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Margaret H.L.

Lim

Nonah
or
The Ghost of
Gunung Mulu
Illustrations by Su Jen Buchheim

Payah’s fourth adventure


Acknowledgements

Many thanks to all these wonderful people:

Carolyn and Emlynne, May Kuan, Charlene and Joel, Sharon, Zora,
Vivien, Dona, Flo and Kiang, Miriam in the wilds of Minnesota,
Herb and Patty in Michigan, for believing in what I am doing.

My niece Ummi Faustina, known fondly as ‘Adek,’ who in her young days ran
after chickens and climbed trees, for suggesting that Nonah would be just as
unhampered in baju kurong while foiling the dastardly plots of orchidnappers.

My sister Aileen who once again ran her eagle eyes over
my manuscript despite her heavy workload.

Heidi Munan whose book SARAWAK: Thrills and


Treasures of Historical Landmarks gave me a perfect opportunity to
create a legend for The Clear Water Cave in Gunung Mulu.

My own family, again without whom,


NONAH would never have seen the light of day.
Published in Malaysia by Fairy Bird Children’s Books Sdn. Bhd. 2009
Text Copyright © Margaret H. L. Lim 2009
Illustrations © Su Jen Buchheim 2009
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved.


No part of the contents of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted,
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of
binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including
this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia, Cataloguing-in-Publication Data


Lim, Margaret H. L., 1947
Nonah or the Ghost of Gunung Mulu/ Margaret H. L. Lim;
with illustrations by Su Jen Buchheim.
ISBN 978-983-42638-4-3
1.English Fiction. I. Su Jen Buchheim. II. Title.
823

Cover and Book Illustrations by Su Jen Buchheim


Cover and Book Design by Su Jen Buchheim
Production Manager Ken Murayama

Printed and Bound by Wisma Printing, Kuching


Wisma Printing Sdn Bhd
P.O.Box A523, Kenyalang Park
93810 Kuching, Sarawak
Malaysia
Tel: +6082-338131 Fax: +6082-333002
Email: wismaprinting@yahoo.com

Fairy Bird Children’s Books Sdn. Bhd. (691175-H)


Riverbank Suites, Unit # 408
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman
93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.

www.FairyBirdBooks.com.my

2
www.FairyBirdBooks.com.my

Margaret H.L. Lim

Nonah
or
The Ghost of
Gunung Mulu
Illustrations by Su Jen Buchheim

3
A shrill whistle sounded.
“Everybody, get off the field at once!” bellowed the sports
teacher. “A helicopter will be landing in a few minutes!”
As a speck appeared over the tree tops in the distance, a
ripple of excitement ran through the children now gathered at the
edge of the playing field. The helicopter approached, tilting at a
dangerous angle. The rotors whipped the air, flattening the long
lalang and sending branches of trees swaying as in a storm. The
girls squealed and clutched at their skirts while the boys made
frantic grabs at their caps.
The helicopter righted itself, hovered overhead like a gigantic
dragonfly, then set itself down rather ungainly. Before the blades
had come to a standstill, the pilot was already out helping his
passengers to alight.
Cikgu Ramli sprang out to the cheers of the assembled
children. Puan Habibah, his wife, came sedately down the

4
steps the pilot placed for her. There was another cheer. Silence
descended as everyone waited curiously for the last passenger
to emerge.
No one appeared.
Puan Habibah went up the steps and back into the helicopter.
A murmur came from the waiting children when she did not
make her appearance. Cikgu Ramli was now pacing restlessly
about. He stopped as the headmaster came up to greet him.
“Welcome back, Cikgu Ramli. Where’s Puan Habibah?”
“We have a little problem,” said Cikgu Ramli in his rumbling
jolly giant voice, indicating the helicopter with his thumb.
“Hello, Headmaster, good to be back!” hailed Puan Habibah
heartily as she stepped out of the helicopter. She turned to Cikgu
Ramli, rolling her eyes upwards. “Hubby, I’ve done all the cajoling
I can. My patience is only as long as my arm.”
The helicopter pilot had finished unloading and was looking
pointedly at his watch. He cocked an eyebrow at Puan Habibah,
who nodded. He bounded up inside, and before long, a tiny figure
appeared, clutching a woven basket tightly with both arms.
Nonah came reluctantly down the steps.
She looked neither left nor right. Eyes downcast, her lips
pouting in ill humour, she followed her parents to their quarters.
“Stuck up!” commented Payah, who was watching from
the sidelines.

5
That night, Nonah wept softly into her pillow.
She wept for her Nenek whom she sorely missed. She was sure
that her grandmother’s heart was also broken into little pieces like
her own.
She wept for the open sky, the endless horizon, the waves
crashing on the rocks, the smell of tangy salt-sea breeze. She wept
for the feel of wet sand under her feet and the sight of water
eddying over her foot prints as she tried to outrun the surf.
She wept for Santubong with its mountain shaped like an
elephant’s head, smoky-blue against a sun-bleached sky, looming
over the tiny fishing village where she lived.
Nonah wept herself to sleep.
She woke up to the crowing of fighting cocks. Sleepily, she
waited for the familiar mooing of the cows as they were herded
out to pasture on a grassy outcrop above the beach. She waited
in vain.
Instead of the soothing rustle of palm fronds stirred by the
sea breeze, the din of a thousand insects rang in her ears. She was
deep inland, amid tall trees.
Tears welled in her eyes. She burrowed deeper into her
blanket, intending to have another good cry just as her mother
walked into her room.
“It’ll be midnight by the time you get up, Cinderella,” her
mother called out cheerfully. “And you’ll be too late for the ball!”
Her laughter rang through the whole house.

