This story imagines an encounter the day before Malaysia’s recent GE14 elections, in which now Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir visits Anwar Ibrahim in his hospital room, and is joined by Anwar’s wife, now Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
It wasn’t the best of times; it wasn’t the worst of times. But it was bad enough.
The door opened.
“Ei, you’re asking me.”
Anwar laughed. It had been like this for a while. Not intimate, not like it used to be, with all secrets shared. But, comfortable. Close enough.
“Please sit down, Tun.”
The chair was no comparison to Anwar’s soft hospital bed. Mahathir sat down without a word. The guards may be outside, but they might still hear if he complained out loud.
“Your evening check-up?”
“Must see first, lah. Doctor said recuperation more important than operation.”
And then, Mahathir’s face changed. He coughed slightly. “The next round I may not be here, you know,”
“Don’t say that, Tun.”
“No, really. Hasmah worries a lot.” Mahathir shifted in his seat, looked round the room, then glanced directly at his ex-protégé. “Next round, we bring in Nurul.”
“Maybe too early, I think, Tun.”
Mahathir dismissed it with a wave of his hand. Anwar noted the watch on his wrist. An old kind of gold, a tacky yellow. He persisted.
“It could be tomorrow itself, then there will be no need for next round. Maybe this time is the time.”
“Marina says the same. But I’m not so sure.”
“You’ve tried everything.”
“You also, last time. Not enough what.”
“But this time it’s you, lah, Tun.” As if the man didn’t know. As if he hadn’t orchestrated this very moment from 2016, when he showed up in court. An ostensible citizen.
In the pause, Anwar felt their mutual weariness. Certain plans were for patriotism, certain plans for power maintenance. This one had been for rescue. Or rather to find strength for the possibility of rescue.
Another door opened, on the other end of the ward. Azizah walked in, unsurprised by Mahathir’s presence. Behind her, the sun had started to set.
“Ah, assalamualaikum, Tun,” she said. Smiling, polite. Mahathir stood and reciprocated, like a brother, a comrade.
“He wants to bring in Nurul next time,” said Anwar. He shouldn’t have, but it was too good not to.
“Next time? What next time? This is the time, lah! Please sit down Tun, I’ll get some tea,” said Azizah. Anwar smiled.
“Ah, tak payah – no need – lah,” Mahathir said, seating himself again. Tea would be good, actually. Although not much, Hasmah would know immediately.
“Everyone is ready. I’ve sent some of them home. It’s been a long campaign.” Azizah checked her phone several times as the water boiled. “The reports are crazy. Flights of people coming in. Gila. Crazy.”
“Last time also like that, lah,” said Mahathir.
“Is Nurul coming?” asked Anwar.
“Zizah, no sugar in mine, ya,” said Mahathir.
“I don’t think Nurul will say yes, you know,” said Anwar.
Azizah sighed as she made the tea. For the two of them, just them. Some kinds of change were still too much to hope for. She placed the teapot by the bedside table and poured it out, handing each man his portion.
“You ask Nurul yourself. Father-daughter debate. Try.” Azizah sat by the bed, next to her husband, facing his first jailor. She watched him take the first sip.
“We win, he comes out immediately,” she said.
Mahathir paused and regarded his running fellow.
“Zizah,” Anwar said, embarrassed. “We’ve spoken about this.”
Azizah kept her eyes on Mahathir.
Mahathir smiled. “My dear, one needs youth to make going back on your word worth it. I’m no youth.” He grew concerned. “I just want tomorrow to be okay.” He put his cup down, and looked back and forth, at Anwar and Azizah. He took his time.
“Your tea is very good.”
Sreehevi Iyer is the author of Jungle Without Water and Other Stories