[SNEAK PEEK] THE GLASS IS ALWAYS GREENER

The Glass Is Always Greener by Tamar Myers

 

There are those who love to shop at South Park Mall. Then there are those who are afraid to enter without an exit plan, such as a line tied around her waist, a GPS, and a flock of homing pigeons. I say this with great respect, as I am a woman who loves to shop. And while there are probably worse fates than a life lived out wandering in perpetual search of a mall exit (assuming the food court is half decent and the restroom stocked with paper and seat liners), I do have a hunk of a husband waiting for me back in Charleston. There is also a very handsome, very hairy, younger male whom I would miss terribly: my cat, Dmitri. (And yes, I do think that the pronoun whom should be used with cats; they are just as human as many men I’ve known.)

But in order to get to Temptation Rocks I had to traverse a labyrinth of hallways laid out in what was, to me, a very confusing floor plan. The layout was rendered even more torturous because the stores are upscale establishments like Neiman Marcus and Tiffany’s; places where I would normally not shop, but can’t help popping into nonetheless. This is where the GPS comes in helpful, especially if you get the kind that scolds you harshly for deviating from the proscribed path.

At any rate, Temptation Rocks had an understated display window, and I walked past the space twice without noticing it. It was essentially just a gray satin background punctuated by one recessed, brightly lit niche about the size of a PC monitor screen and perhaps six inches deep. The interior of the niche was lined in pale blue velvet and showcased just one gem: a knock-your-socks-off ruby and diamond necklace that was priced at a mere $899,999.99.

As when entering a few other fine shops of its ilk, I had to be buzzed into Temptation Rocks. The woman who let me in wore a badge that proclaimed her to be Hildegard. Her long, golden brown hair was braided tightly and coiled on the crown of her head like the beginnings of a folk art basket. Her perfectly round cheeks were heavily rouged and brought to mind the pair of Gala apples I’d packed in Greg’s lunch bucket before leaving to drive up here.

Hildegard immediately held out a silver tray bearing Baccarat crystal champagne glasses that were certainly no more than half full. “Would you care for some champagne, madam?”

“No thank you; I’m more of beer gal.”

Hildegard recoiled as if she’d been approached by an untouchable. “There is a food court at the end of this hall, and to the left. Perhaps they serve that beverage there.”

“I didn’t come here to drink.”

She appeared to sniff the air as she surveyed the rather impressive rock on my left ring finger. “Oh. Then how may I be of service?”

I made a show of trying to look around her. “Is there a jeweler on the premises?”

“Why do you wish to speak to a jeweler?”

There is an art to delivering that “just so” dismissive look, the one that says that the speaker had no business asking such an impertinent question, and would do well to mind her own business from here on out. I learned that art by watching Rob, who learned it from a former lover who was purportedly minor royalty: he would have been a Portuguese prince had that country kept its king.

“Very well, madam,” Hildegard said. She set the silvery tray on a mahogany stand by the door to the shop. Then she carefully locked that door, before trotting around the counters and through a velvet curtain. Did I mention that she trotted on three-thousand-dollar high-heeled sandals by Victor Illuminati, the blind, but oh-so-gifted Italian designer who is all the rage this year among those who are truly in the know?

I didn’t have to wait long. In fact, I was having a good time admiring the pretties in the nearest case when out from behind the curtain hurried a middle-aged man who carried with him the look of a hunted animal. Right behind him trotted the expensively dressed hostess. She cast me an evil look before resuming her post right inside the door.

“Yes? How can I help you?” The jeweler spoke with the slightest of foreign accents; not Yankee, mind you, but possibly Eastern European.

I held out my hand in the limp fish position. Much to my pleasure, he actually took and kissed it.

“My name is Abigail Louise Wiggins Timberlake Washburn,” I said. After all, European society is ancient, and Europeans respect people with family connections and complicated genealogies.

“Ghurtpen Chergonia.” I had him print it for me. Even then I wasn’t quite sure of his first name.

“Mr. Chergonia, I have heard wonderful things about your work.”

“My work?”

“Your skill! You’re supposed to be the best, you know. Everyone says that.”

“Who is everyone, madam?”

“Connoisseurs of fine workmanship, that’s who. Like the Ovumkophs, for instance.”

“Forgive me, madam, but I do not know these people.” He turned away and began a slow sideways retreat.

“Oh well, Ovumkoph is just one of many names, of course.” I put my hands to my mouth as if I wished to whisper in his ear. “I can hardly use their real names now, can I?” The low-pitched, cultivated chuckle I emitted was also learned from Rob, who no doubt also picked it up from his Portuguese paramour, he of the purified plasma.

The jeweler turned and beckoned me to follow him. As I did so, the hostess became quite agitated.

“You can’t go back there, ma’am.” Her accent, by the way, had shifted suddenly from BBC British to Piedmont American. “Mr. Hunter, the owner, will be very upset.”

“Oh? Where is he? I’ll ask his permission first.”

“He don’t work on Sundays. It’s just me and this foreign guy. Look, I don’t want no trouble. I don’t want to get in any trouble with Mr. Hunter neither.”

“Either.”

“What?”

“I think you meant either. Anyway, I have no desire to get you into trouble. I just want to see a sample of Mr. Chergonia’s craftsmanship. He’s an artist, you know.”

“Uh-uh, get out of town!” she said to the jeweler. “What do you paint? Can you paint a picture of my mama’s dog, Cotton? It’s Mama’s birthday the day after Labor Day but we’re fixin’ to have a cookout down at my cousin Trudy’s place over in Tega Cay. It’s right on Lake Wylie. I mean the deck actually extends right over the water; you can spit right down on the fish if you’re so inclined. And they actually go for it, like it was fish food. I guess they ain’t very smart.”

“What an interesting idea—spitting on the fish; I’ll have to keep that in mind should my husband and I ever decide to build on the water. Or swim in it.”

Hildegard glanced at the door, and seeing it still securely locked, risked a bawdy laugh. “Oh honey, that water has seen a lot worse than that, and folks still swim in it. It’s the lake; not the shower.”

“Gotcha,” I said with a knowing wink. I gave her what I hope was interpreted as a friendly wave and trotted off after the mysterious European on my $39.99 Naturalizers.

***

I am not so stupid as to reveal the exact location of the safe in the backroom at Temptation Rocks, but I will say this about its contents; many of the rocks I beheld were so beautiful that I was sorely tempted to—well, to drop a wad of cash. What else? The trouble was that even though I am well-off, I am not that well-off.

It used to be that glittering gems advertised personal wealth, but that was back in the cavemen days before the technology existed to make cheap fakes—and I mean really cheap. It’s possible to pick up some rings for five bucks or less in tourist traps that will make heads turn, if only for a minute. Because this is the case, because the bling factor can be achieved for so little, there really isn’t a whole of impetus to spend huge amounts on the real thing. Not when there are lots of other status symbols to spend it on. I, for one, would only pay a fortune for the real McCoy when it came to rocks, if I’d checked everything else off my want list, and that included a new Mercedes-Benz.

Nonetheless, I gasped in reverent appreciation, in part because of the elegant gold settings that surrounded so many of the stones. I was particularly fascinated by a ring that looked identical to the one that Aunt Jerry had wished to bequeath me, except that this treasure sported a golden centerpiece.

“It’s a twenty-two-carat golden beryl from Namibia. German cut. Here, hold it up to this light so that you can see the facets. Beautiful, no?”

“Beautiful, yes. Did you make the setting?”

“Yes, madam. Lost wax process. It is an original design, although I have used it since on five other rings.”

I shivered with delight. Surely this feeling was akin to what matadors felt when they were finally coming in for the kill.

“Were they all golden beryl?” I asked.

He made a clicking sound with his tongue. “No. One was aquamarine—that is a kind of beryl too, you know.”

“Yes.”

I may have sounded impatient, because his rejoinder was slightly combative. “You don’t see good aquamarine in American stores; not like in Europe. Now in Japan—only the best there. The Japanese know their stones. Here, mostly the stores sell junk. A good aquamarine is—”

“—deep blue, the color of the ocean when you’ve sailed out beyond the continental shelf.”

He stared at me. “Ah, so you are not a dilettante!”

“Nor an expert either. I’m just a lover of gems.”

He motioned for me to sit on a padded stool that had arms and a back. After I’d hoisted my petite patootie into place, he perched on an identical stool.

“Which is your favorite gemstone?” he asked.

“That depends. Can we, for the sake of this discussion, eliminate the human suffering aspect?” I was dead serious. Most gemstones come to us from Third World countries where they are “mined” under appalling conditions. The workers—often children—are little more than slaves, working twelve-hour days either under the blazing tropical sun or deep under the earth in danger of suffocation at any time. For their labor they are a paid a pittance, sometimes not even enough to sustain them physically. After all, what does it really matter if they die on the job? There is always someone to take their place.

“I guess that we would almost have to eliminate the human suffering element, or we wouldn’t have any gems, would we?”

“Actually, there is a lot of gem mining in parts of North Carolina. Some of it is essentially backyard pits. But honestly, what I’d really like, if the human suffering factor was not an issue, would be a Mogok ruby from Burma.”

He nodded. “That famous ‘pigeon blood’ red. The stones with the fluorescence that can’t be matched by their Thai counterparts.”

“Yes, and all we see are Thai rubies, am I right? Little, itty-bitty ones.”

He laughed. “So you like big stones—like this.”

“Unfortunately, I do. And what’s that famous saying? You can have anything you want in life; just not everything. An eye-clean Mogok ruby the size of this golden beryl would cost five times as much as my house in Charleston—South of Broad Street. What about you? What’s your favorite stone?”

“Madam, I do not know anything about the house prices in Charleston, but I too would not be able to afford my first choice of an emerald from the famous Muzo mine in Colombia. If it were eye-clean—impossible! But with a garden of slight inclusions, then maybe. Emerald is a beryl too, you know.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Madam, you know everything.” He sounded astonished rather than miffed.

“No, but I know a lot.” Play your cards close to your chest, I reminded myself; there was no point in divulging to Mr. Chergonia that my well of knowledge was about to run dry.

He sighed, and locking his fingers, put his hands behind his head. “Then you must know that some gemstones are easier to replicate than others, and that a lab-created emerald has the same physical properties—that is the word, yes?”

“Yes. And yes, it is exactly the same as a natural emerald, except that it took months to grow, rather than tens of thousands of years.”

“There are many times I cannot tell a good synthetic emerald from a natural one, except for under the microscope. As for the glass imitations, they are always greener. Ha, now I make a little joke.”

“Excuse me?”

“You have a saying, yes? The glass is always greener on the other side of the wall.”

I thought of correcting him, but thankfully thought better of it. “That is what we said in my country,” he said. “We had many prisons. But now I want to tell you something truly amazing. This emerald that I desire, the one from Muzo with just a little bit of garden and which is the perfect color of ferns—you know what are ferns?”

I leaned forward on my stool. “Yes. I know what ferns are.”

He leaned forward as well. “I have seen this emerald—right here in my shop. I have held it my hands; I have touched it to my lips. I am telling you, madam, it exists. This fabulous stone is right here in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

“Yes, I know.”

He recoiled ever so slightly. “You have seen it?”

“Yes. I believe that I own it.”

The jeweler shook his head wearily. “Madam, please, it has been a long day. Either you know that this stone is yours, or you do not. It is not a matter of faith.”

“Well, it’s kind of a long story—but I’ll give you the short version. It was given to me by an eccentric woman named Jerry Ovumkoph—an older woman in her seventies—”

“Yes, yes, she is the one! She brings in this ring; at first I think that she has been misinformed; many clients come in with synthetic stones and they do not know it. When I tell them that their stones are worthless, they are, of course, very angry with me.” He shrugged. “But some do know that the stones they have are counterfeits, and their intention is to cheat. Anyway, I studied Ms. Ovumkoph’s stone carefully, and I even asked the opinion of some of my colleagues, and yes, madam—it is real.”

“Did she want to sell it?”

