What Real Power Means
Mr Juan Carlos left his quiet hometown in Mindanao for greener pastures 7 years ago and has been in Malaysia since. At 170cm tall, armoured with knowledge, skill and a winning smile, he was instantly hired to man the concierge desk of the Le Meridian. He was never tardy, always polite and went above and beyond for his guests. The regulars loved him, and some would have him on their speed dials. Such familiarity also came with good tips for some side cash. It was highly unfortunate when the hotel guests learned that he had taken a leave of absence. Imagine their shock, when they told them he had suffered a heart attack and was currently in the Coronary Care Unit of Hospital Puchong.
Dr Julie was mid-way done with her ICU rounds and Coronary Care was next. Her house officers eagerly waited for her, charts in their hands, ready to present their findings and the treatment ideas they had, hoping that they would impress her, this time if not before.
She came in 10 minutes later than promised. ‘How many?’ she eyed the board.
‘Just five this time,’ one of the interns replied. ‘Who are we seeing first?’ the young man was dynamic, confident and charming. Julie had a good feeling about the rounds.
‘Good,’ let’s go,’ she grabbed the charts from the nursing station and headed to the first patient, only to be stopped in her tracks when her eyes caught something. Two cubicles down, the Head of Surgery, Mr Jamal, in blue scrubs, waiting on a patient, speaking to him as if he were his own father. They shared a touching joke and his dimples prominently widened with his smile.
Mr Jamal noticed her watching past the clear glass. She tried looking away, but she wasn’t quick enough, trapped now in an awkward stare. She had to smile, much less acknowledge with a respectful nod.
‘Here, Dr,’ the young intern slid the doors open to greet their patient. He then started a long verbal essay on who Mr Carlos was and how he ended up in the CCU there. He tried impressing his boss by with his wit and jargon, flawlessly commenting on the findings and plans. He couldn’t help but feel awkward doing all this in front of a medically induced coma patient. Julie pretended to listen while her thoughts were had trailed elsewhere: more specifically, two cubicles down to the Head of Surgery and how his abs felt underneath his shirt and that small paunch belly, his strong marathon legs and the way it made her loins heat up. It had been a while, and Julie was starting to get flustered. The house officer noticed her fanning herself with a sheet she pulled out of the chart, in a fully air-conditioned room nonetheless.
‘So, we started him on thrombolysis as he showed up short of 3 hours,’ he completed and took a long anxious pause waiting for her remarks.
‘Oh, you’re done. Fine. Just do that,’ she spoke. The boy was pleased, beaming in pride. Then she started to gain some focus, ‘Filipino, you said?’ she continued.
‘Limit the medications. How do you think he’s going to pay for all this extra stuff? Is the employer here?’
‘You should know these things, Jason. What a disappointment?’
And just like that, she put out that beam, before it grew into something over-inflated and confident.
Just before the exit door, as happenstance would allow it, Mr Jamal and Dr Julie found themselves in the awkward position of being the only two around. She glanced over and smiled, and he reciprocated, but there was an ominous stare, just something in the lower lids. Mr Jamal felt it as she did. They parted ways to separate wings of the corridor but not two feet away, she received a text, ‘I’m free now, upstairs?’
It had been months since they met, and even longer since they had their little affair, but there was a nostalgic longing lingering between them. ‘Maybe it was time to see if the sex could get good again?’ she told herself.
Nurul noticed several heads turn away from her that morning, purposefully avoiding any form of eye-contact. She barged in her office and dropped her weight on her old creaky reclining chair.
One of the colleagues barged in after her, bringing her a hot cup of coffee.
‘So?’ she shouted, impatient.
‘So, he wants to see you,’
‘Fine,’ she massaged her forehead.
Nurul jumped back up, grabbed the coffee from him and stormed back out, again, and like a flock of birds, the heads lowered again one by one when they entered her radius. She stood before the Commissioner’s Office and knocked twice.
Inside, the Commissioner, Mr Razli bin Razak, sat in his chair, uncomfortably trying to adjust his sore back. ‘Sit,’ he gestured.
Nurul made herself comfortable, legs wide apart in her slacks, back hunched, waiting for his first words.
