run in -3 degrees.

I could have given it up, but of late, running in the morning before work has given me both a sense of structure and a sense of self. It put my head in the right place for the day ahead, and sometimes it even verged on the therapeutic. In fact, running therapised itself from becoming something I didn’t like very much, to becoming something I’d actually do.

And so out I trudged, doing the scheduled 4km and choosing a route that had two runs in two separate parks on the way. Birmingham has an abundance of these little parks just beyond the busy thoroughfares that make it Motor City. You just need to know where to look. On my last stretch back, through Pebble Mill Playing Fields, I saw other runners braving the cold. Clearly more dedicated than me, and at a faster pace, too. A few even nodded and waved, a mark of camaraderie, I suppose, and an acknowledgement to each other’s madness for venturing out on such a day.

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I have in the past confessed that for someone that does it quite a bit, I don’t like running. I don’t, really. I want to say that I am more of a people person and enjoy team sports more; but my reclusive nature that more and more people are beginning to attest to would say that’s a lie. My preference for sports such as football, badminton and those of its ilk lies in one thing: the ability to score, and the ability to win. I like winning, let’s put that on the table. And I’m not a fast runner, so running doesn’t offer me the opportunity to win, as much.

What made running really unenjoyable for me, in the beginning stages of my foray into this sport, was the fact that I could only push myself so much, and having failed to achieve a personal best every single day, for that was what winning entailed in my competitive mind, I got frustrated. I later found out about the run-walk movement, where the whole aim of the game is to run and walk rather than just continuously run. You start off walking more than running, and then ultimately as you get fitter, you flipped the process. So you’d end up with say, a 5-minute run and then a 2-minute fast walk, which when done in sets of 10, could pretty well get you to 10km or beyond. And that gave me more of a sense of achievement – doing a decent 10km, than huffing and puffing to run 6o minutes straight and then feeling dejected having failed to do so.

Allowing myself to do something which I am nowhere near good at has been excellent therapy for someone who is used to doing well in most things that she tries. It humbles you, and humility is never a bad thing.

And so I run.

If Abraham was alive to see this..

It’s almost two weeks now since the Trump victory, and people are still grappling with the enormity of the verdict. 2016 has been the year for unexpected events: Brexit, Leicester City winning the Premier League and now President-Elect Trump. A betting man has good money to earn in these remaining weeks.

Of course in analysing all this, we often forget that as outsiders, our view is very much skewed. When we are outside looking in, a very different view of America, or indeed, the UK, France or wherever. The USA of our television sets are cities such as New York or Los Angeles, the UK that we see is really London or Manchester. Even in times of atrocity, the Syria that we see are not beyond the warzones of Aleppo. This limited view – which still persists even with 24-hour television and the Internet – often oversimplifies what we see and it makes us think we understand; when really, we don’t. Real life in these countries are lived in Sioux Falls in Iowa and Jaywick in Essex; not in New York or London where inhabitants of these metropoles are so international that very few of them really even have the right to vote.

Despite this, collectively, as a world, we are trying to drill down the reason behind why Trump is President-Elect to a soundbite, to a digestible summary of reasons. Why? My conjecture is that by being able to simplify this, we are able to also categorise and it creates a way for us to assign blame to others; and in effect, absolving ourselves of blame from the cause of the atrocity, the undesired event, the disaster.

We do this a lot, whether we realise it or not. When we hear of a death, we often ask: why? Oh he had a heart attack. We probe further: did he smoke? Yes. If at this point we identify ourselves as a non-smoker, then the questions often end: for we are unlikely to perhaps meet a similar end, as we do not smoke. If we are a smoker, we probe further: how many packs did he smoke in a day? Was he already warned about this? We ask and we try to simplify and categorise, so that we carve ourselves out of association. It isn’t me.  Nothing is more unsettling than hearing, “oh, he had a heart attack, but he was otherwise super healthy”.

While such behaviour seems ingrained in society, I have mixed feelings about singling out specific factors. There are complexities that are often intertwined with others, a mixture of variables that are often benign on their own, but taken together can bring out the worst of people when a catalyst rears its ugly head.

My conjecture is that the catalyst behind all this is that most basic of needs as defined by Abraham Maslow: survival. The physiological needs – when threatened, threats one’s survival, and if you know how to light a fire under this catalyst, you have in your hands a very powerful tool of manipulation.