“Madam, you are very charming; a native of the South, yes? But, you still have not stated your business. Are you a buyer, or a seller?”

I thought back to my college days, and what different connotations those words had then. But it was stupid of me to waste even a nanosecond on such memories. I decided to come clean with the jeweler with the vaguely Eastern European accent—well, partway clean, at least. Any Dixie chick with a speck of starch in her crinolines knows better than to spill all her beans at once, even if she has to murder her metaphors.

“I’m neither a buyer nor a seller. You see, the woman who was here—Jerry Ovumkoph—left me that ring in her will. But she’s dead now, and the ring is missing. I’m trying to trace down the origin of that ring for insurance purposes so I can get a replacement value.”

He stared at me. I knew he was trying to read me, to see if I was lying. Of course I was, but I wasn’t trying to scam him out of any money. He didn’t have a thing to lose by telling me the truth. Surely he could sense that.

“She wanted a glass copy made,” he said. “Glass!”

“Scandalous,” I said.

“Are you mocking me, madam?”

“No, sir. I’m quite serious; to put a glass center stone in that gorgeous design of yours would be like hanging a Jackson Pollock painting in the Hermitage. How many diamonds are in the border?”

“Forty-two. Each one is VVSI or better. It is twenty-two-karat Italian gold—not fourteen-karat like the cheap rings one sees everywhere.”

I glanced down at the cheap ring my sweetie gave me. Well, it would take more knocks than a more expensive ring without getting bent out of shape. That’s what I was trying to do in this new marriage: not get all bent out of shape. But as for the knocks—just one literal tap and Greg was out of there. I’d survived one abusive marriage, and I was not going to be a punching bag, foranyone, ever again.

“Of course you Americans are very smart,” Mr. Chergonia said. “You spend thousands of dollars on the dress, which the bride will never wear again. But it is big, and every one can see it even from the back of the church. The ring not so much—even though when the revolution comes, the bride can run and hide with her ring, and then sell it across the border and buy bread for her children if it is high-quality gold.”

“Your point is well-taken, sir. I concede—that means that you win.”

“So—Mrs. Abigail Louise Wiggins Timberlake Washburn—what else do you want to know?”

It took me a minute to scoop up my lower jaw and slap it back into place. “Wow! You’ve got quite a memory for names.”

“And you have an impressive knowledge of stones—for an amateur, yes?”

“Yes, although I do own an antiques store and from time to time I come into possession of estate jewelry. Anyway, what I really came here to find out is if anyone has been trying to unload this ring in the last day or two.”

Madam?” He appeared to be genuinely startled.

“You see, Jerry Ovumkoph passed—that is to say, she’s dead—and she left me her ring in her will, but it was stolen.”

His dark eyes flashed angrily. “I do not deal in stolen goods! Never!

“I know that, sir. I’m just wondering if someone—maybe another Ovumkoph—tried to sell you this ring.”

His response was to hold one of his long, slender, if slightly crooked fingers to his lips. The dark eyes directed me to look at the curtained doorway. There was a gap toward the bottom where the heaven curtains fell apart, and in that space was the hideously expensive toe of a Victor Illuminati sandal.

I smiled and nodded. “Then I dragged the body to the car,” I practically shouted. “Of course I couldn’t lift it into the trunk by myself, so I had to call someone from the family to help me. You wouldn’t believe how fast they showed up. Being the Godfather’s real daughter has its perks, you know. I just wish I’d kept my maiden name, and not those of all my former husbands. Oh well, at least they’re no longer around to bother me.”

By then Mr. Chergonia had risen to his feet. The poor man’s face was as white as parboiled grits and he’d begun to sway like a palmetto in a category four storm. I have never taken a bona fide CPR class; all I really know is that the techniques have changed a bit over the years and—thank heavens—giving mouth-to-mouth is no longer de rigueur. Then again, like I said, I really know squat. I just knew enough to dig my cell phone out of my purse and mentally review the procedure for dialing 911.

“I think you need to sit back down,” I whispered.

“Yah, mebbe, dats a goot idea,” he said.

By then the ridiculously expensive footwear was no longer to be seen. Having caused such consternation, I took it upon myself to at least see what, if any, the lasting damages were, so I crept to the doorway and gradually peeled back enough of one panel to allow me to peep into the showroom. You can imagine my relief then when I saw the hostess cleaning the top of a display case at the far end of the room. She looked entirely absorbed in her task; calm and peaceful even. The tray of champagne glasses waited nearby on another countertop. All was well with the world.

I scurried soundlessly back to my source of information. “So? Have you been contacted?”

“Ahuuug—” he said, and slid to the floor.

 

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[SNEAK PEEK] WHY WE BROKE UP

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

 

So why did we break up? When I think of it now, think of it really, I think of how tired I was Halloween Saturday, from getting up early to sneak off to Tip Top Goods myself to buy these, which I never gave you. Yawning outside later, spray-painting an old thrift-store cap I used to wear freshman year, squinting at the gray to see if it matched my dad’s coat, Hawk Davies floating out my bedroom window to bask all over me, that cool part of “Take Another Train” when he polishes off a solo and you hear someone’s faint cry of appreciation, Yeah Hawk yeah while I grinned in the clear air. It wasn’t going to rain out. You and I were going to the Bash and the Ball and it would be OK—extraordinary, even. I had no feeling of otherwise. I can see my happiness, I can see it and I can say that we were happy too then, not just me. I guess I can cling to anything.

“It’s good to see you happy,” my mom said, coming out with steaming tea. I’d been coiled up thinking she was telling me the jazz was too loud, think of the neighbors.

“Thanks,” I said for the Earl Grey.

“Even if it is in your father’s coat,” she said, this year’s thing of deciding it was OK to talk crap about Dad.

“Just for you, Mom, I’ll try to ruin it tonight.”

She laughed a little. “How?”

“Um, I’ll spill drugs on it and roll around in the mud.”

“When am I going to meet this boy?”

“Mom.”

“I just want to meet him.”

“You want to approve him.”

“I love you,” she tried like always. “You’re my only daughter, Min.”

“What do you want to know?” I said. “He’s tall, he’s skinny, he’s polite. Isn’t he polite on the phone?”

“Sure.”

“And he’s captain of the basketball team.”

“Co-captain.”

“That means there’s another captain too.”

“I know what it means, Min. It’s just—what do you have in common?”

I took a sip of tea instead of clawing her eyes out. “Thematic Halloween costumes,” I said.

“Yes, you told me. The whole team is prisoners and you’re playing along.”

“It’s not playing along.”

“I know he’s popular, Min. Jordan’s mother tells me this. I just don’t want you led around, like, like somebody’s goat.”

Goat? “I’m the one being the warden,” I said. “I’m going to lead them around.” Not true, of course, but fuck her.

“OK, OK,” my mom said. “Well, the costume’s coming along. And what are those?”

“Keys,” I said. “You know, a warden has keys.” For some moron reason I thought I’d include her for a sec. “I thought I’d wear them on my belt, you know? And then at the end of the night I’d give them to Ed.”

My mom’s eyes widened.

“What?”

“You’re going to give Ed those keys?”

“What? It’s my money.”

“But Min, honey,” she said, and put her hand on me. My wrists trembled to spray-paint her in the face and make her gray, although, I noticed suddenly but without surprise, she already was. “Isn’t that a little, you know?”

“What?”

“Symbolic?”

“What?”

“I mean—”

Ew. Like, a dirty joke? Key in the keyhole?”

“Well, people will think—”

“Nobody thinks like that. Mom, you’re disgusting. Seriously.”

“Min,” she said quietly, her eyes searchlighting all over me. “Are you sleeping with this boy?”

This boy. Goat. You’re my daughter. It was like bad food I was force-fed and couldn’t keep down. Her fingers were still on me, skittering on my shoulder like a little pair of school scissors, blunt, ineffective, useless, and not the real thing. “It is none,” I said, “none, none of your business!”

“You’re my daughter,” she said. “I love you.”

I walked three steps down the driveway to look at her, hands on her hips. On newspapers on the ground the hat I was going to wear. Do you know, Ed, how much it fucking punches me in the stomach that my own mother was proved right? I must have shouted something and she must have shouted something back and stomped, she must have, into the house. But all I remember is the music fading, vengefully turned down so it no longer sound-tracked the day. Fuck her, I thought. Yeah Hawk yeah. I was done anyway.

Though I didn’t, did I, give you the keys. The day cooled to dusk while I did a little homework, dozed, missed Al, thought about calling Al, didn’t call Al, got dressed, and headed out with a dagger-glare at my mother pouring little candy bars into a bowl she’d sit and eat while waiting for youngsters. The boy I used to babysit was out on the corner throwing eggs at cars while the sun set. He flipped me off. The world was getting worse I guess, like this Japanese remake of Rip Van Winklecalled The Gates of Sleep that Al and I left early from, each time the hero awoke it was more depressing, wife dead, sons drunks, city more polluted, emperors more corrupt, the war dragging on and more and more bloody. Al said that one should have been called Are You in a Good Mood? We’ll Fix That: The Movie.

I should have known when an old guy on the bus, totally not kidding, thanked me for my service, that my costume was going to be another disaster, but not until I walked under the archway of orange and black balloons looking for you did it really hit me clear, from Jillian Beach of all people. “Oh my God,” she said, already tipsy in red-and-white-striped shorts and a bra of blue bandanas. She was porcupined with goose bumps from the evening cool, Annette was right, I didn’t have to be afraid of her.

“What?”

“You really are out there, Min. A Jewish girl dressing as Hitler?”

“I’m not Hitler.”

“They’re going to expel you. You’re gonna get expelled.”

“I’m a warden, Jillian. What are you?”

“Barbara Ross.”

“Who?”

“She invented the flag.”

Betsy, Jillian. I’ll see ya, OK?”

“Ed’s not here,” she said back to me.

“That’s OK,” I said, but I didn’t even try to be convincing, a Nazi too early for an outdoor party. A nest of freshmen walked around me chattering in mouse ears. A bunch of Draculas preened in a corner. They were already playing that song I hate. The coaches were sipping coffee and sweating in their capes. It was Trevor, who would ever think, who rescued me, limping over with his foot in a cast.

“Hey, Min. Or should I say Officer Green?”

Better a cop than Hitler. “Hey, Trevor. What are you?”

“A guy who broke his foot yesterday and so can’t be in the chain gang.”

“You’ll do anything to get out of dancing onstage.”

He laughed loud and pulled a beer out of somewhere. “You are funny,” he said, as if someone had said otherwise, and took a swig before handing it to me. I could tell he did this with any girl, any person, and that never until me had it been handed back unsipped.

“I’m good.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “You don’t like beer.”

“Ed told you.”

“Yeah, why, am I not supposed to know?”

“No, it’s fine,” I said, looking for you.

“Because, you know, he’s always going to tell me.”

“Yeah?” I said, and then gave up and looked him in the eye. He was drunk too, as usual, or maybe he was never drunk, I realized I didn’t know him well enough to know the difference.

“Yeah,” he said. “Slaterton girlfriends need to learn that and scoot if they can’t handle it.”

“Scoot?”

“Scoot,” he said with a wobbly nod. Even drunk, if he was drunk, he was tough-enough-looking to say words like scoot. “We talk, Ed and me.”

“So what does he say?”

“That he loves you,” Trevor said instantly, without embarrassment. “That you passed the test with his sister. That you put up with his math thing. That you’re planning a weird movie-star party and that I have to get the fucking champagne or he’ll kick my ass. And you don’t let him say gay anymore, which is—can I say gay?”

“Sure,” I said. “You’re not my boyfriend.”

“Thank God,” he said, and then, that’s where you got it I guess, “no offense.”

“None taken,” I said.

“I just mean, I don’t think we’d get along like that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.

“We’re just, I mean, I like a fun girl who doesn’t change me around with movies or stores that open first thing in the goddamn morning, you know?”

“Yes,” I said. “And I wouldn’t take you there.”

“I’m just, you know, trying to stay fun. Happy on the weekends, you know, sweating hard at practice.”

