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THE EASY END
The fragrance of the still evening air lingered affectionately over the cliff. Shuffling and rustling movements could be heard in the parked cars. The night was still and silent only to be broken by an occasional giggle, from one of the cars. Yes. It all seemed very appropriate to me. 'Lovers Cove' was situated in a deserted area near the cliff with the hungry ravine. Altogether it had already devoured twelve victims.
The exotic half-moon was peeping at the lovers from behind the veil of leaves. By then more cars were parked haphazardly around the clearing and the bushes. No one took any notice of me - not even the trees. Eventually the nocturnal creatures became alive.
The sign "Danger Steep Ravine" stood inconspicuously about thirty yards from the death hollow. Does it really matter? At a time like this? I fooled myself by trying to think I was calm. It was no use. Beads of cold sweat trickled down my face and spine.
"Does Mum deserve all this?" I thought to myself.
"Yes, she deserves what is to come to her all right."
My evil self chuckled cruelly as I thought of her crying, her moaning and her subsequent break-up. Yes, she will - bit by bit. It was as if I enjoyed imagining it piecemeal. My conscience fought back but it was only a weak battle. She wasn't very understanding, was she? She thought that what she did for me was for my well being, didn't she? Well, didn't she know that when she broke my heart, she was breaking ice.
And then I thought of my sweet darling Sue. Why am I doing this to you, darling? Isn't it true that she will be living a living death for the rest of her life? Forgive me Sue. I couldn't take you along with me. You don't deserve all this. A smile played about my lips when I thought of the happier times I spent with her. We laughed together; we shared our grievances; we shared each other's success. Must it all end like this…. ? She once told me she would do anything for me and she even joked about us dying together. How we laughed at that. And yet
DON'T DO IT! It's useless! You won't regret it when it's all over, say, in one month's time.You have a bright future and moreover you have Sue to think of. Why? Why must you end it all like this? My conscience kept pounding my head with these thoughts over and over and over again
"It's the easy end, isn't it," I shouted. I wondered. Is it?
No! It's better this way. God will understand. And I thought to myself. It was the first time I thought seriously about God. God the Almighty. God, the Saviour. God, God… Is there a God? I used to be agnostic. Oh for heavens sake what am I to do? Help me, please…
I was brought back to my physical surroundings once again. But then the owls were hooting, chanting their solemn prayers for me. A slight breeze had begun to blow and the leaves swayed and whistled with the wind. Lady moon had gone into hiding by then. Engines raced and the cars departed one by one. And as if by some phenomenon of nature, they were leaving me to myself.
A streak of lightning flashed for a split second across the gloom. Rumbles of thunder followed and then it poured. I just stood there, nonchalant about my surroundings. My feet were covered with slush and I was drenched to my bones but who cares? At a time like this, who cares? As I looked towards the dark, my eyes were forced to shut by malicious, silver streaks of lightning. The storm raged in all its fury as the trees swayed to and fro. At that time, I could feel Nature's hatred for me. She hated cowards like me, timid people who dare not face up to the world, but shy away and end everything like this. Miniature pools and rivers formed around me and the little streams slowly brought the topsoil down to the ravine.
I walked to the edge. My feet were numb and my shoes weighed like lead as they were slowly filled with water. The wind was merciless and the tiny droplets of rain beat at me with all their might.
And I thought again. I had never thought about life as much as I did that night.
"What is the purpose of life?" I thought to myself.
"If man is made to die, why is man made in the first place?"
Confused thoughts and puzzles ran through my head. The rain continued pouring in all its glory. Everything there was waiting for me to take that one big leap to the end. The world mocked at me. It was happy. It was laughing.
"Go on, coward. Show us, timid," the world spat at me. It sneered at me.
"I will show you" I shouted and the ravine shouted back at me. They couldn't wait any longer. Five hundred feet below me, was thick tropical jungle where young shoots were waiting impatiently for me.
I looked around for the last time and it was the end, the easy end…
'THERE IS STILL HOPE'
One minute Ariff was walking peacefully along Kuala Lumpur's busy Foch Avenue; the next instant he found himself being pushed and jostled along as the milling crowd suddenly started to move to the side of the road onto the five foot way. Everyone seemed excited and started to talk and shout at the same time.
The next moment the wailing sirens of the Riot Police were heard. Ariff knew at once that another demonstration had broken out. Some community was out again in protest against the authorities. This happened often and did not do much to improve the morale of the individual citizen concerning the nation's inherent racial disunity.
Ariff shrugged his shoulders and walked on. What could he do to help? After all, he had his, own troubles to think of. As it was, he was already late.
He reached the rendezvous and found her waiting in her creamy-white Alfa Romeo. She waved to him and started the car, and as he entered, the car moved off sleekly. He turned to her and apologised:
'I'm sorry for being late, Sheila. That demonstration cost me plenty of time.'
'I understand.' Her soft rich voice seemed to float to his ears. She turned her gaze from the road in front and smiled at him. He smiled back and looked at her - the small beautiful face, those soft features, the sparkling blue eyes, long, wavy hair, that innocent angelic look. Her white attire emphasised the simplicity that she loved, and which he cherished.
No one would ever think that her father, Mr. Wong, was an unscrupulous Chinese multi-millionaire, who collected all his wealth from his firms, factories and multitude of shops, yet never divulged a single cent to any concern that did not benefit him. He was shrewd and clever, but he was inhuman. Ariff hated his very guts, but adored his lovely daughter. It was only for her sake that his feelings did not turn to action. He was still angry with Mr. Wong for looking down upon him and his people just because of their simple lives in the kampongs. He believed that he had every right to live as the other man, even though the latter had six cars and three houses. If he is able to obtain the proper education to live a happy satisfied life, no man should but respect him. Mr. Wong did not.
Ariff suddenly came back to reality when the car stopped. It was a lonely spot outside town that she had driven to. He got down and then helped her to alight. They found a nice cool spot under some shady trees and set out the food from Ariff's picnic hamper on the ground.
They were both strangely quiet. All the inconvenience, restlessness and persecuted feelings were beginning to tell upon them. Ariff broke the silence after a long sigh. 'Sheila, dear. For how long can we possibly go on like this. I'm sure you, too, feel the frustration of such secret meetings. Why don't we forget your father for once and really live it up for one night? Let's both of us paint the town red!'
'I'm sorry, Ariff, but you know my father. He has his spies everywhere in town. He's bound to find out if we meet openly..... Ariff! You know I'm willing to leave my father and follow you, whatever the consequences. He can't do anything to me.' She was pleading to him and he could see it in her eyes.
Ariff was silent for a while. He looked quite troubled and did not seem sure of himself. He looked at the pathetic face near him, fondly took both her hands in his, and kissed them slowly, softly and lovingly. He looked up and gazed at her, into her crystal-clear eyes.
'Dearest,' he uttered slowly. 'There is nothing in this world that I could wish for more than to call you mine. And I swear to God that the day will come when we'll be man and wife. But it is not yet time. We are both young and have not faced the real troubles and hardships of life. We must wait, darling, and be patient. In the meantime, please trust and believe in me as I do in you.
Sheila gave a sob and nodded her head. She realised the depth and wisdom of his words, how true everything he had said was. But the most important thing was that they had each other.
Ariff smiled at her lovingly and put his arms around her. Sheila closed her eyes, rested her head on his broad shoulder and snuggled close to him. It was such a beautiful and touching scene.
Then suddenly the peace and tranquility was rudely broken as a small squat figure loomed up in front of the couple, and a loud harsh voice bellowed.
'So!! This is what my daughter does while my back is turned. Fraternising with this no-good scoundrel, huh? Get up, both of you. Get up and face me!!"
Sheila was shocked and speechless; all she could do was to cling to Ariff and shake like a leaf. Ariff was calm and fearless, like a condemned man awaiting certain execution. He slowly got up and pulled her up with him.
'Mr. Wong, I know you do not think much of me and do not like me being friendly with your daughter. But Sheila is already a woman and she can make her own decisions. She loves me as much as I love her. As you're here now, you might as well know that we plan to marry when conditions are right and there's nothing that you or anyone else can do to stop us. Nothing can move us both from fate's true path!'
The older man eyed the younger and more confident man, and for a moment he seemed moved by the latter's defiant attitude. Then he snarled and dealt Ariff a crushing blow on the jaw which sent him sprawling onto the soft earth. Ariff looked as though he was ready to kill Mr. Wong but one look at Sheila's pale, quaking face made him change his mind. He got up painfully and wiped the blood from his lips. Mr. Wong smiled the victor's grin.
'You young puppy! Do you think you can talk to me like that? Now you realise the consequences. Why, you are still wet behind the ears and you dare to face me. You do not even draw high pay, own a big house or possess a car and you already think of having my daughter's hand in marriage. But no! That would be all right, for your spunk and hardy fool nature impresses me, but... what I can't stand for is that you are of a different race, and thus not fit to share my daughter's company. Why can't you people stick to your own kind and breed?'
'Just as I had thought, Mr. Wong. You are a racialist; what is worse you are an extremist. And you - considered one of the nation's finest citizens, acclaimed as an impartial man and an individual. What can you say now for, all those fine speeches of yours about sacrificing for the interest of our growing country? Isn't the citizen's care for national matters one major way to progress and development? Are you strongly upholding your words, Mr. Wong?
'Let me tell you this. Racial unity is the answer to our nation's problems and people like you are doing nothing to bring it about. Racialists like you, from all and not just some of the races, are the major impediments. Our different races can and will live and abide happily side by side, or even together, but for thoughts and ideas like yours. We are all Malaysians and should live as such and be proud of doing so. There is no reason that we Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and others cannot merge with one other as the Portuguese did with the Malacca Malays, the Red Indian did with the American Whites and the Filipinos did with the Spaniards. The result could be a finer and more cultured people than before. There is no problem facing such a move that cannot be solved, and we, both Sheila and I, will prove it to you one day.
