If I could choose a friend who created a history in my life, it would be Azrai. He was with me when I first stepped into UTM for my first interview. He was with me too when I first reported my duty there. He has been my loyal company, bringing with him precious support and faith. On these important days, my family might not be around to send their love and hope, but I could feel their presence through Azrai. His existence embodied all the warmth that I needed. This was enough to light my day. From now on, whenever I remember my first day in UTM, I would always remember Azrai.
How did Azrai and I meet? It happened on my first day in Klang Valley.
I was 16 years old when I left my home state to join a famous boarding school in Klang. On my registration day, I bade farewell to my parents for the first time in 16 years. It was on this melancholic day that I met Azrai.
I remember sitting on a bench, sad and lonely, thinking of the strange world that I was going to face. Suddenly, a stranger came near me.
“Hoi, kau apa nama? (What is you name?)”
I was shocked by his bluntness. I looked at him and answered nervously, “Hilmi.”
We shook hands and he spoke to me as if he had known me for many years. After some time, I started to feel comfortable with him. We were instantly able to connect to each other. This fast progress even shocked the sales girl in the stationery shop.
“Saya nak beli ping satu (I want to buy a pen)” I said to the girl. Azrai looked at me and interrupted, “Kau ni nak beli pen ke pin? (Do you want to buy a pin or a pen?)”
I was shocked and showed him the pen.
“Oh, pen-lah, not pin,” he said.
I was confused and then laughed when I realised that my Kelantanese accent was so strong that I had confused Azrai with the word “ping”, which refers to “pen” in Kelantan, not pin.
Before I left, the sales girl asked us about our states of origin. She was puzzled and asked, “Eh, one from Kelantan, and another one from Negeri Sembilan. How did you become friends?”
We both laughed, not knowing how to answer the question.
Yes, how did we become friends? I guess, in my part, I wanted to fill in the empty holes in my life when my parents left me there. Azrai brought the sweetness that sealed the holes and made me fly. He provided courage for me to go through the challenging processes of school days.
Well, if you think that we had a lot of things in common, you are so wrong. I was an above–average student with 6 aggregates in my SRP, but Azrai was an excellent student who scored straight ‘A’s in SRP (He was in fact the Best Overall Student in his previous school). While I was always a soft-spoken type, Azrai was always a rude type (a typical of a Negeri Sembilan, huh?). And while I loved taking my sweet time when walking to the class, Azrai would always walk past me so quickly like a cockroach while complaining on how slow and lembab I was.
Being sharp and quick, he always knew how to attack my fragile spots.
As a naïve Kelantanese boy who knew so little about how the world worked, Azrai showed me my strongest point. He supported me when I wanted to write about my life in the hostel. When I sent the article to our school magazine, he was the happiest friend in the world. Unfortunately, the magazine editor told me that she ‘lost’ my article when she was robbed. I was so upset because I didn’t have any back-up copy.
But, Azrai adamantly asked me to retype the article. Fortunately, I did it. When my writing was finally published, he read my article passionately while my other friends criticized my amateurish writing. They told me that I wrote things that they had already known. But Azrai defended me.
“The way you wrote was so detailed and clear. Of course, these people do not appreciate your writing now. But trust me, when they grow old, they will look back into this magazine and when they read your article, they will say, ‘Oh my, this is so real’,” Azrai said.
I am still counting on his words.
We had not been in contact after we left our secondary school. Since then, we took our own separate ways and built our lives differently. But as people say, good friends stick together. Even though we were apart, our bondage had never been broken. Through faith and fate, we were brought together again after 13 years of separation.
When we met again in our early thirties, we were so different yet the same. We were aging friends who still kept our good-old-times secrets. We never criticized our own choices of living. In fact, we became more understanding of what had shaped our different personalities and what had become in our lives. Azrai was a changed man who could easily accept my values and philosophies in life. He became more subdued and less critical. More importantly, Azrai did not walk like a cockroach anymore. I could catch him easily because he walked so slowly like an old man!
With my movement to Johor Bahru, we are now away again from each other. Nonetheless, his kind thoughts are always with me. Our friendship is like a classic violin which has not been played for long. However, the strings remain strong and intact and are always ready to be played again. And it will be playing again and again on the air. I could then hear the melodious music which carries soothing warmth and comfort that fill up my days with contentment.
If I want to list down my A-list friends, Azrai is definitely one of them. After all, his name already starts with an ‘A’.