“I get it.”

He threw an arm around me like a companionable uncle. “I like you, I don’t care what anybody says,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, stiff. “I like you too, Trevor.”

“Naw,” he said, “but you’re a good sport about it. I hope you hang around a long time, really I do, and if you don’t I hope it’s not all drama and shit.”

“Um, thanks.”

“Now don’t get all puckered,” he said, finishing a beer and starting another. “I just mean, you guys are like those two planets that crash together in a movie I saw on TV when I was a kid once, the blue people and these weird red guys.”

When Planets Collide,” I said. “It’s a Frank Cranio film. At the end they’re all purple.”

Yeah!” he said loud, his eyes toggly with wonder and joy. “Nobody I ever knew ever knew that.”

“The Carnelian’s showing some Cranio in December,” I said. “We could double-date, you know, with Ed and whoever girl you’re—”

“Not in a million years,” he said agreeably. “That theater’s gay.

“You say that,” I said, “when you’re part of a group of guys chained together dancing.”

“Not me!” he said, raising his broken foot, and we laughed hard, loud, wild, and I even leaned into him, just as you arrived with your chain gang, everyone in striped pajamas and black plastic loops around their ankles. Underneath your flimsy hat your face was flushed and suspicious. “What the hell, Trev,” you said, too loudly, and pulled me away.

“Whoa, whoa,” Trevor said, shielding his beer. “We’re just goofing, Ed. She’s waiting for you.”

“And what are you doing, asshole?” you asked him. “Keeping her warm for me?”

“Hey, Ed, happy Halloween, good to see you,” I said pointedly like a person. I’d never seen this version, this shouting boy jerk, with your eyes frazzled wrong and your hand a claw on my shoulder. It was nothing I’d seen, but I hadn’t, I was thinking, known you that long.

“Dude,” Trevor said to you, smirking like the punch line was coming. “Don’t accuse like that. You know everything but’s not good enough for me.”

The whole chain gang oohed. The tears came to me so quick it was like I’d been saving them up for just this thing. I wished I were Hitler, I would have killed the whole set of them. “Min!” you called to me, your anger chased away in panic, and even took a few steps toward me. But your gang was chained to you, and they wouldn’t let you follow me and make it right. Not that you could. Though you did.

“He’s sorry!” one of the stupid boys called, and laughed. “We all did Viper shots to practice our dance, it always makes Slaterton an asshole.”

“No way!” Trevor said in jealous delight. “You’re doing Viper? Where is it where is it where is it?”

You looked helpless at me, and then the party surged around us like the panic in Last Train Leaving, the coaches starting off the festivities with their fat, dumpy dance to “I’m the Biggest Man.” Go to hell, I thought to everybody, and we were there, everyplace a nightmare of terrible people, screaming, flashing lights, more screaming, worse than a bonfire because there was nothing gorgeous to look at, just the gleamy makeup on people’s faces, the rubber masks like roadkill on boys’ heads, the slutty costume skin on the girls shiny with sweat, the thum-thum thunder from whoever carried in drums, screaming whistles around people’s necks like neon nooses, and then the rhythmic chantings, spread out across the crowd as each school started in, different words cropping up for each team, Eagles! Beavers! Tigers! Marauders!, a clashing of syllables like the mascots were fighting to the death in the sky, and then the captains hoisted up onto drunken shoulders, each school shouting its competing hero, McGinn! Thomas! Flinty! and winning out, Slaterton! Slaterton! Slaterton! as the chain gang clumped up to the stage and began their fake-sissy moves to “Love Locked Up” by Andronika, who sounded in the speakers like she also hated this shit, the hoots of the crowd, realizing you were famous even at other schools, your whole linked gang reaching down your pants to your crotches in gross unison and pulling out bottles of Parker’s when the lyrics said “Drink every drop,” and even with the coaches pretending disapproval the place devastated itself with screaming volume, toppling the cardboard Applause-O-Meter that Natalie Duffin and Jillian were game show gyrating around, and youwon, triumphant in gift certificates, blowing kisses, bowing awkwardly with your legs tangled up, and then Annette crashing the stage in chains and silver boots and a big stagy ax, kissing the whole gang, mwah mwah mwah, just a little longer on you, before raising her weapon and chopping through the chains and setting you free to leap thrilled and drunk, deep into the roaring crowd and vanish for thirty-eight minutes before finding me finally, handsome, beaming, gorgeous, sexy, a winner through and through forever.

I hated you so much.

My face must have blazed with it like Amanda Truewell in Dance to Forget when Oliver Shepard walks into the nightclub with his unexpected innocent wife. Fuming and furious hurt, I was bustled away by the surging crowd and was soon trapped at the goalpost with a guy I half knew from homeroom telling me a story about his dad’s new wife’s white wine problem. I was so angry I knew it would boomerang someplace sometime soon. It growled in me something awful as I just stood frozen and lost. The Bash kept at it, boiling and twisting in costume, until you finally reappeared during the even-worse song, the crowd crying Hey! Hey! Get down I say! frantic with your stripes half-unbuttoned and sweaty hair. “I want to tell you something,” you said, before I could decide which scathing line I’d been polishing to use first. You held both hands in front of you, spread out, a filthy streak on one palm, like I was about to roll a boulder on you. I stepped back and you stayed there, you stood your ground in the blaring battlefield, and you began to count on your fingers, counting the number of times you were saying what you were saying, both hands twice and then almost again. It was the only thing you could say, the perfect thing, is what you said.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

“Twenty-six,” you said, before I could ask you. Everyone was gathered around, or anyway they were around us, swirling like loud, bad surf. The crowd was low in the mix, a few yelps, a few catcalls. “Twenty-six,” you said again, to the crowd, and took a step toward me.

“Don’t,” I said, though I couldn’t decide.

“Twenty-six,” you said. “One for each day we’ve been together, Min.” Somebody oohed. Somebody shushed them.

“And I hope that someday I’ll do another something stupid and I’ll have to say it a million times because that’s how long it’ll be, together with you, Min. With you.”

I allowed you another step. The homeroom guy realized he was still there gaping, and stopped and vanished. There was a tremble in my shoulder, behind my knee. I shook my head, shoveling my anger into a shallow grave waiting to be dug up in some plot twist. But, also, your beautiful self, the way you could move and talk to me. I could not look away.

Anything,” you said, a vast answer to nothing I’d said. “Anything, Min. Anything, anything. If Willows was open, the flowers would be gone, I’d buy every scrap.”

“I’m mad at you,” I said finally. How many are there, movies where the man, or the actress, apologizes in public? I can’t watch them.

“I know,” you said.

“I’m still mad.”

But you’d reached me. Your hands moved to my face and held it. I don’t know what I would have done if you’d kissed me but Ed, you knew better. You just held me like that, warm on my teary cheeks. “I know. That’s fair.”

“Really mad. It’s bad what you did.”

“OK.” The crowd was still there but losing interest.

“No, not OK,” I said, the only fish to fry. “Yes. It was bad.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say it twenty-six times again. Once was enough.”

“Was it?”

“I don’t know.”

Anything, Min. Anything, but tell me what.”

“I don’t want to tell you anything.”

“OK, but Min, please.”

“This isn’t OK.”

“OK, but what can—how can we start?”

“I don’t know if I want to.”

You blinked fast fast fast. Your hand shivered on my face, and I thought suddenly that now my face was dirty. And, also, that I didn’t care. It wasn’t OK, Ed, but maybe—

“How, Min? Anything. What can I do, what can I—how can I make you want to start?”

I couldn’t. No, I thought, do not cry while you’re saying it. But then, fuck it, you’re crying anyway, and he made you cry. Min, I thought, it’s love is what it is. “Coffee,” I said, crying. “Coffee, extra cream, three sugars,” and you took us away, fast with your arms on me across the field, not a single good-bye to anyone at the Bash, cold through the night to the huddle on the bus, holding my face again, the sweet things you said so soft over the motor, and then marching into In the Cups, pushing the double doors wide slamming open, to proclaim that in penance for mistreating your true love, Min Green, you would like to buy a large coffee, extra cream, three sugars for each and every patron of this fine establishment, which was one bewildered old man with the newspaper who already had a coffee. Insisting that the man be a witness to your solemn promise that never would a drop of Viper touch your lips again. And returning from the bathroom with this tag—saying, look at this cool tag for a show we have to go to tomorrow, because look it’s Carl Haig who used to play drums with Hawk Davies who’s that guy you and Joanie like, just hanging on the bulletin board like thumbtacked destiny near the bathroom where you’d neatened your hair and buttoned back up decent and sobered, please go with you because you loved me.

“Maybe.”

“Oh Min, please don’t say maybe like that.”

“OK, yes,” I said, as the coffee rolled down inside me. I felt embarrassed, boarding the 6, to still say I was angry about something two buses ago. Trick-or-treaters sat across from us, young with the dad madly scrolling through something on his phone. Total strangers, is what I thought. If I was still mad I was alone, Saturday night, Halloween, on the bus. “Yes, OK? But I’m still mad.”

“That’s fair,” you said, but I didn’t want you smiling.

Still.

“You told me, Min. And I’m still sorry and this is us.”

“I know.”

“No, our stop, I mean. Time to get off.”

And we did, to the cemetery, hushed and welcome in the chilly dark, knowing the Ball was still coming, this stupid bad night. Our feet crackled and trampled on the shadowy grass. “Are you sure you want to go?”

Yes,” I said. “My friends—look, I went to your thing.”

“OK.”

“So you have to suffer through mine. Anything, you said.”

“Yes, OK.”

“And I mean suffer. Because I’m still—”

“I know, Min.”

I gave you my hand. It was a little less terrible then, just to walk in the quiet. Something rustled, off to one side, but I was safe there, in the dark light on the graves, the crosses of stone, and the dead leaves, almost OK.

“You know,” you said, your breath mist, “I thought of this place for the party.”

“What?”

“Lottie Carson.”

It was the first time you remembered her name. “It’s nice,” I said.

“But then I realized,” you said, “probably insulting, a bad place for an eighty-ninth birthday.”

“True,” I said. Headlights veered from the street through the trees, the headstones stock-still in the glare, like deer. I could see the numbers of the dates, the life spans long and not long enough. “Maybe she’ll be buried here,” I said. “We’ll have to visit, bring flowers, make sure there aren’t any condoms on her grave.”

You held my hand tighter, we walked on. You must, Ed, have been thinking about your mom and where, when, she’ll end up. You must then, I hope, have meant some of these things you said.

“Maybe we’ll be buried here,” you said, “and our kids will visit with flowers.”

“Together,” I said, couldn’t help whispering. “Together right here.”

It was that lovely thing, that time so beautiful there, that led me back to your corner, Ed. We stayed there a minute and then kept walking. The grass was thick, we stopped holding hands, but we were together heading to the rest of the bad night.

The Scandinavian Hall looked like shit, the same old shit with halfhearted streamers fluttering on it. The same gargoyle cooing the same green-lit steam was there at the door like a drunk uncle. We walked in together but nobody noticed because somebody was already fighting, or maybe just a table knocked over, and then with an embarrassed smile you jolted away, desperate for a bathroom. Someone’s coat was ruined on a table. I walked blinking, turned aside, past Al, sad in his Pure Evil outft of a blood-splattered clown, sitting silent with Maria and Jordan, who were dressed as Republicans with oil stains and flag pins. I never told you what happened in the cloakroom. But now I’ll tell you because it was nothing. In the cloakroom was the fruit punch in a bowl marked hope, but if no chaperones were looking, the boy ladling it out would turn the lazy Susan around, and an identical bowl would come through the curtain with the spiked stuff. And the boy with the ladle was Joe.

“Hey, Min.”

“Oh, hi.”

“What are you? I know it can’t be Hitler, but it looks like it.”

I sighed. “A prison warden. I lost my hat. You?”

“My mom. Lost my wig.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh. Punch? The real stuff ?”

“Yes,” I said. My insides were wild with coffee and the roller-coaster night. I sat down while he poured it.

