The drain in front of Hidayah's house which is at the foot of an inclined road collected sand, branches, stones and rubbish that was swept by yesterday's torrential rain.
Hidayah wiped the sweat from her forehead and gripped the shovel with her hands. The energy of the woman only one hundred sixty five centimeters tall and weigh under fixty kilograms was getting thin but she mustered all its remaining.
Hidayah stopped for an uncountable time. Breathing fast. Each time she stopped, she wiped her forehead, corrected the grip of her shovel and took a deep breath. SREKKK!!! The sound of metal scraping against the bottom of the drain
HMPHHH!!! The smelly content is thrown into a wheelbarrow waiting by the roadisde. When it is half full, using all the energy Hidayah pushed it to an open area about ten meters from her house to be emptied.
There all the contents were emptied. The thin women had done that several times. Her long sleeve t-shirt wet from sweat and her pants soaked form the water from the clogged drain.
"Abang!!!" called Hidayah as she saw her husband Mustapha getting out of the house wearing long sleeve shirt tucked neatly into his slacks.
Mustapha's eyes remained locked onto the smartphone in his hands while his feet slipped into his flip-flops. "Hmmm," replied her husband.
"Please, help me," said tired Hidayah.
"Going out to buy stuff," as Mustapha opened the car door.
"Honey the drain is clogged. Water is stagnant. I am afraid mosquitoes will breed," explained Hidayah breathlessly.
"Drains are like that. Our house is at the foot of this road. When it rains, the drain will be full but the water flows. We don't have mosquito problems."
Hidayah took a deep breathe. Every night Mustapha slept soundly. He didn't wake up hearing the buzz of mosquitoes. He didn't feel the itchy bites.
Only Hidayah couldn't close her eyes because her ears were not deaf and her body wasn't invincible.
"Yesterday, I heard rats in the garden. I am afraid the rubbish will attract them. Last week I was rearranging the flower pots and a found a dead rat. I've put a trap."
"Come, Honey, you clear the drain and I'll clean the garden. If rats breed, they'll bring diseases." Pleaded Hidayah.
Mustapha looked around the fully cemented area. Flower pots were arranged by the house door.Tall heliconias grew by the fence.
Dried mango leaves which had been swept by his wife piled at a corner. Mustapha's telephone vibrated and his eyes turned to the lighted screen
"Just one or two rats. It's not going to bring any disease. Enough. I'm already late."
"The supermarket is opened until night, honey. Go after dusk. Help me clear the drain before it gets dark..." pleaded Hidayah.
"There's a lot to buy. tomorrow I am taking the kids camping. If I forget something this evening, I can still go tonight. If I go after dusk, it'll be too late," answered Mustapaha, a secondary school teacher.
He entered the car, started the engine and drove out of the porch without looking at his exhausted wife who leaned against her loyal shovel.
Hidayah took a long deep breath. It was not of exhaustion but hot breaths to alleviate anger. Her eyes leered from the drain to her garden and then towards the darkening sky.
Last week she swept and piled the dried leaves into a corner. she asked for her husband's help but Mustapha said his stomach was uneasy and he was tired.
He went into the bedroom musing over his phone until his eyes closed while Hidayah was left doing the chores alone.
Hidayah thought, why did she keep asking? Why was she willing to meet disappointments? Until when must she allow herself to deal with sand, dirty water, leave and branches alone? Wasn't this their house?
Hidayah took another deep breath. She promised herself that, one day, she would no longer be left alone.
SREKKK!!! The shovel in Hidayah's hands started its work again. The sun was already at the western horizon and the colours of yellow and orange surrounded Hidayah.
CITTT!!! A long tailed mammal that jumped out of the drain which started to flow, shrieked.
Hidayah dodge the animal. "Just you wait! You useless animal. I am going to annihilate you," willed Hidayah with animosity as she put down her shovel as soon as she heard the call of prayers.
It was eleven o'clock when Hidayah climbed the stairs to the bedroom that had been occupied by Mustapha for the last few hours. His snores could be heard from outside the closed door. Hidayah lied down next to her husband.