'Others of our age and calibre have the same thoughts; and together we will show the world that the young can, and will do to disprove old and conservative beliefs and to build a new and better world for our children and, in turn, their children, after them.'
All three fell silent after this lengthy, philosophical speech of Ariff's. Mr Wong was out of words. He did not know of anything to say to Ariff. But he was a stubborn old man. He had cultivated his thoughts and beliefs over a long period of time and was adamant in living his whole life by such principles. But his outlook for his daughter's life changed, though as a father he still wished her to follow him.
Mr. Wong put out both his hands towards Sheila, silently imploring her to follow her father, who had brought her up since she was a baby into childhood and now womanhood. He looked at her and his eyes begged her not to put him to shame in front of a stranger.
But Sheila stood her ground. She held on even tighter to Ariff's hand and moved closer to him. It was a pathetic sight. The old and defeated put down his hand, turned round and walked off slowly. He was defeated but not completely vanquished and deprived of his hopes and beliefs. He still walked tall, though not as tall as when he had first come.
The young couple stood there together happily. Theirs was a happy scene. The boy looked at the girl and smiled at her. She also smiled at him. Those two smiles were full of meaning and both understood it well. For in those smiles, they saw a bright and promising future, full of hope.
SOUNDS OF LIFE
You say you heard no strain
No joyous melody young and bright
The hum of voices on an omnibus journey
A concert on a busy highway,
The song of nature fills the air
There's music around us, never stopping
You'd hear the music too:
The night was wild and dark. Gusts of wind howled through the lonely lanes and sent a cold chill down one's spine. A momentary flash of blue lightning raced across the sky and then came the metallic clap of thunder, loud and angry. Almost instantly. the rains poured down upon the earth, drowning the plants and hitting noisily on the attap roofs of the houses, as if reciprocating and answering to the call of thunder.
It was indeed a wild night. The winds rived the rain trees and the slender palms swayed at their mercy. The winds and rains battered every nook of this village and swept through its length and breadth. It was as if an evil spirit was abroad that night to bring destruction and rain to this part of the world.
The whole village was asleep, unaware of the malevolent conflict of these forces of nature. All were asleep - all, except one. Among the dark clump of attap houses, a light glimmered - a faint light, coming from the flickering flame of an oil lamp, which threw faint yellow light into the darknes and cast long eerie shadows in the room. It was gloomy and frightening, for the shadow of Death had descended . . . . .
A frail and undernourished figure lay still upon the bamboo bed in one corner of the room. His eyes had lost their lustre and his features were contorted for the pain within his puny body was evidently too great for him to bear. When a spasm of pain arose within him, he gritted his teeth and dug his fingers into the sides of his bed, fighting hard to suppress it. The beads of sweat that trickled down his forehead told of the intensity of the pain within him.
Outside this small shanty, the elements of Nature raged furiously on in the dark. The plaintive pitter patter of the raindrops seemed to express sympathy for this ailing and dying man. The presence of Death was upon this place . . .
He, too, seemed to have discerned the presence of Death around him. But he was not afraid. He was already sick of the world, sick of this contemptible world, so full of sins, hatred and blasphemies. His mind wandered off into the past - his past. Poignant tears rolled down his checks as he recalled his fearful past and his acts of atrocity.
He was born in poverty, disease and squalor. His world was that of the slums which were overcrowded, with virulence, vice and dirt. Parental care and love and education were mere illusions. And so, he grew up to be a failure. He failed at every job and was turned out at every interview. Thus he had learned to look upon the world with hate and contempt. He became a thief, a robber - an object of hate and fear among his fellowmen! Scenes of his heinous deeds flashed across his mind. He could see the horrified faces of his victims and hear them pleading for their lives and begging him for mercy. He could see the horrified face of the young maiden whose life he had destroyed. He could even hear her scream as he advanced towards her and held her in his arms. Her scream seemed to echo ceaselessly in his ears, but now it was not a scream of fear, it was a call of revenge!
The roar of thunder again filled the air and he seemed to be afraid. But he was not afraid of the wild night or Death. He was afraid of his fearful past for his conscience would just not let him lie in peace. His heinous deeds had incensed God, making Him send tribulation upon him and he was punished in this dreadful manner. He had been struck down by an incurable disease and so now he had to die in this wretched and abhorrent place and be buried like a dog! He regretted all the odious deeds he had committed. Pray, he told himself; pray for forgiveness from God. Pray so that you might be cleansed and that He, in His mercy, might accept you in Heaven. Thus, for the first and last time in his life, this sinful man prayed to God. It was a prayer for forgiveness and clemency. He also prayed to God to send charity into this contemptible world and sympathy for the weak and unfortunate. He prayed too that the hearts of the proud and wealthy might be broken for they were the ones who made this world a contemptible place, and they were the ones who created men like him! The gasps of prayer on his withered lips lingered - weak but fervent…
Then another clap of thunder burst again more shattering than before as the commissary of Death knocked at his door. His hands trembled, his body gave a violent jerk and his, breathing grew weaker and weaker.........