“Having a good Halloween?” he asked me.

“Never.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

We clinked plastic cups, unsatisfyingly.

“So how’re things?”

“Things?”

“Ed Slaterton, I guess I mean.”

“Yeah, I thought you meant that,” I said.

“Well, everyone’s talking.”

“Give me some more punch,” I said.

Joe obliged me. That had been the problem. “That well, huh?” he said.

“What?”

“Driving you to drink.”

“I guess,” I said, drinking and gesturing dramatically. “I’m a basketball widow.”

“Is it that bad?”

“No, no. But sometimes. You know, it’s a different thing.”

“Well, I guess you don’t give up at the first sign of trouble,” he said, but he wouldn’t look at me while I blinked at him.

“Sure I do,” I said to him, the closest to sorry I ever got. “What about you? I heard Gretchen Synnit.”

“Nope,” Joe said. “That was just a cast party. I’m dating Mrs Grasso now.”

“Oh, nice. Though I think gym teachers are usually lesbians.”

“Really?”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve slept with them all.”

“That’s why I’m dating Grasso,” Joe said. “To get closer to you.”

“Shut up. You’re not missing me.”

“Not really,” he said. “Though we did say we’d stay friends.”

“We’re friends,” I said. “Look, we’re having an awkward conversation. If that’s not friendship—”

“How about a dance?” he said, and his body teetered to a stand. Very drunk, I realized, but why not? Maybe a dance was what, somewhere for the fury to go. Why not, why the fuck? Why not rise from the grave and terrorize a little instead of staying buried and dead in the cemetery? It was Halloween, and it was “Culture the Vulture” that was booming through the Scandinavian Hall when Joe led me out onto the floor already twirling, the song Joe just loves, the long version we used to listen to on his bedroom floor with shared headphones, my hand resting under his shirt on his smooth belly, driving him crazy, I knew. My unguarded vengeance, unbuttoning my costume for the first time, showing the lining of my dad’s forgotten coat and also what I was wearing beneath it. Which had been for you, Ed, just my best bra. Spinning and defiant in my head, flush with punch. And the unbuttoned coat. And Joe’s breath against me, sweat I could feel down my neck, the pulse of the second verse. And you, of course, you waiting out the song, self-conscious and stricken, Al too, pretending not to stare, staring, while I danced and pretended not to know. Joe dipping me so low my bra threatened fleshy disaster, I felt my heartbeat beating, brave and fierce, my legs liberated and my arms up in the glorious air, the lights glitter in my eyes, my lips open with the lyrics, and all my thinking erased from my skull while the song roared loud and free. Make it gone, is what I felt. Blow it to hell, kick its ass viciously in high heels, ravish it and rip it up, Ball and Bash both, this cavalcade of battering whatnot, fuck it and let it go. Do it different like they tell you you are. I danced and then I was through, done with every scrap of it, across the floor without looking back, not at Joe now alone, nor Al, nor Lauren, Maria, Jordan, anyone, nobody, everyone else. Just you, the thing worth keeping. The night late, the song over, the singer’s last “Madness!” echoingness-ness-ness, and I got to you and met your eyes staring at me in hungry wonder. I knew who you were, Ed Slaterton. I opened my mouth and kissed you then, the first time all night, attacked you and surrendered completely, and let’s get out of here. I’m ready, I’m finished, let’s not break up, no, no. Take me home, my boyfriend, my love.

 

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[REVIEW] ARKITEK JALANAN

Arkitek Jalanan oleh Teme Abdullah

 

To be honest, aku bosan dah dengar orang cakap, “Belajarlah kerana Allah.” Setiap kali aku mengadu down, setiap kali aku mengeluh nak give up… Aku diam sajalah, acah-acah makan dalam. Yalah, orang picisan macam aku ni, mana layak membantah ayat-ayat daripada budak-budak usrah. Tapi sebenarnya kan… Aku tak pernah faham pun maksud ‘belajar kerana Allah’ tu.

Buku kedua Teme Abdullah ini sangat sesuai untuk bacaan seseorang yang bergelar student kerana dalam buku ini, terdapat banyak pengalaman Teme sendiri yang student boleh relate dan menjadi inspirasi untuk ramai student di luar sana yang sedang belajar dan yang mahu melanjutkan pelajaran ke luar negara. Buku ini diceritakan dalam sudut pandangan orang ketiga dimana cerita tentang Teme dan sahabat dunia akhiratnya yang merangkap teman serumahnya, Ahmad bersilih ganti sepanjang dalam buku ini. Banyak konflik yang wujud ketika mereka di London, konflik dengan orang sekeliling dan juga konflik dengan diri sendiri. Teme ada juga menyelitkan nasihat berunsurkan Islamik tanpa perlu menjadi ekstremis agama. Buku ini juga penuh dengan motivasi untuk pelajar jangan berputus asa, setiap kejadian itu pasti ada hikmahnya dan setiap hikmah itu pasti membawa manfaatnya kepada diri kita. Ayat-ayat yang ditulis Teme sangat memberi inspirasi untuk pelajar-pelajar kekal percaya dengan kemampuan diri sendiri. Secara keseluruhannya, admin recommend readers, mahupun pelajar atau bukan, untuk baca buku ini bagi mendapatkan motivasi dan inspirasi dalam hidup supaya kita tahu ke mana arah tuju kita dengan aktiviti harian yang kita lakukan buat masa sekarang. 

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[REVIEW] ONE FINE DAY

One Fine Day by RodieR

 

Just when Zahra thinks her world crumbles, she meets Aryan. Fascinated with each other, he brings her out of misery into his own understanding of love… and happiness. And so with him, she finds happiness again. It doesn’t last long, though because again she is tested with difficulty. Love isn’t always patient. Sometimes we get short, brusque, or frustrated with the people we love the most. Love is, however, doing our best to see the people we care about with compassion and understanding. This is the story of Zahra and Aryan, one about love, pain and happiness regained. For there will be a relief with every difficulty, will they be able to withstand the test of time?


Zahra was devastated after the incident that took her parents’ lives, Aryan came into her life, showing her the beautiful side of life when they met in a country that has different culture than Malaysia. Every beautiful love story, there must be a hardship that will appear as a test in their lives. This novel teaches us about life and the setting is very calm but will make you shed a tear. If you need a calm reading on a rainy or beautiful day, then this will be the perfect novel for you. You have to find out about their fate because the storyline is very different from the usual. 

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https://www.e-sentral.com/book/info/257332/One-Fine-Day

[SNEAK PEEK] LAST SEEN ALIVE

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas

 

There is a ringing in my ear. It’s deafening, grating and monotone like a pneumatic drill, familiar—a fire alarm. Panic consumes me, pinning me down, crushing my chest. Fire! I need to escape. A cold sweat breaks out all over my body. I’m in the hostel. It’s too hot. The darkness closing in, trapping me. I can hear the sound of running feet, shouts in a language I can’t understand. Screaming. Smoke filling my nostrils and my lungs so that I can’t breathe. I can feel arms around me, I try to shake them away. ‘Get off! Get off!’

‘Libby. It’s OK . . . shh, wake up.’

My eyes snap open to see Jamie staring down at me, his face crumpled with concern, his hands on my shoulders. I’m on the sofa. In the Hideaway. I’m safe . . . I’m safe. I must have fallen asleep . . . but the noise, I can still hear it.

‘It’s just the smoke alarm,’ says Jamie as if reading my mind. ‘It’s gone off in the kitchen. I was making some toast.’ He smiles apologetically. ‘I wanted some of their fancy pâté. But the alarm’s too bloody sensitive. It will stop in a minute. I’ve pressed the button . . .’ I pull away from his grasp and he steps back as though I’ve bitten him. ‘You were having a nightmare. I was trying to wake you up.’

I shift my weight so that I’m sitting upright. ‘I thought . . .’ The noise stops and immediately my heart rate slows even though I can still hear a faint ringing in my ears.

Jamie comes to sit next to me but doesn’t touch me. I can see two overdone pieces of toast on a plate on the coffee table, the edges black.

‘Libs, you’re trembling . . .’

I have a nasty taste in my mouth and my top is clinging to me underneath my dressing gown, damp with sweat. ‘I thought I was at the hostel,’ I say, disorientated. I scan the room just to make sure I really am at the Hideaway and not in Thailand. Tara smiles down at me from the black-and-white canvas on the opposite wall, above the TV. Seeing her photo roots me in the present.

My chin quivers. I don’t want to cry.

Jamie notices and pulls me into his arms. ‘Oh, babe.’ Babe. He hasn’t called me that in years.

‘It felt so real,’ I whisper into his shoulder, my throat sore as if smoke really has been suffocating me. I pull away from him and get up, fumbling at my neckline. I can’t breathe properly.

I walk shakily over to the French doors, turning the key to open one side and stand under the starless sky, cradling my broken arm. I’ve taken the sling off but the cast feels heavy. I flex my fingers. I can’t wait to get the bloody thing off.

It’s so dark outside, the kind of night sky you only really see in the countryside, deep and thick and never-ending, untainted by pollution and street lamps. I take deep gasps of fresh air. I can taste the salt on my tongue, hear the roar of the waves from the sea below. Standing here like this, in almost total darkness, makes me realise afresh how remote we are. How far from civilisation. I suddenly yearn for our busy Bath street with all the people noisily going about their daily lives. It’s too silent out here. Too still.

‘You never talk about it. What happened in Thailand.’ Jamie’s voice makes me jump. I turn to see him standing in the doorway, backlit from the muted living-room lights. Jamie had spent ages messing with the remote to get the ambience just right.

‘It’s not something I want to relive,’ I say.

He doesn’t step into the garden. ‘But you do. Relive it, I mean. You relived it just now. And you probably did when the school caught fire.’

‘I just want to forget about it. To bury it. It’s my way of coping.’

I’ve never really told him about what happened. To me. To Karen. He knows my friend died. He knows I was lucky to escape. It makes me worry, sometimes, the things I haven’t told him. Because we shouldn’t keep secrets from each other. Yet we do. I know that he’s keeping things from me too. The way he felt about Hannah, for example. The loan he got from his mother that he assumes I don’t know about. And that’s fine. I understand. Because we love each other and we have to trust one another. I don’t go in for all this therapy malarkey. I will never sit on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office unloading myself when they ask, ‘And how does that make you feel?’ That just isn’t me. As far as I’m concerned the past is the past. And it should stay there.

*  *  *

When I awake the next morning after a restless sleep, Jamie announces we should go out for the day. He doesn’t have to say it but I know he wants to get me out of the house. Me freaking out over the smoke alarm last night was probably the last straw.

‘We could go to St Mawes and see the castle? It was built by Henry VIII. Meant to be worth seeing,’ he says over breakfast. ‘Or do you fancy the lighthouse at Lizard Point?’ He has a map spread out on the kitchen island and he’s perusing it intently as he spoons Shreddies into his mouth. It always makes me smile how much he loves what I call kids’ cereal. Frosties are a firm favourite of his too. He never goes anywhere without bringing his own.

‘How far away is the lighthouse?’

‘Should be an hour, max.’

I don’t relish the thought of being cooped up in the car for that long. I can’t shake the nausea I’ve been experiencing since last night, but I’d hate to burst his bubble. I’d rather visit the lighthouse instead of traipsing around a damp, crumbling castle. And it would be good for me to get out of the house, however much I love it.

We debate whether to take Ziggy but decide against it, although I feel a pang of guilt as he observes us with his big brown eyes as we’re leaving. ‘We won’t be long, Zigs,’ says Jamie. I blow the dog a kiss before Jamie closes the door. His expression is unsure as he faces me. ‘Do you think he’ll be OK? What if he shits on the furniture or something?’

‘He is house-trained,’ I laugh.

Jamie hovers by the door. ‘I don’t feel comfortable leaving him, Libs.’ He returns the key to the lock and the door swings open again. Ziggy bounds towards us.

