IT has not rained for several days, so a swirl of dust rises up when the gang leader’s face hits the dirt. Syukur sneezes. He places a foot on the gang leader’s denim jacket, then casually lights a cigarette. The rest of the sticker-adorned, sneaker-shod delinquents, moving to help their chief, back away when Syukur draws his gun. “Spill,” he says.
“You haven’t asked us anything!” the gang leader says, coughing.
Syukur takes a drag and flicks ash onto the boy’s nose. “Where is the Teacher?”
“What Teacher?” asks a girl with short hair and a nose-ring.
“You know who I’m talking about,” Syukur says.
“He’s set up in Sri Hartamas,” says the gang leader. Syukur gives him a little more incentive. “Ow! Please! We don’t know any more than that!”
Syukur puts his gun away, dusts his suit, and offers a hand to the groaning youth. “That wasn’t too difficult, was it?” says Syukur, patting the gang leader on the back after helping him up. “Cigarette?”
“I don’t smoke,” the boy scowls.
“Suit yourself,” Syukur says. He adjusts his songkok, sets his feet firmly apart, and raises his arm slowly. Two outstretched fingers, still holding the cigarette, point at the girl. “You!”
“Me?” the girl says.
“Repent, young woman!” Syukur says. “You’re behaving like a man, and you may even be indulging in homosexuality! This is a social ill against the teachings of our religion!”
The girl says: “But I’m not even—”
Syukur’s cigarette-wielding fingers do a slow, cautionary wag. “Repent! Get rid of your nose-ring! Grow out your hair! All of you,” he says, as ash from his cigarette decorates their faces, “stop listening to punk music!”
The stub falls to the ground and Syukur puts it out. “Pray,” he intones, turning away, “before you are prayed for.” Clouds gather in the sky overhead.
The fluff from pulverised pillows is beginning to settle when Syukur risks a peek from behind cover. The reception area of the spa has been thrashed by buckshot: there is a broken computer monitor, and the “M” of “COWPLETE YOGA CITY” swings from a single screw. A leaking ornamental fountain sputters and dies. Syukur pumps his shotgun and gets off a shot before diving under a desk.
A ripped, leotard-wearing man crumples to the ground. Syukur kisses his barrel. He is packing more than usual because he knows what he is facing: fitness junkies who, empowered by the dark forces of yoga meditation, feel no pain. Only the forceful reach of the pellet-filled shell can fell them.
Syukur spots a second gym-going man. Boom: another one down. I’m getting close to the snake’s lair, Syukur thinks. The white and non-Malay yoga practitioners have fled long ago. Their salvation isn’t his fight, anyway; they are heathens, born into iniquity and doomed to it. Syukur is no proselytiser: his duty is to defend believers from heresy. In these times, faith is only too easily corrupted.
Syukur spins around. A young woman is advancing on him; she quickly assumes the tree position. “Your wiles do not work against me, foul temptress,” Syukur growls, scoffing at her bare underarms. “My tin-lined songkok shields me from your yogic rays, and my belief shields me from your bare shoulders. Taste castigation!” Boom!
The yoga studio is in disarray, with exercise mats scattered and peppered by bits of plaster from all the gunplay. The windows, with their blinds drawn, show the streets and buildings outside whipped by wind.
The young woman lies whimpering at Syukur’s feet. He notices his hands shaking; the room’s deviant energy wars with his psyche for dominance. Syukur lights a cigarette to steady himself, but tries not to breathe too much of the incense-befouled air. “Come out, Teacher!” Syukur roars.
The lights short out as thunder roars and lightning flashes. Heavy rain begins to batter the windows.
Out of a private chamber a shadow emerges. The rhythmic knock of a tongkat punctuates its every step. Another flash of bright reveals the figure’s face: craggy, crafty, kopiah-ed and bearded. “Hello, Syukur,” it says. “Why do you murder my friends?”
“Hello, Reza,” Syukur replies, with gritted teeth. “Rubber bullets. God offers repentance and rehabilitation to everyone, even a Sufi deviant like you. You slide down a slippery slope that leads to Devil-, the Force-, and Cthulhu-worship. Turn back! Mend your ways!”
The Teacher smiles. “Do you really want to argue theology? Now, as in university, you would lose.”
“Mere words, you Harry Potter adherent.” Syukur sets his feet firmly apart, bows his head, and raises his arm slowly. Two outstretched fingers, still holding the cigarette, point at his erstwhile colleague. “You!”
“Oh, come now,” the Teacher says. “Not this—”
“Repent, heretic!” Syukur says. “Renounce this foul, ancient Hindu practice that is said to reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and heart disease, as well as slow the effects of ageing and relieve stress. It is an affront to our faith!”
“Really,” the Teacher answers, exasperated, “if you must engage in such—”
Syukur’s fingers wag. “Repent!” he snarls.
“Fine,” the Teacher says. The older man hikes up the hem of his robe and settles into a fighting stance, holding his tongkat like a sabre. “Come on, then. Let’s stretch some muscles.”
“Pray,” Syukur intones, “before you are prayed for.”
The director-general of the National Fatwa Council strides into Observation Room B. “Remove the lead shield,” he says.
An assistant at the console stands up. “But sir, if we remove the shield, the radiation will—”
“Do it!” the director-general snaps.
The heavy, solid-metal doors, peppered with “Caution!” emblems, slide open slowly. They reveal a padded white room, furnished with cushions, a futon, and multicoloured toy blocks. In the middle of the room is Syukur, his eyes glazed over, in a singlet and boxers. He is halfway through a sun salutation.
“There hasn’t been any progress,” the assistant remarks.
The director-general swears under his breath.
“Call my press secretary,” he says.
Zedeck Siew will sun-salute more cautiously, even though he is a heathen.