People talk about how sane people could vote for a racist, sexist, misogynist – shaking our heads in disbelief. But we discount the fact that  we live in a time where racism, sexism, misogyny etc are outweighed by a more basic need: that of survival. You simply vote for the candidate who is more likely to help you survive: be it by way of better jobs, lower taxes, less competition for limited funds – when it is a matter of survival you feel guilty about the black / Muslim / native Americans that may struggle but hey you’re struggling too.

This is the fallout of fake promises of guaranteed home ownership: where sub-prime mortgages that you trusted would finally bring you into the suburbs instead led you to the trailer park. This is the fallout of the desire to better oneself through education; only to see education being something you are increasingly priced out of – or if you’re not, then something that leaves you crippled with debt for the rest of your adulthood. This is the fallout of fake promises made by people who don’t stay around long enough to help you scoop the shit off your walls after it hits the fan.

Sure, we all want world peace and all the fluffy things that go with it, but how many of us can really afford to dream about it when the next plate of food is even more visually vague? We discuss, condemn legislate against racism, sexism, misogyny but no one is fixing the real small cut that is now growing to be a festering, pus-filled wound.

A large part of the disenfranchisement, I feel, is symptomatic of the failures of capitalism. I say this not because I champion socialism or communism as an alternative, but in its current form, the abject worship of capital – that is, wealth – has now managed, over a few generations, to create class systems that are more apparent; and worse still, an attitude of individualism and not being able to care: note that I argue it is not being able to care, rather than not wanting to care. Nowhere is capitalism more rampant than in America, and in that sense you begin to understand that survival may be what underlines what and how people vote. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs exemplifies this: while people are sympathetic towards the plight of others, they are unable to vote for self-actualising reasons when the more basic needs are unfulfilled.

But how does this explain the voters who are affluent who also chose for Trumpian presidency? The thing is, you don’t have to be in dire straits to be swayed this way – for many, the very threat of a possible change in the way we live our lives is enough. Wine consultant Robin Moore, in an article in the Financial Times, said she voted for Trump because “I have a problem with people coming in illegally, abusing our healthcare system, being given things that other people have worked for, social security benefits, being paid under the table and not paying taxes”. Eerily similar to those who opted to vote for Brexit.

I have not yet fact-checked whether her claims are backed up by facts and statistics, but even if they aren’t, it doesn’t matter: the very thought of something that threatens their basic needs – healthcare, benefits, the way they live – is enough to push buttons. Fear mongering works when you tap into the more basic survival instincts of man. It doesn’t work as well when you tap into the higher echelons of the pyramid – esteem or self-actualisation.

[There is space for research here to evaluate the extent to which candidates win election by using campaign language that targets at lower levels of the hierarchy of needs. I just wish I had the time (and the political science expertise) to do it.]

And so it is. We can only look forward now, and we need to stop playing Schrodinger’s President and keep wondering what if. I want to say, hang on baby it’s a bumpy ride but you know what? Only time will tell how well paved that road really is.

 

Brexit and Me (100 days on)

It has been 135 days since June 24th. I don’t actually keep a running tally – these days you can just Google these things – but I think about this a lot because I’m trying to make sense of the world in the days following June 24th, 2016. Especially on the verge of yet another momentous date – November 9th 2016: which, in non-American date parlance, may signal another ominous date-cronym.

Or not, we shall see, as Americans decide the fate of the free world.

Ok, I concede, a bit dramatic. But I’d be the world’s most oblivious if I dare not admit that things have changed since the UK EU Referendum: not necessarily in the mood of the towns and cities (that changed long before Britain went to the ballot boxes) but more lastingly, inside of me and in my psyche.

The day after the EU referendum, when the facts (and levels of disbelief) were beginning to sink in, we had an Open Day on campus: a day when potential applicants would visit the university, ask questions and be wowed (or un-wowed) by what Birmingham had to offer. Throughout the morning, while doing my time manning the Accounting and Finance stand, emails and texts were trickling in about what to say if we were asked about fees for EU students, or where the university stood when it came to matters referendum.

Funnily enough, no one actually brought it up in the two hours I was there; and it wasn’t until I was at the train station, heading towards Birmingham International to pick up Ili, that I was approached by someone who seemed so jubilant about the result she missed my slumped shoulders and look of utter dejection as I sat on Platform 1.

“Isn’t it brilliant?” she enthused. “A new dawn for us all!”