"Hmmm..." sighed Mustapha turning towards his wife. He placed his hands on her waist and pulled her close.
"I am tired, honey,' said Hidayah feeling warm kisses on her cheeks.
"I'll be gone for aweek. I want something to remember you by," persuaded Mustapha as he kissed her neck and shoulders. His hands moved on skin that wrapped bones layered with no fat.
Hidayah closed her eyes. Every joint on her body ached. Her shoulders throbed painfully. Her waist felt as if is it being pull away from her body. Warm blood flowed into her swollen feet.
It was not just that night. It had been like that for so many years. Tears no longer flowed down her cheeks but poured down her heart which kept searching for willingness to serve her husband.
Halimah looked out of the restaurant's window. "Where is Dayah? She's late."
"Don't know. We are celebrating her birthday and she's late. Are you sure she's coming?" asked Prof. Jamaliah, a lecturer at the Human Ecology Department in a university in Bangi, as she looked at her wrist watch.
"Haish, she said she's coming. She'll come," answered Dr. Roy, a successful physician who owns a few clinics around Kuala Lumpur. "There she is! "
Hidayah walked fast towards her waiting friends. she hugged and kissed each and every one of her loyal school friends.
Thirty years had only strengthen their ties. The last year or two, they were the place to pour heart aches and to celebrate achievements.
"Sorry," said Hidayah.
"Why are you late? I arrived first and I came all the way from Terengganu," said Halimah, an architect based in Kuala Terengganu. Travelling from Kuala Terengganu to Kuala Lumpur is a norm for the lady.
Hidayah looked around the table form eyes covered by her dark glasses. "I waited for my husband."
"Why wait for him? Let him be. We don't want to see him. We are celebrating your birthday. You drive here alone," nagged Dr. Roy.
"He asked me to wait for him. He wanted to send me here." answered Hidayah taking off her sunglasses.
"Must be jealous," cursed Halimah.
"Your eyes? Why? Were you crying?" asked the lecturer who is an expert in human psychology.
"What did he do to you? He didn't help you again?" queried Dr. Roy full of symphathy, "why won't a snake bite that lazy husband of yours."
"Roy, the snake would bite me first because I am the one cleaning the garden. It's okay. I am used to that. Doing work alone. Used to seeeing him with his phone..." replied Hidayah softly.softly.
"I'm the one who keeps asking for help although I know even if he does he expects a 'fee' after that," Hidayah defended her husband's behaviour.
"Feels like punching the guy," said Prof. Jamaliah angrily. "Sex. That's all he knows."
Hidayah laughed, "sometimes I wish I could hire people to beat him up."
"So why did you cry. Tell us," consoled Dr. Roy.
"Yesterday he came back from camping. I was preparing food, he reached for my phone and saw pictures in the phone," Hidayah started telling her story.
"You are naive. You know your husband is the type who checks your phone, your emails, sms, telegram, whatsApp. Why didn't you hide it?" remarked Halimah.
"It was under the cushion on the sofa. I didn't leave it on the table, " retorted Hidayah.
"Why didn't you delete those pictures?" scolded Halimah.
"Imah, those were pictures from work. Yesterday there was a quality competition. I was team leader. I gave a presentation. My team won first place. I am proud of my work. why should I delete those pictures," replied Hidayah.
She was a career women who held the Departmental Head position. She had value more than just a wife. She definitely should be respected as a human being.
"So why is he jealous?" asked the professor in the tone of a therapist.
"There's one picture. I was near the stage. Holding the trophy. My friend..." Hidayah stopped a while.
"A guy? Handsome?" asked Halimah quickly.
"Yes. He came to congratulate me," explained Hidayah.
"The official photographer came to take my picture. My friend stepped closer. Put his hand behind my back and leaned towards me. The photographer snapped the picture at that moment."
"Show us the picture," demanded Halimah putting her hand forward. Hidayah pushed the phone towards her grinning friend.
