SHE hugged me. She sobbed, inconsolably, onto my shoulders.
|PICTURES: MOHD ISHAK SAMON|
I was a complete stranger at the funeral of Malaysian cleaner Nordin Montong, 32, who was mauled to death in the white tiger enclosure of the Singapore Zoo on Thursday.
And yet, I was regarded as a friend.
Perhaps it was because I brought some answers that helped bring them some closure. Or perhaps, I came from a country where her son sought hope for a brighter future.
Mr Nordin's burial took place in the Kampung Sambir Muslim cemetery, more than an hour's drive from Kuching, Sarawak.
Although I had not been introduced to Mr Nordin's mother, Madam Baduyah Ahad, the 52-year-old came up to me after the funeral, held onto me and cried for about half a minute.
She sobbed in Malay: 'Thank you for bringing my son back.' I found myself shedding tears too.
Madam Baduyah was closest to Mr Nordin among her six children because he was the eldest son. He had called her on Thursday morning. And he sounded fine.
A few hours later, he was dead, having suffered a fractured skull and multiple bite wounds to his neck.
I watched as Madam Baduyah's gazed lovingly at her son's battered face. She had to be held up by her daughter and several relatives.
The rest of his body was wrapped in white cloth. After that last look, he was lowered to the ground.
Mr Nordin's body had been flown to Kuching International Airport yesterday afternoon, accompanied by the operations director of Sun City Maintenance, the cleaning company that had hired him.
About a dozen people were waiting at the cargo terminal to receive the body, including Mr Nordin's father, Mr Montong Sahom, 54, his mother, and close relatives.
Many were red-eyed from crying.
The company's operations director, who gave his name only as Jason, shook hands with Mr Montong and said: 'I'm sorry. No one wanted this to happen. We just want to be here for you.
'I know him (Nordin) very well. I worked with him very closely. It hurts me a lot, that's why I'm here.'
He told reporters that police are still investigating the incident.
Jason said: 'He was an exemplary worker. He was more than what you could ask for in a worker. He wouldn't say no to working overtime. He was quite well-liked by his colleagues.
'My client, the zoo, liked him more than anyone else. When they tried to revive him through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and failed, grown-up men just collapsed and cried. That shows how much people liked him.'
Mr Nordin's body was taken to a mosque near the cemetery by van. There, prayers were said for him.
His 14-year-old nephew Mohd Shyaril was among those most shattered. 'We were close,' he said. 'We would play together when I was younger.'
The teen's mother, Madam Nora Montong, 34, is the elder sister of Mr Nordin. After a last look at her brother's body, Madam Nora said softly: 'We're sad, but we accept the reality of his death.'
All the members of Mr Nordin's family spoke only Malay.
Will there be real closure without knowing the full circumstances of his death?
Many relatives and friends remained puzzled about what happened.
About 80 of them had gathered for the burial, which took place at about 5pm.
One of Mr Nordin's aunts, who declined to be named, said: 'When he was young, he spent a lot of time at my home. He was good, friendly and cheerful. He liked mixing with people.'
When we took out a copy of The New Paper that reported what happened, a crowd quickly gathered.
We kept the report, with its sequence pictures taken from a video, away from Mr Nordin's mother, in case she was not able to bear seeing pictures of the attack. Nothing was more important to her, at that moment, than taking a last look at his face.
Not how he died, not why he was in the enclosure.
'If I didn't see him, my heart would not be at rest,' she told me.'Thank you so much for bringing him home.'
Thank you for bringing my son home
Electric New Paper, Singapore