I roll my eyes in mock exasperation. ‘Fine, but he’ll have to stay in the car while we visit the lighthouse. Then we can take him for a long walk after.’ Jamie darts back into the house to get the dog lead. ‘And don’t forget his water bowl,’ I call after him as I bend down to stop Ziggy bolting.

It’s colder than it was the day we arrived, with a slate-grey sky and an icy wind coming off the sea. I wrap my scarf further around my neck as Jamie lets Ziggy into the back seat. ‘Don’t put the roof down,’ I say in a warning tone as I get into the passenger side. ‘I’m freezing and I can’t even put my coat on properly with this sling.’

‘I wasn’t going to put the roof down,’ he says mildly, but darts a sideways look at me, as though assessing my mood. I want to scream at him: Stop walking on fucking eggshells around me! But I can’t because I know it’s coming from a place of love. I just hate being treated like some damsel in distress. I know I’m not helping myself with my fears that something terrible is about to happen, and I vow, as the car lumbers along the narrow lanes, to make an effort to pull myself together. To get a hold on these paranoid thoughts. I want Jamie to see me as the strong, independent woman he fell in love with. The woman who didn’t take any shit. The woman who his mother once described, disparagingly, as ‘quite feisty’ after a heated discussion with Katie about the education system.

We don’t speak. I stare out of the window as the country lanes rush by in flashes of green and grey. Over in the distant fields I spot sheep, their cotton-wool coats against the lush grass reminding me of a child’s drawing. Jamie turns the radio up but he doesn’t sing along.

Eventually he takes a right turn and I spot the lighthouse adjoined to an array of squat white buildings, their windowsills painted a fresh green. The car lurches over the bumpy tarmac, making me feel even more nauseous, and Jamie reverses into a space. ‘Right,’ he says, turning off the engine. ‘Lighthouse first?’

‘I’m dying for a Starbucks,’ I admit.

He grins. ‘No Starbucks here, I don’t think. But we can try the café afterwards.’

‘Yes, but will they do a caramel macchiato? I can’t drink coffee unless it’s syruped up, you know that.’

He squeezes my thigh. ‘I’ll do my best,’ he promises, the tension between us forgotten. He swivels in his seat to address Ziggy. ‘And when we come back we’ll take you for a long walk, I promise.’

We amble around the lighthouse with the tour guide, a young, pretty girl with red corkscrew curls called Ruth. I feel claustrophobic in the small, circular room with nineteen other people. The car sickness still hasn’t left me, and the man standing next to me smells unclean. Jamie is fascinated as Ruth explains the history of the lighthouse, showing us to the top via a rickety staircase to see the panoramic sea views. I try to appear enthusiastic but I feel like I’m at work and this is one of our many school trips.

Eventually we are released back outside and I take deep lungfuls of the fresh sea air, trying to cleanse my system of the smell of unwashed bodies and old dusty memorabilia. My sense of smell is more acute than normal: the damp grass, the sea air, the coffee from the nearby café, the fruity shampoo of a passing woman. The only other time my sense of smell was this good was when I was pregnant. Could I be again? I rub my stomach instinctively, deep down knowing it would be unlikely. Before Cornwall, Jamie and I had had sex just once. I know it only takes once for it to happen but I can’t be that lucky.

I wander onto the grass, deep in thought, before realising that Jamie isn’t with me. I turn to see him hanging about in the arched doorway of the lighthouse, in deep conversation with Ruth. He’s listening closely as she talks, his eyebrows knitted together and a look of intense concentration on his face. He must say something funny because she throws back her head in laughter and touches his arm, running her fingers down his wool coat for longer than is strictly necessary. She has to be nearly ten years his junior but it’s obvious she fancies him—the studious types always do. He’s got that foppish, geeky look about him that some women—including me—find sexy, like a blonder, younger Jarvis Cocker. He’s wearing a long coat over his scruffy jeans and a red scarf. He looks like a professor. Or a mature student.

I tear my eyes from them and begin to walk slowly towards the café, knowing that Jamie will eventually catch up with me. When he does he’s breathless and his cheeks are flushed.

‘Do you know,’ he says, talking quickly in his excitement, taking my good arm and linking it through his, ‘before they switched over to the computer system the lighthouse had to be manned by three men.’

‘No, I didn’t know that.’ Jamie is always spouting random, often useless, facts.

‘Years ago it was only two. But that changed. And why?’

I shrug.

‘Come on, Libs. Humour me.’

I sigh. ‘OK, why?’

I can see him mentally rubbing his hands with glee. ‘Well, according to Ruth, a long time ago on a remote island off Wales, one of the two men on duty died of a heart attack or something. Anyway the other was left with the dead body, on his own. For months.’

By now we’ve bypassed the café, much to my dismay, reaching the cliff’s edge, and I stop to ferret in my bag for my phone so that I can take a photograph of the bay below. The sky is overcast and the wind ruffles our hair and tugs the hems of our coats as though trying to take our attention away from the breathtaking views. The water is an angry-looking navy blue and the white frothy spray leaps off the rocks and smashes against the ragged shoreline. The noise of the wind mixed with the roar of the sea is deafening and we almost have to shout to make ourselves heard.

‘He was worried the police would think he killed the man, so he kept his body as evidence and hung it out the window,’ Jamie continues.

‘Urgh, Jamie! Why would he have to hang his friend’s dead body out of the window?’

‘Because there was no room in the lighthouse. It was too small. And the bloke was dead, Libs. He’d started to decay, to smell. Here, let me do that,’ he says, taking the phone from my hand when he sees I’m having trouble.

I shudder. ‘Thanks.’ I wrinkle up my nose. The smell in the air is pungent: sea salt and fish. ‘How did he hang him outside?’ I ask. I can’t help but feel curious even though I should know better than to encourage Jamie.

He beams, clearly enjoying himself as he imparts this piece of historical gossip. ‘Well, he made a makeshift coffin, put his dead friend inside and hung it from the lighthouse.’ He’s always had a morbid fascination with the weird and wonderful. He’s a regular subscriber to the Fortean Times. ‘But the weather conditions broke the coffin apart, so eventually the man was left hanging there, decaying, banging against the window as though beckoning to his friend. Can you imagine that? Seeing your friend slowly rotting away . . .’

My stomach turns. ‘All right, Jay. I get the picture. Why didn’t the man get help?’

He rolls his eyes as if it’s obvious. ‘Because he couldn’t leave the lighthouse unmanned, could he? He sent distress signals but nobody could come for months. The sight of his dead friend hanging there sent him quite mad, apparently.’

‘Not surprised. Can we change the subject now?’ I ask.

He grins at me, his eyes twinkling. ‘Sure.’

‘Is that what Ruth was talking to you about? While she was laughing at your jokes and generally being a flirt?’ It slips out and I notice the ripple of surprise on Jamie’s face.

He shrugs, good-naturedly. ‘I’ve still got it,’ he winks at me. ‘What can I say?’

I push his arm playfully. ‘Oh, you love it,’ I laugh. ‘As long as you remember you’re mine.’

‘How could I forget?’

We walk to the top of the grassy incline to get a better view of the sea and the jagged rocks below. The land juts out beneath us in a zigzag shape. ‘Is that a seal?’ I say, nudging Jamie and pointing to a dark patch of sea where something sticks up from the water.

‘Nah, just a rock,’ says Jamie, squinting. He holds up my phone to take a few more shots. I’m aware of a surge of tourists chatting in French behind me. Over Jamie’s shoulder I notice a man, perhaps in his late thirties, wearing an oversized grey fleece with a high collar that obscures his chin and a black beanie pushed down over his head. It reminds me of the tea cosy Mum used when I was a child. He has a camera with a zoom lens swinging from his neck, and a face as stormy as the sea below. There is something familiar about him. Now he has his camera angled in Jamie’s direction, and keeps lifting it to his eyes, as if he’s paparazzi. Every time Jamie moves, so does the man—and his camera. Jamie’s oblivious, filling me in on a documentary on seals that he’d seen last night after I went to bed. Something about the man is bothering me. Is he trying to take a photo of me? Of Jamie? I have a fleeting, paranoid thought that he’s police, or a private detective, and my palms sweat. I gently steer Jamie further up the hill in an effort to make us inconspicuous among the throng of tourists.

I glance back at the café longingly. I’m desperate for caffeine but we can’t stop now. I scan the faces behind me for the man and his camera. I can just about see his beanie hat over the shoulder of a tall woman. Is his focus no longer on us? Maybe he wasn’t aiming his camera at us after all. I turn back to Jamie, relieved. Of course he’s not some private detective. Who would even think about hiring one? And why?

I’m just about to ask Jamie if we can go back and grab a coffee when I hear him cry out and he stumbles into my side, knocking me forwards. It happens so quickly, I lose my footing on the uneven ground and trip. I’m so intent on trying to protect my broken arm that I find myself careering down the hill towards the cliff’s edge. Blood pounds in my ears as I imagine plummeting onto the rocks below but I can’t stop myself; it’s like I’m on a treadmill and I can’t get off. I hear somebody scream and I’m not sure if it’s me. Then the next thing I know I’m being pulled backwards by the scarf around my neck and I feel familiar hands grabbing my waist.

‘It’s OK, Libs, I’ve got you,’ says Jamie, his voice breathless with fear. ‘I’ve got you.’

We’re on the lip of ground before the land falls away; if I’d gone any further it would have been too late. My legs are weak and my throat hurts where Jamie has pulled the scarf. I let him lead me back up the hill so that we are safely on the pavement, then we sink to the ground together like we are conjoined. I’m trembling all over. Horrified tourists gather around us, asking if I’m OK. An older man returns from the nearby café and thrusts a cup of tea wordlessly into my hands. I take it gratefully, my teeth chattering as I stammer out a thank-you. His kindness, along with the shock, makes my eyes fill up.

‘My God, Libs, you nearly went over the edge,’ Jamie says, a tremor in his voice. ‘I’m so sorry. I felt a shove in my back, pushing me into you.’ He looks distraught.

‘Don’t worry, I don’t think you were trying to kill me.’ I try to smile as I sip my tea, warming my hands against the cup.

‘Not funny,’ he says, but he gives me a watered-down grin. ‘Shit, that was scary.’

The tourists begin to disperse now they can see we’re unharmed.

‘Did you see who pushed you?’ I say, feeling sick.

He frowns. ‘Not really. A guy was standing by me. Big fella, broad, tall. But not sure if it was him.’

‘Was he wearing a beanie?’

Jamie frowns. ‘I’m not sure. Why?’

‘Before you fell into me I noticed a guy. He had a camera around his neck and he was taking photos.’

‘So?’

‘Of you. He had his camera trained on you, Jay.’

He shuffles and looks uncomfortable, his eyes sliding away from mine. ‘Why would he be doing that?’ he mumbles.

I let a beat or two pass before saying, ‘I don’t know.’ I sigh and hand him my cup. He stands up and helps me to my feet.

‘Look, Libs, it was an accident. There were too many of us standing together. You’re not telling me you think this bloke did it on purpose, are you?’

I stare at the ground, my mind racing. ‘I’m not sure. No, I don’t think so. It’s just . . . this guy was interested in you.’

Jamie smirks. ‘Maybe he fancied me. Like Ruth, huh?’

I can’t help but laugh. ‘Don’t be an idiot.’

He wraps his arms around me. ‘You feel freezing. Come on, let’s go and get something to eat to warm you up. Then we better get back to Ziggy.’

I nod and allow him to guide me towards the café. But I feel uneasy as I scan the crowds and the stragglers who are making their way towards the lighthouse and the car park. It doesn’t matter what Jamie says. I know I’m not being paranoid. There was something strange about that man and the interest he’d taken in my husband.

 

eBook penuh boleh didapati di E-Sentral.com
https://www.e-sentral.com/book/info/222555/last-seen-alive

[SNEAK PEEK] NOVEL HIKAYAT SATRIA-SATRIA SEJATI: GENERASI BARU

Novel Hikayat Satria-Satria Sejati: Generasi Baru oleh Hilal Asyraf

 

“Aku tak sangka orang-orang Islam terlalu yakin dengan apa yang tidak mampu dilihat dengan mata mereka.
Mereka percaya bahawa Tuhan akan membantu mereka. Hahaha.” 

