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Saturday, February 4, 2012

A beautiful encounter

A beautiful encounter

Story and illustration by CS Wan

From the warmth and comfort of the sofa, I can hear it _ the churring call of a nightjar. It is a call usually associated with a moonlit night. Leaving my comfort zone, I head for the front porch.
Outside, the garden is bathed in the soft light of the moon’s reflected rays. Strolling down the driveway, I scan the sky for the source of the light. And just above the roof top I see it, a golden orb hanging low in the night sky.

The newly-mowed lawn has been transformed into patterns of light and shade. The morning flowers with their vibrant hues and verdant foliage, now tone down by the moon’s magic touch, blend harmoniously with the night’s soft, tranquil landscape.

The light dims. A patch of grey cloud, trailing wispy white clouds, sails past the moon. And my mind too begins to drift to a different time and a different place.

It is the mid-fifties and a full moon is casting its light on a palm-thatched house in the small village of Batu Berendam, Melaka. Out on the front porch my siblings, cousins wait eagerly for grandpa to regale us with tales about his adventures as an ox cart driver.

An ox cart

One night, he told us, his friend was driving his ox cart along a stretch of deserted road. Above him a full moon was engaged in a game of hide-and-seek. Then in the wan light of the moon he saw her, a beautiful young woman with long flowing tresses. She was standing under the shade of a frangipani tree and cradling her baby, wrapped in a white cloth in the crook of her arms. She flagged down his cart. Taking pity on the poor, lonely soul, burdened by her baby, he beckoned her to board his cart. The night air carried with it the fragrance of the frangipani blossoms and the musty smell of decay. He tried to strike a conversation with the young woman, but his attempts were met with grunts and monosyllabic answers. So he continued the drive in silence, listening to the tinkle of the cow bells and the squeak and crunch of the cart's wheels.

 After a short distance she asked him to stop and she alighted gingerly from his cart. Concerned for her safety, he stopped to watch her as she walked gracefully along a dirt road and melted into the darkness. 

Then he suddenly realized the young woman had left her baby in his cart. He reached out for the baby which was lying quiet and motionless at the back of the cart. He noticed the baby was wrapped tightly in a frayed white cloth stained yellow with age. He slowly unfurled the cloth. 

The sight which met his eyes sent a chilly spasm down his spine. Instead of a baby, the unfurled cloth revealed a tombstone encrusted with moss.

 At that very moment a long spine-chilling, mocking laughter tore through the silence of the night. He glanced at the direction of the sound. The full moon which had broken away from a cloud -bank revealed blurred outline of tombstones standing stark and cold in its pallid light. 

Tossing the tombstone over the side of his cart, the terror-stricken driver and his startled animals bolted from the scene of the apparition.

“Come in. It’s already late,” a voice calls out from within the house and snaps me out of my reverie.

A faint fragrance of jasmine wafts out of the darkness and a sudden gust of wind rattles the wind -chimes. They sound like the tinkles of cow bells heard long ago. Recalling grandpa's tale about the beautiful encounter, I step quickly into the safety of the house.

Writer's notes: Photo of the bullock cart courtesy of asianimages.wordpress.com

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