A strong gust of wind filled the room and extinguished the flickering flame; then all was darkness. And in the darkness, Death stretched out his arms and claimed his soul.
The sky was pitch dark and there was not a spark in the firmament. The storm still raged on. Momentary streaks of blue lightning flashed across the sky and the roar of thunder filled the air. It was indeed a horrible night, wild and fearful. Yet, what are these malevolent elements of Nature when we think of Man and his viciousness?
But soon Dawn will set in and with Dawn come new hopes for a better life and a better world - world, free from fear, hatred, adversity, hunger and agony.
HOW IT HAPPENED
You look up and down the street and give a satisfied grunt. It is deserted. Nobody around. After all, who would be, at three o'clock in the morning?
You creep surreptitiously across the road, heart in your mouth, afraid you might be seen. Can't have people suspecting, even before you do a 'job' can you? And it's your first job too. It's so obvious. You look so inexperienced, so jittery, so fearful of being caught. All the time clutching at the dagger inside your jacket. And the way you keep looking around, all the time. Like some third-rate film gangster.
Ah, made it. You're outside your goal, the grocery shop. Don't know why you chose it though. It doesn't look too prosperous.
What's that flapping noise? Has someone seen you? Is it all up? Oh, It's just a sheet of newspaper flapping in the wind. Get a grip of yourself and stop shivering! Steady, now.
You take out your crowbar and wedge it between the door and the wall. Give it a push. Harder. Ah, it's giving way. But what a din. All that squeaking and cracking. Hope nobody heard it.
You slip into the shop, on your toes all the time. Must be quiet you know. No use getting caught now.
Now, where's that cash register? You look around. The moonlight is just bright enough. Ah, there it is.
You head for it, crowbar in hand. You insert it into the drawer lid and push. Why, that was too easy! Good show. Cash registers aren't what they used to be. Now, what's inside it?
Wow! Over fifty dollars there. You give a sort of a smile. Fifty bucks on your first job. Not bad.
You stuff the money into your pocket. Suddenly you're scared again. Better get out of here, now you've got the loot. No use staying around to get caught. Scram. Head for the door, for the air and get away from here.
Too bad.You make too much noise getting out of the shop. A police patrol hears you. They see you run out of the shop. Wow, you're in for it!
They order you to stop but you run on. You're not going to get caught on your first job, are you? No fear. Better show them a clean pair of heels.
Oh! oh! One of the policemen takes out his gun. He means business. He orders you to stop, again. You'd better listen to him this time. But you run on. So he shoots.
'Bang!' You feel the cop's bullet tear into your body. It hurts terribly. A red mist covers your eyes. You feel dizzy. You stumble, trip and fall. Darkness enshrouds you like a clammy black veil. Very unpleasant.
You lie very still. The policemen run to you. They look for signs of breathing, they feel for your pulse. Sorry, no sign of life.
Well, you're dead, fellow. And on your first job too. Too bad. Can't be helped though. Now you know why they say crime does not pay.
You see someone looking absolutely ridiculous with horns on his head. He is beckoning to you. Satan! Good heavens! Of all people. Well, don't worry too much.
You might like it in hell!
CHIVALRY AND THE MALE
The excited girl waits patiently at the corner. Her heart skips a beat as she spots the handsome boy (the reason for her wait) strolling towards her. Out comes her handkerchief... down it flutters to the ground. But woe, her hopes are shattered as the boy nonchalantly strolls by her without even a glance at her or the handkerchief. Glaring daggers at him, she mutters under her breath, "Phooey! Chivalry is dead these days!" which brings us to the grand two-word question - "Is it?" Daily incidents in Malaysian life ought to provide some answers.
We, of course, do not expect a Tun Wahab Raleigh to gallantly throw his jacket over a puddle of water for his Fatimah to step on. However, simple manners and actions like opening the door of the car for the lady, or walking on the outside as shield when escorting a lady, should be observed. But no! In Malaysia the lady opens the door of the car herself and disembarks… without the beau's aid. And foreigners have stared aghast at Mr. Ramasamy walking happily and thoughtlessly ahead while his wife plodded miserably behind with baby in one arm and basket in the other. One would think it was merely another of those practices in vogue to have the lady behind and admire the "gentleman's" gait.
The everyday scramble for a seat on the bus at Foch Avenue does not present any concessions to female scamblers either. Mother and father, girl friend and boy friend, struggle with one another in one mad, all-out, no "ladies first" bid to board the vehicle. In the bus, the weaker sex (being the weaker sex) seldom succeeds in securing a seat and unless she is feeble and decrepit the odds are that any hope of a debonair gentleman offering her his seat will be to no avail at all. Or, if she is considerably attractive and a gentleman on a seat needs a date, then one might be treated to a rare show of chivalry on the bus. Otherwise...