~ Kirbasi Indana, Pemimpin Tertinggi Wagangada.

Suasana di dalam hutan itu hening. Warna hijau yang menjadi latar memberikan ketenangan. Apabila dibias cahaya matahari, tambah menyerikan pandangan. Bunyi burung sekali sekala bersahutan membuatkan hutan itu benar-benar hidup.

“Bertenang.” Suara Jilani memecah keheningan tersebut. Dia sedang berdiri di hadapan Ariki, yang kini sedang membuka kekudanya bersama tangan dalam keadaan siaga. Tangan kanan Ariki bersentuhan dengan tangan Jilani pada pergelangan tangan. Tangan Jilani bergerak, dan tangan Ariki mengekori. Apabila kedua-dua tangan jatuh ke bawah, Jilani pantas mengangkat tangan kiri, dan tangan kiri Ariki segera mengekori. Pergelangan tangan mereka bersentuh seperti tadi. Dan sekali lagi, Jilani menggerakkan tangan itu ke bawah sambil diikuti oleh Ariki. Keadaan itu berulang dan terus berulang. 

Beberapa hari telah berlalu semenjak pertemuan mereka. 

Jilani telah bersetuju untuk melatih Ariki dan Aifer agar lebih mahir menguasai kelebihan mereka. Walaupun Aifer ternyata berpengalaman, tetapi Aifer sendiri mengakui bahawa dia masih belum benar-benar menguasai seni mengawal aura. 

Sedang Jilani melatih Ariki, Aifer duduk bersila tidak jauh dari situ. Bertapa. 

“Kawalan aura bukan perkara magik. Ini bukan sihir. Tetapi hakikatnya sains. Seseorang itu perlu benar-benar memahami konsep aura ini untuk betul-betul mampu mengawalnya dengan baik.” 

“Jadi apakah konsep itu?” Ariki tidak tahu. 

“Kuasa yang dipunyai oleh kita ini adalah hasil daripada perubahan DNA tubuh, akibat radioaktif meteormeteor yang jatuh ke bumi 1000 tahun yang lalu bukan? Kita mewarisinya melalui genetik. Setiap manusia yang mempunyai kelebihan ini, kini mampu untuk mengawal maksimum dua unsur. Setiap tubuh mempunyai penerimaan yang berbeza, namun semuanya hanya mampu mengawal dua daripada lima unsur – api, air, tanah, elektrik dan angin.” 

Aifer khusyuk mendengar. Walaupun dia sudah tahu itu semua hasil latihan bapanya. Ariki juga tahu yang itu. Kabeer sudah menerangkan kepadanya. Dia masih menanti Jilani menerangkan konsep yang perlu difahaminya. 

“Mengapa hanya dua unsur?” Jilani melontar pertanyaan. 

“Kerana tubuh manusia tidak mampu mengawal lebih daripada dua unsur.” Aifer menjawab. 

“Benar. Mengapa dikatakan bahawa manusia tidak mampu mengawal lebih dari dua unsur?” 

Aifer menggeleng. Itu dia tidak tahu. 

“Kembali kepada asas. Ianya berbalik kepada sel di dalam tubuh badan kita. Sel seorang manusia yang telah berubah akibat radioaktif tersebut, hanya mampu menyerap kemampuan untuk mengawal dua unsur. Apa maknanya di sini?” 

Ariki menggeleng. Pening. “Bukankah itu sudah diterangkan tadi? Tubuh manusia tidak mampu mengawal lebih daripada dua unsur?” 

“Tidak. Inilah konsepnya yang perlu disedari. Kelebihan ini, wujud dalam sel kita. Seluruh tubuh ini hakikatnya senjata. Namun, kebiasaan manusia hanya memberikan fokus kepada tangan dan kaki mereka sahaja untuk mengawal unsur-unsur ini.” 

“Ah.” Ariki mula faham. “Kerana itulah engkau mampu mengawalnya tanpa bergerak?” 

Jilani mengangguk. 

“Dan, apabila seluruh badan mampu bertindak menyerap dan mengawal unsur-unsur tersebut, akan menjadi lebih tinggi kuasa kita. Contoh, orang yang seluruh tubuhnya mampu mengawal unsur tanah dengan baik, mampu untuk membina perisai pada seluruh tubuhnya. Bukan sekadar dinding tanah atau penghadang.” 

Aifer terangguk-angguk. Dia masih tidak mampu melakukan perkara itu. 

“Dan, sebagai contoh, di tempat tiada air seperti sekarang.” Jilani menggerakkan tangan di hadapannya. Menunjukkan bahawa tiada air berdekatan dengan dirinya sekarang. 

Dahi Jilani kemudian sedikit berkerut. Tangan kirinya yang baru dibebaskan dari anduh, memegang pergelangan tangan kanannya, yang kini sedang terbuka telapaknya. 

Tidak lama kemudian, beberapa titis air muncul dalam bentuk bebola, terapung di atas tangannya. 

Aifer dan Ariki sama-sama membeliakkan mata. 

Jilani tersenyum, tetapi jelas dalam kepayahan. Wajah pemuda itu mula berkeringat. 

Tangannya diturunkan. Titisan air tadi jatuh ke tanah. 

“Udara ini mempunyai air bukan? Jika seluruh tubuh mampu digerakkan untuk mengawal, pengguna unsur air akan mampu menarik air daripada udara yang tidak kelihatan ini.” Jilani kelihatan seperti sedang mengawal pernafasannya. 

“Engkau pun belum betul-betul mahir bukan?” 

“Bukan semudah menerangkannya.” Jilani tertawa. 

Ariki terangguk-angguk, mula memahami. 

Sekarang Aifer sedang berusaha untuk membuatkan seluruh tubuhnya mampu menyerap dan mengawal unsur. Ia memerlukan konsenstrasi yang tinggi. Untuk digunakan semasa pertempuran sedang hangat dan memuncak, sudah pasti lebih lagi fokus diperlukan. Aifer pertamanya perlu mendapatkan ‘rasa’ terlebih dahulu. Dan itulah yang sedang diusahakannya sekarang. 

Ariki melirik kepada Aifer sebentar. Tiba-tiba hidungnya dijentik. Terpempan Ariki dibuatnya. Sambil memegang hidung, dia mengerutkan dahi memandang Jilani. 

“Kenapa ?”

“Pengajaran. Hilang fokus walau sesaat di dalam pertarungan, nyawa melayang.” 

Ariki menyedari kesilapannya. 

“Engkau dengan Aifer, ada hubungan apa-apakah?” Jilani bertanya tanpa berselindung. 

Wajah Ariki ibarat disimbah minyak panas. “Eh, hubungan apa yang engkau maksudkan?” Suaranya direndahkan supaya perbualan itu tidak didengari Aifer. Sempat dia memerhatikan Aifer sekali lagi. Jiwanya lega melihat Aifer masih khusyuk bertapa. 

Jilani tertawa kecil. “Sudah gaharu cendana pula.” 

Ariki menyambung latihannya dengan Jilani. “Jujurnya, ya, aku jatuh hati dengannya. Masakan, aku tinggal serumah dengannya hampir sebulan lebih dan kini terpaksa mengembara bersamanya. Memikul perjuangan yang entah bila akhirnya. Aku tertawan dengan ketabahan dan kecekalannya.” 

Jilani mengangguk. Mengerti. “Muslim yang benar, memang menawan. Kerana itu kami sangat mengasihi Ibu Umeira. Malang dia ditangkap sebelum benar-benar dapat mengajar kami bagaimana menjadi Muslim.” 

“Jilani, sebenarnya apa gerangannya aku dilatih sebegini? Mengapa tidak aku bertapa seperti Aifer?” Ariki mengubah tajuk. Ralat mahu berbicara berkenaan hati dan perasaan. Tidak mahu bersembang lebih lama berkenaan Aifer. Malu dan segan. 

“Aifer sudah jauh lebih mahir daripadamu. Engkau perlu faham bahawa aura ibarat arus. Dan untuk mengawalnya dengan lebih baik, engkau perlu belajar mengawal arus. Pandai memutarkannya, seperti ini.” Jilani terus menggerakkan tangannya. Ariki mengekori setia. 

“Pandai menolak dan menariknya, seperti ini. ” Kemudian tangan itu ditukar pergerakannya, kini menolak ke hadapan, Ariki perlahan-lahan mengundurkan tubuhnya seraya tangannya merapat ke dada, sebelum Jilani memberikan isyarat agar Ariki menolak pergelangan tangannya. Ariki menolak, dan perlahan-lahan Jilani melakukan pergerakan yang sama seperti Ariki sebentar tadi. 

Mereka melakukannya berkali-kali. Sebentar atas bawah, kemudian ke depan dan belakang. 

“Bagaimana ? Dapat rasainya ? Arus ?” Jilani bertanya. 

Ariki mengangguk. 

“Hendak menguasai pertarungan yang pantas, asas kena kukuh. Kerana itu kita berlatih dalam keadaan perlahan. Sebagaimana seorang pahlawan contohnya, hendak melatih matanya mampu menangkap pergerakan yang pantas, dia perlu belajar memerhati. Bukan belajar menggerakkan mata dengan laju.” 

Kata-kata Jilani ini membuatkan Ariki teringat akan rutin yang diberikan Kabeer kepadanya. Bertapa melihat air terjun dan mendengar kepada keadaan sekeliling. 

“Engkau aku lihat sudah punya sedikit asas.” 

“Ya, bapa kepada Aifer yang mendidikku.” 

“Ya, bakal mertua memang meletakkan harapan besar kepada bakal menantu.” Jilani menyakat. 

“Hei.” Ariki tergelak dengan seloroh Jilani. Adaada sahaja. 

“Jangan terlalu durja. Perjalanan ini panjang. Ibu Umeira pernah berkongsi bahawa Muhammad Utusan Allah yang diimani olehnya itu, walaupun hidup penuh dengan ujian dan pancaroba, dia juga bergurau senda dengan sahabat-sahabatnya.” 

“Aku masih tidak benar-benar mendalami Islam. Terima kasih kerana berkongsi.” 

“Tetapi engkau sudah Muslim bukan ?” Jilani bertanya. 

“Ya, tetapi nampaknya Islam bukan agama magis. Bak kata Aifer kepadaku. Menjadi Muslim itu semudah mengucap beberapa kalimah. Tetapi hendak benar-benar menjadi Muslim yang baik, ada ilmu yang perlu ditimba. Ini bukan agama untuk orang yang mahu bermain-main.” 

“Benar.” 

“Jilani, Ariki, Aifer!” Suara Runihara menarik pandangan mereka. Aifer yang sedang khusyuk bertapa membuka mata dan bangkit. 

Runihara kelihatan sedang berlari anak ke arah mereka. Sekali sekala melompat mengelak halangan berupa akar yang menjalar dan batu-batu. 

“Ada apa Runihara ?” Jilani bertanya. Dia, Ariki dan Aifer mendekati Runihara yang sedang tunduk, termengah-mengah. 

“Mari, segera ikuti aku.” Runihara menarik Jilani. 

Mereka berempat bergerak pantas. Sekali-sekala terpaksa mengelak halangan-halangan. Mereka juga sedang mendaki cerun yang tidak berapa tajam. Selepas beberapa ketika, kelihatan Ustur dan Rafiq di sempadan hutan. Tempat itu agak tinggi, dan di sinilah mereka bermalam. Ustur dan Rafiq berdiri tidak jauh dari kem mereka. Apabila perasan Runihara telah kembali membawa Jilani, Ariki dan Aifer, Ustur melambai mengajak mereka segera mendekati dirinya dan Rafiq. 

“Mengapa?” Jilani menyoal sebaik sahaja dia menghampiri Ustur. Rafiq kelihatan sedang meneropong ke arah Wagangada. Kemudian teropong itu diserahkan kepada Jilani. Jilani menghela nafas selepas melihat apa yang dilihat oleh Ustur dan Rafiq. “Mengapa ?” Ariki menyentuh bahu Jilani. Teropong diturunkan, dan diserahkan pula kepada Ariki. Ariki melihat. 