"Wow!!! Such sweet smile,' commented Halimah who passed the phone to Jamaliah.
"Sure. I just won. I was best presenter. Everyone commended my voice. My English. The group got five thousand ringgit, " defended Hidayah.
"Did he win, too? His smile is wider than yours," said Dr. Roy who was now holding the phone.
The doctor looked the guy who had tanned skin, neatly combed short straight hair, thin lips, sharp nose, cheeks bones that raised high due the smile on his lips and eyes that saw through souls.
The man who is slightly taller than their firend looked great in coat and tie, perfectly matched Hidayah who was wearing suit and long scarf.
Hidayah let out long deep breath. "Roy, I've worked for more then twenty years. There were group photos. I just realized, this is my first picture with another guy other than my husband."
"You are the guy's trophy," analyzed Prof. Jamaliah. "What did your husband say?"
"He looked at me and said the guy can take a picture with me but there are things he cannot do. Only a husband could... " Hidayah's voice trailed off as her eyes looked down.
"He pulled me into the bedroom and showed what is his husbandly rights," whispered Hidayah.
"He hurt you?" asked Halimah seeing tears running down Hidayah's cheeks.
"Ahhh...if only I could shoot a guy like this," said Prof. Jamaliah angrily.
Hidayah forced a fake smile trying hard to stop her tears, "Maya, if you have a rifle loan it to me. If I shoot him, it'll be self defense. If you shoot him, it'll be murder."
""He hurt you?" sighed Dr. Roy, "you are not going to report to authorities, right?"
"Yes. I think he brought back germs and I got infected." Said Hidayah without looking at her friends. Discussing intimate things wasn't easy for her let alone reporting to authorities.
"He is strong and fine, right? He will continue hurting you," reprimanded Prof. Jamaliah.
Hidayah shook her head. Reporting to authorities meant exposing secrets. "He's tired, has a fever..."
"Going to those places, he could get leptospirosis," nagged Dr. Roy.
"Huh?" asked Hidayah an IT executive who isn't well versed in medical terms.
"Leptospirosis. A disease brought by rat's urine."
"Its not as if the rat would urinate in his food or drinks, Roy." retorted Hidayah.
"Go catch a rat and let it pee in his coffee," joked the doctor.
Resident architect Halimah, Prof. Jamaliah and Dr. Roy sat on the floor covered with plastic mats that filled the whole living room until the car porch. Many people came to visit.
Empty jugs were placed on tables at a few corners of the house. Blue, red and green notes were silently pushed into the empty jars by those who came. The buzz of the Quran being read could be heard from the back room.
"Sorry," said Hidayah in a sad and soft voice. She sat beside her friends and held out her cold and thin hands.
"Condolences, dear," said Prof. Jamaliah, her hands automatically wiped the tears on Hidayah's cheeks.
"I am sorry," said Dr. Roy hugging skin and bones on her friends thin frame. "the other day... I didn't mean to say that."
Hidayah held back her tears without success. "You didn't do it. Allah is the one who arranged this."
Prof. Jamaliah held out a tissue that she took out from her handbag to wipe tears that would not stop. the tissue could not heal the pain that her friend is feeling. it could not bandage grief and evaporate hurt.
Dr. Roy held her friend's hands. Hands that had long scrawny fingers tired of work.
Before this they had heard of Hidayah's grouses about her lazy husband, now she had to feel what being alone truly meant.
"What did he suffer from?" asked Halimah who coincidentally was in Kuala Lumpur to attend a ceremony. She looked at her friend who wore all black with utmost symphathy.
"When he came home from camping, he had a fever. Didn't let down." Hidayah's sentence stopped a while. Tears rolled down quietly.
"Last week, viral infection to his kidneys...his lungs. It attacked his brains. Yesterday, his heart stopped... the hospital did tests," Hidayah explained.
"Then?" asked Dr. Roy almost certain of the diagnosis of Hidayah's husband's death.
"Leptospirosis. Rat's urine," muttered Hidayah.