I smiled politely, very conscious of both the suit and the hijab I was wearing. “It’s early days but things will change,” I responded cautiously.

“Yes, yes, but what a start to the weekend, eh?” she nudged me with a knowing wink. These are the benefits of living north of Watford: God forbid getting into a conversation with strangers down south, save for Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting to save my wanton soul.

“Certainly a bright one ahead,” I replied, referring to the unrelentless sunshine beating on my poor, fasting head; yet happy for her to misconstrue the meaning. I am nothing if not non-confrontational. Inside my heart was as broken as the future of multicultural Britain. Sort of.

“Oooh yes, indeed!” she laughed and smiled.  The train arrived slowly into the station. “You have a good one, luv,” her parting words as we got into the carriage.

And probably, that was as pleasant as it got that first weekend after the results. Over the next few days, news filtered through of increases in racist attacks, demonstrations by far-right / far-right leaning groups, the shoving of racial abuse down postboxes, mouthy children telling their non-British schoolmates to ‘Go Home’. It was ugly, and it was not the Britain of my childhood even having grown up in the depths of Thatcherism.

Of course, as Muslims, we were used to – even sadly almost auto-immune –  such vitriol every time some idiot somewhere decided to commit an act of terror while not being white. But this time, it wasn’t just Muslims, or non-whites, who were targets. It was everyone who weren’t ethnically English or British.

In the 100-odd days that have since ensued, some of the racism has died down; but the bitter aftertaste is evident everywhere: from the areas you avoid after dark to the policies the government are putting up.

One thing that really affected me was that I really felt scared of wearing the hijab when on public transport, especially buses and trains. I have been through this before, post 9-11 and 7-7, where people would stop talking as I walked by in the streets, but I have never felt physically threatened before, not deep down in my heart of hearts.

I do, now.

I walk past groups of people – regardless of race – and I feel scared. I stand way back on train platforms, for fear of being pushed onto the tracks by someone because of nothing more than being non-white. I wear headphones and blast it with loud music whenever I am on the bus: not because I want to be left alone but because I don’t want to hear things. And sadly for me, unless I am in a safe space, such as at work, or with a large group of friends I trust, I wear a modified headscarf that makes it less obvious I am covering my hair. It depresses me.

The other thing that I have noticed, internally, is that I now view the England and the British flag with different eyes now. Whenever I see the England flag – a red cross on a white background – now I automatically associate it with racist Brexiters gloating about their ‘win’ on June 24th.

Once a symbol of footballing pride, I now see it as a marker of something to avoid. This is ironic, of course, because as an ardent England fan, many a World Cup or Euro I have draped the very same flag on my balcony, championing good sporting spirit during the games. (How ardent an England fan am I? I am known to have gone to work at the NST on the day after David Beckham’s petulant kick in the World Cup in 1998 wearing my England jersey).

It’s no longer a symbol of football for me. It’s turned into a symbol of hate: a symbol of people who do not want me here, regardless of the amount of tax I pay into the kitty every month willingly to support the very dole some of these people pick up weekly. And that to me is beyond sad. Sadder than the state of the England football team, which says a lot these days.

Burnley At Home on a November Monday night..

West Bromwich Albion seemed an obvious choice for me as the local team to support when I moved over to Birmingham in January. Aston Villa was very quickly discounted: any club David Cameron professed an affiliation to was not one I could cheer in good stead. That left Birmingham City and West Bromwich; and I want to say it was WBA’s Premiership status that swung the vote, but truth be told, for both teams yo-yoing between the two top flights is very much an occupational hazard.

So between the two, my heart said the Albion because of the United link: a number of United old boys are doing well here: Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and Ben Foster; and my favourite midfield maestro Bryan Robson was an Albion alum before making the trek to Old Trafford.

West Bromwich Albion is not a rich club, by any means. It isn’t even located in a particularly affluent part of Birmingham: in 2016  West Bromwich itself was named as the most deprived area in the UK. This contrasts greatly with the other club of my heart, my first love now estranged by my reluctance to partake in excessive money football.

I have since made it to a few home games – mainly out of opportunity rather than anything else; and to date the home games I have missed have been due to conflicting schedules. Having purchased a club membership – a princely sum of £6, relative to about five times that for United (it was three times that even in 2002), having dibs on tickets to home games where you are not stuck in Tier 3 nearer the Earth’s orbit than the pitch, is nice.