Matanya terbeliak. Giginya diketap. 

“Mengapa Ariki?” Giliran Aifer tertanya-tanya. Kehairanan dengan reaksi rakan-rakannya. 

Ariki lambat-lambat memberikan teropong tersebut kepada Aifer. Aifer segera mengambilnya dari tangan Ariki dan melihat dari corong alat tersebut. 

Terkejut. 

Wagangada sedang menayangkan siaran langsung daripada Kota Ismura, pusat pemerintahan Mukan’Aja. Satu skrin yang agak besar, muncul di tengahtengah Wagangada dalam bentuk hologram, dan sedang menayangkan perarakan besar-besaran di Kota Ismura. 

“Bapa.” Tubuh Aifer bergetar. 

Mayat Kabeer dijulang di atas palang oleh beberapa orang tentera, yang merupakan sebahagian dari rombongan perarakan tersebut. Mereka diketuai oleh Lakshamana, yang lengkap berzirah perang, bersama mantel kemegahan. Dia tidak dapat mendengar apa yang sedang disebut oleh siaran itu, tetapi melihat sekujur tubuh bapanya diperlakukan sedemikian, benar-benar membuatkan darahnya menggelegak. 

Teropong diturunkan. 

“Aifer…” Ariki menunjukkan rasa kisah. 

Aifer menundukkan kepala, mengangguk sedikit, sebelum mengesat air mata. 

“Mereka tidak dapat merendahkan maruah bapaku semasa hidup, mereka melakukannya selepas dia mati. Tetapi dia sudah tidak berada di dalam jasad itu. Dia sudah pulang kepada Penciptanya Yang Maha Tinggi.” Aifer menenangkan diri. “Mereka akan mendapat pembalasan, Aifer. Aku berjanji.” 

“Terima kasih Ariki.” 

Runihara kemudian memaut pinggang Aifer dan memeluk puteri Kabeer itu. Cuba memberikannya kekuatan dan sokongan. 

“Aifer, Ariki, perarakan tersebut bukan sematamata untuk menghina jasad bapamu. Tetapi juga sebagai peringatan nampaknya, kepada sesiapa yang menentang Mukan’Aja dan tanah jajahannya. Namun, satu lagi yang tersirat ialah, mereka kini pasti sudah menjangka seakan wujud satu kebangkitan untuk menentang mereka. Kerana itu mereka tidak segan silu mempamerkan tubuh seorang tua sedemikian rupa. Kerana mereka mungkin menyangka bahawa Satria-Satria Sejati sedang berkomplot untuk bangkit semula.” Jilani memberikan komentarnya. 

“Maka mereka semakin memperketat kawalan dan pertahanan.” Rafiq menambah. 

Ustur menghela nafas. “Kita perlu ke Wagangada untuk menyiasat keadaan terkini di sana. Apakah masih ada kemungkinan untuk rancangan kita berjaya. Kita tidak mahu pengalaman buruk berulang.” Dia mencadang. 

Apabila menyebut ‘pengalaman buruk’, Jilani, Rafiq dan Runihara sedikit tunduk. Mungkin mereka terimbas memori buruk tersebut. 

“Tetapi bukankah wajah kita berempat sudah terpampang di merata tempat di Wagangada? Mahu mencari maut?” Runihara mengangkat wajahnya. 

“Mereka berdua tidak. ” Jilani menunjuk kepada Ariki dan Aifer. 

Ariki dan Aifer saling berpandangan. Ariki mengangkat kening dan menggerakkan telunjuk ke wajahnya. “Termasuk aku?” 

“Ya, Lutello tidak kongsikan wajahmu ke seluruh dunia Ariki. Kerana itu kami awalnya tidak mengenalimu. Dan engkau sepanjang tinggal di istana juga tidak terlalu menonjol.” 

“Nampaknya ayahandaku benar-benar malu dengan diriku dan peristiwa itu.” 

“Wirawan ditewaskan oleh seorang budak. Siapa yang tidak malu?” Jilani menambah. 

Ariki terangguk-angguk. 

“Baik, aku akan pergi bersama Ariki. ” Aifer menjawab. 

Tegas. Jelas terpamer keazamannya untuk berjuang. 

Mereka sama-sama mengangguk. 

 ****** 

Tidak jauh dari penjara Wagangada, berdirinya sebuah bangunan besar, terletak di atas sebuah bukit. Kedudukannya di hujung kota, menyebabkan pemandangan dari bangunan itu, mampu meliputi seluruh Wagangada, dek kerana kecilnya negara itu. 

Bangunan tersebut ialah pusat pemerintahan Wagangada. Tempat di mana Kirbasi beroperasi. Dan kelibat Kirbasi kini boleh dilihat di atas sebuah pelantar yang terdapat di hadapan bangunan tersebut. Dia sedang berdiri menghadap keseluruhan Wagangada, melihat skrin besar yang membawa siaran langsung dari Kota Ismura. 

Di sebelahnya, Lunayana. Berdiri utuh dilengkapi zirah dan senjatanya. 

“Berapa lama lagi engkau akan berada di sini ?” Kirbasi menyoal. 

Lunayana tidak menjawab. Dia sememangnya bukan manusia yang banyak bicara. 

Kirbasi menggeleng kepala. “Tuanku Lutello terlalu risau. Tiada apa-apa yang perlu ditakutkan di sini. Engkau pastinya tahu berkenaan reputasi Wagangada bukan? Penjara yang tidak pernah dicerobohi dan dipecah keluar?” 

“Jadi bagaimana engkau mahu menjelaskan berkenaan kehadiran pemberontak-pemberontak tempoh hari?” Lunayana mengingatkan. 

Kirbasi sedikit terpempan. “ Itu kes terpencil. ” Suaranya merendah. Memorinya mengimbas kejadian sekitar dua minggu lalu, apabila sekumpulan anak muda remaja, berusaha mencerobohi penjara Wagangada. Hampir sahaja mereka berjaya, tetapi ternyata mereka tidak tahu kewujudan Lunayana di situ. 

Daripada 10 yang hadir, hanya 4 berjaya melarikan diri. 

6 lagi menemui ajal di tangan Lunayana dalam keadaan yang amat dahsyat sekali. 

Mayat mereka berkecai. Pekerja-pekerja penjara mengambil masa yang agak lama mengutip saki-baki jasad mereka dan mencuci darah yang mengotori koridor penjara.

Mereka tidak dapat pergi jauh. Kebetulan ketika itu, Lunayana sedang melakukan rondaan di penjara, untuk memastikan penjara itu kekal utuh. 

“Adakah 4 orang itu telah berjaya ditemui?” 

Kirbasi menggeleng. 

“Mereka hanya budak-budak. Apa engkau tidak yakin dengan pertahanan yang engkau sendiri perkasakan?” Kirbasi memberanikan diri memandang Lunayana. Dahinya berkerut. Keningnya hampir bertemu antara satu sama lain. 

Lunayana tidak menjawab. Dia kini hanya merehatkan pandangannya kepada skrin gergasi yang masih lagi menayang perarakan Lakshamana membawa mayat Satria Sejati bernama Kabeer itu. 

 Kirbasi turut melakukan perkara yang sama. 

“Satria Sejati. Heh, tak sangka mereka masih ada. Sangkaku, selepas peristiwa 25 tahun dahulu, mereka tidak akan berani lagi kembali.” 

Lunayana tidak berkata apa-apa. 

“Engkau tahu, di dalam Penjara Wagangada, terdapat seorang banduan. Wanita. Separuh abad. Ditangkap kerana menyebarkan Islam. Aku tidak pernah lagi bersua dengannya, tentera yang meronda Wagangada telah menjumpainya. Aku fikir, pemuda-pemudi yang mencerobohi penjara tempoh hari adalah kerana ingin membebaskannya. Kerana mengikut laporan, dia rajin mengajarkan perihal Islam dan berkongsi kisah-kisah berkenaan Muhammad kepada muda-mudi di Wagangada ini. Pastilah ramai yang tidak mendekatinya, kecuali segelintir kecil.” Kirbasi berkongsi cerita. 

Lunayana masih tidak memberikan apa-apa respon. Dia membiarkan sahaja Kirbasi berceloteh. 

“Kini, walaupun sudah dipenjara, dia masih lagi meratib berkenaan Islam. Tidak henti-henti. Dan masih lagi mengerjakan ritualnya saban hari.” Kirbasi tertawa sambil menggeleng kepala. Dia rasa geli hati. 

“Aku tak sangka orang-orang Islam terlalu yakin dengan apa yang tidak mampu dilihat dengan mata mereka. Mereka percaya bahawa Tuhan akan membantu mereka. Hahaha.” Berdekah-dekah Kirbasi ketawa. Sampai dia terpaksa memegang perutnya. Air matanya turut merembes. 

Lunayana tetap kaku. 

“Mereputlah dia di dalam penjara itu, dan entah siapa akan mampu menyelamatkannya.” 

Lunayana tiba-tiba berpaling. Kirbasi sedikit terkejut. 

“Mengapa ?” Kirbasi masih bersama sisa ketawanya. 

“Kau membosankan aku. ” Lunayana bersuara tegas. 

Kirbasi berhenti ketawa. Wajahnya berubah menjadi tegang. Menghantar Lunayana turun dari pelantar dengan pandangan mata sahaja. 

“Heh.” Kirbasi menyumpah. Rasa seperti orang bodoh pula apabila Wirawan Mukan’Aja itu berada di sisinya. Lunayana jelas tidak mempunyai rasa hormat kepadanya. Padahal dia ialah pemerintah di sini. 

Tetapi apakan daya, peribadi Lunayana yang menggerunkan itu membuatkan dia tidak bertindak apaapa. Terpaksa menelan sikap yang ditunjukkan oleh Wirawati Kematian itu. 

Kehadiran Lunayana di sini, walaupun terpaksa dialu-alukan dek kerana arahan Lutello, tidak memberikan keselesaan kepada Kirbasi. Membuatkan dia terasa lemah di negaranya sendiri. 

Namun Kirbasi tidak boleh berbuat apa-apa. 

Lunayana berada di sini untuk kebaikan diri dan kerajaannya juga. 

Kebangkitan Satria-Satria Sejati. 

Kirbasi menghela nafas seraya mengimbas memori silam. 

Bagaimana Lutello telah membawa dia, Lidazatu, Yuntamawi dan Jintaja bergerak menawan dunia, apabila Lutello telah melihat peluang. Walaupun pada asalnya Wagangada, Likuwaku, Namiami dan Jintaja bukan negara di bawah jajahan kuasa Mukan’Aja, mereka mengenali Lutello kerana persahabatan antara ayahanda dan bonda mereka yang merupakan pemerintah. Mereka sering bertemu, sekurang-kurangnya setahun sekali, apabila para pemerintah bermesyuarat. Di sana, perkenalan antara mereka berlima berputik. 

Tetapi Lutello ternyata memang berjiwa pemerintah. Semenjak remaja, Lutello telah berkongsi idea dengan mereka berkenaan ingin menjadi lebih berkuasa. 

Lutello telah terlebih dahulu menaiki takhta berbanding yang lain-lain, kerana ayahandanya mangkat awal. Lutello tidak menanti rakan-rakannya menaiki takhta sepertinya. Cadangan untuk meletakkan Wagangada, Likuwaku, Naimiami dan Janjaja di bawah kekuasaan Mukan’Aja terus dicadangkan kepada pemerintah-pemerintah ketika itu. Begitu juga Uluwalu, Bustanati dan Mastazadi, termasuk Makkah, Madinah dan Palestin. 

Cadangan Lutello dianggap sebagai pengisytiharan perang dan berlakulah musim peperangan yang panjang antara negara-negara. Tetapi ternyata Lutello jauh lebih bersedia, kerana rupa-rupanya dia telah menjangka penolakan negara-negara yang lain. 

