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no one is dying today

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Haneen Mahmood Martin, I Hope I Remember…, hand-stitching on turmeric-dyed Pongee silk, 110 x 110cm, 2020. Photo: Che Chorley. All images from Haneen’s exhibition rindu (2020), which means longing or missing [something or someone] in Malay, and shown online at Red Dirt Poetry Festival.

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Haneen is packing for a month back in Kuala Lumpur. She is in house shorts, a loose t-shirt and pink slippers, sweating in the Darwin build-up heat as she repeatedly lunges back and forth over her suitcase to get to a pile of clothes and her wardrobe.

<ul>When I got home from Bandar Utama, I accidentally slammed the front door too loudly behind me, trying to take my shoes off without having to sit down on the ground. Nenek called for me all the way from the kitchen. I ran upstairs to quickly stash the high-waisted denim short shorts from Topshop at the bottom of my suitcase and changed into some long batik shorts a distant relative had given me years ago and a black t-shirt. By the time I got downstairs Nenek had moved to the sofa and I joined her. Sat leaning against silk baju kurung in my clean house clothes — listening to the whirr of the fans.</ul>

Haneen’s Packing List: modest clothes, Bonds for her cousin’s kids, laptop + charger, a blank notebook

“When’s the flight?” Isobel is on the phone, placed on speaker propped up against a glass of water sitting on the side of Haneen’s bed.

<ul>MaMa complained for the fourth time today about feeling bloated. Short-tempered as I was weaning off my antidepressants, I reminded her for the fourth time to drink more water. We laughed a bit about the things we forget about being back, then continued to order only teh o ais to drink for the next two weeks.

Every time someone visits me in Darwin now, I am practically unhinging their jaws to ensure as much water is being drunk as necessary. The tropics does funny things to you.</ul>

Haneen ignores Isobel, “What would you like me to bring back? I can either post it to you or save it for the next Adelaide trip.”

<ul>When I lived with my Auntie she would wake me every morning with a cup of tea. She would knock on my bedroom door, gently opening it, then quietly placing the tea down. “Morning, bain.” She’d say softly, waking me earlier than I would wake myself, but who could complain about being lovingly woken with tea. I told Mum. “You never bring me tea in bed.” And she pretends to be outraged by the cheek, but then the next morning tea. “Morning, bain.”</ul>

Isobel’s Souvenir Requests: tea, unfamiliar kitchen utensils, spices she doesn’t know what to do with (Haneen will give Isobel cooking lessons via telephone).

<ul>Françoise baked madeleines for my birthday, and learned how to make crostata (with cumquat marmalade) over Zoom in the July lockdown. Half of Adelaide seemed to be in that Zoom class and I accidentally walked through the kitchen in my pyjamas. At home it was just the two of us though, and so we ate dessert with and in between every meal. She had been teaching me how to cook, and you'd think that lockdown would be the perfect scenario to expand my skills, but I just cooked Nigella’s mash potato, and we ate our feelings, and also a lot of crostata.</ul>

“Are you staying with your Great Uncle?”

“I should probably Whatsapp him.”
“You have keys?”

<ul>The last time MaMa was back in KL, her cousin booked a whole restaurant so a bunch of our relatives could meet, eat and spend time together. She added me to a W/A group called “Don's Diner plus+ 🥗🍽👨👨👦” in the middle of my work day, at my 9-5, where I soon realised I was the only person of my generation and certainly the only person not in Malaysia in the group chat. MaMa seemed annoyed that I was annoyed, but with every holiday, death, birth and wedding since, I have been part of it all.</ul>

“Oh, no. I just haven’t told him when I’ll be there yet.”
Isobel snorts slightly. “When is the flight?”

<ul>“Keep the keys just in case.” I was about to return to Australia. My Auntie refused the return of her house keys.</ul>

<ul>“In case of what?”</ul>

<ul>“In case!”</ul>

<ul>Adelaide to Hull: Two flights (inclusive of three hours at Adelaide Airport, layover at somewhere like KL or Dubai, passport control at Manchester), two trains (Manchester Airport to Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Piccadilly to Hull) and a bus or taxi to get to her house; a minimum of twenty seven hours. I asked what sort of emergency would I be having that I couldn't phone someone to be picked up or let in.</ul>

<ul>The keys are still on my keyring, just in case.</ul>

Haneen Mahmood Martin, 1920s, hand-stitching on turmeric-dyed linen, 50 x 70cm, 2020. Photo: Che Chorley.

<ul>“Beautiful tea set.” I told my Auntie as we walked into her dining room. White with a bright blue retro design.</ul>

<ul>“It was Grandma's.” She said, “She didn't have it out. You can have it when I die, babes.”</ul>

<ul>I laughed, changing the topic quickly and we didn't mention it again. No one is dying today, God willing.</ul>

<ul>Three weeks ago I got a text from Mum. "H said that if you want the tea set you'll have to go get it. She can put you up and then you could go visit P together.”</ul>

<ul>I text back. “That sounds like a plan.”</ul>

<ul>Mum replies. “Yes. It sounds like a plan to me too.”</ul>

“Well I don’t know yet, do I, Isobel?”

“Ohhh!” There’s silence and Isobel can hear Haneen moving around on the other end of the phone. “No flights yet, hey, babes.”

Haneen picks up her phone and brings Isobel with her into the kitchen. She opens and closes cupboards, putting away the clean dishes from the previous night before finally acknowledging Isobel’s presence on the other end of the line..“Want a cup of tea, Is?”

Isobel listens to Haneen’s movements for a moment, before eventually speaking. She can hear a tap running and Haneen shuffling around the tiles and Haneen’s kettle clicking into place.

“Literally always. D’you have any biscuits for me?”

“I legit just bought Marie biscuits so I could make Kek Batik. I’ll post some down.”

<ul>Nenek gave me the 1920s tea set that her mother was gifted on her wedding day. It is far more modest than any other tea set she ever owned and always looked out of place on the sideboard of the dining room that I once ran into and lost a tooth. I loved everything about this tea set and wrapped each part of it; the teapot, sugar bowl, milk jug in various items of clothing and padded it with packets of rempah I had bought for MaMa. The tea set sits above my kitchen cupboard going from silver to black and reminds me of the white fence of the house going grey with pollution, to be repainted every few years. I check the state of the fence on Google Maps.</ul>

<ul>My Auntie pulls out the biscuit tin every few months or so and presents it to Alexander and myself like a trophy. Today is the day you can eat the bits she would say and we squeal in excitement. Such riches, such delights, never had there ever been two such lucky children. We pull out dusty, crumbly biscuit dregs and feast, invariably leaving a trail of broken ends and sugary power all around the living room, on her settee, down ourselves. It wasn't until years later that I realised she was using us as enthusiastic human hoovers, keenly cleaning out her biscuit tin.</ul>

<ul>Tok Farida met me at the bottom of the second flight of stairs to let me know that she had just been to the supermarket and there’s papaya for breakfast. I followed her into the kitchen to turn on the kettle, but before she had time to reach for a plate, the doorbell had rung. Ami Syed was there, waiting for us to open the gate so he could whirl through the house, chattering happily, leaving an array of kuih, some CKT and nasi lemak — “I just get some of everything. This one best best one ah.”</ul>

Haneen Mahmood Martin, Ulam Raja Dengan Sambal, hand-stitching on turmeric-dyed Pongee silk, 110 x 110cm, 2020. Photo: Che Chorley.