Chapter 17: Creme brulee french toast casserole

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I didn't sleep a wink that night after hearing Nazrul's plan. It was going to be very risky and I was not really sure whether I was up to it, but Nazrul - being his ever optimistic self - convinced me that it would work. It didn't have to be a hundred percent effective, but it would make my parents think twice before asking me to return to Kedah and leave everything that I've worked so hard for in KL. Dwen didn't come to visit me, I couldn't get a second opinion on the ridiculous plan. 

The taxi ride from Jalan Pudu to my apartment was almost awkward saved for the ever chattery Shira. 

"You don't live in KL," she said after she saw the sign boards at the highway. "You live in the outskirt area." I thought she was even surprised at her own intelligence. Mom and I laughed at her naivety. 

"Only the richest of the rich could afford to live in the middle of the city center, Shira," I told her. "People like me can only afford a small apartment in a dingy area. And I don't even own the place - I rent it - together with 3 other friends."

"Yeah! Now I understand why you have to stay with other people. Everything must be very expensive here, right?" Shira flipped her hair as the wind blew through the half opened window. "Mak Su, " -that was how she addressed my mom- "I think it's better if Kak Lysa comes back to Kedah. She can live in your big house and doesn't have to spend so much money on food and rental."

If Shira was not my youngest cousin, I would have probably grabbed her under my arm and shoved my cell phone deep in her throat. 

"That's what I told her Shira," said my mom, looking excited now that she had a new supporter in her camp. "This city is not safe but I don't think she's going to listen to me."

Among my mom's specialties was her cream brulee french toast casserole while another was making me feel guilty. She hadn't make the cream brulee for me for a long time - and I was suddenly missing those moments at home - but now she seemed to enjoy seeing my guilty face.

"It's not that simple, mom," - I started to explain - "to leave everything that I have here. I've worked so hard to become what I am today."

"You can always start anew in Kedah, Lysa." My mom stroke my hair as I rested my head on her shoulder. "Your Uncle Fahim is looking for an accountant for his construction company. I think you can simply get the job, with your degree and all."

"Mom!" I jerked my head. "I am not working as an accountant and I was definitely not trained to be one!" 

"Well, if you can't do it, you can always work for Uncle Hashim. He told me his clerk at the sawmill had just resigned after her fifth baby. You'd like working for him, Lysa. He is such a generous man."

Working as a clerk? In a sawmill? I blinked a few times trying to visualize myself typing endless letters, sorting out invoices while waving away sawdust that would be blown by the wind to my face all day. 

"No, mom. I wouldn't want to become a clerk at a sawmill in a small town no matter how generous the owner is."

My mom was silent for a moment before she came out with another not-so-brilliant idea. "Wait! Hassim's son just came back from Egypt. Do you remember Khabir? He graduated last month and will start working anytime now. Your Uncle Hassim was asking me whether I know of any nice girl suitable to become Khabir's wife." Her eyes shone and I made a huge X sign with my hands. 

"No! No mom! Let's not go there. And can we please stop this discussion? I think Shira wants to enjoy the scenery.' I pointed to my cousin who was looking rather gloomy listening to our argument.

"Can we go to Sunway Lagoon after this?" Said Shira as she pointed to one of the signboards that said: Sunway Lagoon 30KM. "I really want to try the water vortex." Her hands were pressing her cheeks and she was making one of those poor stray cat's expressions. 

"Sure!" I said. "We can go after we have lunch at my apartment."

"Who's cooking?" Mom interjected with a curious look. She knew I was not a good cook and so were my housemates. 

"Lily and Marina," I said, not looking at her in the eyes. "They've been taking classes lately," I added, which was partly true. Both of them had been involved in the Masterchef campaign - as the models, not the contestants. They've been posing in aprons, holding pans, woks and ladles, but none of them had cooked anything edible since the day I moved into the apartment. 

"Ah! We'll see." Mom was hiding her smirk. I knew she would never believed that my housemates prepared lunch, or snacks, or even 3-in-1 drinks for that matter.

Surprisingly, the lunch went well. We arrived just in time for a small feast. The food was still warm and Lily did a great job hiding (or throwing away) all the styrofoams and plastics that bore the name of the restaurant they packed the food from. Marina also took care of one of the most important details - the pots and pans in the kitchen. She washed a few and put them on the drying rack. If my mom was to inspect the kitchen, she would find that Marina had put a few knives lined up next to the chopping board and a few shallots were scattered on the kitchen counter. 

"Well done girls," said mom after she had her third serving. "This is a really good fish head curry. I don't think I'd join you at Sunway Lagoon, Shira," she added. "I'll probably just take a long nap after this." 

Lily and Marina smiled at the compliment, although the three of us knew that  they didn't deserve it. (Only later they told me that they cooked the rice. So, okay, they deserved one third of the compliments.)

My mom was snoring away at the living room after we finished doing the dishes. 

"It's raining, Kak Lysa. I don't think I wanna go to Sunway Lagoon," said Shira who was leaning against the sofa my mom was sleeping on.

I looked outside and saw the dark cloud forming and large drops of rain started pelting the awning just below our balcony. "Oh, it's too bad Shira. But we can always play games if you're not sleepy."

We played a few online games on the tablet while Lily and Marina excused themselves to meet a few friends outside. It was probably 4pm when mom suddenly sat up with a start and looked around her. 

"Who's that? Who's that?" She asked. Her eyes were wild.

"What is it mom?" I got up and hold her by the shoulders. She was shivering a bit. 

"I heard voices. There were so many of them. In here, at the balcony, in the bedrooms." Her gaze was darting from the TV to the furniture then to my bedroom door. "I must see what's inside there!" She said as she let go of my hands and scurried towards the door.

"Mom! What's happening?" I demanded, confused with her sudden weird behaviour. She turned down the door handle and stormed inside. She immediately searched under the bed, in the closet and finally my desk drawers. "What are you looking for, mom?" 

"Someone is hiding in this room, Lysa! This place is not safe! You have to come back to Kedah with me."

"There's no one here, mom. Look!" I stretched my arms and her gaze swept the room again. 

"There's got to be. I could hear his voice just now. This place could be haunted, Lysa. You don't want to live here. Pack your bags now and follow me back to Kedah." She was holding my arms and shaking my body. 

"What is wrong Mak Su?" Shira came behind me and looked terrified.

"There are ghosts here, Shira. Let's leave at once!" My mom was out of her mind. I didn't know, perhaps she was having a bad dream or Dwen decided to come and say Hello. But I was sure that it was time for my fallback plan - Nazrul's stupid plan. 

"Look mom," I said. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying here because I have great friends, a good paying job and most importantly..." -I slid my hand under my pillow and took out a framed photograph- "I have fallen in love with this man." I showed her the picture of Nazrul, posing with his cell phone in front of his shiny car. (The picture was taken last night, so it was pretty blurry with a dark background).

"What?" My mom looked at the picture, then at my face.

"What?!" I heard Dwen's faint voice from somewhere in the room.

I shrugged, didn't know what to say next.  

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