Some cars spend their lives as appliances, shuttling their occupants from Point A to Point B in relative comfort. Others serve as an escape from reality, providing plenty of smiles per gallon as you tear up the road at speed.
Exceptions are made, of course. For certain vehicles, they are called up for a more poignant, much higher duty.
Last September, I was presented the opportunity to do a reference drive of the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman. Little did I know it would soon become an integral part of my beloved grandfather’s final moments on Earth before he passed on.
Alarm bells were ringing in my head when a text message came in from my mother earlier that month, informing me that there had been an emergency at the nearby hospital where my grandfather Suleiman was warded in. His condition had worsened, after battling over two years of Stage IV cancer.
Many painful and sleepless nights were had by all, and it was heart wrenching to see a once spritely and healthy man be reduced to a frail, bony and bedridden figure who was clearly in unspeakable amounts of agony.
Accompanying my family to the hospital day in, day out became the norm, and brief respite soon came in the form of the JCW Clubman, which MINI had loaned out to me for three days, with an extra day given without explanation.
The station wagon, with all its rawness and giddying array of track-ready components, more than readily became the first tier of cars I’d mentioned: an appliance, and a pretty good one at that. I was able to ferry elderly relatives to and from their homes (located in all four corners of the country) just so they could visit my grandfather, and none of them complained about an unbearably stiff ride quality on those drives.
Thoroughly impressed were also my younger relatives who stayed up to care for my grandfather. In a bid to cheer them (and myself) up and leave the sadness behind even for just a moment, I treated them to a few sprints in the Clubman as we went to grab a quick bite from the nearby drive-thru. Suffice it to say, the All4 all-wheel drive system and a very torquey four-pot turbocharged engine proved to be beyond excellent.
It all became pear-shaped on the 13th of September, when grandfather Suleiman’s heart rate dropped even more considerably than before, with each breath becoming more strained and taking a longer time. He was also barely responding to external stimuli, with his eyes wide shut. At the same time, one of his beloved siblings was frantically flying back into Singapore in the wee hours of the morning in order to be by his side.
Not wasting a second more, I climbed into the Clubman and raced for the airport to pick her up. As I barreled down the expressway with the surrounding environments quickly resembling more of a continuous mystic blur than of recognisable landmarks, the wagon kept its composure and hunkered down on to the tarmac, as though assuring me that all will be fine.
Getting the sizeable luggage bags into the car once at the terminal proved to be no issue, with the auto split barn doors at the back swinging open to reveal a cavernous boot space inside. Once everyone and everything were locked and loaded, we stormed back towards Sengkang General through the 3:00 AM darkness, with the digital speedometer cluster reading unthinkable figures.
German cars had always been my grandfather’s favourite (and yes, I’d classify the MINI Clubman to be one, with its primarily BMW-derived components), and I was thankful for having the opportunity to bring him around town in all sorts of Teutonic press cars when he retired, like the Audi e-tron S Sportback; just like how he used to bring me around town in his taxis when I was a young boy. That night, I was quietly proud that one of them had helped to transport his beloved sister to him expeditiously.
A strange occurrence happened soon after. Call it a fluke; a coincidence; divine intervention, if you will; his pulse rate spiked to near-normal levels the moment she arrived and started talking to him gently at his side. This was miraculous, considering it had been several consecutive days of his rate steadily dropping well beyond worrying figures. As prayers were being read by everyone present, we witnessed a tear or two roll down his cheeks as his eyes remained closed.
Leaving his bedside was not an option, and many relatives arrived later that morning to bid their final farewell. As time passed, his pulse began to go down once again to critical levels, and we all started preparing for the worst. At about 10:38 AM that morning, my grandfather passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones both young and old. He was finally suffering no more.
Yayik, a name that I affectionately call him by, was a strong, disciplined, and selfless man. Like me, he shared the same passion for speed and all things mechanical. He also led an illustrious life, having served in the Air Force in his younger days before settling down. And as a grandfather, he was there to teach me many valuable life skills, and lovingly supported me in cultivating my deep interest towards automobiles.
As the dust settles, and as the normalcy of life begins once more, I will forever remember Yayik and everything that he has done for us all, in sickness and in health. I will also never forget how the very special MINI enabled me to rapidly bring together relatives from near and far, and how the unexpected extra day from MINI Singapore allowed me to properly send him off for the final time.
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