Chapter 2: Unlike Before

Every day, since early in the morning Hajah Ramlah would busy herself in the kitchen preparing breakfast for her children. Their breakfast staple includes fried rice, fried noodle and sometimes Keboli rice or Nasi Minyak. “Mi, Fauziah, Zul, Ayub, Yah, Azhar, Akim, Alang, Mubin, breakfast is ready. Come eat it while it’s still hot…” Hajah Ramlah called out to her children lovingly. Wallie who is still trying to learn to walk grapple around and took a cracker from the plate. Ustaz Mad who worked as a Religious Visiting Teacher had gone to his office just after the break of dawn driving his motorcycle.

It is Zul’s routine to wake up early every morning and get ready in his sports attire. His school session starts in the afternoon. So, right after breakfast, he would go out jogging, an activity which he loves. Now and again, Khairul, his brother or his friends from the village such as Mazlan, Dillah, Fatah and Wan Omar would also go with him.

The guy in blue next to me is Marzuki, who’s now a millionaire. On my left is Arif Sulong.

Why would you go jogging every day up to the bridge the next village over and then turn back. Are you that bored?” Zaidi Deraman, the class monitor or also known as the genius kid for he always gets first place in every test asks. Zul who was at the time engrossed in completing the exercise given by Teacher Aziz, puts his pencil down, turns and faces Zaidi.

I really like sports. I’m aiming to win the cross-country next year. That’s why I’ve started my training. I’m not like you, as soon as the sun rises, you’ll be with your books…hahaha.” Zul teases. Zaidi scowled, “You just love to mock me, huh.” Zaidi said, turning his attention away from Zul, flipping his book open.

Dillah (Abdillah) and his family

Zul’s passion and aptitude in sports such as cross-country, badminton and takraw started to develop since he was in primary school. The only difference was, his wild and hyperactive characteristic when he was a child slowly dwindles and disappears when he was in Standard 6. Arif Sulong, Fauzi Yusoh and several others of his friends noticed their friend’s change.

Once, Fauzi asked Zul outright, “Zul, is there anything bothering you? You have changed a lot from how you were before. Only one thing that never changes, you don’t talk much. If there’s any problem, just tell us. We have your back. Sure, you also have friends back home, but we are classmates.

Or are you just jealous of my Chopper? Hahaha. I saw you’ve been eyeing my Chopper for quite some time,” Arif suddenly interjects into the conversation. Arif is famous among the students of SK Rengas Bekah for he is the only one in the whole student body to have the  Chopper bicycle model Raleigh Tomahawk MK1; a famed bicycle in the 70s which is also called “the camel bike” (for its durability). Getting to ride a Chopper to school is a prideful matter for children at the time.

Dr. Fauzi Yusoh, in light brown baju Melayu, is now a lecturer at UniSZA

Zul sighs and tried to change the subject. “What do you think we will end up as in the future?” Zul asked, giving both Fauzi and Arif a fixed stare. A peculiar question and reaction from what is usual from him. It’s as though he has grown. A much more mature and wise response from his age of just 12 years old.

It was quiet for a while. Only the ticking of the clock on the wall of their class could be heard. “Zi, what do you want to be when you grow up? A lecturer at KUSZA? From what I’ve seen, you are clever enough.” Zul started to ask his friend. Sultan Zainal Abidin Religious College (KUSZA) was built just several years previously and operates at Sultan Zainal Abidin Upper High School (SMAASZA) situated in Batu Burok, Kuala Terengganu.

I don’t know yet what I want to be. But, when I look at you Zul, I think you could be a minister. You’re smart and neat. Every day, you’d wear perfume and smell nice. In short, charismatic.” Fauzi gave his honest opinion just to hear a burst of laughter from Arif.

I was greeted by Teacher Wan Abdul Aziz (Teacher Aziz) after my Subuh sermon in 2019

What’s wrong with you guys? I’m asking a serious question here. Stop with the teasing. It’s just that, I’ve been thinking, in our life, we can’t get too complacent. We need challenges. Only then we could progress. I’ve made up my mind to start to really study. At the very least, we should make our teachers proud. Teacher Hasnah, Teacher Mang, Teacher Loh, Teacher Yamin, Teacher Yusof, Ustaz Talib, Ustaz Umar. Ha, and also Teacher Goh.” Zul declared resolutely, smiling at his friends’ deep frowns, trying to understand his every word.

Arif responded, “Zi, I told you. I think Zul has really changed. I know you are someone who sets his sights high to the skies, Zul. When you do something, you would make it happen, no matter how impossible it may seem. But now, I’m getting goosebumps. It’s as though I’m hearing a sermon from an ustaz. Hahaha…” Arif ended teasing Zul yet again.

Haha…really funny. Enough with the teasing now,” Zul rolled his eyes and laughed at Arif and his incessant teasing.