By studying some aspects of school life, the problem becomes more self-explanatory. The perfect boy-girl relationship in America is symbolished by John carrying Janet's books for her as he walks her to the bus-bay or home. One meek and weak explanation could be that American boys are more burly and Tarzan-like with the ability to clasp voluminous books in one arm at any one time. Malaysian students seldom blink an eye when a girl emerges from the library puffing away under the strain of four volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica. An absence of chivalry? No, attributed more to - (i) the not so brawny physique of Malaysians, (ii) a fear of forthcoming calls of "bookworm etc." from fellow-students if seen around with encyclopaedias (even if he was merely relieving the girl of a heavy load.)
Nevertheless, chivalry is not stone dead. The ordinary male driver is only too willing to give a lift to any hitch-hiker… any female hitch-hiker, that is. It goes to explain why male hikers are seldom found to be lying when they arrive with blistered feet and tiredly declare they had walked the whole way. Simultaneously however, it indicates that the last spark of chivalry is still being kept alive.
In the school tuckshop, chivalry is also conspicuous. Boys politely step aside for the girls to acquire their food first. Chivalry a galore again! Yet, knowing canteen food, is it because the boys want the girls to act as guinea pigs first? All the same the significance in the fact that chivalry does exist is exposed here.
At teenage parties, a specific answer to the question cannot be obtained so readily. On the one hand the boys are seen to be extremely considerate (and therefore chivalrous) in fetching the girls, some of whom live in never-heard-of places. The party gets under way. Comes food-time and the other side of the picture is revealed. Chivalry is cast aside as the boys make their way casually (with faces of deceptive coolness, calm and innocence) to the table. Girls are forgotten, chivalry becomes meaningless. Of course, there are some gallant Galahads who serve the ladies first before satisfying their own vitals. However the others must not be blamed, for the axiom "Boys will be boys" becomes especially true when food is involved.
The situation above may have been slightly exaggerated but we must be aware that sometimes the male cannot help but be himself. With regards to chivalrous boys, two types can perhaps be depicted - the ultra-chivalrous and the under-chivalrous. The former spares no effort in offering a girl his seat and thinks nothing of driving her home even if it takes him miles out of his way. He is, in short, the regular Don Juan, Walter Raleigh, Casanova all rolled in one. The latter is however the more interesting personality.
Take for instance a journey in the school bus. The boy spots a girl who has to stand because the bus is filled to capacity. He wants to give her his seat. He gets up, walks towards her and then hesitates as certain questions rear their ugly heads at him. Should I do it? What would the other boys in the bus think and say of me? What will she think? Before his vacillating mind can come up with a definite decision, he finds that another boy has already occupied his seat.
To infer that chivalry is non-existent today would be committing oneself too far. It may not be as pronounced as in the days when Sir Lancelot went around rescuing damsels in distress, but it still persists. But unfortunately chivalry has become so rare that its non-existence is suspected. Moreover, circumstances (like the shy, hesitant boy) have invariably rendered its potential, dumb and non-expressive to a great extent today.
Yet do not be deceived by the urbane boy ushering the girl in with a charming "After you, madam." They may have just wrecked her father's car and are on the verge of entering the room in which stands the already-informed father, who is, needless to say, enraged, furious and boiling mad!
And woe betide the first one in!
THEY FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL
The British sergeant stared coldly at the group of communist guerillas huddled together talking in low voices. All of the group except one with a gruff voice were bending over a small and crude piece of map. They were obviously studying it although several stared blankly at it. The man with the gruff voice shone a torch over the map, flashing it at random over the map as if looking for a lost article in the dark. The sergeant cocked his cars and tried to listen to what they were discussing. He managed to catch some words and phrases - 'Walsh Corner,' 'ambush,' 'bullets' - all spoken in Malay. They were puzzling at first. Piecing them together to make sense was like doing a jig saw puzzle. It was only when he suddenly remembered that a British Army convoy would be carrying a large amount of ammunition to the army camp at Kuala Kubu Bharu that the picture became clear to him. The convoy would be passing Walsh's Corner and the Gap before reaching its destination. It was not difficult to say within limits what the communists were planning for tomorrow morning. The sergeant, after observing the hurried preparation going on throughout the camp, was sure that the ambush would take place tomorrow. But he was not sure of the time. The importance of the ambush lay in the probability that its success would keep the whole communist guerilla force in Pahang and Trengganu well supplied with ammunition for at least two months. The armed struggle against the Government would continue with renewed vigour - a prospect not many Malayans would like to face. The people had put up with the armed struggle for seven years and they were uncertain when it would end. Any signs or information on the prolongation of the struggle would be received with frustration and unhappiness.
