THE THIRD FORCE
“Wake up Tom!”
Oh God. It’s 10 am. Damn, I overslept. I bet you the queue’s just gonna be that much longer. But still, I have to go. Otherwise, uncle Ben would have screamed. I’m really not sure if I’m gonna make that much of a difference though, but somehow, there’s that nudging feeling that tells me I’ve just got to do it.
“Coming mummy. I’m up!”
I head down for breakfast. Dad’s already locked into his usual routine – CNN first, then the bread and eggs. Mom has the cheese sandwich all ready just the way I like it. Somehow, it feels different today. Somehow, I start to wonder what aunty Betty next door is thinking. She’s retired, in her eighties, and living off a meagre pension. She always told me how lucky I was to be a kid of the millennium.
Well, I wasn’t really born in this millennium per se, though that’s how aunty Betty likes to see things. She says it didn’t matter if I lacked the necessary political savvy prior to the year 2003. Unity began the minute Mahathir stepped down, she insists.
“Good or bad, Pak Lah did us right. He returned the freedom Tun stole from us.
“If your uncle Ben were alive today, he’d already be at the booth this very minute, I swear it,” she’d probably thunder.
Yes, his hatred for Mahathir was enough to fuel the wimpiest of hearts to protest. If he were alive, we’d probably be at the school yard by now. He’d be the early bird – you know, the one to put on that big fatherly smile as he casts a ballot in the name of truth and justice. “That old hag has an ugly face,” he’d swear of Mahathir.
Wait, that’s it. It’s the face!
Funny, I didn’t see it yesterday. But it seems all too clear to me now. Seriously, I sometimes get bewildered at the eerie sense of mysticism there is to this business of electing reps. Somehow, perceptions have a way of changing on polling day. Today, it’s no longer about BMF or 1MDB or Bank Negara or even that blardy crooked bridge. Today, it’s all about the face!
“Mom, whose presence do you feel more in the kitchen today? Najib or Mahathir?”
“What,” she asks, puzzled.
“Serious ma…this sandwich, dad’s bread and eggs…your coffee. I know neither of those fellows put them here. But then, if you were to think of the one face that’d make sure we have all of this tomorrow, and perhaps even more the day after, whose face would it be?”
“Your gut feeling ma. What does your gut feeling tell you?”
“Why? What about 1MDB? What about the stuff they’ve been saying ‘bout him ma?”
All of a sudden, mum has this peculiar looking expression on her face. Honest to God, I never saw it before. But it’s there. She’s different.
“Look, Tom. It took both you and me 21 years to get you this far in life. Now, look back at all the years…what do you see?”
Now, I didn’t quite get where she was driving at, though the image that immediately came to my mind was that of her, watering the plants as I, a mischievous eight-year-old, look on.
“I see you ma. I only see you”
What happened next was beyond my expectation. Mum just started tearing up. I guess she didn’t expect that to come from me. I guess she expected me to tell her about ‘my’ accomplishments, ‘my’ vision, the diploma I earned or perhaps even that singing competition I won. But really, it was all about her.
“And I see you too son. Not for a moment did I regret it. Not one. I mean, sure, there were the ups and downs, but nobody said parenting was an easy task. I always knew I couldn’t let my baby down. Do you know why?”
Now I start tearing up.
“Because your pretty little face told me it was worth every second of it.”
The confluence of emotions that flooded my body that very minute made me tremble so badly, mum just reached out and hugged me.
“It’s all about the face ma. Yes?”
“Yes, my son. While it should be all about the person behind the face, such is the human flaw, the aura of that person somehow gets ingrained in the memory as a face.”
Seriously, my mum is the wisest person there is on planet earth.
“Then help me decide ma. Which face should I vote for? Najib or Mahathir?”
Mom lets go. Then, she looks me in the eyes and goes:
“Look back, think of the past eight years – who do you see? Do you see Mahathir?”
“No ma. I don’t.”
“Well, I don’t see him presenting solutions ma. I just see him presenting problems. Somehow, that makes him invisible.”
“Then why ask me? You’ve already found the face you’re looking for.”
So uncle Ben was right. When he told me that the “old hag has an ugly face,” he wasn’t really referring to Mahathir’s physical appearance – my uncle wasn’t the sort of person to do that. I knew he was gazing through his very essence, his spirit. And what uncle Ben saw in Mahathir must have been so ugly, it was revolting.
Yes, it’s all about the face.
The face that gets ingrained in your memory is usually that of a person who, despite all odds, soldiers on for the sake of your wellbeing and future. Which is why, every time I hear the name Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s face immediately comes to my mind.
After all, it is he who soldiered on for us these past eight years, not Mahathir.