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My first home game this season – the game against Middlesborough – I was treated to a season ticket holder’s unused seat, and smack dab in the cheering section of the home team: the Smethwick End. Not knowing too many cheer songs going in, I could certainly join in with a few on my way out. My favourite is “He’s magic you know… You can’t get past Claudio…” in tribute to Claudio Yacob, who, in my eyes at least, is far from magic and quite a hapless defender by Premiership standards. But the fans love him and maybe given time I too might find a certain fondness for the Argentinian.   

The second game I went to was against Spurs – a ticket I bought full price because I wanted good, pitch side seat, and a pitch side seat I did get: right across the aisle from one Harry Kane, no less (who was injured and watched the game from the stands). The spice of the game was the presence of WBA’s new signing Nacer Chadli from Spurs, a creative midfielder with a penchant for scoring but was very much (in my opinion) under-utilised in Pochettino’s side. It wasn’t him, though, that impressed me most but speedy defender Allan Nyom, another recent signing, who could pretty much sprint up and down the field at a pace that annoyed the Spurs attack. If only his distribution was more on point…

DSC03902.JPGIt remains to be seen whether I would go to the next home game: Burnley at home on a Monday night in November might be equivalent to the ‘wet Tuesday night away at Stoke’ in terms of the casual fan – but for £15 it might be quite a steal. Burnley after all held their own at Old Trafford only last weekend.

It is different going to a game where the team you are rooting most likely would lose or draw rather than win, and that is the given expectation: where a win (and three points) is a bonus; avoidance of a relegation battle more the aim than getting any sort of trophy. But it’s fun and perhaps fits better with my curmudgeonly old self: once enamoured by the big teams and their attractive play, now disenchanted by the amount of money pouring into the game and the pockets of the few. West Bromwich Albion, albeit foreign owned (as are all the major Midland clubs, it seems) are just happy to be playing in the top division of one of the best leagues in the world, and I am just happy to be watching them and cheering them on.

Boing, boing… as they say..

I want to write

I want to write. I really do. I write a lot of things inside my head while I am walking, on the bus, on trains… every space I have where my thoughts are left to me, I write things inside my head.

But for some reason they never make it down to paper.

I even bought this laptop – a Mac, going against most grains of my existence because I am a PC woman through and through – because it is the lightest and the smallest on the market, so I thought if it was more portable I’d lug it around and I’d write more. To a certain extent I do, now. But they exist on Scrivener as drafts, waiting for the final touch, the hijrah from notepad to blog. It hasn’t happened, yet.

There was a time, now more than a decade ago, when I wrote daily and I wrote a lot. I had opinions on things that I wanted to be heard on; but I also wrote a lot about my life. In a shrouded, semi-vague way, but I did write. If I recall correctly it was less about the minutiae of my day; but broad sweeps of an existence abroad focused on studying.

More importantly, then, it seemed like I had time. Where has time gone, for me?

I no longer study, I now work. But in all honesty this shouldn’t really be an excuse – the PhD was definitely much more of a time-sink. At work I create borders between office and home; and yet still in between those borders I still can’t find time to write.

I wonder if some of this is driven by the extent to which I am ‘scheduling’ my life. My days are heavily scheduled, and I like that because it makes me productive and it helps me get things done. The absence of scheduling in previous lives meant I savoured free time a bit too much; and in a career where you are meant to utilise free time for research, there was a mental disconnect inside my head. I see research as ‘work’, and I saw free time as ‘not-work’. So by scheduling research as rigidly as I schedule my teaching, I am getting it done and it is even enjoyable!

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A typical work-week schedule for me

So does this mean that I am to schedule writing? But when? Already my mornings are taken up by one of two projects: my Coursera courses (Mon/Wed/Fri) and my one-man reading group (Tues/Thurs) where I attempt to tackle key texts in economics in a systematic way.

After work? I would love to, but my brain, alert and awake and ready to work at 5am every day, will only want the banality of sitcoms and tv drama by 5pm. Writing becomes forced, and well.. It’s not fun when its forced.

So am I over-scheduling my life? Is that why I can no longer write, because my mind is only free to wander and pontificate when it is idle? I don’t know.

Even writing this, I am ’stealing’ time from my reading, because I finished a chapter and did not want to start a new one with only 15 minutes left.

