March 16, 2011
Lesson on kindness of kampung folk
Story and illustration by Wan Chwee Seng
The kindness and compassion of simple kampung folk, provide a lesson for life.
THE Rukun Tetangga post stood dark and deserted. Across the road, the low hill was still shrouded in the night’s mist. A street lamp at the foot of the hill cast a golden pool of light which lent an eerie glow to the white headstones which stippled the slopes.
Not a soul was in sight. It was three in the morning. No sane person would be up and about at this unearthly hour. But here I was all alone in the car with all its windscreens tightly rolled up.
“Ponteng! Late again,” I muttered to myself, as not a single RT member had shown up. I was about to beat a hasty retreat when I heard the faint sound of approaching footsteps. I peered through the foggy windscreen. A dark and solitary figure approached the car.
"Hello, sir! Sorry I’m late.”
Through the gloom I made out the figure of Quek, my ex-student. I unlocked the padlocked door of the pondok and the two of us were soon seated on a makeshift bench, while a single naked bulb hanging from a rafter raked long ghostly shadows on the wooden wall.
“Still staying in Taman Sentosa?” he inquired.
“Where else to go?” I replied.
“Well, the place used to be our playground. The place was then a jungle and had a swamp. My brother and I would often help our parents who are farmers to bring the water-buffaloes to wallow in the swamp or graze among the trees on the hill. There were plenty of cemeteries on the higher ground, closely laid out like plots of sweet potatoes.”
“Typical of a farmer’s son to come up with such an analogy,” I thought to myself.
On most night duties, the topic of conversation would invariably gravitate towards the supernatural. That night I hoped would be an exception. I was sadly mistaken.
“Have you heard of the penanggalan?” Quek asked, unexpectedly.
“Aah, yes,” I drawled, trying to sound disinterested. I caught Quek staring past me into the distant darkness, trying to recapture some long-lost memories.
The mention of the word penanggalan, however, had triggered a memory and my thoughts started to drift back to my childhood when Mother used to tell us about the penanggalan.
It was supposedly a female ghost with trailing entrails. It would float through the night air in search of human prey and was especially attracted to infants. It would then drain the victims of their blood until its entrails became engorged with the blood. In the old days, whenever there was an expecting mother, the thorny mengkuang leaves would be placed under the house to deter the penanggalan.
My distant thoughts were interrupted by Quek’s voice.
“Sir, do you think there is such a thing as a penanggalan?”
“I’m not sure,” I replied.
“Well, I used to think the stories I used to hear were just stories told by the adults to scare the children. But after a recent incident I’m not that sure.”
Then he recounted this story: “Besides farming, my parents also buy buffaloes from outlying villages in the nearby states and sell them for a profit. One day, we heard there were some buffaloes for sale in Johor, so my brother and I were asked to help purchase them. When we reached the village, we were informed that the buffaloes had already been sold, but a villager directed us to another remote village.
“After travelling for miles, we finally found the village which was located at the edge of a jungle. By the time we concluded our business deal, dusk had already set in. The village headman advised us to stay for the night as wild elephants and other wild beasts were known to prowl the vicinity in the late evening.
“We were housed in a small hut. That evening we were entertained to a dinner of chicken curry and home-grown vegetables.
“I awoke the next morning to the sound of squawking and the fluttering of wings and a voice shooing something away. I cupped my ear and pressed it against the tiny cracks in the wall. ‘Shoo, shoo, shoo,’ came the voice again.
“I peered through the cracks of the bamboo-plaited wall. The pale glow of oil lamps were still flickering from within flimsy walls. A sliver of light was just beginning to tint the distant horizon.
“Who could be tending chickens at this hour,” I wondered.
“I heard the sound of approaching footsteps and the headman appeared at our door. He asked us to follow him and led us to a clearing beside our hut. A few villagers had already gathered there. They were staring at something. I crept closer and spotted entrails dangling from a barbed wire fence.
“Why all this excitement about a chicken entrails?” I thought.
“Can you see it,” the headman whispered.
“I peered through the pre-dawn light. I shuddered at the sight that met my eyes. A woman’s head with long matted hair hovered over a barbed wire fence. The exposed entrails trailing below the head were caught in the sharp barbs of the wire fence.
The creature’s steely eyes glared menacingly at the onlookers. It snarled and groaned in anger and in pain. Then it opened its mouth to display long, blood-stained fangs. It started to chase away a few chickens which were trying to peck at the entrails.
“Shoo-o-o,” it hissed. The chickens retreated with a flutter of wings, but began a new onslaught. Blood was oozing from its perforated entrails.
“A villager who took pity on the creature came with a long bamboo pole. He prodded at the part of the entrails which was caught in the barbed wire. After a few attempts he managed to free the creature. It hovered momentarily over the fence, let out a blood-curdling wail and floated away into the distant wilderness.”
When Quek finished his story, I realised what he had just narrated was not just about the supernatural. It was also a story about the kindness of simple kampung folks who offered food and shelter to two total strangers, a story about the compassion of kampung folks for an unfortunate creature.
I glanced at my watch and stifled a yawn.
“I think the other members won’t be coming. Let’s call it a day, Quek.”
“Okay,” he replied.
As I fumbled with the padlock, Quek was already heading towards his farmhouse.
I hurried into the car, glanced at the rear view mirror to ascertain there was no uninvited passenger, stepped on the gas and headed for home.
Along the way, I caught sight of Quek disappearing into the tall grass leading to his farm. Only his head was visible above the tall grass – a head bobbing in the pre-dawn air.