‘Well,’ he hesitated to continue.
‘I am looking,’ she replied.
‘And you found?’
‘A lead, yes,’
‘So, NOT a suspect,’
‘Come on, Boss. It’s a high-profile case. You know it’s going to take a while.’
‘I kept the files on your desk. I did that. What the hell was I thinking? What an idiot I was to think you wouldn’t go out of your way for this. I thought, maybe, just maybe, give you the benefit of the doubt and see if you can find something. But what do I get in return?’
‘A person of interest that is most likely culpable,’
‘No, you know what I get? I get emails from Ministers and VIPs I have never heard of. I get you landing in the hospital for stomach cramps of all things, and once again I repeat myself, I get NO SUSPECTS,’
‘Look, you guys have tea, I get it,’
‘I have tea with whom?’
‘The Director of the hospital? Dr Siti Something,’
‘What? You think we have some sort of social club where we go golfing together and what not? I’m not that influential, Nurul. You think I’d be here if I was?’
Nurul realised Dr Siti had clearly gotten under her skin, and she hated herself for taking the bait. Before the Commissioner got impatient, Nurul quickly blurted the first thing that came to mind. She had to make it sound like a lead, a clue, or just something.
‘It’s Dr Jamal or Mr, I’m not sure… it’s a whole thing with surgeons,’
‘You mean the one whose wife is an attorney.’
‘She’s here you know.’
Nurul cackled silently to herself. ‘Now it makes sense. That’s why I’m here first thing in the morning. That’s why you’re rushing this. It’s always some higher-up,’ she moved to straighten her back and crossed her arms. ‘Let me talk to her.’
‘No! And how dare you?’
‘Why not? She’s here to shake us,’
‘She’s here because of parking tickets,’
‘Sorry,’ Nurul got up. ‘I’ll see what I can do about her parking tickets,’ Nurul smiled coy and quickly rushed out.
‘That’s already being handl…’ Mr Razli breathed a long loud sigh and continued to uncomfortably arch his back.
‘YES…YES…, OH GOD, RIGHT THERE!’ Julie squeaked and squealed like a broken squeaker box of flea market plush toy. They were both dripping in sweat, exhausted after a solid 15 minutes of working around the bed in the Head of Department’s private on-call room.
‘You have lost weight I notice,’ she said, complimenting him.
‘You too,’ they chuckled.
‘I didn’t think I’d miss it so much,’ Julie continued to speak. Mr Jamal got up to walk into the washroom. ‘I don’t know what it is about you,’ she said. ‘You just…’
Mr Jamal grabbed a towel, fastening it to his waist. ‘I’m going to take a shower. Are you…staying?’ He dissed.
She started to remember why they stopped talking. It wasn’t really after the everything that happened with Sheila, though that was the story Mr Jamal conveniently spun. Julie now understood that it was just clever guise to remove her from the picture. She was the needy one and in the man’s way.
‘Yes, I’ll wait,’ she said, sitting on the floor, in just her soiled underwear, with nothing to cover herself but the clothes she came with.
Nurul told the constables to speak to the woman and get her into her office somehow. Mrs Natasha, civil lawyer, Instagram model, and wife of the infamous Mr Jamal now sat in her room, waiting as planned.
Nurul strode in taking her own sweet time. She noticed the woman shaking her legs, eyeing the hands in her watch, impatiently fretting about, and enjoyed it while it lasted.
‘You are, Miss?’ she started, her tone relaxed.
‘Right…and I am,’
‘Still a Miss, right?’ Natasha rebutted to catch her attention.
‘Right,’ they both laughed pretentiously.
‘I’m going to cut the bullshit. This isn’t about parking tickets. The fees are nothing. I spend nearly twice as much for the BMW each month,’
‘Oh, so it’s under a loan?’ Nurul retorted back.
‘Quite a huge one. I don’t know if a public servant salary can afford it though. I should ask my husband. He is one of you in a way,’ she laughed.
Nurul didn’t find that hilarious. ‘So, what are you here for?’
Natasha wiped her eyes. In the residue of her smile, she said, ‘to see you.’
‘What about me?’
‘You were my husband’s patient. I want to see how you’re doing?’
