Friday, July 24, 2009

His Father's Son


"What should I do?"

The rain lashed the Samsung Hospital, showing no signs of letting up whatsoever. I had recently arrived a few moments ago with some other friends, and met one of my classmates at the entrance.

My friend took a drag of his cigarette, and threw the remainder down unto the ground, stubbing it out with the bottom of his sole. He was smartly dressed in black; tie, pants and jacket complementing a white shirt. On any other day, one may well have accused him of being an FBI agent.

"Just do as I do. I am not a Buddhist either, I am a Christian, so don't worry. We'll just pay our respects in our own way."

However, today was no ordinary day. Today is one of three days that is a part of the Korean funeral ceremony. Today is one of the days when my friend, Hyun-ho, and his family would host a number of people to come and say farewell and pay their respects to his father, who passed away the day before. Today, I will go over to him, and shake his hand, and do my best to console him.

I was initially confused as to how I should react; should I bow as everyone else will? What do I do? What do I say?

What do I say? To a man.
Who lost his father.

The enormity hit me hard.

****

My friends and I stepped into the memorial area. Hyun-ho stands to the side, flanking his mother along with his sister. He is dressed in the accepted uniform for familial mourning: black suit and pants, with yellow stripes momentarily sowed on across the bicep area. He looked up, at us, and at me.

I was initially scared. His had always been a playful, somewhat happy face. His mind always seems to hide a mischievous thought; the kind to always tease and joke around with the girls as much as the boys. He is also one of the few who took delight in my terrible Korean, but not in a bad way; he always teased me about it. "Yah...Fikri," he called out to me on the set of our friend Hanna's film last year. "It's not 'weehom saram', it's 'weehom-HAN saram'. Otherwise it'll just be 'danger person', not 'dangerous person'." Hell, I was on set with him just four days prior; once again, he was up to his jokes; he made me laugh so hard I nearly interrupted a rehearsal session.

Today, however, I was scared. His eyes were red, the rings suggesting that sleep was a companion not much seen these past few days. He looked at me, at all of us, but perhaps at me with a small hint of surprise. I nodded, to him, thinking that now is not the time for words.

He understood.

We all took one of the stalks of flower on offer by the side, and went up to the altar, one by one. We placed it alongside the picture, or as close to it as we can; there's already quite a few flowers there. We backed up, and lined up together in a row. We looked at the picture of his father, surrounded by the flowers, and bowed our head in reverence. Then everyone else, went down, on their knees, before prostrating themselves on the floor. Stood up, looked at the picture, and repeat.

I didn't intend on doing it; this was the part I had mentioned earlier, about not knowing what to do. Could it be that this would not be acceptable by Islam? I do not know; my knowledge and experience of my own religion is far away from what I want it to be.

But I did it anyway. I bowed, just like everybody else, and I prayed deeply in my heart for Allah to comfort my friend and his family as best as he can in this time of need. I pray that he will be able to seek the strength and courage to deal with this situation. He is the leader now; Korean society, like much of Asia, places great importance on the male and age hierarchy. Thus, as the thought hit me in my state of prayer, he is the de facto head of the family.

We bowed our heads for the final time, and he introduced us to his family. I dare not speak more than a few words to his mother and sister; who am I to them? But they seemed grateful nonetheless for our presence. "Where are you from?" his mother asked me. "From Malaysia." "Thank you very much for coming."

Afterwards we were led to the eating area. Food and drinks seems to be associated with almost all aspects of society; funerals are no different. We joined several other friends who arrived before us, and had already paid their respects. Fifteen minutes later, more of my classmates arrived; Hyun-ho is a very popular figure.

Soon enough, the time came for me to leave; there is another film meeting for me to attend.

We shook our hands, tightly. Our eyes locked for more than a few moments. And in those few moments, I wanted to say to much. To hug, to console him, to comfort him. To tell him a joke. To...do...anything.

But I couldn't. The words which I had presumed would come didn't really come. Not the ones that I wanted. I mumbled my apology and condolences, and then there was still a little silence.

What do you say to a man who has lost his father?

He smiled, almost as if he could read my mind. He give my hand another, tight shake, and thanked me. "See you later."

I stepped outside of the hospital with Hanna. In the corner, Ji-hyun and Sang Beom were already enjoying their cigarettes, along with other mourners from other funeral services. The rain had ceased slightly, though a slight haze remains.

"Just take the cab to the station," Hanna told me. "I think I could do with a walk," I replied. "It's not far, I think." I said my goodbyes, waved to the smoking friends, and set off on my way.

My heart felt more than just a little sad. It felt what you feel when you want to say and do something to benefit someone close to you, but couldn't because of...what? Circumstances? People? Merely because what you want to say couldn't really be expressed with mere words?

I don't know. People die, after all. Everyday. But the feelings doesn't hit you until they do. I certainly can only think, not even imagine...think of what it must have been like for Hyun-ho and his family. What it must have been like for Tan Beng Hock's family. For John Surtees and his family. What it would be like for me when the time comes. What it is like for other for whom the time has already arrived.

I thank you, God, for the rain.

It wasn't enough to get drenched, but it did well enough to hide my tears.

No comments: