The nature of my work has taken me to many places in Malaysia and also overseas. Most of the time, such postings were of a temporary nature and hence my family would be left behind in Johor Bahru. I was, in essence, a part-time bachelor (or looking at it the other way, a part-time husband).
I have gotten used to such situations but nothing brings about the real feeling of loneliness like having iftar (the breaking of fast) on your own.
Many years ago, I was working in a small family-owned construction firm in Kuala Lumpur. Most of my co-workers are Chinese and Indians. I was particular close to a Chinese colleague by the name of CP Toh, who is an engineer a few years my junior. During the non-fasting months, Toh and I would normally take our lunch together at a mamak stall nearby our office. It was only during fasting month that I see Toh have his lunch at the Chinese restaurants.
One afternoon, Toh asked me where I would be breaking my fast. At that time, I was a part-time bachelor staying at the company's apartment in Cheras. Sometimes I would just buy some food and break my fast at home but more often than not (to avoid going through heavy evening traffic), I would work late at the office and then break my fast at the same mamak stall.
"At the mamak stall," I replied.
"Let's go to a Ramadhan buffet at one of the hotels," Toh said. "Never mind... I belanja."
I remember Toh taking me to The Legend Hotel near PWTC for iftar that day. The meal costs RM60 per head, one of the most expensive buffet at that time. I told Toh that it costs too much but he simply replied, "Don't worry lah. Once in a while maa..."
A few days later, I thought I would return the favour and asked Toh if he'd join me for buka puasa.
"Sure," he replied. "Where shall we go today?"
I told him that I read about a few good restaurants at KLCC and thought of trying there. He agreed and so we headed for the city centre in my car. We were a bit late in leaving the office and were caught in the terrible traffic. By the time we reached KLCC, it was already a half-past six. We surveyed all the restaurants but they were all fully booked. Even the food court and fast-food joints were packed. Not a single seat available.
I was regretting my choice of place to buka puasa, when Toh suggested, "Why don't we buy something light for you to buka puasa first... we have the light meal outside at the park and try the restaurants again later when most of the people have finished."
What a wonderful idea... trust my Chinese friend to come up with a solution to problem that actually affects me more than him. And so we ended up buying some pretzels from the Auntie Anne kiosk and pack drinks from the newstand store. We then sat on the steps facing the fountain at KLCC park and chatted away while waiting for the sun to set. Although my friend could have munched into his pretzel anytime, he respectfully waited for the appropriate time.
After what we thought was ample time for the crowds to finish their meal, we went again to the restaurants to try our luck. There were seats available at Kelantan Delights, a restaurant serving Malay east-coast delicacies. Although the buffet spread was quite extensive, I didn't think it was that tasty and value-for-money. I can get more delicious Kelantanese food at cheaper prices at many other simple restaurants around KL.
Toh and I parted ways when both he and I left the company at around the same time. It has been quite a while since I last spoke to him. I am thinking that perhaps I should give him a call tomorrow, setakat untuk bertanya khabar...