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Sunday, April 1, 2012

A cry in the night


A cry in the nightBold

by C S Wan

It was dark. It was late. And she was alone. Yes, mother was all alone in the darkness of a kitchen lit by the pale glow of a small, solitary kerosene lamp Her kids were fast asleep, but she had to tidy up the place before she could retire for the night.
The few neighbouring houses were already shrouded in darkness as their occupants too were deep in slumber, Outside, all was still and quiet, except for the sound of the night wind and the rustle of leaves from the jering tree that stood stately just outside the kitchen’s door.
She had just stacked the last plate in the cupboard when she heard the plaintive cry; the unmistakable cry of a baby. Perhaps, there is nothing strange about the cry of a baby in the night. Yes, nothing unusual, except that there was not a single baby in the immediate neighbourhood. And the cry? It did not come from any of the neighbouring houses, but from the top of the jering tree. The tree that stood next to the kitchen‘s door.
Mother picked up the oil lamp and retreated hurriedly into the security of the bedroom. She was told that the cry would sometimes be followed by a laughter, a mocking laughter that would send cold shiver skittering down your spine. She heard that was how a Pontianak would announce its presence and strike fear on its intended victim .
I cannot remember if she did hear the laughter, but I remember her telling us that on another late night she heard a goat bleating from the top of the same jering tree.
Mother only told us about the night’s incident long after we had moved out from the old house. As for the jering tree it was chopped down prematurely and a clump of banana trees near the house was also relocated as she was told they were the favourite haunts of the pontianak during the day.
When we were kids mother used to tell us story about the Pontianak. I remember at meal times we would sit at the long dining table in the kitchen. Whenever we spilled rice on the floor she would tell us,
“Don’t eat like a Pontianak.”
We wondered how a Pontianak which was believed to be the ghost of a woman who had died while giving birth could eat rice .

“Yes, it is a ghost,” she told us, “ but it can change into a woman if a nail is inserted into the hole on top of its head. And in its human form, the food it consumes will just fall to the floor.”
Then she told us a story about a man who had encountered a Pontianak. He took a nail and plunged it into the hole in the Pontianak’s head and the Pontianak was transformed into a beautiful woman. Captivated by her beauty, he married her. The couple managed to have a child. One morning while her husband was at work she asked her teenage daughter to pick the lice from her long hair. While combing her mother’s hair she noticed a nail sticking from her head. She pulled it out. Her mother changed into a Pontianak and with a shrill cry flew away into the morning air, not to be seen again.
Today, with the glare of street lights, the incessant drone of traffic and the blare of siren and horns, the Pontianak is perhaps a thing of the past. Maybe all the stories I used to hear were the creation of old folks who wanted to frighten their children from venturing into the night or of wives who wanted to deter their wayward husbands from their late night outings.
Then early one morning Tijah, our part-time helper, burst excitedly into the house and said,
“Did you hear about the Pontianak?”
“Where?” I asked.
“Padang Jambu.”
“When?” I asked, my curiosity aroused.
“About a week ago,” she replied.
Then she told me about a young Malay guy who was driving home after a late night meeting. After dropping off his friend, he drove home along the dark and deserted road. As the car made its slow descent down the dark road leading to his house, he switched on the distant headlights. The glaring light revealed something on the roof top of one of the houses. He stopped the car and peered through the foggy windscreen. The figure of a woman with long matted hair and clad in white was perched right on the roof top. Two red eyes from a hideous face glared down fiercely at him. As it began to bare its fangs, he quickly recited some Holy verses, reversed the car, stepped on the gas and headed straight for his friend’s house.
Although I tried hard not to believe the story, I could feel goose bumps rippling up my arms as Padang Jambu where the incident occurred was just a few hundred meters from our housing estate.

Sometimes at night as I lay awake in bed and listen to the sound of the night birds from the nearby cempedak tree and hear the grating of its branches against the window sill, they remind me of Tijah’s tale and about the cry mother heard long ago_ just a cry in the night.

1 comment:

  1. very interesting, kong kong. sends chills up my spine. just like in the story :)