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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lessons learnt from childhood escapades










Startwo
Wednesday July 27, 2011
Lessons learnt from childhood escapades
By WAN CHWEE SENG



IT was the faraway look that caught my attention. I noticed the eyes had swept past the group of kids poring over a laptop and come to rest on the sun-drenched lawn.
“Chin, why don’t you tell us something about your childhood days?” I asked.
Startled by my unexpected question, a bemused smile played at the corner of his lips.
“Aaah, in my day we wouldn’t be indoors on such a beautiful, sunny day,” he replied with a long sigh, as if trying to recapture some distant cherished memories.The story teller

My brother-in-law Chin, nicknamed “Ketat” because of his fondness for tight-fitting shorts, grew up in the small village of Simpang Empat in Alor Gajah, Malacca. The double-storey wooden house where he lived stood amidst rubber and coconut trees.Chin's childhood home at Simpang Empat

In the absence of television, the computer and other forms of modern entertainment, he
and his friends spent most of their time roaming the neighbourhood, brimming with mischievous schemes.
However, it was not always playtime for Ketat. During the school holidays, he had to help his parents pick coconuts. Even as a teenager he could climb about 10 trees on a single day.
During one school break, he was about to reach the top of a towering coconut tree when he felt a sudden tightening grip on one thigh. Cramp! The word shot through his mind.
"Cramp!"



He could neither climb up nor down. There was only one option.
Strapping his arms around the trunk, he glided non-stop to the base of the tree. When he reached the ground, he felt an excruciating pain between his thighs. The parts that had come in close contact with the trunk had suffered varying degrees of abrasion. For the rest of the holidays, his movements were restricted to waddling with bended knees.
One sunny morning a group of teenage kampung friends with fishing nets and pails in hand appeared at his doorstep.
“Ketat, where do you think you’re going with that broken arm of yours?”
“Nowhere, Nya. Just going to watch my friends catch fish.”
Despite the cast on his arm, he followed his friends as they headed towards a nearby paddy field. The boys quickly bailed out the water in the field and were soon groping and grabbing at the fish thrashing wildly in the muddy shallows.Fish thrashing in the shallows




Not wanting to miss the fun Ketat joined his friends. When they finally emerged from the shallows, he noticed his plaster cast was coated with a thick layer of mud. In the excitement of the moment, he had forgotten entirely about the cast.
On reaching home he slipped behind the house and spent the rest of the day scrubbing and washing the cast with soap and water, and picking out the mud that had lodged between it and his arm.
A stone’s throw from his house, an old couple lived in a hut nestled amongst a variety of fruit trees. Beside the hut stood a stately mango tree which, when in season, was laden with luscious mangoes.
The sight of the fruits was enough to make Ketat drool. One morning he approached the old lady and asked: “Mak cik, may I have some of those mangoes?”
“No!” came the curt reply.
The next day, he approached her again. “Mak cik, can I buy those mangoes?”
“NO!” The answer was loud and clear. With downcast eyes Ketat slunk home and resolved to teach her a lesson.
The sound of a stick whistling through the air could be heard late one evening. The old lady heard the rustling of leaves and the dull thud of falling fruits. As she hobbled to the door she caught sight of a slight figure disappearing into the deepening twilight.
Ketat was soon sinking his teeth into the succulent mangoes.
The next morning as he and Samah passed the old lady’s orchard he related the previous evening’s incident to his friend.
“Serves her right!” Samah said, as he tried to justify his friend’s action.
They then stopped to gaze longingly at the irresistible clusters of langsat that clung to the boughs of the trees. A plan was hatched.
The boys eyeing clusters of langsat in an orchard




On a moonless night two figures could be seen making their way towards the orchard. Ketat followed a few metres behind as Samah led the way. Suddenly, he lost sight of Samah in the deep gloom.
The indistinct outline of the trunk of a langsat tree loomed before him and he quickly made his ascent. With hand outstretched, he began groping blindly at the dark void above him. His fingertip grazed something smooth. Langsat? He made a quick grab at the fruit. Above him a sharp shrill pierced the silence of the night.
“Ouch! Eh, itu buah aku lah.” (Eh, that’s my fruit). Ketat released his grip with a faint chuckle. Samah had been comfortably ensconced on the upper branch of the tree when he made the fruitless grab.
Suppressing their laughter, they scrambled down and slowly headed home. Samah had to pause occasionally to ease the discomfort in his sarung. The night escapade had come to an abrupt end.
Days later, they inhaled deeply as the fragrance of durian wafted across the morning air. “Harvest time” had arrived for the boys.
Ketat took out the gunny sacks they had stashed away in the tool shed the previous year. Keeping to the shadows he headed for the orchard, where Samah was waiting.
But for the pale flickering light of a kerosene lamp in the old couple’s hut and the crackle and crunch of twigs and dried leaves, all was dark and quiet. The boys began to circle the durian trees.
Whenever they felt a gentle tug, they would pull in their sack to check if a durian had been entangled in the netting. That night they were rewarded with four durians.A 'harvest' of durians




Another dark night found the boys back in the orchard. They had just begun their nocturnal activity when they heard a shout coming from the couple’s house. Had they been spotted? They paused to listen. Then they heard the unmistakable scream for help.
When the boys rushed into the hut they saw the mak cik sobbing and struggling to lift an old man from the kitchen floor. They helped her carry the unconscious man up the few steps into the living area.
As Ketat looked around him, he noticed the tattered furniture and loose floorboards. Then he recalled the mak cik’s harsh demeanour and their exploits. Had they been depriving the poor couple of their only source of income?
As she mumbled her gratitude, the boys saw the pain and sadness in her eyes. Riddled with guilt they decided to end their childish pranks.
Although they walked home empty-handed that night they were not disappointed, for their little act of kindness had given them a great sense of fulfilment. They had set out to harvest durians but, instead, went home with a harvest of valuable lessons for life.

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