The air is a little different at six in the morning, as if they too, had some time for rest and rejuvenation, enveloping early risers with a sheen of lightness that presses gently on the skin.
You could almost feel the sounds that rhythmically map each morning in its place- a clanging pot in preparation for breakfast, water gushing from a faithful tap for the day’s laundry, a tooting school bus rounding the neighbourhood in the same foreseeable pattern.
Strangely but unsurprisingly, I liken the earliest and darkest parts of the day to memories of my childhood and youth. I recount the delicious warm swigs of chocolate flavoured Sustagen- later, demoting to Milo as I grow older, and the hurried preparation for morning classes, packing slices of bread with kaya or marmalade which I’ll later throw away on my way to school.
There’s no real need for early mornings now, and the memories of these dark and cold hours seem further away from me that I sometimes wish I could relive them in small and languorous bits- though, it is almost always more convenient to relive a moment through writing:
Morning Walks with Q Kong
My grand uncle, who often visits after this habitual voyage around Southeast Asia, would wake me up at 6AM to follow him on his beloved round of morning exercise. I only did it because I loved him too. Q Kong is a voracious reader, and one day he brought over a large stack of hard-covered encyclopaedias which I immediately and repeatedly devoured amid crusts and holes left by silverfish.
We’d walk for 30 minutes on wet gravel, inspecting dew-laced leaves, trees hammered with lorry services placards, and a group of tai chi enthusiasts at the park, to arrive at Ali Berjaya for our regular teh tarik kurang manis- a frothy concoction of black tea and condense milk. He’d request for the waiters to tarik lagi so I could sip on it without scalding my tongue.
I’d always thought it adult of me to follow his footsteps. To my mind, only old men drink teh tarik in the mornings, and it was weird but liberating that I wanted to be empowered like an old man too.
But all crumbles when I order a plate of roti canai with sugar. Q Kong would look at me disdainfully and say, “I’ll need to train you to eat spicy food. You’re missing out on the good things in life.”
We wanted a god to hear us, as if in the quiet of each morning are when our voices could be heard best, and we wanted his word to manifest in us from dawn to the very end of each exhausting day.
We gathered at our youth leader’s house, often inconveniencing proud parents for a lift. She had a lovely home of olive green walls and old english decor. We would start with a worship song, and speak in tongues amid the chirps and whistling of neighbourhood birds. I recalled the song we sang, it went roughly like this:
Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
When it’s over, kakak would prepare us a large spread of breakfast which we often hadn’t the time to eat at home, thus packing them to bring to school.
I’d have a tupperware of cheesy sausages and pancakes and feel like I have much to share with the world, only that I didn’t tell my friends that I got them from my prayer group.
I wouldn’t sleep until the final hour, when my body decides it couldn’t keep up with such silent anticipation. My bags are packed, except for the toothbrush which I’ll place in a ziplock bag later. The taxi arrives at the front gate, and I make one final check before I kiss my mom goodbye. She waves, indicating with her flamboyant hands that I should call her once I arrive at the airport.
The drive along the highway at 6AM is long and solitary. Uncle asks me where I’m going, and I’ll say “for a holiday” and he proceeds to ramp up the volume to Light FM. I’ve seen the same signboards on the same highway, one on local rice, another on frozen yoghurt, and I know I’m arriving soon when I see billboard ads by Malaysia Airlines, Malindo, Air Asia, and I make a little dance in my mind.
The airport entrance smells like soot from the conglomeration of taxis waiting for their next passenger. I close the door behind me and head inside to search for a friend, or a lover. And off we go.