As I boarded the tram to Hope Hospital for what feels like the umpteenth time, I realized one thing that seem starkly different from the usual. Apart from how the morning was exceptionally bright and sunny, that was.
The tram was full of children. Noisy, slightly rowdy, children, apparently excited to bits. At first I dismissed their presence as merely a bit extra children than was the norm, and proceeded to find my way to my favourite place at the front end of the vehicle. Then I noticed two ladies who seem to be working hard to keep the children in order - telling them to be more quiet, to sit down, etc - before giving up after not too long. Oh, they must be on a school trip. Where, I wonder. Seeing their difficulty to keep still and total inability to keep quiet, I couldn't help but be transported for a moment, back to the glorious carefree days we nostalgically call childhood.
Standing - there's no sitting space, even some of the children were standing around, though I guess more for social reasons than seat availability - I whipped out the Roald Dahl collection of short stories given by a dear friend of mine that I'm taking ages to finish. If I'm not grossly mistaken, the story I was reading then was "The Visitor". As I began flipping the pages of the book, while maintaining balance standing between loads of children in a moving tram, I noticed that one girl sitting slightly in front of me started getting interested in my reading material.
She was barely able to conceal her attempts of peeking, to see what title of the book I was reading, perhaps to get a good look at the picture in front, and maybe, if she's got good eyesight, to steal a few lines from the description at the back cover.
I smiled at her. She smiled back and continued looking.
I didn't make any extra move to make it easier for her to see what she's trying to. I didn't move away to reclaim my privacy (there's not much of it anyway, in any form of public transport). Neither did I offer the whole book for her to look at freely, or perhaps browse through a few pages.
The pleasure and satisfaction of one who peeks, who sneaks here and there to find information with stealth, is not to be taken away by giving it all up easily.
The challenge makes information-gathering meaningful, makes one the proud bearer of all sorts of gossips and news whose source one wouldn't disclose on pain of death (hopefully).
I still dream to be a journalist at times.
A few weeks ago, I heard a lecture, mainly given by a carer for a stroke survivor, who is his wife.
As it usually is with such stories of mature love that stood the test of time and pain, it was immensely touching.
The husband spoke in a kind of monotony - and warned us beforehand that he most probably will get emotional. Indeed.
"She had her future laid before her, as she has just finished her degree, while I am recently retired. When the event happened, she couldn't talk, couldn't walk. It seems like everything is over. But I went and told her, 'Now, we're retired together. If you can walk and talk again, that's great. If you can't, then so what. We'll go through this no matter what.' "
"One time I made a joke about her eating a banana. She laughed. That's what I really tried to do - I tried to make her laugh, every day, as much as I can."
I am sure I am not the only person who was wiping away tears in the hall.
That kind of love - pray tell, how does one gain it? How would one ever deserve it?
I was walking to the lecture hall with G, a Chinese Malaysian whom I spent relatively a lot of time with - considering that we're the two Malaysians in the same group in the same rotation. He's a devout Christian.
We passed a group of students, amongst with were a Muslim girl.
"Assalamu'alaikum A," he greeted one of them.
I mentally spluttered.
"What did you just say?"
"I said salaam to her. Look, there's M (another Muslim girl). Do you say salaam to her?"
Truth be told, I do say salaam to the fellow Muslims in medical school, but not as often as I would with fellow Muslims I met in the masjid or, even, in the streets.
I gulped and said, "Yes, of course!"
It feels slightly different to say salaam when I pass colleagues in the hospital corridors. Be them coursemates or seniors (doctors/nurses/staffs). Even if they are clearly Muslims who wear proper hijab and such. It feels awkward, when I enter a tutorial room, to greet Muslim colleagues in the same group with a salaam.
It feels so much easier to just say Hi to everyone.
While in the streets, in the masjid, even in ASDA supermarket, words of salaam passed my lips so naturally, almost without a thought.
Do I not have enough 'izzah in my deen?
Or is this a form of mental secularization - that somehow I am being conditioned to believe that personal expressions of Islam, saying salaams to each other, demonstrating a shared bond that is exclusive to Muslims only, is unprofessional and inappropriate in professional settings i.e. hospital, tutorials, lecture halls? Or do I underestimate my Muslim colleagues - thinking that they may feel uncomfortable to be greeted with salaams?
A lot of unexpected things happen.
I didn't expect the journey to Ireland taken by bus to be wonderfully unique. Sitting in the ferry lounge in the Level 8 deck, watching the dark ocean rippling softly under the dim light from the pier and the massive vessel itself.
I decided to undertake the journey out of support for my comrades' efforts to launch a new program for the benefit of students in Dublin (plus curiosity to see what they have to offer), and to rendesvous with some friends I haven't seen for quite a long time. By the time I made up my mind to go, the flight tickets have gone up up up in the sky, and there's only the bus as an alternative. One third the cost of flights and the journey five times as long. Approximately ten hours on the road (plus ferrying time).
I didn't expect my friends in Dublin to be wonderfully welcoming. The accompaniment, the coins, the lasagne. Mus, Hazi, Jet, Shik, Naz, Haidar - thanks a mountain. I'll never forget how Jet frantically tried to make her lasagne cook on time - by layering up the dish super quick and increasing the temperature of the oven indiscriminately - before we need to rush and catch the coach back to Manchester on Sunday evening.