Wagangada ialah yang pertama sekali tumbang. Diikuti Namiami, Jintaja dan Likuwaku. Lutello kemudian menaikkan rakan-rakannya sebagai pemerintah. 

Masing-masing memang lapar dengan kuasa. Mereka sedikit pun tidak terasa dengan pembunuhan ayahanda dan bonda mereka di tangan tentera Lutello. 

Terbinalah Mukan’Aja seperti hari ini. 

Uluwalu, Bustanati, Mastazadi, Makkah, Madinah dan Palestin kemudian menjadi sasaran. Peperangan tiga penjuru berlaku, tetapi dengan dua penjuru fokus menumbangkan Mukan’Aja dari arah masing-masing. Satu penjuru Mukan’Aja terpaksa berhadapan dengan Uluwalu, Bustanati dan Mastazadi, manakala satu penjuru lagi terpaksa berhadapan dengan Makkah, Madinah dan Palestin. 

Apabila bangkitnya sekumpulan anak muda yang digelar Satria-Satria Sejati, Mukan’Aja menjadi tertekan dan cita-cita menguasai dunia hampir sahaja menjadi kelam. Ketika ini, Lutello berkongsi satu lagi rahsia yang diketahuinya kepada rakan-rakan. Rahsia berkenaan tanah Palestin dan mengapa mereka mesti mendapatkan kawasan tersebut. Terutama tempat bernama Masjidil Aqsa, satu daripada tiga tanah suci Ummat Islam. 

Memberikan prioriti untuk cita-cita itu tercapai, mereka menghentikan peperangan dengan Uluwalu, Bustanati dan Mastazadi. Cukup sekadar mereka mengundurkan tentera, ketiga-tiga negara itu tidak mara menyerang mereka kerana tahu kekuatan Mukan’Aja dan tidak mahu lebih banyak nyawa terkorban. Semua pihak berundur. 

Mukan’Aja kemudian memberikan sepenuh fokus untuk menumbangkan Satria-Satria Sejati dan mendapatkan Palestin. Sehingga sanggup mengabaikan impian menawan Makkah dan Madinah, dan mengubah strategi dengan menjanjikan keamanan kepada mereka, dengan syarat mereka tidak memberikan apa-apa bentuk sokongan kepada Satria-Satria Sejati. 

Kemuncaknya, pada hari berlakunya Peperangan Agung, Satria-Satria Sejati dikhianati dan ditinggalkan ketika peperangan sedang berlangsung, menjadikan angka mereka terlalu sedikit. 

Kemenangan berpihak kepada Mukan ’ Aja. Satria-Satria Sejati berjaya ditumbangkan, Palestin berjaya ditawan, dan Lutello berjaya meneruskan cita-citanya. 

Menggali di bawah Masjidil Aqsa. 

Kirbasi menarik nafas dalam-dalam. 

Mereka hampir berjaya. 

Jika benar apa yang Lutello khabarkan kepada mereka, tidak lama lagi mereka akan menjadi manusia paling berkuasa di atas muka bumi ini. Ulwalu, Bustanati dan Mastazadi akan menjadi tanah jajahan mereka juga. 

Kirbasi kembali merehatkan pandangannya kepada skrin besar. 

Perarakan sudah berakhir. 

Lutello dilihat sedang menaiki podium dan mahu berucap di hadapan Lakshamana serta rombongannya. 

Kirbasi setia berdiri di situ untuk mendengar, walaupun dia dapat menjangka apa yang mahu diperkatakan oleh Lutello. Pastinya amaran keras untuk pihak-pihak yang bermimpi menentangnya. 

 ****** 

Suara itu kedengaran lagi. Dicelah-celah kebingitan suara di luar penjara, yang berdentam-dentum dengan laungan serta sorak-sorai, dia masih dapat mendengari suara tersebut. 

Berbicara dengan ayat yang tidak difahami. Tetapi merdu, memberikan ketenangan, membuatkan jiwanya rasa hidup. 

Dia cuba memberikan fokus. Menahan kebingitan suara dari luar penjara, dan betul-betul mendengar apa yang didengarinya di dalam penjara ini. 

Tiba-tiba pintu penjaranya terbuka. 

Masa untuk makan dan minum tengahari. Datang seorang pekerja perempuan. Wajahnya lembut. Dialah selama ini memberikannya makan. Memandangkan tangannya digari dalam keadaan terangkat ke siling. 

“Hai.” Pekerja itu bersuara. Lembut. 

Kemudian pekerja itu melutut, meletakkan dulang yang menatang makanan dan minuman. Tangan dihulur ke wajah, membuka papan yang dilekapkan mengelilingi mulut. Hanya bibir dan lubang mulutnya sahaja yang kelihatan. Tidak lebih dari itu. 

Perempuan itu kemudian menyuapnya makan, dan memberikannya minum. 

Begitulah rutin hariannya. 

“Bagaimana agaknya rupamu?” Perempuan itu bersuara, sambil menyuapkannya bubur cair. Tidak enak, tapi cukup untuk meneruskan kehidupannya. 

Dia tidak menjawab. Sekadar menelan makanan. 

Wajahnya dibalut dengan kain. Hanya menampakkan bola matanya sahaja. Mulutnya pula dilekapi dengan papan kayu yang mengelilinginya hingga ke tengkok. Untuk membolehkannya makan dan minum tanpa mempamerkan wajahnya. Dan dia sendiri berfikir, itu adalah kebaikan untuk dirinya dan pekerja perempuan di hadapannya sekarang ini. Kerana jika wajahnya terpapar…. 

“Jangan berbual dengannya. Berapa kali mahu dipesan!” Salah satu pengawal di luar berang. 

Pekerja perempuan itu mengangguk pantas. Kemudian memandang kembali kepadanya, mengenyitkan mata. Dia terhibur dengan ulah perempuan tersebut, tetapi dia sebenarnya lebih memberikan fokus kepada seorang wanita, berusia sekitar separuh abad, yang menjadi jirannya di penjara ini. Banduan itu selnya terletak di hadapan selnya, dan tidak sepertinya, sel perempuan itu sekadar berjeriji. 

 Setiap hari, semasa makan, dia dapat melihat perempuan tersebut. Masih meratib perkataan-perkataan yang tidak difahami olehnya. Pun begitu, tidak kelihatan seperti meracau dan hilang akal. Ayat-ayatnya begitu tersusun, beralun dengan merdu, ada turun naik yang cantik, membuatkan dia yakin, itu bukan mantera sihir dan sebagainya. 

Dan paling membuatkan jiwanya tertawan, ialah ketenangan yang dipamerkan oleh banduan tersebut sambil mengalunkan ayat-ayat itu. Sangat tenang, sangat tabah dan cekal. 

Tiba-tiba, banduan perempuan itu menalakan wajahnya ke arah dia. 

Matanya membesar kerana perempuan itu kini benar-benar memandang ke arahnya. 

Banduan itu mengukir senyuman manis. Berhenti meratib. 

“Aku naik saksi bahawa tiada tuhan melainkan Allah, dan Muhammad itu pesuruh Allah.” Perempuan itu bersuara. 

“Hei, diamlah!” Pengawal yang mengawal di hadapan selnya mara ke sel banduan wanita itu. Mengetuk tombaknya ke jeriji. Tetapi perempuan itu tidak terkejut, tidak pula berhenti. 

Kini dia menyambung pula dengan bahasa yang difahami. 

Kisah seorang lelaki bernama Muhammad. 

Bagaimana Muhammad itu mendapat wahyu daripada Tuhan, bagaimana dia disisihkan oleh kaumnya, bagaimana dia berjuang menegakkan kebenaran, melindungi yang lemah dan miskin. Setiap hari, begitulah rutinnya, semenjak perempuan itu ditangkap. 

Banduan itu akan meratib dari pagi hingga ke tengahari, dan apabila sampai waktu makan, dia akan kembali kepada bahasa yang difahami, menceritakan kisah Muhammad. 

Dia pula mendengar. Semenjak perempuan itu hadir, dia tidak merasa sunyi. Dan entah mengapa, dia merasakan perempuan itu sedang berbicara dengannya. Ibarat seorang ibu berbicara dengan anaknya, berkongsi kisah-kisah sebelum tidur. Tetapi ternyata, kisah Muhammad ini berada di tingkatan yang tertinggi. Satu kisah yang mengkagumkan. 

Membuatkan dia ingin tahu lebih lagi. 

Malang, dia tidak dibenarkan bertutur, atau pengawal akan menyebatnya. 

“Baiklah. Jumpa lagi malam ini. ” Pekerja perempuan itu usai menyuapnya. Bubur dan minuman yang disediakan telah habis. Papan penutup mulutnya dilekapkan semula. Dikunci. 

Sambil pekerja perempuan itu bergerak keluar dari selnya, matanya lekat pada banduan perempuan tadi. 

Mata mereka bertemu, banduan itu sekali lagi melemparkan senyuman. 

Dan ibarat senyuman seorang ibu, jiwanya terasa segar. 

Entah mengapa, dia yang duduk di penjara ini sekian lama dan hampir berputus asa, kini merasakan harapan kembali menyala. 

Kini dia mahu meneruskan kehidupan. 

Dia mahu memahami ratiban banduan perempuan itu, dan dia mahu lebih tahu berkenaan Islam dan Muhammad. Berkenaan Allah, Tuhan Semesta Alam. 

Apakah akan tiba harinya dia dibebaskan ?

 

eBook penuh boleh didapati di E-Sentral.com
https://www.e-sentral.com/book/info/205707/novel-hikayat-satria-satria-sejati-generasi-baru

[REVIEW] WARNA HATI NURUL

Warna Hati Nurul oleh Shahzy Hana

 

Nurul Hasyifa (Syifa) kehilangan suami, Razeef beberapa jam setelah mereka bernikah akibat kemalangan jalan raya. Pemergian Razeef benar-benar merentap seluruh jiwa Syifa. Tapi, siapa dia untuk menolak takdir. Demi menyelamatkan satu nyawa, dia menerima Fasil dalam keadaan terpaksa. Biarpun Fasil telah berterus terang ingin mengahwini Syifa kerana ‘cinta pandang pertama’, hatinya tetap tidak mampu menerima kehadiran lelaki itu. Tapi, dia sukar untuk menolak kerana dia tersepit antara perasaannya dan nyawa ibu Fasil.


Sebuah novel yang banyak berunsurkan dakwah agama Islam. Admin suka baca kehidupan Syifa yang rapat bersama keluarganya tetapi ada detik-detik Syifa bersedihan selepas kehilangan suaminya, Razeef dan dia terpaksa akur untuk menerima lelaki lain dalam kehidupannya. Realitinya, di antara kita memang ada yang telah lalui pengalaman seperti ini. Terpaksa akur dengan ketentuan hidup walaupun hati susah untuk menerima takdir tersebut. Tetapi apakan daya, seorang perempuan muslimah seperti Syifa tidak sampai hati untuk menolak Dr. Fasil yang sememangnya baik akhlak, hati dan budi pekertinya. Siapa sahaja yang tidak mahu kahwin dengan seorang doktor? Biasa kita lihat di klinik atau hospital seseorang doktor itu pasti berkomunikasi dalam cara yang berhemah dan prihatin sekali terhadap pesakitnya. Sememangnya sesiapa pun pasti akan terjatuh hati dengan cara doktor berkomunikasi dengan pesakitnya ketika di hospital. Novel seperti ini sudah tentunya akan membuatkan watak doktor itu sangat prihatin terhadap isterinya di hospital, di rumah mahupun di mana jua supaya pembaca dapat berasa secebis kebahagiaan dari novel itu. Jadi, untuk pembaca yang ingin membaca dengan lebih lanjut lagi kisah Syifa dan Dr. Fasil ini boleh lah dapatkan eBook ini di link di bawah.

eBook penuh boleh didapati di E-Sentral.com
https://www.e-sentral.com/book/info/257337/Warna-Hati-Nurul