He had to escape. There was no question about it as the sergeant sat on a piece of wood made moist by falling dew, watching the communist strategists at work. They were experienced in jungle war-fare. Most of them were Chinese and some of them had not seen their families fcr years. All of them had a common cause or at least they thought they had. The communist camp rested on one side of a thickly forested hill. It was well hidden by tall lalang and bamboo, and gigantic old-looking trees. It was a contrast, the British sergeant thought, to the cool lush and green meadows of beloved England. This was Malaya and a war, which the Malayan Government preferred to call 'an emergency', was going on. Ambushes, patrols lasting days and weeks, searching and killing communist guerillas and hacking with a parang through the jungle were all part of his life now. He was ordered by the British Government to come out to this country. He was needed to help the settlers here. Now, in this camp, he was a prisoner and sole survivor of an unfortunate British patrol.
The hour hand of his watch pointed to the number eleven. It was late in the night, not much time to warn the Gurkhas who could be escorting the convoy. He stood up and walked lazily towards the solitary guard. The rest of the camp had turned in, probably preparing and resting for tomorrow's shooting. The guard raised his rifle as the sergeant approached nearer. In broken Malay the latter asked for a drink. The guard relaxed and lowered his rifle. He pointed to the water bottle behind him and before he could finish talking, tumbled down to the hard ground unconscious. He lay there looking contentedly and gratefully at the sergeant for shortening his hours of guard duty. The sergeant, nibbling his hand, cursed vehemently under his breath. The jungle, like a mine-laid field, was full of unknown and lurking dangers. It was waiting invitingly to engulf him. The road to freedom and the convoy was open to him.
He knew guerilla tactics only too well. He must reach the main road before dawn. Carrying the guard's rifle and a parang in the right hand, he entered the darkness of the jungle hopefully. He needed a lot of luck. The jungle in Malaya was no paradise where a botanist could, at his own leisure, study the fauna and flora. It was the graveyard of many British and Australian soldiers, Chinese Communists, Malayan soldiers and volunteers, rubber tappers, planters and farmers. It was also the home of the communist guerillas. From here, they waged a 'hit and run war' on those who refused to follow their views. They intimidated the people for food and supplies and for 'volunteers' to fight for them whilst the Malayan Government fought hard to get the people's co-operation. The sergeant trudged the seemingly unending miles. He was heading north. It was inky darkness. He occasionally used the parang to break his way through the green wall of vegetation. It was an arduous task. He received multiple cuts and bruishes on his face and hands. Time was the deciding factor, he thought, and he hurried on. Too much was at stake. Already, he was feeling the pangs of hunger and exhaustion, and pain. He had not eaten for two days. The Communists had tortured him for information. He was tough and determined, but there was always a limit to what he could endure. Anyway, he could only be healed of a suffering by experiencing it to the full. He had come to accept it as a normal hazard of military life.
His watch showed two. He had four and a half hours left. It was impossible to estimate his position but he knew that he was getting nearer and certainly in the right direction as the air was getting cooler and there were fewer mosquitoes. The Gap was several thousand feet above sea level and only four miles from Fraser's Hill, a mountain tourist resort, while Walsh's Corner was several miles cast of the Gap. Everything was very dark and the sergeant's task was a repetitive one, hacking with the parang, groping part of the way and every time he felt something hairy or wet, he could only hope that it was harmless. All this time, he suffered pain and exhaustion. His nightmare ordeal went on and every mile he covered was insignificant consolation to the uncertainty of what would happen. He was very tired and the pain was terrible. Every step he took needed a tremendous effort. He felt his legs going rubbery. Never in his years of soldiering had he felt so hopeless and exhausted but he went on, only to collapse on the ground, muddy with decaying leaves. His endurance was failing and his thoughts became unclear. Vague pictures of his children, his childhood in the farmhouse on the meadows and his England flashed across his mind. England was thousands of miles from where he was and yet he could smell England. No, he was getting sentimental. It was incompatible with war. He pulled himself together, got up and went on, leaving the rifle behind.
The first streaks of grey light gave little encouragement to him. He struggled hopelessly on. Then he stopped abruptly. Yes, it was definitely the rustle of leaves. He turned around slowly. Half way through, he stood motionless stupefied with fear. Two dirtily-clad men were walking towards the east without realizing that there was a third human being near them. It took a full minute before the sergeant came to his senses and he dived down lying still on the ground. Insects crawled over him and he dared not move. The sound of footsteps grew indistinct and the danger passed. The sergeant heaved himself up and stumbled on. The morning grew brighter and the din caused by the cicadas and the insects gave way gradually to the singing of birds and the chattering of monkeys. He was able to see his way clearly, but he thought it useless. His determination ebbed away and his strength had reach its lowest. Even the will to live needed a supreme effort. He had reached his limit of endurance and in despair, sank to the ground, oblivious to the life going around him. He thought he had lost his fight. There was nothing left. He just could not help it. But in the darkest part of one's life and when there is still some faith and some hope even if it is dying away, one beholds a thin ray of light penetrating through the darkness of gloom. He saw this light in his mind and he rose slowly from the ground scanning the hill sides and valleys for a clear elongated stretch of land that was grey in colour. He found it on one side of a hill. It was part of a road he almost said aloud but he was too tired to express his jubilance. All he could do was to struggle onwards like a maniac. He began to hope again. The sound of roaring engines was unmistakable. He saw the armoured trucks crawling slowly along the winding road and he pressed on. He wanted time badly. He fell many times on the ground and for the seventh time, picked himself up. Gathering all his strength for one final effort, he gave a desperate and terrific spurt and found himself rolling down a steep slope. Down, down, down he went and he gave a terribly painful cry.