6
Puan Habibah ruffled Nonah’s hair and planted a kiss on top
of her daughter’s head. She ignored Nonah’s puffy eyes. She flung
open the shutters and let in the cool morning air and the scent of
dank earth and musty leaves. Before Nonah could count up to ten,
her mother was already out and bustling about in the kitchen.
“Oh what a beautiful morning,” sang her father in a booming bass.
“Oh what a beautiful day,” warbled Puan Habibah in agreement.
Nonah winced at such heartiness so early in the day. Nothing
ever seemed to daunt her parents.
Nonah was painfully shy. Shy like the tiny blue crabs, no
bigger than her thumbnail, that scuttled back into their little holes
on the mud banks at a passing shadow. Shy like the shy weeds
which, at the lightest touch, curled in upon themselves.
She dragged herself out of her bed and opened the lid of the
woven basket. A sleek black cat sprang out. It’s green eyes stared
haughtily as Nonah scooped it up.
“Kiya, I wish we were back in Santubong,” whispered Nonah,
rocking back and forth with the cat squeezed tightly in her
arms. It mewed and struggled out of her grasp and made for the
sandbox. Then it sniffed around the room and sprang back into
the safety of its travelling basket. Nonah could not expect any
sympathy from Kiya.

7
“Stuck up!” commented Payah to no one in particular.
She was playing a game called ‘Stones’ with her best friend
Usun. Usun scooped up the five pebbles Payah pushed towards
her and cast them on the mat. She picked up a pebble, threw it
high up into the air and swiftly scooped up the remaining four
with one sweep of her hand while keeping an eye on the falling
pebble. With the same hand, she caught the falling pebble before it
hit the ground. She gave a shriek of triumph.
It was Payah’s turn. As she scrabbled frantically for the
pebbles on the mat, she misjudged the speed of the falling
pebble, which struck the floor, bounced and rolled into a corner.
Usun squealed with delight and chalked another nought against
Payah’s name.
“Stuck up!” reiterated Payah with more force.
“Who’s stuck up?” asked Uku, her grandmother, mildly.
She was sitting nearby, together with Payah’s great aunt, Uku
Nyalo, watching the girls play.
“The new girl, Nonah. She has just come to join her parents.
Her father, Cikgu Ramli, who teaches us Bahasa Malaysia, has been
here a year. Puan Habibah, her mother, teaches sewing. She came
about two months ago. They’re both jolly and such fun!”

8
9
“In what way is Nonah stuck up?” asked her grandmother.
“She pretends not to see us. She walks away when we come
near her.”
“I’ve seen her. She’s very demure. Nothing brash or brazen
about her. The very picture of modesty!” Uku Nyalo nodded
approvingly and threw a meaningful look at Payah. “Not at all
cheeky like someone I know!” She hesitated, then continued with
a note of suspicion in her voice. “But her father is rather odd. He
sang to me.”
“Sang to you!” Uku gaped at her sister.
“Yes! Something about my corn being as high as an elephant’s
eye! Such nonsense! He must be gila!”
Payah and Usun collapsed in giggles.
“Cikgu Ramli is always singing,” they spluttered. “Songs from
‘Oklahoma!’ a very old musical he says.”
“Maybe she is just shy,” said wise and kind-hearted Uku .
“Some people are like that. She just needs a little drawing out.”
“Oh!” said Payah. “I never thought of that.”
“Do you ever?” asked Uku Nyalo.
“What?” asked Payah.
“Think!” snapped Uku Nyalo, pursing her lips.
Before her great aunt could begin to list her shortcomings,
Payah rose and yanked Usun to her feet.
“Let’s go and find Precious Jade,” said Payah. “Then we’ll go
and make friends with Nonah.”

10
Nonah’s heart skipped a beat as feet drummed on the wooden
boards of the stairs that led up to the front door. She tried to fight
down the rising tide of panic as eager voices called her name.
“Go away,” she shouted, but the words stuck in her throat and
came out in a croak.
Now they were banging on the door. Nonah opened it a crack,
clinging desperately to the doorknob.
Payah shoved Precious Jade forward.
“Hi, I’m Poh Giok, which means Precious Jade. This is Payah,
this is Usun. We are very good friends. We would also like to be
your friends,” said Precious Jade, her face wreathed in smiles.
Payah nudged Precious Jade aside.
“Let’s all go and play at my longhouse,” invited Payah.
Nonah shook her head.
“Ask her parents’ permission first,” Usun hissed at Payah.
“You can’t, my Mak and Pak are not at home,” whispered
Nonah hoarsely but triumphantly, thinking Payah and her friends
would give up and go away.
“All right, let’s play in your house then,” decided Payah,
slipping her foot through the crack before Nonah could slam the
door shut. Nonah, with the greatest reluctance, let in the three
girls, who looked curiously around.
They were impressed by the neatness of the sitting room. Lace
antimacassars decorated the backs of settees.

