Some things don’t change.
Six years ago, yours truly, a wide-eyed fresh graduate reported for duty at a research facility in a rather secluded town, not knowing what to expect from this new journey into the rat race. I drove a modest local-made car, the kind almost every young working person my age would – somewhat semi-hoping to blend into the mundaneness of adulthood. My car looked tiny compared to the guardhouse that stood in front of me, a large authoritative figure with double speed bumps making sure that I was not a trespasser. But I was then, because I had no official work ID yet. So I parked my car at the side of the road, and meekly reported to the guardhouse.
Then, like a surprise toy from a Happy Meal box, out came a cheerful looking security guard whose sunny disposition automatically made me smile.
“Cik nak lapor diri ye? (Miss, are you reporting for duty?)” he chirped, his small eyes reduced into two lines to make way for his wide grin. He asked me for my name, gave me a temporary pass, and directed me to the office that I was supposed to go to. I looked at his name tag, and it spells F-U-A-D.
I would remember that name for a very long time. Because each time it was his shift, he would greet me with that same old smile, and ask, “Vern sihat hari ni? (Vern, are you well today?)” If we were heading out for lunch, he would tease by asking if he could join us, or who was buying that day. And when I tell him that I was heading back to Penang for a weekend or so, he would ask me if I could get him some jeruk kedondong (pickled umbra) which, unbeknownst to me then, was apparently famous in my hometown.
And it wasn’t just to me. He was friendly to every staff that passes his sight. He once told me that if he was going to be a security guard all his life, he was going to be a great one. He took it upon himself to make every staff feel safe and welcomed whenever he could.
I have a soft spot for the little things in life. And soon, I would have a soft spot for him too.
Six years later, I was back at that familiar gateway. Slightly anxious and thoroughly jet lagged, this time I was borrowing my brother’s rather large SUV for awhile. Due to the restructuring of the company and relocation of offices that happened over the past year, it felt as if I had gone for a long time. I wound down the car window, and tried to tap my ID to the receiver from an unusually elevated position. And then a familiar voice came.
“Eh, Vern! You sudah balik! Wah, kereta pun sudah besar ye! (Vern, you’re back! And your car has grown!)”
I looked up to see Tuan Fuad wearing his signature smile. I explained my car situation to him, and we chatted for a little bit more until another car approached.
Like six years ago, I was a fresh graduate all over again.
But this time, it felt like coming home.
Yesterday, I was walking from one block to the other for a meeting, and bumped into Tuan Fuad on his motorcycle doing his obligatory rounds. He stopped to ask me a little bit more about my adventures in London, and when I was going back to Penang again because he was missing his favourite snack. I told him I’d probably head back by the end of the month, and I’ll get him some when I do.
By noon, my colleague and I were heading out for lunch, and there he was again.
“Vern belanje hari ni ye? (Vern’s buying today, yes?)” he teased and we both laughed in response before we drove away.
Amused, my colleague remarked that sometimes it was hard to get out of his sight, because he would conjure small talk every chance he gets. We recalled his usual phrases, partly mimicking his expression.
Then we both agreed that we probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today, I received news that Tuan Fuad has passed away due to a heart failure. He was 49. Within minutes, the group chat was filled with memories of him, his famous lines and cheerful attitude. Each summarising a genuine heart of service that blessed folks like us have had the chance to be on its giving end.
This may be too late, but thank you, Tuan Fuad – for making Mondays a little less blue, and sprinkling random bits of joy throughout the rest of the work week ever since I started working here. Wherever you are, I hope they give you the kind of welcome that you have given us for the past years. And more.
May it be known that to its last beat, your heart remained joyful, humble and true.
Sometimes, when people die, I wonder if their souls get to stick around to hear the wonderful things others remember them for, especially the ones that were taken for granted.
From my selfish human heart, I really hope they do.