The sergeant lay sprawling across the road, a few feet from the embankment. There he lay eight hundred yards from Walsh's Corner. He did not know it. He was unconscious. The convoy consisting of eighteen armoured trucks and a scout car leading the way turned around Walsh's Corner and came to sight. The Captain in the leading scout car saw the inert figure, but he halted only when the last truck had passed the Corner. He gave the signal for alert and jumped out of the car with a pistol in his hand. He walked cautiously to the sprawling figure while his men held their submachine guns in readiness. He was uncertain. It may be a trap and he drew closer to the motionless sergeant at the same time scanning the countryside for the slightest movement. All was quiet. He looked at the sergeant again and moved forward, but he never reached him. Three shots rang out and he was dead even before he reached the ground. Two shots scored direct hits, one on the side and the other on the back of the head. Blood splattered on the road. The ambush began. 'A bloody massacre' would be a more suitable description of what happened. It was merciless. The communist guerillas were on higher ground and they could see the Gurkhas without being seen. They had adequate fire power and the sun was behind them. Across the road was sloping land leading down to a valley. There was about sixty yards of clear land before any good cover could be obtained from the thick jungle. Everything was brilliantly planned. The communist guerillas were in an excellent strategic position. One by one, they picked off the Gurkhas from their scanty cover. They were sitting ducks and the guerillas took their time. The fearlessness of the Gurkhas, a reputation they had earned, was useless now. Their kukris, which once usheathed must draw blood, were also useless. The scout car was blocking the way of the trucks. The occupants of the car were the first to be shot dead. So, against overwhelming opposition and odds, the last of the Gurkhas fired his last shot before he joined his dead comrades on the road and in the trucks. The ambush had occurred between Walsh's Corner and where the sergeant lay.
Eight hundred yards from Walsh's Corner was a still figure, covered with blood and the khaki uniform was in shreds. The sergeant's right hand reached out to the Captain, only a few feet away. Blood flowed profusely from the Captain's head and dripped down to the Sergeant's fingers. Yes, they had established contact, but not in time, not in the right place and not in the right manner. The last attacker disappeared into the jungle carrying the spoils of victory with him. Once more, the birds sang, the squirrels scampered for the trees and the monkeys swung from tree to tree chattering away. The industrious ants climbed over the backs of the sergeants and the captain. And so life goes around the dead men. The world was yet to know.
Slender wisps of greyish cloud drifted together in the west, filtering off the radiant glow of the mid-afternoon sun. Swallows ceased to chirp in the choked air, tense and taut with grave premonition. Over the horizon came the black complicated mass of condensed air bearing with it life-giving moisture and heralding its arrival was the north-west wind, crumpling the dusty leaves on the tree-tops as it proclaimed the coming of its master, the thunder-cloud.
All at once, the country life ceased to continue. Little rabbits scuttled for their burrows, warned by their inborn instincts, gifts of Mother Nature. The mirror-like surface of the sleeping pond began to ripple as the gentle fingers of the passing wind caressed its waters. The trees began to moan their impending torture, while frightened sparrows huddled closer together. The clumsy toad beneath the overturned rock croaked in fear, in shivering anticipation of the thunderstorm. The wind whistled in the tree-tops as it swept away everything in its path, sending dead leaves and broken twigs flying across the wind-bent reeds. Nearer and nearer came the thundercloud, casting its ominous shadow over the lowering earth, and louder and louder screamed the wind until it reached a crescendo. The sun was completely swallowed up by the black mass of eternity engulfing the life-giving light with the nightmare of gloom. Jagged streaks of yellow lightning flashed across the charcoal-black sky, blinding flashes of unlimited power accompanied by ear-shattering blasts of thunder. The air stank with raw energy, which only nature was capable of producing. The lightning flashed again and again, and the sparrows crouched yet closer together, seeking each other's warmth for the safety and comfort which was not there.
The whole world was a great cauldron on fire; the wind smashed great oaken trunks, and young sapling alike, driving the water in the pond into a frenzy. The foam surged back and forth, silvery sprays of water emerging from the boiling water only to be consumed again is it fell back again into the inferno. Then the roar came…. a great surge of nature's miracle, rain, descended from the high heavens. The thunder rumbled in the rain-swept air, the lightning crashed through the raging sky as raindrops hurtled down through the vast void of space to smash against the earth with irresistible impact. The pond boiled yet more, an endless spray of bitingly-cold water issuing from the terrible impact of water against water. The tree screamed pitifully in their agony while the leaves gave themselves up to the holocaust from heaven. Tribulation swept the earth as nothing was spared from the searing tempest, nothing escaping the judgement from heaven. A battered sparrow was swept away by the torrents while another floated aimlessly in the foaming pond drowned. A massive tree crashed onto the ravaged earth, tearing everything in its path, and landed resoundingly with stunning impact, snuffing out the life of the clumsy toad which had tried frantically to escape, but it lay flattened under one ton of wood; its blood spattered onto the shivering grass, only to be swept away by the cleansing waters from heaven. Then slowly, peace returned to earth. As if the justice of God was satisfied, the thundercloud rolled away, the rentless executioner and exterminator of sin retiring from his revolting task. The smiling sun dispersed the straggling wisps, radiating to earth its friendly and life-giving warmth. It resembled the eternal mercy of God. The frightened sparrows emerged from their shelters, survivors of tribulation. The sky lit up with shining glory as the sun began its descent over the horizon. Pink and gold tints smudged the western sky, and basking in this warm glow the grateful, repentant earth…. and the pond was still again.
THE COUP THAT DID NOT SUCCEED
Presently, we came to the top of a rugged cliff falling steeply to the sea below, where the surf was breaking against the dangerous rocks. Except for the roaring of the sea, the entire place seemed quiet and desolate. On the other side of the cliff lay a long stretch of mingled woodland and meadow, with a magnificent lake lying like a gem in its green surroundings.
Jim, Mike and I were on an excursion. Feeling hungry, I suggested having lunch on a large boulder which rested on the top of the cliff. Soon we were munching away hungrily at the delicious cakes and sandwiches. Suddenly, a dazzling light caught our eyes. We scanned the horizon and saw that the light was coming from a schooner resting motionless on the limpid surface of the water. Then an answering light was flashed from the shore beneath us. Very soon, we could see two boats heading towards the shore. They skilfully manoeuvred through the rocks before hitting the sand. A group of husky seamen then began unloading some large crates into a cave whose entrance was camouflaged by bushes and rocks. After concealing the entrance again, they returned to the schooner with the man on the shore. Concealed by the boulder, we watched the entire procedure with interest. After the men had left, we discussed whether to explore the cave or not. "There is some funny business going on," said Jim. "Shouldn't we investigate?"
"I agree with you. Come on, let's go," I replied.
We then descended the cliff with great caution lest we fell. When we reached the cave, the bushes were removed so that there was just enough room for us to crawl through. After the bushes had been replaced we flashed our torches and entered the cave. The interior was dark and eerie. The atmosphere was damp and we felt sick from the foul smell of the guano. Stalactites and stalagmites decorated the ceiling and floor, the marvellous sight making us gape with wonder. Once, when I stumbled on a rock and let out a yell, it immediately reverberated through the cave making our hair stand on end. Venturing further into the cave we began to examine the place more carefully when I kicked something. I flashed my torch on it and stood dumbfounded staring at the objects that were revealed to my gaze. I called Jim and Mike and together we examined the large crates of arms and ammunition stacked in a large heap. The picture then seemed a little clearer to us. An unknown party was smuggling arms in our country from abroad to stage a coup d'etat against our goverment. The fate of the whole country lay entirely in our hands. We had to inform the government immediately. Before we could move, footsteps were heard entering the cave. We switched off our torches and scrambled for cover behind the rocks. Soon, a group of men came into view, their faces illuminated by the light of a lamp. One of them, who seemed to be the leader, spoke.
"Right, listen carefully men. Tomorrow will be the day for action. We've got enough arms here to wipe out the entire government. Get your various groups of volunteers ready and wait for my signal to start, which will be a flare in the sky. The weapons will be distributed here tonight." A smile of satisfaction crossed his face and he sniggered. The group of men then left the cave leaving two armed guards to look after the weapons.
Then an idea struck me and I whispered it to my friends. I sprang up and ran to another large rock, dodging and ducking all the way. The guards swung round and traversed their machine guns in my direction. A long burst of machine-gun fire followed. My heart stopped beating for a moment and then raced in a burst of palpitation. As I crouched behind the rock, I could hear the whining noise as the bullets ricochetted againt the rock. By now, Jim and Mike would be on their way to the police. The traitors kept emptying the bullets into the rock till their ammunition ran out. To my unspeakable relief, I found that I was not even grazed. Before they could reload, a squad of policemen arrived and the guards were overpowered and taken away. I got up, my knees still shaking from the fright, and was taken home in a police patrol car - the first I had ever ridden in. Jim told me that they had met the police in the vicinity of the cliff.
The next day, the news of the attempted coup was announced throughout the world and my name and those of my friends appeared in every newspaper. The leader of the plot together with the entire gang were ambushed by the police that night at the cave and our government was saved. For the gallantry we had displayed in the cave, we were each awarded a gold medal.
Last update on 03 January 2000.
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng