If Hasan Ali and me were a three-act play; we were now at the point of confrontation.
I waited for Rahman to calm down.
“He has a sword?”
“Yes. He showed it to us a few days ago when he demanded money from us.”
If true, the irony of this was not lost on me. A sword is a scheduled weapon under the The Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act 1958 (“the Act”). The mere possession of a scheduled weapon is an offence under section 7 of the Act. It also carried a minimum of five and maximum of ten years prison time. The provision also covers manufacturing, selling, promoting, hiring, lending or giving of a scheduled weapon; those are all offences.
“We’ll deal with our present situation in a short while. First, I want to ask you about Hasan Ali. What happened after I introduced him to you?”
“He was no problem first month. Everything was okay. We are not friends but we say hi-bye. But July, one day he came home drunk. That’s when he drink every day. More and more. He would ask us for money. He said you asked him to collect more money from us. At first we gave then he started asking every two, three days. That’s when we said no. Then he start to punch and kick us when we don’t give him money.”
“My god, Rahman. Why didn’t you call me or ask? You have my number.”
“Yah, but he is your staff. So at first we believe him. We don’t want to bother you. But then we are trying to handle it ourselves. I thought we could but before we could do it he took our phones. Sir, we need your help to go back to the apartment to get back our things. We didn’t take anything with us when we left. We just run straight here.”
“How come three of you did not take him on?”
“We are not fighters, sir. And he is aggressive and looks like he has more experience fighting. We cannot afford to get injured, sir. Now we are a few days not working already. We are worried we lose our jobs.”
“How did you get out?”
“I told him we had to eat. We are so hungry. We haven’t eaten one day already. Since there is no food in the house he let us out for half an hour. We are supposed to go back after we eat.”
“Seriously?! Anyway, you are not going back. First thing you do is get something to eat and then go stay somewhere safe for a while. I will try to speak to him and get him out. Come back here in the evening so we can discuss how to get back your things and what to do about him. Before you go, Rahman, I want to apologize to you and your friends. I am very sorry about this. I did not know he was like that.”
“It’s okay, sir. It is not your fault. It is his fault.” I was stunned. I admit, I felt a little bit better when he said that. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling it was. I gave them money for food and drink, and some as compensation. I was feeling truly awful about it.
I was furious. I called Hasan Ali. He did not pick up the mobile phone I gave him. I called him every ten minutes for the next few hours, my anger rose like mercury in a thermometer, climbing steadily higher with each half hour he did not pick up. He was supposed to carry the mobile phone with him at all times. He infringed a ground rule. Worse still, he illegally detained, robbed, and abused Rahman and his friends; he broke the law.
Finally, at around three o’clock, I saw an unknown number call my mobile. I remember sitting in the current administration area of our office probably ranting about the situation to Farhan.
“Boosssss.” It was Hasan Ali. I intensified my listening to pick out the background noise. I could hear he was not in a room, he was outside, there was some traffic in the distance. He had the type of swagger to his voice that was emboldened by alcohol. Our conversation was originally in Malay.
“Hasan. Why are you not on the phone I gave you?”
“Uhhhh… Bosss. I missplaccceeed it.”
“Where are you?”
“I am in Klangggg.”
“What are you doing there?”
“I have some delivery to do here, bosss.”
I turned to Farhan and asked him whether anyone sent Hasan to Klang. Without skipping a beat, he responded, “No, in fact, he has not been into the office these last three days. He hasn’t responded to any of our calls. Actually, we were going to bring it up to you.” If my fury were a bonfire, that reply felt like someone threw a tank of petrol on it.
“You lied to me, Hasan. There is no work in Klang. You have not been in the office these last three days.”
“Bosss. Bosss. I have a lot of work bosssss.”
“Now listen. I am giving you a direct instruction, get back to the office right now. I give you until 430 pm to come here and explain yourself. I will hear you out. You understand?”
He laughed. “Yah. Yah. I am busy bosssss. I cannot go to office.”
“You have no work there Hasan. If you don’t get back here by 430 pm, things are not going to go well for you. And oh, Rahman came to see me. I know what you did to them. They told me about your sword. That is illegal, Hasan.”
Suddenly, there was an absence of sound on the other side of the line. It was as if a vacuum sucked all sound from the other end. I sensed a change of vibe over the phone.
“He is lying!! He is bloody liar! He is a cheat. Where is he? I will kill him! Bloody bastard!” he exploded.
“Never you mind him. You come back here and first we talk about your work before anything else.”
“He and his friends are cheats. Don’t believe him! Rahman’s a liar!” he screamed.
“Let’s start with you first. I don’t believe you. Are you drinking? You sound drunk.”
“No. No. I didn’t drink. Is Rahman saying I am drinking also? Bastard! Lying bastard! It’s not true.”
“Hasan, listen to me carefully. I am going to give you one last chance. You come back -“
He hung up on me. I sent him a message to the number he called me from. I told him he was fired, his license to stay at the apartment withdrawn, he was to vacate by tomorrow at eight thirty in the morning, and deliver up the motorcycle, its keys, and the mobile phone at the office by nine. He could keep whatever I bought him. If he failed to do so, I would take back possession of the apartment, the motorcycle, and lodge a police report against him. He could avoid all that if he came to the office at fourth thirty.
Four thirty came and went. He did not show. Heard nothing from him. Then, about an hour later or so, I began receiving foul and vulgar messages directed at me from two unknown numbers. I guessed Hasan Ali was behind it. The messages were clumsily worded with misspellings. In one of them he mentioned Rahman. Hasan Ali was not bright, if not downright dim, but that was good for me. The text abuse continued sporadically from those two numbers and another came into the mix later in the evening. There was no response to my message so I reposted it to all the unknown numbers.