11
12
13
There were flowers everywhere and sprays of orchids, all made of
silk, and artfully arranged in crystal vases.
“How beautiful, and how real they look!” marvelled Precious
Jade, thinking of the shabby plastic blooms left to gather dust in
some dark corner of her house.
“Mak made them,” said Nonah shyly, but proudly.
“What’s that?” asked Payah, her attention caught by a woven
basket that seemed to have moved.
“NO!” cried Nonah. “NO!”
But Payah had already unlatched the lid which flew open.
There was a snarl, and Kiya streaked out, knocking over a
crystal vase full of silk flowers. She rushed wildly around the
room, spitting, while Nonah held open the basket and called
desperately:
“Kiya! Kiya, back! Back, Kiya!”
After several more rounds, Kiya sprang back into her basket.
Nonah latched the lid with trembling hands.
“She doesn’t like strangers,” said Nonah in a voice full of
implications.
“Sorry,” apologised Payah, “I’m sorry. Your cat has a
lovely name.”
“Yes. Kiya, the mother of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh,
Tut-ankh-amun,” said Nonah, carefully pronouncing the syllables.
“His name means the ‘living image of the god Amun.’”

14
“You’ll get along very well with Usun!” said Payah, laughing.
“She’s also a walking encyclopaedia!”
She righted the vase, which was slightly chipped on one side.
Precious Jade collected the scattered flowers and stuffed them
back into the vase.
“Leave them. It doesn’t matter. Let me get you a drink,”
muttered Nonah, remembering her role as hostess, even if it had
been foisted upon her.
She led them into the kitchen. She had to get Payah and
her friends out of the sitting room before another catastrophe
occurred. She filled three glasses, and one for herself, from a
porcelain water filter.
Payah drank thirstily. The water tasted cool and sweet. At
home, the water for drinking was boiled first and then filled into
bottles, then left to cool, and refrigerated. It tasted flat. Usun
explained that too much oxygen had been boiled out of it.
“May I?” asked Payah, and helped herself. She turned the tiny
spindle tap on, watching the sparkling water gush into her glass.

15
16
She gripped the tap and spun it to close. She kept on spinning, but
it would not catch. Her glass flowed over.
“Nonah! Nonah! I can’t turn off the tap!” cried Payah in panic.
Neither could Nonah, nor Usun. Precious Jade also tried in
vain. Soon the water in the porcelain tank trickled to a drip. The
girls looked at each other fearfully.
“Go! Go!” begged Nonah desperately. “Go before my Mak gets
back! She’ll be angry. Go! Please, go!”
When she had got rid of her unwanted guests, Nonah set
about mopping up the kitchen floor and dashing away the tears
that ran down her cheeks.
“Ah-doh! What happened?”
Nonah jumped to her feet, startled. She had not heard her
mother come in.
“Mak, Mak, I damaged the tap of the water filter,” howled
Nonah, holding out the dripping dish cloth. “I couldn’t turn it off.”
Just as Puan Habibah opened her mouth to frame another
question, her eyes lighted on the four water glasses.
“I’m to blame, dear. I forgot to warn you that the tap was
faulty,” she said instead. She went down on her knees and helped
Nonah wipe the floor dry. “No harm done. It’s just water.”
“And that’s not all,” wailed Nonah. “Kiya knocked over a
flower vase when I let her out. I’m sorry.”

17
Nonah showed her mother the chipped vase. Puan Habibah
re-arranged the flowers and re-positioned the vase with the
chipped side against the wall.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” remarked her mother breezily.
She stepped back, eyed the arrangement critically and
re-adjusted a blossom. She gave Nonah a hug. She hoped
fervently that her mimosa of a daughter was beginning to unfurl
and start making friends.
Payah, Usun and Precious Jade surrounded Nonah the
following day and anxiously plied her with questions.
“Was your mother angry?”
“Did you tell her we did it?”
“Does she want us to pay for the damage?”
Nonah shook her head.
“Still friends?” asked Payah, Usun and Precious Jade in unison.
Nonah raised her eyes, nodded her head and smiled shyly.

There was a buzz of excited chatter as soon as the headmaster


had left the assembly hall after making the announcement that the
Ministry of Tourism was sponsoring a writing contest. The best
pieces were to appear in a nation-wide pamphlet extolling the
attractions of Sarawak, and the prize was a trip to Gunung Mulu
National Park.
After school, Payah rounded up her friends, for one of the
stipulations was that it should be teamwork.

18
“Let’s take part,” she said enthusiastically.
“Yes, let’s! I want to explore the caves,” cried Precious Jade
clasping her hands eagerly while Nonah vigorously nodded
her head.
“You do the writing, Usun. We’ll give you the ideas,” said Payah.
“What do you mean I do the writing?” rebelled Usun. “We’ll
do it together or not at all!”
“All right, all right,” acquiesced Payah. “It was only an idea,
because you’re the best writer among us. Let’s meet at Nonah’s
after lunch and start right away.”

The jug of sparkling lemonade that Puan Habibah had made


was almost down to the last dregs. Writing was hard and thirsty
work the four authors soon discovered, and they had not even
started. A breeze stirred the sheaves of paper on the table and
sent a pencil rolling down to the floor with a sharp click. Payah,
with Kiya purring soothingly on her lap, eyes closed in search of
inspiration, snapped awake. She picked up the pencil and sucked
on it, frowning.
“Don’t do that! Lead is poisonous,” admonished Usun. “It can
make you stupid and your hair fall out.”
“It’s no good. I haven’t got an idea,” confessed Payah,
yawning widely. “I suggest we give up and wait for my hair to fall
out,” she added sarcastically.

19
“No, no,” said Nonah. “It doesn’t have to be in the form of an
essay, you know.”
“She’s right,” said Usun. “It can be a story.”
“A love story,” said Precious Jade.
“Soppy!” said Payah disdainfully.
“Lots of people like love stories,” said Precious Jade haughtily.
“She’s right,” agreed Usun. “Anyway, that’s a good starting
point.”
“Yes,” said Nonah thoughtfully. “In that case, well, you know,
there’s a rock in the Museum grounds in Kuching…”
“I know, I know,” broke in Precious Jade eagerly. “I’ve seen it!”
“Go on, Nonah,” said Payah and Usun in unison. “Don’t
interrupt her, Precious Jade.”
“It’s a copy of a rock discovered in Santubong,” continued
Nonah with a catch in her voice, and stopped. She seemed to hear
the thunder of waves crashing on the beach and the steady drone
of a stiff sea breeze.

20
“Hey, stop dreaming! Go on!” urged the others impatiently
now that Nonah had caught their interest.
“Um, sorry. There’s a figure perched on it, like a climber. My
Nenek said it was a disobedient boy who had been turned into
stone. Maybe we can make something out of this.”
Everyone was staring intently at Nonah who blushed. Silence
reigned, then a babble of voices, as ideas came spilling like water
over a fall.
“A brave prince performing an impossible task.”
“Struck by lightning.”
“The princess is still waiting for him to this very day.”
“She’s still crying.”
“In the Clear Water Cave in Gunung Mulu!”
“Yaaah-hooo!”
This last boisterous yell woke Puan Habibah from her afternoon
nap. She smiled. Nonah was miraculously coming out of her shell!

21
It was almost dusk, time for Payah, Usun and Precious Jade to
go home. Together with Nonah, they brought the jug and glasses
to the kitchen where Puan Habibah was starting to prepare the
evening meal.
“Well?” inquired Puan Habibah. “How did it go?”
“We’re more or less done,” they chimed together. “We only
have to tie up the loose ends and do some polishing. Only we
can’t make up our minds whether to call it The Ghost of Gunung
Mulu or The Legend of the Clear Water Cave.”
“Fast work! Care to tell?” Puan Habibah raised an eyebrow.
“It’s a love story,” said Nonah apologetically.
“The story of mankind. It doesn’t matter what kind of story as
long as you can tell it convincingly. Well, give me a synopsis.”
“In the old days,” began Usun, “when the Orang Ulu tribes
warred with each other, a Berawan Chief captured a handsome
young Kayan warrior from the Upper Baram and enslaved him.

22
The beautiful daughter of the Berawan Chief fell in love with him,
and of course, he with her. Her father was very angry when he
learned of this and wanted to kill the young man on the spot.”
Usun nodded at Nonah to continue the tale.
“The girl pleaded with her father to spare the young warrior’s
life. The father had a plan. The warrior could marry his daughter,
but he had to bring him the tusks of the Wild Boar King who lived
high up in a mountain shaped like an elephant’s head. So the
warrior went on his search, asking along the way where such a
mountain was. It was a long and tedious journey which took
countless moons and he was beginning to think that such a
mountain was a myth, when he finally came upon it at the
western-most tip of the land.” Nonah stopped and Payah took over.

23
“But the Wild Boar King was protected by the spirit of the
mountain. When the Kayan warrior was almost at the peak, a storm
arose and lightning struck the piece of rock he was clinging to. It
came tumbling down. It was moons later that he was found, still
hanging on to the rock. But they could not separate him from the
rock, for he had been turned into stone,” related Payah with relish.
“As soon as the Kayan warrior was out of sight, the Berawan
Chief tried to force his daughter to marry the Berawan warrior
he had intended for her, knowing very well that his daughter’s
choice would never come back. The girl ran away and hid in
one of the many caves in the area. She cried and cried until her
tears cut through the limestone to form a stream. She waited and
waited for her beloved until she pined away into the shadows.”
Precious Jade ended her recitation with a melodramatic sigh.