Dad, dad, where are we going?” Zul asked pulling Ustaz Mad’s shirt excitedly when told that his father is taking him out. That’s how a child is. If offered a ride on the motorcycle even if it’s just around the village, it’s a joyful moment in his life. Sometimes, Zul would fall asleep hugging his dad. He would feel sleepy while straddled behind his father with the wind blowing in his face, lulling him to sleep.

Come along, Zul. Just follow me, we’re going to listen to a sermon.” Ustaz Mad answered while putting a white Baju Melayu, black pants and worn out songkok on Zul. Ustaz Mad is smartly dressed in a shirt, kain pelikat and white kopiah as he always does. After performing the Maghrib prayer in congregation, they take their leave. The Honda Cub C70 motorcycle with the plate number TA6139 sped off leaving Kampung Kubang Kekura.

Approximately after 15 minutes, they arrived at the location of the sermon. There were a lot of people who had already arrived at Balai Raya Kampung Paya Bunga, Kuala Terengganu. It was lively and busy, kind of like being in a night market. There were hawkers selling food and drinks, even clothes and sermon cassettes. Looking around, there are also fruits such as papayas, mangosteens and langsat. Children are running around, having fun playing. Looks like the sermon taking place at Balai Raya Kampung Paya Bunga has just begun.

Dad, dad, who’s giving the sermon. I can’t see.” Zul said craning his neck and jumping, trying to get a look at who is the one giving the sermon that night. Zul was just 6 years old at the time. He’s little compared to the adults attending the sermon. Ustaz Mad promptly carry Zul and put him on his shoulders.

Hah, now can you see who it is? Do you recognize him?” Ustaz Mad quizzed, grinning.

Nope, I have never seen him at the surau or coffee shop. Who is he? He’s sitting there, with spectacles, black songkok, a white stubble, green jacket, and holding a cane…” Zul described the person delivering the sermon, trying to remember if he had ever met him before, but couldn’t.

That’s Buya HAMKA. An Indonesian scholar. He came to visit us here in Paya Bunga. I admire him. He has just been awarded an honorary doctorate from UKM. Around ten years back, he also receives an award from Al-Azhar University, Egypt. Do you remember the rows of books at our house? That is the tafsir Buya HAMKA wrote.” Ustaz Mad narrates enthusiastically to his son about the person giving the sermon in front of them.

Zulkifli started to listen attentively.

My brothers and respected listeners,

Do you know of people who were dead yet still very much alive? There are some of us who will live up to a hundred years. Maybe a little bit more but not much more than that. I’ve never heard of someone who had lived for two hundred years. Never. Yes, some a hundred and twenty years or a hundred and thirty years. But then, they are already frail and weak. Of such short lives we have in this world, let’s just say seventy years, we can lengthen it.

How then?! With our words, our hands, our faith and good deeds. Just as it has been stated in a Malay pantoum:

Went to the market all breathless and hurried,

Trinkets galore from land and sea,

When people die, they’re gone and buried,

What lives on is good deeds and legacy.

 There is also a poem from Syauqi a famous Arabian-Egyptian poet who said:

فارفع لنفسك بعد موتك ذكرها

فالذكر للإنسان عمر ثاني

“Before you die, be mindful of your words for they are what will be remembered, what’s remembered is a second life for a human.”

When a person dies, he is buried and others would leave him and return home. But the person’s words are able to come out again, every day, a year, two years, ten years, a hundred years even until thousands of years afterwards. Our Prophet Muhammad PBUH; his age is just sixty-four years old. But till this day, a thousand and four hundred years later, he is still very much alive, he is remembered and recounted by people day and night. This is what is meant when people say “He is alive even after his death.” His life of sixty-four years is much longer than that when compared to the thousand and four hundred years. And as long as the adhan is still called out, who knows for how many hundreds or thousands of years, his name will continue to live. Hence, this is what we should be grateful for. We only live once, make it count…”

Zul was startled when Zaidi tapped his shoulder. “Zul! You’re so lost in your thoughts you didn’t hear me calling you. Can you lend me one ringgit? I want to buy a book, I’m one ringgit short.” Zaidi asked extending his hands. Typical Zaidi, the genius kid. Sekolah Kebangsaan Rengas Bekah’s hope for great things. Everywhere he goes, his books are always with him.

Zul reaches inside his pocket and handed two 50 cents to Zaidi. Ignoring Zaidi, Zul turned his attention back to his thoughts. Remembering the time, he attended Buya HAMKA’s sermon in Kampung Paya Bunga, five years ago. HAMKA’s words moved him deeply.

We only live once, make it count…


What happened next, what happened to Zul, Grandpa Aki?” Sarah asked, eager to know the continuation of the story.

Wait, let me take a breath, I can’t tell you the whole story non-stop.” Grandpa Aki pauses before continuing. “Not much. After that, Zul continues with his studies and after his Standard Five test, he is among the students with great results. Alhamdulillah, he was then enrolled into Sekolah SMASZA Ladang.

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