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Sunday, January 29, 2012

An enchanted night

An enchanted night
By C S Wan

The full moon held a certain fascination for grandpa.
On moon-lit night he could often be seen sitting on the long, wooden bench on the front porch of his palm-thatched house in the small village of Batu Berendam, Melaka. He knew when there was going to be a new or full moon and when there was going to be a lunar eclipse. He gleaned all these information from the Chinese Almanac which was his constant companion by day and which he always kept next to his maroon leather-bound pillow by night.
My maternal grandpa was an ox-cart driver in his younger days and like most seasoned travellers he had many tales to tell. One moonlit night, as he sat at his customary bench and watched the moon made its slow ascent behind the old mango tree, he told us this story.

One morning he and his Malay companion had set out for Malacca Town to deliver some goods in their respective ox-carts. When the last goods was finally downloaded dusk had set in. They hurriedly set out for home as they did not want to encounter the wild beasts that was known to prowl the jungle-clad countryside. When they reached the outskirts of town dusk had edged into night. All was dark and quiet except for the incessant hums of insects, and the steady clicks of the oxen hooves accompanied by the creaks and squeaks of the cart’s wheels. The pale glow of the kerosene lamps mounted on both sides of the driver’s seat provided the only light on the dark and deserted road. Ahead of them the low hill of Bukit Sebukur which was crowned in verdant splendour that morning were just murky shapes in the deepening darkness. They rounded a corner. Just ahead of them, they noticed a ghostly luminescence between the shadowed trees. The night wind carried with it the rhythmic throbbing of the rebab which was accompanied at regular intervals by the resonance tone of a gong. The light and sound suggested that a party was in full swing. Hungry and exhausted grandpa’s friend called out to him, “ Hey! I think I’ll stop here for some rest and refreshment.”
In those days, grandpa explained, it was not unusual for the kampung folks to welcome the weary travellers to join in the revelry and partake of the food which they offered with sincerity. Grandpa bade farewell to his friend and proceeded home. A few days later his friend’s worried wife appeared at his doorstep and informed him that her husband had not returned home since his last trip. A search party was quickly organised. When they reached Bukit Sebukur they found his cart and oxen among the dense undergrowth. However, grandpa’s friend was nowhere to be seen. They combed the area for several hours. A sudden shout from a member of the search party broke the silence and stillness of the place. They rushed to the spot and found him resting on the low branch of a tree. His hands were strapped loosely around the tree trunk and his head was slumped against it. But for his ashen look and sign of exhaustion, he appeared to be well. No one spoke as they lifted him off the branch, carried him to his cart and drove him home.
When they were some distance from Bukit Sebukur, a voice broke the long silence.
“Why did you stay for so many days at the party?”
“ What! I was there for only a few hours. The party had just ended.” he replied.
Bemused smiles caressed their faces as they exchanged knowing glances. Then they told him that when they scoured the thickly wooded area for him not a single human dwelling could be seen in the vicinity and not a soul was in sight. He realised his friends had known all along that he had unknowingly stumbled into an orang halus (genie) wedding party. The realisation sent a ripple of chilly spasm up his arms.
Although he had enjoyed every minute or rather hour of the magic moment, he preferred to forget the enchanted night.

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