24
“You can still hear her, sighing and weeping her heart out.
You can hear her bitter tears dripping into the clear water of the
stream. You can follow this stream as it channels its way through
the cave. And you can wade in it and follow its course out into the
open, into the light, leaving the girl forever in the dark to mourn
her lost love,” finished Nonah proudly.
“Why, that’s beautiful!” exclaimed Puan Habibah. “A familiar
tale, told and re-told by all cultures since the dawn of time. But in
spite of the re-telling, it stays as fresh as ever. It’s beautiful!” She
thought musingly of all star-crossed lovers, and of that immortal
pair, Romeo and Juliet. But since she was by nature a happy
person, she did not dwell too long on these unhappy lovers.
Besides, there were decidedly more lucky ones than ill-starred
ones. Smiling wistfully, Puan Habibah began to croon softly:

Don’t sigh and gaze at me


Your sighs are so like mine

Then her voice soared:

Your eyes mustn’t glow like mine

“PEOPLE WE’LL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE!“ roared Cikgu Ramli


from the sitting room.
He repeated, in his deep bass, the refrain from his favourite
song from Oklahoma!*. Puan Habibah did not sing along. She was
crying into the onions she was dicing and trying frantically to

25
blink away the tears, for she could not see what she was doing
and did not relish having her fingers sliced along with them.
“Soppy!” said Nonah, and fled to her room.
“Crazy!” said her friends and fled homewards.

It was agreed that Payah’s Uku and Uku Nyalo would paddle
the girls on the short journey to Belaga, from where the girls
would take a motor launch to Sibu. They would fly from Sibu
to Miri, and from there to Gunung Mulu. Payah’s sister Liren,
who was on leave from her nursing duties, was appointed their
chaperone and charged expressly by Uku Nyalo to keep a sharp
eye on them.
The writing team of Payah, Usun, Precious Jade and Nonah
had won a trip to Gunung Mulu National Park!
In the days prior to their departure, they basked in the
admiration of all, and felt very much like pop-stars. The night
before they left, they were in such a state of feverish excitement
that they hardly slept a wink. They still felt very adventurous as
they waved family and friends goodbye the next morning.
At Belaga, Payah broke down and cried at having to leave her
Uku behind. This started the others off into a fit of tears. It was
Uku Nyalo’s tart admonition, to conduct themselves properly and
not to be silly, that finally brought them all to their senses. But it
was a very subdued foursome that boarded the launch, and Payah

26
never took her eyes off her grandmother until Uku became a tiny
spot in the distance.
Faced with the terrifying prospect of crossing the Pelagus
rapids, they forgot all about the parting. But they only saw the
churning water and jagged rocks from afar while the auxiliary
outboard motors were lowered into the water. They had to
stay below deck with all hatches battened down, as the launch,
creaking and lurching, its engines roaring against the thunder of
the rapids, negotiated the rushing waters. There was no help for
anyone who fell overboard. Tales have been told of many a brave
warrior, including a penghulu who should have known better than
to manoeuvre his fragile craft all alone by himself, who perished
when their canoes overturned.
The girls huddled together, tightly gripping the edge of the
wooden bench they were sitting on while their hearts pounded
in their ears. It was comforting to have Liren with them. They
only relaxed as the roar subsided and the auxiliary engines were
hauled up.

27
Payah’s heart was in her mouth as the airliner climbed until the
Rajang river below became a thin thread. Her feelings were mixed
as the airplane cruised effortlessly through the clouds which, seen
from the ground, always seemed so solid. It was also like riding
a motor vehicle on a bumpy road as the aircraft rode through the
turbulence.
When they approached the coast, it was blazingly bright and
cloudless, save for a few puffy balls that looked like the cotton
swabs Liren used to remove her make-up with. Then Payah caught
her breath as she saw the expanse of sea and the endless horizon,
curved like a plate turned upside down. If she had lived in an
earlier age, she would have believed that ships fell off at the edge.
As their aircraft turned inland, the deep blue of the sea turned
jade green in the shallows. As the airplane began losing height,
Payah saw lines of frothy white surf, as waves broke upon the
shore and retreated.
She understood Nonah’s yearning for her home by the sea.

28
29
The girls were being bounced along in a very small aircraft
which flew so low that it seemed the green tops of tall trees were
leaping up at them. At the sight of the Pinnacles, with their razor-
sharp edges, they forgot their queasiness.
“Get back to your seats! And keep your seat belts on!” a voice
barked urgently from the intercom. “I’ll be making another round
so those of you on the starboard side can also view the Pinnacles.”
Ecstatic chatter broke out from all aboard and continued until
the aircraft squealed to a halt with a jerk at the tiny airport at
Gunung Mulu. They were all thankful to be on firm ground.
Their guide met them with a smile that was so wide that
his eyes disappeared into the folds of his broad face. He was
called Ding.

30
The four girls were soon settled into a four-bunk hut. Liren
was in the main guest house, to Payah’s relief, for you could not
have an adventure with an adult constantly breathing down your
neck. As it turned out, Liren was in no state to accompany them
anywhere. She had come down with the flu. Her head throbbed,
her throat hurt and she felt as if she was being turned slowly on a
roasting spit with a roaring fire below.
“Don’t get into any trouble!” she exhorted them feebly.
“We won’t!” chorused her four young charges in angelic
tones. As there was still daylight left, Ding took them for a walk
to stretch their legs. It was very pleasant to be walking under
trees instead of flying over them. The trail cut through a part of
lowland limestone forest.
“Come back!” shouted Precious Jade, who had lingered
behind. The others turned back in alarm. They found her wedged
between limestone walls off the track.
“Look! Oooh! Look!” squealed Precious Jade, pointing to
a profusion of crinkly streamers hanging down from a crevice
halfway up the limestone face.
“Paphiopedilum sanderianum!” announced Ding with a dramatic
flourish of his hand.
The girls stared at him in admiration as what seemed to be a
tongue-twister tripped effortlessly out of his mouth.

31
Ding’s eyes gleamed. His voice throbbed with excitement as
he continued: “That’s the scientific name of this rarest of orchids.
Those petals do look like festive streamers, don’t they? They can
grow as long as a metre or more. Fanatic orchid collectors would
pay any price for it! Now, don’t wander off by yourself! You can
get lost easily. And there might be hantus about!”
For the rest of the walk, the girls kept their eyes peeled for
rarities. Although they came upon pitcher plants full of dead
insects, they never caught another glimpse of the streamer orchid.

Early next morning, Precious Jade and Nonah followed the


trail that had taken them to the streamer orchid. Nonah wanted
to take a picture of it for her mother. Puan Habibah would want
to make a silk copy of it. There was time enough before Ding took
them to the Deer Cave.
They were back with hardly time to spare, looking very agitated.
Ding had already collected the others, who were scuffling about
impatiently while Jerun, his surly assistant, looked furious.
“What took you so long?” demanded Payah.
“It’s gone!” gasped Precious Jade.
“The streamer orchid’s not there any more!” panted Nonah.
“We looked everywhere. That’s why it took so long.”

32
33
“Now, now, girls,” said Ding soothingly. “The trails are
confusingly alike. You were on the wrong trail. It’s as simple as
that.”
“No! We’re sure!” insisted Nonah and Precious Jade.
The four girls looked at each other, their eyes round with
dismay, and gave voice to their thoughts:
“ORCHIDNAPPERS! We’ll have to report it at once!”
“I’ll look into this later!” said Ding quickly. “We’ve no time to
lose. It’s quite a way to the Deer Cave. Come along!”
“Right, Ding, but all the same, when we get back, we’ll tell the
Chief Ranger all about it,” insisted Payah.

The Deer Cave was a huge cavern that could fit in ten Jumbo-
Jets, Ding informed them. It made them all feel like midgets in a
monstrous chamber. Voices hushed in awe, and footfalls, echoed
and re-echoed hollowly, sounding distorted. There was also a
lot of guano, bat droppings, which made the floor very slippery.
The girls wrinkled their noses at the smell, which actually came
from the bats, not from the guano. There were thousands and
thousands of bats in the cave, Ding told them, and when they
flew out to look for insects in the twilight, they looked like smoke
wallowing out of a chimney.

34
When they got back, the girls lost no time and went in search
of the Head Park Ranger. Ding was at the office when they burst in.
“Oh, Ding, where’s the Chief Ranger?” asked Payah.
“He’s in Kuching at a conference. Don’t worry, I’ll inform him
when he’s back. Leave it to me,” said Ding. “Now scoot! We’ve
a tough day ahead of us. We’ll be going to the Wind Cave and the
Clear Water Cave tomorrow.” He shooed them jocularly out of
the office.
On the way out, they met Jerun who pushed past them rudely.
The girls glared at his retreating back. Something white fluttered
in his wake. Payah picked it up. It was a torn piece of paper.
“Hey! You’re not supposed to read other people’s
correspondence,” said Usun making a grab for the paper.
“Wait! This sounds fishy,” said Payah, dodging Usun’s grip.
“Listen: ‘Be there when chimney starts smoking. Entrance. M.’
Hmm, it sounds familiar.”
“Bats, flying out of the Deer Cave!” shrieked Nonah.
“Looking like smoke from a chimney!” squeaked Precious Jade.
“That’s it!” cried Payah, her voice quivering with excitement.
“Jerun is going to hand over the streamer orchid to ‘M’ at the
entrance to the Deer Cave at sundown. If we run, we’ll get there
just in time to prevent that.”

35
36
37
The girls watched in fascination as thousands of bats streamed
out of the Deer Cave and then dispersed like smoke. They
kept watch on the entrance until the last of the stragglers had
disappeared, and still there was no sign of Jerun.
They waited until dusk fell, then dejectedly made their way
back to the Park headquarters. With faltering steps, they walked
under the fig tree whose tall airy roots straddled the path. The
tree, with its pretty-sounding name, ficus benjamina, looked
fascinating in broad daylight. In the failing light, the elongated
roots suddenly looked like the spindly legs of a monster-spider
out of a nightmare.
An unearthly screech stopped them in their tracks, sending a
shiver down their spines and raising the hairs around the napes of
their necks.
A whimper followed. But it came from Precious Jade, who
had turned to look back. She was trying to cram both fists into her
mouth to stop herself from screaming. Her eyes were wide with
terror. The others swung around and followed her terrified gaze.
A vast, shaggy shape, outlined by a pale light, was lurching
towards them. The girls did not wait. Screaming, they turned
and fled.
“That ought to do the trick!” came a muffled but satisfied
voice from the apparition. “Here, don’t just stand there. Help me
get out of this blasted thing!”

38
The faint glow of light brightened as a hurricane lamp was
pumped up. There was a short struggle and the dayong costume
was flung off.
“I hope we didn’t frighten them too much,” said Ding with
a frown.
“That was the whole point, wasn’t it?” snarled Jerun, who
was in a foul temper. It was hot and prickly inside the ungainly
dayong costume, and the thing seemed to weigh a ton. He looked
with distaste at the mask under which generations of witch-
doctors must have sweated. Besides, the outfit, which was made
of twigs and straws and rattling beads, was crawling with insects.
“You’re right. We can’t have them snooping around,” admitted
Ding. “Can you stow all that stuff away by yourself? I’ve got that
date to keep.”
“You go right ahead,” said Jerun, savagely kicking the dayong
mask into the undergrowth.

Half-way through their headlong flight Payah suddenly halted


in her tracks so that the others had to follow suit.
“I don’t believe in ghosts. I think it’s a trick. Someone is trying
to frighten us. I’m going back,” she said, with the lightest quaver
in her voice.
“I’ll go with you,” said Usun reluctantly. “We ought to stay
together.”

39
40
“In that case,” said Nonah, her teeth chattering, “I’m coming
along.”
“I’m not going back to the hut all alone by myself!” twittered
Precious Jade.
They reached the fig tree just as Jerun was shoving the dayong
costume out of sight behind a bush. They watched him slink off
after Ding.
“I knew it!” cried Payah triumphantly. “I knew it! Jerun is the
villain. Let’s follow him.”
They raced after him, their footfalls muffled by the mossy
ground. They crept after him as he went into the Deer Cave.
Nooks and crannies caught in the wavering light of his torch
threw grotesque shapes that seemed to leap up and down. Then
they lost sight of him and were left in complete darkness. Footfalls
resounded in the passages and confused their sense of direction.
A dark form suddenly reared up in front of them. The four
girls fell back with a strangled cry.

41
“What are you doing here? Get back!” Jerun’s voice hissed
venomously.
The girls cowered in the beam of his torchlight.
“Hey! Mat? Jerry?” came a voice, distorted, but still recognisable.
“DING!” screamed Payah. “DING!”
“WHAT?”
“Stop him! Ding, stop him!” The voices of the girls bounced
and re-bounced. “Don’t let Jerun get away!”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” came a very exasperated voice out of
a passage where lights were now flickering wildly.
“BEN!” gasped Payah in wonderment as Forest Ranger Ben
Laing emerged from the passage. His powerful torchlight caught
Ding who looked completely bewildered, and played on the girls,
who looked positively relieved.
“BEN! LOOK OUT! BEHIND YOU!” yelled Payah as she saw
Jerun come up behind Ben with a gun in his hand.
Ben swung around, crouched, and was about to lunge at
his foe when he suddenly checked and guffawed. He laughed
raucously, slapping his thighs. While Ding and the girls stared at
Ben dumbfounded, Jerun scowled and levelled his gun at Ding.
“DING! The game is up!” snarled Jerun.
“JERRY!” cried Ding, flabbergasted.
“BEN!” screamed Payah. “Jerun’s going to shoot Ding!
Stop him!”

42
“HELP DING! HELP DING!” shrieked Usun, Nonah and
Precious Jade, adding to the pandemonium.
“Hold on, girls!” said Ben, trying to keep his face straight
and the quiver of laughter out of his voice. “Meet Detective
Sergeant Jerun!”
“Ding,” snapped Jerun, “we’ve got Mat, your contact, and he’s
spilled the beans. Let’s see what you’ve got there!”
Ding wordlessly lowered the bundle he had been cradling
gently in his arms onto the ledge beside him. Looking chagrined,
he unpacked it.
“Jerun was working undercover for us,” continued Ben.
“Someone was illegally removing rare orchids from the
limestone forest of Gunung Mulu. We had our suspicions about
Ding, but we had no proof. Now we’ve caught him red-handed!”
The paphiopedilum sanderianun, which Nonah and Precious Jade
had tried to find, lay exposed in the beam of Jerun’s torchlight.

43
Four pairs of eyes rounded on Ding.
“DING! Oh, Ding! How could you? You know it’s wrong!”
their young owners said reprovingly, and gazed at him more in
sorrow than in anger. They had genuinely liked him, and trusted
him. They were bitterly disappointed.
Ding refused to meet their eyes, for he too had liked
them. Instead he looked reproachfully at Jerun and said with
understandable resentment:
“Jerry! I thought you were my friend.”
Payah, Nonah, Usun and Precious Jade turned accusing eyes
on Jerun and glowered at him.
“He tried to scare us!” they said, greatly miffed.
“Hrrrumph-hah,” snorted Ben, or something like that, and
exploded into laughter. Jerun threw black looks at him.
“We don’t think it’s funny,” said Payah severely. “He owes us
an apology.”

44
“Pack of meddlesome kids trying to obstruct the course of
justice,” growled Jerun, far from apologetic.
“He purposefully dropped a message to trick us,” said Payah
indignantly.
“No. It was Ding who lost it. Jerun observed you with it,
though I must admit, the measures he took to stop you lot
from meddling were rather drastic. You almost bungled up our
carefully-laid plans, you know,” said Ben sternly. “You acted
rashly. It was a foolhardy thing to do.”
The girls looked crestfallen.
“Hey, cheer up,” said Ben consolingly. “You were wonderfully
courageous.” He tipped Jerun a wink. “Right, Jer, I’ll handle this.”
Jerun turned Ding smartly around and marched off with his
captive and the rescued streamer orchid.
“Right, you lot, back to base,” ordered Ben.
“Hey, what about the rest of the tour?” clamoured the girls as
the calamity of their situation dawned on them. They were now
without a guide.
“We haven’t even been to the Clear Water Cave!” they
protested. “We wrote the winning story about it.”
“I’ll be your guide,” said Ben recklessly. “First thing tomorrow.
Eight sharp! We’ll do the Canopy Skywalk after that.”
“YOOO-HOOO-OOO!”

45
Payah’s unladylike war-whoop was enthusiastically echoed by
her friends. Excited chatter broke out:
“Twenty metres above the ground! Just imagine!”
“It’s a long walk too, from tree to tree. Almost half a kilometre!”
“We’ve walked under trees, flown over them, now we’re going
to be in the tree-tops! Wow!”
“I don’t know if I dare. Heights make me dizzy!”
“Don’t be such a ninny! Oh, Ben! Thanks ever so much! And
oh, did you know Liren is also here?”*
With this giddy prospect before them, the girls quickly forgot
Ding. Gunung Mulu National Park, with its beautiful caves
and many more still unexplored—the crown jewel of Sarawak’s
National Parks and a United Nations World Heritage Site—
beckoned with its very own magic.

* A 1943 Broadway hit from Rodgers and Hammerstein and


a very successful film musical in 1955

**Read Payah’s Second Adventure, FOUR EYES.

46
GLOSSARY
Bahasa Malaysia the National Language of Malaysia

Berawan an indigenous group in Sarawak, or “Orang Ulu”

Cikgu
(Bahasa Malaysia) teacher

Doyang
(Kayan) witch-doctor/shaman

Gila
(Bahasa Malaysia) mad

Hantu
(Bahasa Malaysia) ghost

Kayan one of the indigenous groups in Sarawak, or “Orang Ulu”

Lalang
(Bahasa Malaysia) knee-long grass with very sharp cutting edges

Mak
(Bahasa Malaysia) mother

Nenek
(Bahasa Malaysia) grandmother

Orang Ulu
(Bahasa Malaysia) people who live deep inland or in the upper reaches of rivers

Pak
(Bahasa Malaysia) father

Puan
(Bahasa Malaysia) form of address for married women

Penghulu
(Bahasa Malaysia) headman/chief

Uku
(Kayan) grandmother, also great aunt

47
Other Books in the Rain Forest Adventure series by Margaret H.L. Lim:

PAYAH

FOUR EYES

PRECIOUS JADE and TURNIP HEAD

JUMP, BILUN, JUMP!


(A Play for Young Readers)

48
DEEP in the Rainforest of SARAWAK
ON the Island of BORNEO…
Nonah is shy, just like the blue-shelled crab,
no bigger than her thumbnail, that scuttles into its
hole at the lightest tremor.
But no one can be shy for long in the company of Payah
and her friends, for whom “shyness” is an alien word.
Through the eyes and hearts of Payah and her friends, including newcomer Nonah,
Margaret Lim shares with us her love and fascination for Sarawak
—the rich heritage of the land, her people and their culture.
It is easy to get drawn into the world of the spirited and courageous young heroines in
their latest scrape, oops, adventure, to save the Paphiopedilum Sanderianum!
Parents will enjoy sharing with their children this entertaining tale,
so vivid in its imagery. I did!
Carolyn Choo, Head, Department of Early Childhood Education, SEGi College, Subang Jaya

Deep within the rain forest of Borneo, four spunky girls craft an enchanting tale
that wins them a journey of a lifetim—to Gunung Mulu National Park.
They shoot rapids and fly over breathtaking rock formations.
As I read and re-read this absorbing story, I thought I must go and
see all these places,and take my children along as well.
May Kuan Lim, parent

Payah and gang make a new friend in shy Nonah,


win a trip to Gunung Mulu National Park and uncover a plot
involving orchids and bats. It’s a rollicking tale that draws on
Sarawak’s multi-cultural heritage and natural attractions to triumphant effect.
Sharon Ling, journalist

This fourth sequel is a not only a rip-roaring adventure.


It is also about friendship as Margaret Lim continues to capture
the essence of being children in a multi-ethnic society
and particularly, of growing up in rural Borneo.
As in her three other books, NONAH conveys a conservation message.
The Borneo Post

www.FairyBirdBooks.com.my Age 12 and above