‘Since when does the doctor let his missus do his house calls?’
The bounciness and levity Mrs Natasha had brought with her suddenly grew some serious weight. ‘We help each other,’ her face instantly transformed into a monstrous stern, ‘any way we can.’
‘I suppose. Most couples I know are too busy handling their children to get in each other’s ways. Glad you don’t have that problem.’
It lanced Natasha deep but she didn’t cave. After all, what kind of lawyer would she be if she couldn’t avoid obvious traps? ‘Yes, that does give us more time with each other.’
‘And with others as well, I have heard. If the rumours are true,’
‘No good Muslimah shares her households’ secrets in public. You understand right?’
‘I believe it isn’t anyone’s business, especially not a homicide detectives’?
‘Well, if there is a case then,’
‘What? Like the “suicide”? It’s “SUI”-cide, right?, Not “HOMI”-cide. Did they change the definitions around here? God help me if the police are actually updating themselves before the LAW even does,’
‘The LAW hasn’t spoken yet Mrs Natasha, not until I arrest someone.’
‘But you can’t arrest the dead, Ms Nurul. That’s the problem. Maybe Gabriel can, maybe Allah, but not you, definitely.’
‘Tell me, how are you sure that your husband is, in fact, innocent in all this?’
‘He is free to marry, you know. He is free to find others. That’s his right, and I wouldn’t take that away from him. But to accuse someone, without the slightest bit of reason. I believe that’s where “the people” would draw the line.’
‘Oh, calm down Mrs Natasha. The police haven’t accused just yet,’
‘Because of evidence or more the lack thereof,’
‘I swear to you Mrs Natasha…’ and before she could finish the woman stood and walked to the door.
‘You get something, and we will talk. Otherwise, leave my family alone. And that’s not to you, personally, because I understand you are just another servant doing her little grunt work, but I’m not going to come back here to this little hole and wait on you while you let your lackeys waste my time again. Instead, I will show you what real power means.’
‘Well, maybe…’ Nurul was interrupted again by the sound of the door shutting on the lawyer’s way out.
‘SHIT!’ Nurul cursed. Her intercom rang. ‘My office now,’ the Commissioner summoned.
‘You ARE still here,’ Mr Jamal smiled while he walked out of his shower, the hot stream escaping, clouding up the rest of the room. He wondered why she was still on the floor against the bed naked, just as he had left her.
Mr Jamal just casually sat on the bed, drying himself.
Julie was lost in deep thought, hearing the shower head just spraying voluminous amounts, pattering against the floor tiles, almost like white noise. It was deeply meditative, calming, and allowed her to re-evaluate everything; of who she was, the ambitions that made her, who she had become and her self-worth in total.
‘I saw you talk to your patient. He seemed nice.’ She distracted herself.
‘Yes, he was.’
‘Yes.’ His voice sullen, in regret.
‘Based on the text they sent me, I would say, some time between when we were over there and over there,’ he pointed at 2 different points on the mattress and laughed while he kissed her scalp. She gently chuckled at his morbid sense of humor. Not many could see him the way she did.
‘I have one. Filipino, ST-elevation. Just 35 years old, chronic smoker and a real worker bee.’
‘Aren’t they all? We offer them little money and treat them like garbage,’
‘Yeah, Garbage,’ the word kept playing in her head incessantly. She deciding to pop the question that had been percolating inside of her some time. ‘Can I ask you something?’
‘No, I mean seriously,’
‘Yes, of course, you can.’
‘Do you remember how it all started?’
‘Yes,’ M Jamal played with her hair, ‘you were this nimble little cutie who just joined in the hospital. You had glowing recommendations from your previous place and so that immediately made you the talk of the town. I saw you the first time during your rounds. We called you in to help us optimize a patient for surgery. You were tiny, but soldiers would follow you. That very moment I was attracted.’
‘Remember the first date? We went out clubbing. You told me you wouldn’t drink but I saw some things that night,’ she started to laugh thinking back.
‘Yes, and I saw some things too,’ he grazed his fingers down her cheek to the small of her neck and further trailed downward till he started playfully tapping on her bony shoulders like piano keys. She grabbed his fingers from trailing further.
‘You told me a lot of things since then,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ barely listening, he started to move his free hand to her other shoulder. She was getting uncomfortable and quickly got up, foiling his attempt to grab her by her underwear.
‘Look,’ Mr Jamal said in a calm collected demeanour, ‘It’s what you want and what you get. Today, you wanted this, and I was here. Tomorrow you might want something else.’
‘That’s the thing though. That club. Did I say I wanted this?’
‘You were hammered. And adorable.’
She pressed on, ‘Did I say?’
‘Of course, you did,’ Mr Jamal had the memory burned in his head, as he recalls it every now and then during his personal times. ‘You were red, flailing your arms around me and biting my ear lobes. “Please take me back home and fuck me the hardest you have ever fucked” You don’t remember?’
‘I don’t’, she started to let out a tear, embarrassed.
‘You did, and we did exactly that the same night. If you don’t recall you can ask Natasha,’
‘Yes, I remember your wife being there. She had no idea though,’
‘Sweetheart, she knew everything.’
Julie stopped for a second. ‘Did she also know about all the times after that?’
‘No, not after that,’
‘Because you were hiding it from her?’
‘I don’t hide anything from her. I just don’t want to bother her with these things. She is a busy woman. I told you when the time was right, I would tell her. Unfortunately, the kid died, and there was a lot of media and press and police and, well, you know…’
‘So, I’m not important enough,’
‘Oh God, Julie. What the hell is this? You said one question and what now you’re acting like you’re my girlfriend?’
‘People talk. They say there have been other girls.’
‘Wow! So, what are you coming to say? Spill it,’
‘SAY IT! DID I RAPE YOU THAT NIGHT, JULIE? DID I FORCE YOU TO COME INTO THIS ROOM? DID I EVER? What is it with you women? When it’s about sex, it’s always the guy’s fault. Don’t you take responsibility for anything? I don’t see you complaining when you’re enjoying all the ooos! and aaahhhs! But when it’s all said and done, you point the fucking finger and say ‘I didn’t ask for it,’ or ‘I had no idea’. Well, guess what honey, you’re a grown-up. You enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed you. So, don’t go around spreading lies about me like the others. Nurses, Housemen, all the fucking same.’
Mr Jamal drew silent. He threw his towel to the side and walked to his closet.
Julie was getting nothing else out of him, but her mind was starting to wonder. She knew of an internal investigation going on parallel to the external one, and both in some way centred around him. She had heard of the detective that came in a week ago and the commotion she made. What was the hospital doing? What did this man have to do with Sheila? Could he be responsible somehow as they say he is? Why was he so defensive if there’s no shred of truth to it?
She kept her stare on Mr Jamal’s face while he struggled to adjust his tie, shook his head and mumbled under his nose. He stopped for a second to look back at her. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have,’
‘Yes, you shouldn’t’
‘I feel threatened, that’s all. It’s this DAMN case. I’m a great surgeon. I help people. I hate it when people keep trying to bring you down.’
They were both aware of the power Julie wielded at this very moment. He needed her to empathize and feel sorry for him.
Julie wondered, ‘Was that what the sex was for?’
The surgeon was getting nervous, ‘would she talk?’ or ‘would she stay silent?’ Mr Jamal could make out the cogwheels turning dangerously in Julie’s mind, and he wondered if it was already too late.
The entire precinct witnessed Nurul’s exit from the Commissioner’s room. She was in there long, trying to defend her case and she fought the tides for one more week.
‘You!’ she cried to one of her colleagues. ‘Let’s go,’ she stormed out of the building. He dropped everything and followed anxiously.
‘Miss Inspector? Where are we going?’ he caught up to her in the parking lot heading for her car.
‘To the Pub,’
‘Relax, we’re not drinking anything. It’s official work,’
‘I said it is, so it is. OK? And why are we taking so long on that last guy ah? Where is this Dr Tsung or Tzang or whatever,’
‘Dr Tzen.’ He corrected.
‘He is on to us. That’s why. I have good reason to believe he is actually living in the hospital so we won’t catch him leave.’
‘Oh, we’ll fish him out,’
‘I’ll tell you at the Pub.’