"From Allah he came and from Allah he returns," said Prof. Jamaliah. "Mourning? Work?"
"Mourning. Four menstrual cycle. to ensure if there is a child, it is his. I am sure I am not pregnant. Four months ten days. A sign of respect for the husband who left us." Reminded Hidayah to herself.
"I'll go to work. I have a child in university to support." Hidayah looked around for her only daughter who from the day before had been crying next to her father's body.
"So you wont come with us to Bogor next month?" asked Halimah.
"She's not coming even if her husband is alive. Even if is healthy." Dr. Roy answered on behalf of her long time friend.
"You've been a good wife despite what he did to you," consoled Prof. Jamaliah.
Prof. Jamaliah, Halimah and Dr. Roy simultaneously turned their heads towards the deep sexy voice. Their eyes froze on the tall man who was neatly wearing a shirt and neck tie.
The man's eyes ignored their stares because they were fixed on Hidayah's bereaved face.
"Why didn't you call me? asked the man who was in Hidayah's picture in front of the stage. "I only knew from your clerk when she asked permission to go out of the office to visit death in the family."
Hidayah gazed at the man, her face full of tear marks. "Sorry, Dean. I told the executive at the Human Resource Department. I texted only my close friends."
The man named Dean threw a hurt look at Hidayah. "I know who I am. I am not your close friend. Not someone you tell your troubles to."
"Please, Dean. Not now..." Pleaded Hidayah to Dean who seemed to sulk and stepped away into the congregation of men outside.
"Abang?" asked Halimah sinically at the endearment term used by Dean.
"He is a few years older than us. He is used to calling himself 'abang'. I don't call him that, right?" retorted Hidayah trying to erase an intimate relationship that did not exist.
"Older? Looks young. Better looking in person." Commented Dr.Roy on the man who surely was in his forties but without a strand of grey in his hair or wrinkle on his face.
"Just friends?" Asked Halimah. "Friends don't sulk like that, Dayah."
"Dayah...time to bathe the deceased," called her mother in-law to Hidayah who felt saved from answering her friends' questions.
Mourning time had started. Four months and ten days. She will go to work and home. No more gatherings with her best friends for the time being.
The halal dim sum restaurant was decorated Baba-Nyonya style and invoke memories of yesteryears. Dark brown wood panels that covered the entire wall absorbed the sound of diners' laughter.
Old black and white photographs of women in kebaya decorated the walls. White ceramic cups, plates and teapots with little blue flowers were arranged on carved racks which were fixed to the walls.
Piped sentimental music provide tranquility to those enjoying their meals at wooden round tables covered with maroon table cloth. Palm trees planted in huge ceramic pots separated the tables.
"Why are you wearing a black long dress?" said Halimah who was wearing blue silk Malaysian traditional clothes.
"The theme is The Last Malay Lady, right? I am a Malay lady who loves wearing a black dress and long scarf." Hidayah who just arrived smiled at her friends.
Your mourning period was long over. Try wearing a kebaya. You've still got a waist. Ours are only left in memory a decade ago. Makes you look young. Surely someone is going to fall for you." cajoled Halimah looking at her lanky friend.
Hidayah's cheeks went naturally red. High cheek bones were hidden as the Hidayah had gained a little weight. Her eyes gleemed with happiness.
Hidayah stiffled her smile and sipped the cold water already set before her.
"I am okay. Already pudgy. Not thin like you. My husband definitely has found another wife." continued Halimah whose husband had been practicing polygamy for the last few years.
"You're still sweet, Imah." consoled the doctor who wore a bright red modern Malay dress. Her long wavy tresses were tied back to show off her youthful face.
"Sweet? I have not been sweet in my husband's eyes for the last thirteen years. That's why he looked for someone younger, cuter, more beautiful and sweeter dari me." Retorted Halimah angrily.
"Sweet as honey," said Hidayah.
"This honey comes with a sting," said Halimah. "In Terengganu, I cannot go out with my husband. He is afraid that his second wife will see us. Take care of how she feels. In KL, it's a bit free. We can go shopping. Dating," told Halimah.
