Love lost... then found 50 years later

It was a sensation she had not felt in years. Her heart was "bothered".

Yet deep inside, she was like an excited schoolgirl hiding a crush.

The difference was that Madam Kalthom Yacob was 67.

And the reason for her excitement? In 2010, at a family gathering in Johor, Malaysia, she met the man who had once been her teenage sweetheart.

Age may have added wrinkles to his face, yet Madam Kalthom says she immediately recognised Mr Wan Abdul Rahman Wan Abu Samah's kind eyes.

They brought back a flood of memories. Especially of how this man - whom "she had not given enough love to"- often visited her family home in Johor when she was 16.

Their latest encounter, fleeting yet pleasant, was strange to say the least - particularly as it was the man's wife who had made the introduction.

Neither was sure why such an gesture had been made, but neither regrets it happening because theirs is a love story that spans over 50 years.

Love lost

While she had never been on a date with him, they would often talk with each other.

But the meeting also brought a sting, reminding Madam Kalthom of how Cupid's arrow missed its target more than half a century before.

At age 18, Madam Kalthom married a Singaporean of her father's choice.

Mr Abdul Rahman married Madam Kalthom's relative.

She had let him go because she wanted her relative to fulfil her dream of marrying him.

She tells The New Paper on Sunday in Malay: "I knew my relative was madly in love with him. I pitied her and I didn't want to spoil her chances, so I backed away."

Wife's dying wish

Mr Abdul Rahman, who was 70, was perplexed as to why his wife had insisted he "meet somebody" at the 2010 gathering.

"She held my arm and said she wanted me to meet Kalthom," Mr Abdul Rahman, a remisier, tells TNPS in a telephone conversation from his home in Kuala Lumpur.

"I told her to not be crazy. I was still married to her. How can any husband neglect his wife?"

Little did Mr Abdul Rahman know that his wife had secretly been keeping tabs on his former flame.

She knew that Madam Kalthom's husband died in 2007.

But her motive was not just a simple reunion. She knew that she did not have long to live.

She was dying of kidney disease.

Says Mr Abdul Rahman: "She told me, 'Grant me one wish. I want to see you marry her (Madam Kalthom) before I die'."

Sadly that wish was not granted. In November that same year, his wife succumbed to her illness.

Starting over

It was five months later, in April 2011, that Mr Abdul Rahman honoured his late wife's request.

He and Madam Kalthom were married with the full support of their respective families. The couple now divide their time between KL and Madam Kalthom's daughter's flat in Pandan Gardens.

The couple's story was first recounted in Berita Minggu in 2011.

Mr Abdul Rahman's previous marriage bore him three children while Madam Kalthom's, seven.

During their first marriages, the two grandparents had led separate lives - one in KL and the other, in Singapore.

But that he parted from Madam Kalthom in the first place was painful for Mr Abdul Rahman. He says: "I went to London when I was young. I went to study but the real reason I left was because I was broken-hearted that she didn't accept my hand in marriage.

"I had to run away." Upon his return from the UK, he heard that Madam Kalthom got married and he stopped trying to contact her.

"That's all in the past," says Madam Kalthom, who admits she had not considered marrying again after her husband's death.

"Now because we're both getting older, I want to cherish each day with him. I don't want to lose him a second time," she says.

Letter of approval

Madam Kalthom found a handwritten letter addressed to Mr Abdul Rahman while she was cleaning their KL home. It was penned by his late wife.

Mr Abdul Rahman tells TNPS: "In the letter, she said that I had been a good husband. But she stressed that as a husband, I can't refuse her wish.

The words I remember most were 'don't ever live your life alone... I'll find someone for you'.

"I ended up tearing it up. It was too painful to read, " he says with a sadness in his voice.

Perhaps, he says, it was his late wife's way of acknowledging Madam Kalthom's sacrifice made in their youth.

While he had been in love with Madam Kalthom, he never regarded his late wife as a "second choice".

Checkmate

Could 50 years of separation erase all memory of a young and innocent love? The answer is no.

Madam Kalthom's daughter, who gave her name only as Madam Fazila, recalls that the couple's fivemonth courtship was very "secondary school-like".

Mr Abdul Rahman started calling her mother twice a week. That soon became twice daily.

Says Madam Fazila, a 48-year-old housewife: "I often answered my stepfather's calls to the home.

My mother's face would light up and she would speak quietly in the kitchen or her bedroom.

"I could hear her giggles even when she tried to hide her feelings. She had found happiness."

But if you ask Mr Abdul Rahman, he would tell you that his strategy was like a chess game.

He wanted to assess her feelings towards him.

He had to be sure love was mutual.

The couple would not meet each other. They mostly spoke on the telephone.

When they finally met again at VivoCity, Madam Kalthom found it hard to speak to him face to face. He gave her a watch as a present and symbol of his love.

Then in March 2011, he was sure that the time was right. It was time to pop the question.

Madam Kalthom had no clue of his intention when she had answered his telephone call.

Before Mr Abdul Rahman asked for her hand in marriage, he asked Madam Kalthom to sit down because he knew she had high blood pressure and was diabetic.

He said he wanted her to be his life partner.

Says Madam Kalthom: "He asked if I was still in love with him. I said 'yes'. I still had strong feelings for him. When he proposed, I started to shiver."

As their love story had started in Johor, both their families agreed that the wedding should be held at a relative's home there.

The wedding was attended by about 200 guests.

Keeping the spark alive

While the chase is over and they are now together, the challenge - as in any marriage - is to keep the spark alive.

The couple believe that they have what it takes to make the marriage last.

Loyalty and looking after each other's feelings rank highly for this elderly couple, who were brought up in a less complicated time when divorce was an uncommon act.

Says Mr Abdul Rahman: "I have learnt that when you love someone, you have to love them till the end of time.

"That's what we both did (in our previous marriages) and that's what we intend to do for each other now.

"This way, your love will be eternal."

zaihan@sph.com.sg


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