A pimply-faced waitress comes to our table and places a platter of fried rice in the centre. “Can I clear?” she asks.
Chow Kah nods. “Yes, please do.” He gestures to me. “Come, Ewe, help yourself. This is the last dish.” He flicks a gaze at Sifu Sabrina (pix above), sitting beside me. “Sifu Sabrina, let me serve you as your host.”
“Thank you.” Flashing a smile warmer than the outside night, Sifu Sabrina pushes her plate forward slightly. “This is not the last dish, there’s dessert coming.”
Chow Kah, Sifu Sabrina and I are in a restaurant housed in a shoplot in Persiaran Mewah in Bandar Tun Razak, Cheras, KL. The occasion is a school-reunion dinner and Chow Kah invited Sifu Sabrina and I as guests. Sitting across me is Mr Lawrence Quek, Chow Kah’s former class teacher, and a few of his ex-schoolmates.
“How was Chow Kah as a student?” I ask Mr Quek, an obese man in his fifties.
Mr Quek’s jowls wobble as he speaks, “Chow Kah was the class Romeo. He was popular with the girls, but he studied hard.” He picks up a piece of serviette and wipes the corner of his mouth, then pats sweat off his bald pate at the back of his head.
Chow Kah and his ex-schoolmates continue to talk about old times, and Sifu Sabrina and I eat silently. Minutes later, when a waitress arrives to deposit a big bowl of almond jelly on the table, I hear the MC announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Hua Hin High School Harmonica Quartet! They’ll perform the Tennessee Waltz and Let’s Twist Again.”
The dining hall erupts into applause and the melodious strains of four harmonicas float in the air. A few men and women take to the small dance floor. Everyone at our table turn our heads to look at the harmonica quartet in action.
In the midst of the first song, Chow Kah puts down his chopsticks. “I’m going to the loo.” He pulls the napkin from his lap, rises to his feet and steps to one side. Then he tosses the napkin on his chair and goes away.
When the second song is being played, Chow Kah returns and nudges me with his elbow. “Ewe, I bumped into an old flame outside the toilet. Wow! She’s still as hot as ever! I shot a pix of her just now.” He grabs his glass of beer and tips its contents down his throat. “Want to see her pix? I’ll whatsapp it to you. Her name’s Emily Soo.” He takes out his mobile and fiddles with it. “Done.” He bolts to his feet. “Excuse me, Emily and I agreed to meet in the park across the road. A romantic stroll under the moonlight! Oh boy!” He hurries away.
“Enjoy yourself.” I nod and smile. “Thanks for the dinner.”
Mr. Lawrence Quek looks away from the stage and notices that Chow Kah’s missing. “Eh? Has Chow Kah left? He didn’t even say goodbye.”
“He met a former female schoolmate. They’re going to the park across the road for a chat.”
“What park? There’s no park around here.” Surprise makes Mr Quek scrunch his brows. “And who’s this female schoolmate?”
“Emily Soo.” I pull out my mobile phone and open the photo file Chow Kah sent me. “That’s her.” I show the screen of my mobile to the people sitting across me.
Mr Quek’s face turns ashen. “Sweet suffering saints! That’s Emily, alright, but she died in a car accident two years ago!”
“Eeeeeeek!” a pixie-faced woman sitting next to Mr Quek gasps in horror. “Now I remember! Emily’s buried in the Kwantung Cemetery across the road!” Her lips start to quiver. “S-she’s taking your friend to Hell!”
Sifu Sabrina (pix above) taps my shoulder. “Take my Chung Kwei pendant! You’ve to stop him from following her!” She lifts the pendant from her neck and hands it to me. “I’m going to give you back-up protection! The prayers I'm going to chant should weaken the power of the ghost! So, don't be scared.” She bolts to her feet and rushes to the standing mike. She starts to sing a Buddhist mantra. She takes the mike off its stand, holds it in one hand and moves to the control console. Then she turns the volume of the speakers FULL. Her melodic voice bounces off the walls of the restaurant:
Bodhi-sattvaya Maha-sattvaya Maha-karunikaya
Om sarva rabhaye sudhanadasya
Namo skritva imam
Namo narakindi hrih Maha-vadha-sva-me
Sarva-sata Namo-vasat Namo-vaka mavitato
Om avaloki-lokate-karate-e-hrih Maha-bodhisattva
I clutch Sabrina’s Chung Kwei pendant (right pix) in one hand and step out of the restaurant. Standing on the road shoulder, I peer across the other side. In the semi-darkness, I can make out a stretch of tall hedge and realize that the cemetery starts just over the hedge.
“Chow Kah!” I shout above Sabrina's singing of the mantra which is still audible outside. “Chow Kah! Come back!”
A passing car throws beams of lights on the road, and I see Chow Kah walking through a gap in the hedge to head back to the restaurant. As he gets closer to me after having crossed the road, I ask, “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” His eyes look dazed.
I look down at his hands. “Jesus Christ!” My jaw slackens and a chill runs down my spine. “Do you know what you’re holding in your hands?”
Chow Kah looks down stupidly at his own hands. “What? Eeeeeeeeek! Why am I holding a paper brassiere and a paper panty!" He drops both items and we skedaddle back to the restaurant.