I didn't expect Dublin city and Stephen's Green Park to look just as classic, quaint and romantic - almost as if they haven't changed, from the time two years ago when I was traipsing through the roads and lanes with Muslihah, rejoicing in the relief and joy that arrived after months of agonizing over a certain decision. Perhaps the only difference was that two years ago it was cloudy, wintry and rainy - with a rainbow suddenly appearing in the evening sky. Now the day was bright and sunny - and I am not sure that my heart was as tranquil and joyful as it was two years ago under the rain.
I didn't expect what happened a few months ago would have happened.
I didn't expect encounters that happened these past few months would have happened.
I didn't expect.
I didn't expect that there would come a point when I would really, desperately need to talk to my Ayah, my father, about certain matters. The one and only man in the world whom I know understood me more, his eldest daughter, than anyone else. Whom I know would always believe in me, and accepts who am I with love and pride, for it was him and his philosophy that has contributed a lot in forming my persona as it is today. I remember when I was much younger, I used to think that I will never find a man who is good enough, a man like my father.
Nevertheless things that happened, I didn't expect.
I expected that talking to my Ayah will make me feel better, and it did.
Whatever it is that I did or did not expect, doesn't really matter, because Allah holds everything.
I only need to expect Allah to decide the best, and that is the best expectation I can ever dream to have, for it will come true.
On Wednesday, something happened. I lost something very, very, precious.
I lost a molar.
In plainer words, I lost a back tooth.
Childish though it may sound, I admit that I used to be terrified of dentists. A few nasty and painful experiences when I was much younger made me steer clear of dentists. So much so that even when a filling came out, I ignored it - until it was too late.
Turned out NHS dentists in the UK don't hurt their patients. I wish I knew that earlier. Nevertheless, last summer, I ended up with an extraction and a root canal with crowning that costed me about GBP198.
My relief was short-lived. Barely a few months after the episode, another tooth cracked.
Can you believe it? Out of nowhere, the tooth cracked and a good chunk of it broke out. Just like that. And I thought, oh no. Not again. Not another GBP198 for another root canal and crown. And I don't think I can bear having another extraction.
Dentists and dental students may tell me off for not going to the dentist straight away. The tooth could have easily been saved in an uncomplicated process. I don't know. I am still, to a certain extent, apprehensive of dentists and dental procedures in general. It makes me feel so vulnerable to sit there on a chair as a PATIENT, letting a stranger get so overwhelmingly close and do whatever nasty thing inside my mouth, things that may involve bodily fluids and risks of infection.
I remember thinking, I'll get it done in Malaysia when I go home for the summer.
Then I remember thinking, I'll get it done in the UK when I return after the holidays.
Then I thought, I'll do it after I finish my Paediatrics, Obs&Gynae rotation.
Then it starts to hurt and I decided, I really made up my mind, to see the dentist after the OSCEs.
Then it hurts more and more, and I think the tooth broke further, and I thought there is no way this tooth can be saved. I thought - now I have been putting this off for so long, I might as well hang on until I can't bear it anymore. I know I am going to lose it, but I'll hold on to it as long as I could. Even though it is painful.
Then it's March and a larger chunk of the tooth broke. I really thought I had passed the point of no return in April when it began to hurt so much I need to take stronger painkillers and found myself unable to speak when the pain flares. It was like a sharp needle driving down the jaw, then shot up to the ear and eye, making the eye smart and feel hot. And it's continuous, causing me to desperately find painkillers, gobbling down indiscreet doses and combinations of it, unable to focus on anything - ANYTHING - until the pain ebbs away. All I could do was lie quietly and try to comfort myself with the thought that with His Mercy, this pain will be Allah's way to erase my multitude of sins.
I know the time has come, but I need to attend an important event just around that time and I can't afford having an injured post-extraction mouth during that event. So I survived with a tube of benzocaine gel and lots of diclofenac tablets, plus the occasional few thousands of milligrams of paracetamol.
Finally the tooth came out after being wrestled out by the dentist in what feels like less than two minutes, last Wednesday.
I realized a few more things, other than the fact that it will cost me almost 50 pounds for that two minutes' work (plus two injections of local anaesthetic beforehand).
A year flies by so fast. It was only last summer that a small chunk of the tooth broke, starting the cascade of breakages, and it feels like yesterday. A year flies by so fast - just as long as the life of a broken tooth.
I have lost a tooth, and I will never grow a new one anymore. I remember reading somewhere that teeth are a marker of life. It reminds you that life is indeed finite. You know you're getting closer to death when you start losing teeth. One by one.
One prays day and night for a pious one, a virtuous one, to walk with in this life and afterwards.
Then one realizes that, the pious and virtuous one would also be praying day and night for a pious one, a virtuous one, to walk with in this life and afterwards.
So one wonders - if one is not a pious one, a virtuous one, would one's prayers be fulfilled, for it may contradict the prayers of the pious and virtuous one, that one is praying for?
One is reminded of verse 26, surah an-Nuur (The Light),
Women impure are for men impure and men impure are for women impure; and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity: these are not affected by what people say: for them there is forgiveness, and a provision honourable. [24:26]
Salaam, meow~ =)