Rahman and friends arrived in the evening. I told him Hasan was not cooperating. I had given him notice to vacate by tomorrow morning. If he did, all well and good. But if he did not, we would have to go in and change the locks. I would keep them posted on developments. Rahman gave me his new number and left.
The next day was Merdeka Day, which was followed by Hari Raya Haji and then the weekend. This was going to be a long, difficult, and painful goodbye if Hasan Ali did not go quietly. Thankfully, we did not register his fingerprint for the office entrance door. Someone always had to let him in. Thankfully also because of the long weekend, most of my lawyers were away on vacation and did not have to be troubled by the stress and drama of what I dubbed the Hasan Ali Disaster. He was my mess and so it was my responsibility to clean it up with as little collateral damage as possible.
The rest of the evening and night was spent monitoring my mobile phone and the office closed circuit cameras to see if Hasan Ali would make an attempt to break into the office. Despite a few more vulgar and threatening text messages late night, there was little else from him. It was a restless and anxious conclusion to the night.
Morning came and went. No word from Hasan Ali. At around three thirty in the afternoon, I lodged a covering police report then met up with Rahman and his friends together with the locksmith at my office. They were hiding out at Pelangi Damansara at the time. According to Rahman, his local Bangladeshi network in Mutiara Damansara informed him that Hasan Ali was sighted roaming the apartment blocks and around the shops late at night and in the early hours of the morning with a sword looking specifically for him. That explained the anxiousness amongst Rahman and his friends when they turned up.
“Why do you think Hasan has it so badly for you Rahman?”
“I don’t know, sir. Maybe, it’s because I am the one speaking to him, ask him questions, and talk back.”
“So, how is your job situation?”
“Oh, we are fired because we didn’t turn up for work.”
“Did you explain the situation to them?”
“They don’t care, sir. They have replacements already. They told us to go away.”
All of us had not been to the apartment since they ran away so we did not know if Hasan Ali was there. As we trudged over on foot, I felt absolutely horrible about and guilty over Rahman and his friends. I felt responsible for putting such proper young men in such a rogue’s company. He sounded like a completely different person from the one I thought I knew, by several miles. I could feel the anxiousness course through me like an electric shock. I began to worry how it would go down if Hasan Ali resisted. Between the six of us, Hasan Ali was the only one with fighting experience.
I banged the door when we arrived at the apartment. There was no response. Words cannot express how relieved I was at discovering he was not home. This was as close as it came to me actually having to fight someone. Hasan Ali had changed the lock to the metal door gate of the apartment. The locksmith quickly got to work on it and broke it after a few minutes. When we got into the apartment, I was stunned. Hasan Ali had trashed the place. The chairs and table in the living room was overturned. They lay where they landed. Pieces of chair and table lay scattered on the floor. The kitchen was a mess. I walked to his room and pushed opened the door.
I caught a strong whiff of alcohol the moment the door creaked open. His room was completed trashed and stank of alcohol. The dressing table mirror was smashed. Shards of it were scattered on the table and the floor. A half torn book about religion lay splayed on the dressing table. It was covered in bits of glass. At the top shelf of the dressing table was an open bottle of Jack Daniel’s with his kopiah lying next to it. The mattress slouched against the wall had slashes and stabs in it, tufts of stuffing dribbled out. The dressing table chair was in pieces on the floor strewn together with a tangle of clothes. I opened up the cupboard doors that were closed and saw clumps of clothes inside. I pushed around the clothes on the floor and discovered the mobile phone I gave him.
It was still on and had battery left. I saw the notification: 70+ missed calls. I swiped the phone and tried the pin number I used when I gave him the phone. It worked. To think he did not bother to change the phone after five months! I tapped the notifications and saw my name in the missed call list. The last fifty or so were me; the rest were Farhan, Asim and Aizat. No doubt trying to get in touch. No wonder he did not respond to us at all. He ditched the phone. I clicked on Whatsapp and went through his messages. Nothing sinister. Aside from the office people he didn’t have anyone I did not know on his phone. He did not add anyone to his contacts list except his mother. But then this was his office phone, not his private one. I clicked on the Gallery app and saw thumbnail pictures of him.
I scrolled to his earliest picture. It was taken two weeks after he joined us. He appeared uncertain and looked warily at the camera. He placed himself in the middle but appeared small in the vastness of the wall behind him. I scrolled to the next batch of photos about a month later. He looked happier and his face was closer to the camera than before. There were no more photos until the month of July where there were two pictures of him. He wore a red bandana and was shirtless. The first picture is of his side profile and he appears to be screaming at something in front of him off camera. The second picture is of his face full frontal screaming with his bloodshot eyes glaring into the camera. His face took up the entire frame.
I scrolled to the last few ones in August. They were motion blurred pictures of him shirtless, wearing a kopiah while appearing to scream something, his eyes bloodshot. Some were up close, some arm’s length. It looked like all the pictures were self taken. He looked like an angry rebelling trapped animal. I felt anger, hurt, and pain emanate from those pictures. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood as I studied the pictures. I swallowed hard. What happened to you, Hasan Ali? I kept asking.
I pocketed the phone and checked in with Rahman and friends. They finished gathering up their things and were anxious to leave. I asked them to help me pack up some of Hasan Ali’s clothes in a bag so I could leave it outside for him. They helped me sweep the apartment for the sword too. I don’t know whether to be thankful or not we did not find it. The locksmith finished replacing a new doorknob and lock. He also brought a new lock for the metal door gate. We locked up, left his bag of clothes outside the apartment, and departed.
I secured the phone and the apartment. Once, I had the motorcycle, it was checkmate for Hasan Ali.
It was time to close down the first iteration of the second chance initiative, which was not just a failure, but an unmitigated disaster. Hasan Ali and I had one more act to go before we concluded our three-act play: