Friday, March 19, 2010

Quarrel Over a Tree

Behind our house stood a big kuini tree dimmed with clusters of fruits dangled like slumbering bats in a wind cave. If you are not familiar with the kuinis, they are the close cousin of the popular pellang (Trengganu mango) but with noticeable pungent smell that attracts kabbo or the Trengganu beetles drilling into the flesh and sleep in there until they feel like leaving it. Its delicate flesh borrows the colour of our Mazda 808, which is peach. Sometimes, it is bright orange like Dungun’s sunset. It comes in the shape of an imported apple, twice bigger than that, and the skin is peeled of by the hands of a woman (of course with a knife!) that it will snake out long like curly fries. Then, she will slice the flesh into small bits piling in a round plate and they become a good snack for back chatters to fuel their gossip activity in the evening under a shady tree. But of course, they have to take out the kabbo first.

We had a neighbour named Haji Hasang, a bulgy faced old man with streaks of silver lines on his hair and also a newly wed to a rich widow her name escaped me. People said they were rich. I did not see anything that made them rich. But Mother had always talked about the huge property they owned that a bird could peer it in awe through holes of the beautifully carved gables of their house. It did not eye-stretched for our sight but many coconut palms lingered in there side by side by the same distance within each other in an alternate arrangement to others of adjacent files. We were separated from their house by quite a number of them, and if the world was indeed flat, the kuini tree indicated the end of it. So did our house, fenced by Father to mark a clear boundary between The World where the tree stood proudly and The End where problems may rise.

Boughs of the kuini tree painted shadows into our yard, then prolonged into the bedroom when the sun settled down westward until dark where calls of prayer responded to others in varying degree of pitches from nearby kampongs. In the huge yard of Haji Hasang, the sound of crickets swelled in the bushes and kabbos woke up to hurl themselves madly at wood planks of the walls. Those arboreal bugs were the cousin of the same kind which slept in the flesh of the fruits but the former were noticeably bigger and sometimes armed with pincers.

Louder than the sound of bugs rammed to our walls, there was sometimes a blow or two, and a crack too. The latter triggered Father's fear, that the sound might come out from the broken rooftops. We decided to stay inside at that time and only went out when the sun bleached the night darkness only to figure out that the edge of the rooftop sheltering the bedroom was smashed to pieces. War had just rolled in, leaving evidence that our house had already been pre-sighted by the shadows of boughs of the kuini tree.

I had killed some of the crazy bugs that day but that could not stop the war. We were still hurled by the crazy bugs and luck might not be on our side when the boomer came in and more and more of our rooftops broken to splinters. Every time it happened, in the next morning Father would throw them ammos back into the other side of the boundary in great disgust.

One day, the old couple came to inspect the tree. Something to look at before harvesting time comes. Yes, the kuinis were dangling in clusters the blotted sunlight. Ripe ones will fall on the ground. Realizing them there, Father decided to go for a talk.

“Assalamualaikum,” Father greeted the old couple. They greeted him back. Haji Hasang smiled and shook hands with Father. His wife was rather laid back at that moment. “Actually, I really wanna talk about this for quite some time. You see… we got our rooftops broken to splinters.”

Father pointed at the damaged parts. They got some mushrooms grew on the darkened wood planks. There had been raining a few days ago that softened them like a piece of wet bread and made them susceptible to fungi.

“We heard blows for quite some time. In the morning parts of our rooftops were gone,” Father added.

“I see,” Haji Hasang replied, calmly.

“You know… some big old branches fell on it, and they took down everything but the planks. The fruits did it too sometimes. So… if you don’t mind… I would like to seek permission from you… to cut those threatening branches up there… yeah who knows someday they might fall on our children… security issues, that is,” Father explained.

There was an awkward silence for a brief moment. It seemed like the old couple was spending their time thinking.

“I will cut them by myself, so I am just seeking permission from you as the owner of the tree,” Father added.

“So what the hell of a goddamn reason you want to lacerate them! Let it be as it is!” shouted the old lady.

Once again, there was a moment of awkward silence.

“No, I will climb up by myself and cut them out by myself too. These branches are threatening my family. Can you see the damaged rooftop up there?” Father said, still holding on his politeness.

“This tree is a matriarchal property of us! Why the hell did you build this house here in the first place?!” the old lady barked.

“Be it as you wish then,” Father said, monotonously.

The couple walked away. Haji Hasang remained a man who had spoken the least. And so the tree had made us rivals.


*****

Backhoes were brought in to take down the coconut trees of the yard’s east region. Everything there was cleared up for houses development. It was said that Haji Hasang had sold it to a Johorean man many months ago before we moved in. Children milled about the area in a safe distance to witness the mass uprooting of tall coconut trees that swayed in great degree and survived even in the roughest of winds.

Haji Hasang did not watch the whole event. He chose to stay in his big house. He delivered orders instead. His younger male relatives did the job – “harvesting” job.

“What has been sold is the land – the soil. Not the coconut trees!” said Mok Cik Dah eagerly in a mengumpat (back chatting) session. I eavesdropped at their conversation. Mother was there too.

Rumour widespread in the neighbourhood that Haji Hasang still wanted the coconuts. He has sold the land but the coconut trees planted in the land were still his. Like a bunch of grapes fell of a dining table, the coconuts scattered around the area. Some were cracked opened, showing their white delicate flesh. The juice percolated between the sands, and children swallowed their craving for it. Haji Hasang’s workers hurriedly collected the good ones and huddled them in a safe area. Some of them took charge to guard the harvest. They were taken away soon after they were boarded into the trunks of two cars, and delivered them to Haji Hasang back and forth in three trips.

That day, Haji Hasang was given a nickname.

Haji Bakhil (Haji Stingy).


*****

Someone was looking for Father that day. His colleague had dropped him a line to tell him that. He put down his pen and left a pile of papers that needed signature of him behind and stepped out from his department’s cubicles to meet the stranger.

“There, Pok Sop,” Pok Cik Zahar said. He pointed his index finger at an old couple sitting on the sofa at the waiting room. The man was bulgy-faced, had a quite large beard, and wore a white skullcap. His wife dressed in her dark brown oversized baju kurung and had her head covered by a black shawl extended down to her hip.

“They said they want to meet the boss of your department, sir,” Pok Cik Zahar added. He snickered and went back to his working table.

Father met the old couple and greeted them with good hospitality. They exchanged lengthy conversation at the arbour. Finally the couple walked away.

Father told Mother that Haji Hasang and his wife was looking for the boss of his department without realizing that Father was the man who was holding the position. They were intended to meet some kind of a powerful and influential man of higher ranks to negotiate the end of Father's term in Dungun and later transfer him to a place where people speak in strange dialect called Kuala Berang in Hulu Terengganu.

Father said, "That’s not gonna happen. This is our house. This is our property. They thought we are renting this hut for nothing. Are we renting this hut? Huh! We bought it! I'm gonna ask that old man to take along the kuini tree to his tomb then. Oh make sure they do not forget of those valuable coconuts."

*****

I did not know how the tree died. I asked Mother, "Did you inject anything into that tree? You know... something like a poisonous fluid in a syringe or anything else close to that?"

Mother said, "No. It just died the way it wanted."

8 comments:

  1. I like 'khinning' for it fibrous flesh will floss my teeth everytime I chew and lick clean its seed. Nice story Sir and peculiar characters of those yesteryears!

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  2. HAHA.the story amused me,pokdeng.way funny ;D
    kabbo.i hate that animal.and one of my relatives got blind because of kabbo.

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  3. DrSam,
    Lick them down to the stone, doctor! Make sure you clean your teeth from khinning's threads embroidered in between adjacent molars. So you call it "khinning" eh? I call it "kinni". "Kuini" is a Standardspeak term. I think its scientific name is Mangifera odorata.

    Kartika Azmi,
    Oh I'm sorry to hear that. I reckon s/he must have been attacked by a kabbo at his/her eye!

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  4. And this is completely true? The way you wrote it and described the characters, it's like a typical Malaysian farce. In a good way. You, sir, should compile your work and get them published. One day, high school students will read your short stories in an anthology for the literature component of english classes.

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  5. Jiyuu,
    Yep, not a fiction. It's a true story set in Kampung Sura Tengah. Speaking of publishing, I might need someone who's willing to do proofreading/editing job for free! Hehe.

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  6. I agree with Jiyuu, your writings deserve to be publish. You can have Jiyuu as the editor...lol. Since my grammar is very weak, I didn't notice any error. Anyway, in Tawau, kuini also called mangga wani. I love the pungent smell.

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