"I go home to my parents with just my kids. My husband goes to the second 's wife parents house. When it's my turn to spent at his parents...I am like a wife without a husband."
"She took your husband from you," whispered Hidayah.
"Islam allows polygamy to avoid sinful acts but it must be carried out fairly to all parties. Your husband isn't fair, Imah," analyzed Prof. Jamaliah who had been listening.
"My husband said he is fair. Both of us are given a bungalow each. Each he gives a car. Each he gives monthly allowances. He comes goes to his second's wife house every other day.He does the same to me although I am not home," continues Halimah.
"Let him stay at the other wife's house when you are not around. Then replace those days when you are home," suggested the proffessor who had handled many marital cases.
"He just wanted to run away from her. She's a control freak. When it's my turn, he'll arrive after eleven. He has to take his kids from tuition. Tomorrow after morning prayers, when it's still dark, he'll leave to sent the kids to school."
"Suits him well. He's old but he has to take care of small kids. Look at you. Free. You can go outstation. Last week Thailand. This week, you just came back from Jakarta. Next month you're going to Morrocco. He stays home." Commented Dr. Roy.
"But sometimes I want him to follow me on my travels. I want him to escort me to functions in Terengganu. I want people to know I have a husband. I feel lonely," Halimah sighed.
"If it is up to me...I would do someting to her," said Hidayah indignantly.
"Do what? Read the Yaasiin to make her agitated?" replied Dr. Roy wittingly.
"Or you want to hire people to beat her up?" laughed Prof. Jamaliah. "Or find someone to shoot her?"
"Oh, I don't want to go to prison. Use a subtle way to get rid of her. Something undetectable by people." Answered Hidayah as if she already had a clear plan.
"Don't do anything, Dayah. I love my husband. I love my step children. Sometimes I just can't stand Hani," said Halimah worried at the glare of vengeance in Hidayah's eyes.
"I am not going to touch your husband or step children. Just Hani. Get rid of her so you can be happy, Imah. Happy as I am happy now," replied Hidayah as though the bliss she had now was planned.
"Allah took your husband dan gave you happiness. It's not something you arranged, right? Or are you referring to a different happiness?" asked the professor who read underlying meaning to Hidayah's sentence.
Hidayah opened her handbag slowly. She purposedly put the blue card she took out form the bag face down and pushed one to each of her friends.
As in slow motion, one by one took the card given and opened it. Hidayah watched the facial expression of her friends. Brows were lifted and eyes rounded. Halimah smiled cynically.
"Kamaruddin Adli Azlan?" asked Halimah the first to open her mouth.
"Dean?' guessed Prof. Jamaliah.
Hidayah looked at her friends' faces and answered with a smile.
"Which wife are you?" The title of first wife made Halimah fully aware of what its like to be in a plygamous marriage. Somehow she felt deeply hurt.
"Second. But there's only one." Answered Hidayah.
"I don't understand. Could you just say it in regular sentences?" said Dr. Roy.
"His wife died five years ago," explained Hidayah.
Once again Hidayah watched the expression of her old friends. She read what wad going through their minds.
She delibarately looked into their eyes. Some eluded hers. Some stared with disbelief. Halimah gave a presumed look of how she reaped happiness.
Hidayah stood up and left them. Only she needed to know how she gained her happiness.
Hidayah leered at the watch on her wrist and then at the Honda Civic with semi tinted windows parked behind her. Trying to find patience, her foot tapped anxiously on the cement floor in front of the condominium's guard house.
"Sorry! Sorry!" Shouted Halimah as she walked down the incline of the road leading towards the apartment she is staying while in Kuala Lumpur, "one elevator is broken. It takes sometime to get down."
"It's okay," answered Hidayah handing over two paper bags to Halimah.
"A gift," answered Hidayah.
"You got married and I got a gift?" retorted Halimah.
"You couldn't come to my wedding ceremony the other day. You didn't get the door gift so I bought you these during my honeymoon in Beijing," explained Hidayah.
"Having fun honeymooning?" said Hidayah's old friend with a naughty meaningful smile.
Hidayah who was wearing a denim shirt dan jeans smiled sweetly at Halimah, "the blue one is for you. The red one is for Hani."
"What? Even Hani gets one?" asked Halimah quizzically. Hidayah had never met, talked or spoken over the phone with Halimah's husband's second wife. Hani only existed in their conversations.
"I don't know. She suddenly came to mind," said Hidayah putting on the sunglasses that rested on her head before this. "I've labeled it carefully. Don't be mistaken. That one I've made...bought especially for Hani."
"Did you cast a spell on it?" joked Halimah peering into the bags that she was holding. Both contained the same box of bird's nest drinks.
Hidayah smiled cynically. The sunglasses that she wore denied Halimah from reading what was in her heart. "Remember give the red one to Hani. Just for Hani, ok?" advised Hidayah before she entered the black car that had been waiting.
Hidayah sat in the lobby of Tasik Kenyir's posh hotel while reading the magazine at hand. Her crossed legs shook to the rhythm of music that is in her head.
Her eyes shifted to the wood carving that separate the reception and the lounge. Her hands felt the soft dark brown velvet of the sofa's handrest. Terengganu's batik decorated the ceiling of the cool cozy area.
Her ears listened to the flow of man-made falls at the corner of the room. The river rocks and ferns were beautifully arranged around the serene cascades. Hidayah could imagine the colourful fish that swam in the pool.
"Sorry. Sorry." said Halimah breathlessly as she sat on the sofa across Hidayah.
"It's okay. Resident architect. Works six days a week. Always busy," replied Hidayah with a sweet smile.
"Your husband isn't here?" Asked Halimah looking around for the tall handsome man who was not in sight.
Hidayah giggled. "He is not like the late Mustapha."
"He allowed you to come here alone?" Asked Halimah in disbelief.
"No. This is another honeymoon," winked Hidayah. "He is in our room upstairs. He isn't jealous like Mustapha. He isn't controlling. I said I wanted to see you. He said okay."
"He's not like Mustapha? In what other aspects?" Quizzed Halimah.
Hidayah giggled again. "His wife died six years ago. Heart attack. His youngest was going to university. His other children were already working. Some were already married. Lived on their own. He is used to taking care of himself."
"Oooo now you have someone helping you at home?" said Halimah seeing the glow on the face that was once thin and pale.
Hidayah's laughter could be heard throughout the huge lobby. "No need to ask for help. No need to give directions. He does it on his own. We go to work together. When we come home, he cleans the house. I cook. Then we both rest early."
"All our children are grown up so weekends we travel. Two weeks ago Pangkor. This week Kenyir. If we have resources, we are going to Japan. What about you? Busy as usual I see?"
"My sanctuary project is nominated for the Malaysian Architect Award. Busy bringing the juries for site inspection. Then there's the handover of old projects and already started on the beach front resort. A lot of overlapping work. Busy..."
RING! RINGGGG!!! RIIINGGG!!! Halimah's phone rang and interrupted her sentence. "Ha. Hello? What? Really? Ok! Ok! I am coming."
Hidayah looked intently at her panicked friend. "Is there an emergency?"
"My twelve year old step son...sick."
"Sick?" queried Hidayah seriously.
Halimah got up from the half heated seat. "Fever for the last two weeks. Yesterday he was hospitalized. His father...My husband said kidney failure."
Hidayah looked at the cream coloured carpet. Her mind raced. She took a long deep breathe trying to control her fast beating heart. "Have the doctor done blood tests?"
"Yesterday. The doctor said he has an infection," said Halimah walking out of the lobby.
Hidayah followed each and every step that her best friend took. She felt light headed. Her hands and feet were getting cold. "Leptospirosis?" whispered Hidayah.
"Don't know. Where would he get that? He didn't go camping. My husband didn't bring the kids for picnics at waterfalls or rivers," Halimah's tears rolled down as she thought of her step son who was in the hospital.
Blood flowed out of HIdayah's face. Her fair complexion turned white as sheet. Her mind tried to put words into a question. A question that needed to be asked although she cringed at the suspected answered.
"Imah...the other day...I gave bird's nest drink for Hani. Did she drink it? She didn't give to her children, right?"
"How would I know..." Halimah stared into Hidayah's scared and worried eyes. "What did you do? You put something in the drink? Poison?"
Hidayah stood extremely still. No words came out of her pale lips.
"Leptospirosis..." mentioned Halimah softly. "You put rat urine? Your husband? He didn't get it from camping? You put it in his drink? You killed him?"
Hidayah remained frozen. Only tears rolled down her cheeks.
"You are cruel! Heartless! You chased after happiness, you chased after a handsome man, your new husband, that is not the way. Didn't you think about sin, Dayah?" scolded Halimah.
"So you took one life. Taking another is easy? I don't want that kind of bliss. It's stolen. If you've forgotten about rewards and sins, I havent, Dayah."
Halimah opened her car door, sat and slammed the door in front of Hidayah's face.
"Let me explain..." said Hidayah softly.
"No! I don't want to hear anything from you. You are a murderer and you betrayed me. You are not my friend." retorted Halimah stepping on the gas pedal as she exited the luxury hotel's parking lot.
Hidayah felt her head spinning. The leaves of the palm trees that lined the parking area waved at Hidayah who sat on the black and white striped boulders by the roadside.
Her tears had stopped. Her heart beat regularly. Her hand pressed on the handset which she had been gripping, "Dean...help me."
Halimah heard the door of her office being knocked softly and she could see who was knocking from the small glass in the door. She sulked.
The door was pushed opened witout Halimah's permission. A tall handsome man stepped in.
"Peace be upon you." Said the man.
"Peace be upon you, too." Answered Halimah without looking at her visitor.
"I am Dean. Hidayah's husband."
"Hmph!" snorted Halimah.
"Saw your husband at the hospital. He said your step son is getting better. Praise to Allah." said the man in his calm husky voice. "Looked for you but your husband said you went back to the office."
Halimah refused to look at Dean. Her hands furiously typed an email on her notebook. She bit her lips so as not to reply the man's conversation.
"I would like to apologize..."
"For what? You conspired with Dayah?!" words came out like bullets from Halimah's mouth.
"No. There was never a conspiracy. We apologized for invoking suspicion in your mind."
"Suspicion? My step son drank the bird's nest drink that the two of you gave. He has been having a fever for the last two weeks. He is just getting better. When I told Dayah, she turned pale. Definitely she put something in that drink."
"Please let me explain..."
"No. I don't want to hear about it. Get out of my office or I'll make a police report." Halimah stood up and showed Dean the door.
"Report what? You don't have any evidence!" The tone of the husky voice seemed to threaten Halimah. "You blame my wife although she didn't do anything."
"She clearly marked the bags. She reminded me to give the marked bag to Hani. There must be a reason." Replied Halimah angrily as she opened the door for Dean to leave her small office.
"Do you still have the bag? Do you have the bottles to be analyzed?" Asked Dean daringly.
"No..." whispered Halimah.
"Where's your proof? Yes, she marked it. There was a reason. Not because spells were cast or it being poisoned." Answered Dean daringly.
"Dayah is worried about you. Your friends are concerned about Hani who seemed to be overly controlling your husband"
Dean closed the door which Halimah had opened for him and stepped further into the office forcing Halimah to move towards her desk.
Dean lowers his voice to a soothing whisper. "Dayah discussed about Hani with Prof. Jamaliah and Dr. Roy."
Halimah stepped back and sat on her chair behind the desk. Dean carved a simpathetic smile and reclined onto the chair in front of Halimah.
"You are lucky to have caring friends. Prof. Maya thinks Hani is emotionally unstable. Inferiority complex. You have a career. She's just a housewife so she feels threatened. She controls your husband because that is the most precious thing she has."
Dean looked down and took a few seconds before continuing his story. "Dr. Roy feels that Hani's emotions could be caused by hormonal imbalance. She has four small kids. Needing her attention. No helper. Perhaps she needed rest."
"Hani is problematic. Not that we didn't find her a maid for her but they just can't stand her attitude," sighed Halimah.
"You simpathizes with Hani." Said Dean. "Your friends feel it is unfair."
"What did they discuss? What did they plan?" asked Halimah.
"Dayah's the one who planned. When we were in Beijing, she looked for a Chinese medicine man. In that bird's nest drink are herbs. They say it is good to stabilize women's hormones. That's why she marked the bag and box. No poison. No rat's urine."
Halimah looked out her office window, thinking. "Why didn't she tell me from the beginning?"
"You may be suffocated by Hani but you are protective of her. You are going to doubt and not give it to her."
Halimah smiled faintly. "Dayah knows me well."
"Coincidentally your step son had the fever after drinking it. Perhaps the herbs were not suitable for kids. Dayah isn't cruel. She's patient and loving." Said Dean looking out the same window.
"Why did she panicked when I told her my step son had a viral infection?" asked Halimah.
"She wasn't panicked. She was worried. She knew how it felt to lose someone she loved. She didn't want you to go through that." Dean explained calmly.
"She loved Mustapha no matter what he did to her. Just as you love your husband although he shared his love with another." Muttered Dean.
"You are her best friend. She loves you. She would never want to hurt you." Dean stood up, " Dayah apologizes for all the troubles she has caused your family. She promised she will not disturb you after this.
"No. Tell her it was my mistake. To blame her without proof. She is my best friend and will always be." Said Halimah who also stood up and sent Dean to the door.
Dean saw Hidayah grinning while looking at the phone in hand. "My mission is successful?"
Hidayah smiled sweetly to the husband who just sat in the driver's seat. "Yes. Imah just sent an apology through WhatsApp."
"I told you Imah would belief a handsome man like me." Said Dean looking at the rear view mirror and adjusting his hair.
"Imah didn't suspect anything?" asked Hidayah still clutching her phone.
"With this husky voice and charming smile? I'm sure she believed me." Answered Dean confidently.
"Great actor?" Asked Hidayah.
"Definitely better than you. You were just asked a few questions and you choked." Derogated Dean. "Besides she doesn't have any evidence."
"All those bottles are no longer in her possession?" Queried Hidayah.
Dean shook his head. "Like Mustapha's case, evidence showed that he got leptospirosis through ingestion of contaminated food. No proof to implicate anyone."
Hidayah looked at the road. Her mind drifted back to more than a year ago. She remembered the rat that ran on the yard of her house. She couldn't forget the red eyed mammal that was caught in her trap. The stench of urine filled her nostrils.
Hidayah reminisced the time when she was still in mourning and she was called to clear her late husband's desk at the school he taught. She could still feel the warm tears trickling down her cheeks as she drove there.
Her hands felt colder than teachers' hands that she shook. They didn't know how weak her feet was as it stepped towards the staff room.
On her late husband's desk, underneath stacks of paper, books and empty snack wrappers, were bottles of bird's nest drinks. A few were opened and half drank.
Hidayah knew who gave her late husband those drinks. She could smell the stench of rat's urine. She felt sticky liquid on top of the bottles. Queasiness and nausea churned in her throat.
Dean looked at Hidayah and read her mind. "Dayah don't worry."
"Leptispirosis is a disease brought by virus found in rat's urine. It is contracted through wounds exposed to rat's urine or if the person eats or drinks contaminated stuff." Consoled Dean.
Dean took Hidayah's cold hands and held it tight. "Who would think that someone would put rat's urine on bottle caps? Who would suspect someone put rat's urine in drinks?"
Halimah did, thought Hidayah trying to calm herself by watching the sceneries that they passed by. There won't be anymore bird's nest drink that will be given as gifts to anyone.