I recently read an article on writing which said that it isn’t a one-off project, but something you must do as a matter of repeated constancy: istiqamah. Even with 15 minutes a day, but write you must. It was talking about academic writing, but I think it applies to writing in general.

So maybe that is the way to go. Stealing time – 15 minutes in the morning for relatively creative writing pursuits, and 15 minutes during the day for papers. Because it needs to be done.

I want to write.

Tash Aw’s Strangers on a Pier

I think I’ve been lucky this year : within three months, I’ve read two books that have touched me so much so that they have stayed with me for more moments and too many whiles. Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, I wrote about recently; and recently I finished reading Tash Aw’s Strangers on a Pier. The former a work of fiction of epic proportions (700+ pages) and the latter, a more personal essay that struck a more specific chord, of only 37 pages (if you don’t count my re-readings).

When I read the first chapter of Aw’s Strangers on a Pier, his missive on identifying his identity struck a chord with me. So much so that I began making notes and drafting ideas on an essay I was to write as inspired by his story. He talked about his grandparents making it onto Malayan shores from China, and it resonated with me because despite being told that I was Malay, I have since learnt that my roots are only, at best, 1/8th Malay – 1/4 if you consider being Javanese as Malay. My other 3/4 are Siamese, Chinese and Indian – with lineage from these parts coming to roost in Malaya as recent as the mid 1800s / early 1900s.

Such deliberations in my mind often wander into the political. The more I think about being a ‘Malay’, the more I realise that ethnically I am not purely Malay, that at least half of me disqualifies me from being a ‘son of the soil’ and it often makes me wonder how, by chance and legislation, I became ‘chosen’ – chosen to attend the best school, chosen to receive a scholarship, chosen to obtain discounts on property purchases – not by way of need or being the best, but by way of birth. From there my thoughts wander into missives of entitlement and the woes that brings with it, and I saw my essay wander slowly into that territory.

Aw does not go there, though. Nowhere in his beautiful story of a Malaysian Chinese boy, exists any trace of resentment, bitterness or politics. While a reader familiar with the Malaysian position will not resent a discussion of racial discord and malcontent, Aw does not descend into this (although he has touched upon it in another essay written for Granta a few years earlier). Instead, through this work he has created a beautiful and pensive deliberation of what it means to be a child of Generation Mahathir – kids and teenagers growing up as the country was growing up: nation and people sharing the same growing pains, the same awkwardness of fitting into a world that didn’t seem to have a suitable mould for it; yet lacking the flexibility of being able to slot into whatever pigeonhole it was prescribed.

Could you write about contemporary Malaysia without mentioning race and politics, when racial politics is the very thing that defines the country in so many ways today? Perhaps you could say that dismissing this aspect over-romanticises a country that is in sore need of healing: that ignoring it means we obscure the very root cause of our discontent. But by keeping it in the background and giving it barely a mention, what Aw has managed to do is to ‘unify’ the experience of a particular class of Malaysians: children of first-generation middle-class professionals. It is not a sob story, it is not a rags-to-riches story that Malaysians so often love, but a matter-of-fact observation that many can relate to: Malay, Chinese, Indian dan lain-lain. This is a different narrative and yet, despite being an essay rather than a work of literary fiction, it is almost a natural progression of the narrative that Abdullah Hussein brought in Interlok, where that was a story of a country in its infancy and trying to find its feet.

Aw, in describing his schooling experience, observes that “we have divided and subdivided ourselves, and it is class, not race, that has created this schism“. This is far from being a Malaysian, East Asian or an Eastern phenomenon – societal divides running across lines run deep the world over. In the streets of Britain, the private-schooled elite passing out-of-touch policies that affect the working and middle class masses continue to be the state of play; dynasties determine both political power and financial prowess the world over whether we would care to admit it or not. I think that by highlighting class  rather than geo-specific politics that also divide, Aw manages to bring his story – my story, our Generation Mahathir story – to a level of a more global appeal.

And still the specifics resonate. The verbal portrait of his father –  a Guardian interview around the time of the publication of his third novel, Five Star Billionaire, cites the elder Mr. Aw to be an electrical engineer – reminds me of my own : a university professor from humble beginnings: his parents, my late grandparents, were both illiterate. Aw’s vacations spent at his maternal grandparents in Parit is one I could relate to all too well: trying hard to fit in with my cousins and their friends in Kelantan by affecting a deep Kelantanese drawl, while at night sneaking away to read the thick English books I packed for the holidays. What complicated this more was the fact that a large part of my childhood was spent abroad, and so I lost out on the cultural references: catching up on rock kapak however was quite a pleasurable experience.  A different face for a different tongue: a fitting-in mechanism I affect to this day. His school stories, not so much, because I was plucked out of the generic system and placed in a government-run boarding school: that in itself, though, fraught with square-peg-in-round-hole stories of its own.

If the Great Malaysian Novel of the 21st Century is to be written, I think Aw has the makings of what it should be: a story no longer about race because we can no longer afford to view race as the sole divide – it no longer is. Our story today is one about class – the fallout from money and profit as a measure of success; a struggle that no heteregenous society has, to date, managed to deal with equitably. Our story today is the divide between the elite and the dregs and everyone else in limbo in between, because opportunity has afforded us the luxury of having wealth – and poverty – transcend race.

If the Great Malaysian Novel of the 21st Century is to be written, I think Tash Aw should write it.

Part of Your Parade

I said to a few people, perhaps 2016 should be my year of re-writing. Not rewriting, but re-writing: getting back into the groove of writing. And by that I meant getting back to blogging, really. I haven’t actually stopped writing, far from it: if anything for me it is an occupational hazard. I’ve just stopped blogging. And I can’t quite place why. If blogging was a mere novelty then I don’t think I would have kept it up for more than a decade, which I did. Perhaps the best reason is that, as with most things, it ran its course.

And there isn’t anything out there that says things that have run its course, can’t lace up its shoes and begin again.

I know it wasn’t really out of the loneliness of a soul a few thousands miles away from home that took me to the keyboards (in a non-warrior way, I’d like to think). As a postgraduate student in Lancaster I was part of a rather lively social community, both among Malaysians and non-Malaysians alike. But blogging did allow me to reach out and make friends with people whom I think I wouldn’t have otherwise. Not because we’re not alike but because of geographical distance which only the interwebs made meaningless.

And so circa 2004/05, a motley group of post-twentysomethings connected quite well over comment boxes and Yahoo Messenger; culminating in a friendship that has, thus far, survived a good decade and the odd year or two. Back then, Kudo was in Sheffield, Anuar in Madrid, Ijun and Zahar in London, Ninie I think was in Newcastle and Zana in Southampton. Online interactions became real life conversations and after a while we relied less and less on blogs to communicate. Real life meetups were so much more fun and could last whole weekends.

These days, only Kudo blogs actively, and a few of us are parents to a kid or two, others have joined our band of weirdos and  a Telegram chat room takes place of teh tarik sessions at the local mamak. Mainly because geography is still not in our favour: Kudo is still in Sheffield, Ninie and Anuar are now in KL while the others were in London. That was until two weeks ago, when life dropped by and pierced the cloak of our invincibility of youth: Ijun passed away after a very short illness.

There is something insurmountably surreal about the space that you create for yourself in the nothingness that is the cloud; which now seems ever the emptier with the absence of a much loved friend. We still talk as we do, of course: but there is a gaping hole that everyone notices and no one pretends isn’t there.

Between us we have lost a friend, a cheerleader, the most positive of the positive, a soul that lit the room – chat or living – and the source of a smile that is now nothing more than a memory; a smile etched on his face up to the moment his shroud was tied for his final journey. We grieve the loss, and I cam’t even begin to imagine the loss felt by Ijun’s wife and his surviving family members: his mother and sister, the latter I have come to know only under these saddest of circumstances.

At the hospital not long after he was moved to a private room so family and friends could say goodbye, I hugged his sister and apologised if our presence, as his friends, imposed on their most difficult time. She told me that in the UK, we, his friends, were his family and so we had every right to be there for him until the very end. Funny she said that, because it was a knack of Ijun’s to call most of us by names our family knew us as: for instance, Anuar was always Ayes, and me, Along – which recently transformed into Alom as my nephew’s inability to pronounce Mak Long bastardised my long-standing nickname.

The past few weeks has taught me a lot about hope, patience, sacrifice and acceptance; about love in its most purest form. This January has been one I want to both remember and forget. Which is why I am writing and posting this on its last day: with the sincere hope that February, which says hello in an hour or two, will be kinder to us all.

Al-Fatihah, Ijun. Much missed, every day, by us but even more by those who loved you most.