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These Enchanted Woods/MHLLim

Margaret Lim Hui Lian Am Eichenwall 26 26789 Leer Germany

THESE ENCHANTED WOODS


Margaret Lim Hui Lian

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Enter these enchanted woods, You who dare. Nothing harms beneath the leaves More than waves a swimmer cleaves. Toss your heart up with the lark, Foot at peace with mouse and worm, Fair you fare. Only at a dread of dark Quaver, and they quit their form: Thousand eyeballs under hoods Have you by the hair. Enter these enchanted woods, You who dare.

From The Woods of Westermain George Meredith (1828-1909)

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Naellia was dumb-struck. But only for a moment. What? she shrieked. You dont mean it, do you, Mum? Dad? Its a joke, right? Ha, ha. She turned to her father who was sitting in his armchair frowning over reports his subordinates had compiled about the economic feasibility of importing electricity from the dozen or so hydroelectric dams that Sarawak was planning to build in the near future. Dad, youre taking me with you? You and Mum? Please, please. Naellia knocked aside the sheaf of notes he was reading and flung herself at him. She looked at him pleadingly with brown eyes that never failed to melt her fathers heart. Hey, hey. Whoa there! Hold your horses, sweetheart, he said as Naellia rained blows on his chest with her little fists. I want to go with you and Mum! I dont want to go and stay with the Nana in Sarawak. Naellia, I know this is all very sudden, said her mother slowly and patiently, a sign that she was on the verge of irritation. Your grandfather is very ill and we must go to him at once. We wont be away all that long. Three weeks at the most. Your grandma in Sarawak is looking forward to

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your visit. She hasnt set eyes on you since you were four. I want to go to Australia with you. I dont want to go to Nana in Sarawak. Its all jungly out there and they dont have Internet or play stations or Nintendo games or hand phones. And there are lots of creepycrawly things like snakes and spiders and crocodiles and whatnots. Naellia, once and for all, no. Its an emergency situation. Youre not coming with us, were sorry, said her mother firmly. Youve never been in a jungle, so what do you know about all the whatnots? quizzed her father. Ive been to the Night Safari at the Zoo, so there, said Naellia with a toss of her head, at which her father laughed. Thats jungle? asked her father. Youll be sorry when I get eaten by a crocodile. No doubt, but Ill be feeling sorrier for the crocodile, said her father with a grin. Youre both so mean! You know what, Ive a better idea. Ill stay here and look after the flat. Im twelve, going on thirteen. Im perfectly capable of looking after myself and old enough to be left alone! Im sorry, no, said her mother. Emphatically no. We cant let you stay alone all by yourself. I wont be alone. Its school hols, and Ive lots of friends and we can do lots of things together. We can ride the Flyer, go to the Jurong Bird Park, Sentosa Island, the new Resort there and the Botanic Gardens, the National Library. Naellia ticked each item off on her fingers. Rebecca wont mind coming here every day to keep me company. She doesnt have

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a play station. Our maid Josephine will be here anyway. Josephine will be going back to the Philippines. She cant go back! You cant let her go back! You know very well that Josephine takes her holidays only when we let her, which is always at our convenience. She can skip her holidays this year. Really, Naellia, thats very selfish of you! She sees her children only once a year! You dont want to take me with you because Im in the way, thats it, isnt it? You and Dad want me to get lost in the jungle and starve to death! Dont be theatrical! said her mother. Most improbable, Gretel. Nobody starves to death in a jungle. I believe theres plenty of edible stuff out there, said her father, his grin wider than before, if I remember rightly from a survival course which was part of our firms leadership programme. Thats not funny! Im staying! I wont go to Sarawak. Theyre all Orang Ulu and sooo backward. Naellia hunched her shoulders and halfdropped to her knees. And I HATE my name! It sounds Orang Ulu and looks silly! NAELLIA! THATS ENOUGH! Im Orang Ulu and proud of it. I made up your name and I think its lovely and looks uncommon and sets you apart from the crowd. Really! Im surprised at you! Dont be childish. Youre going to Nana. Little monster! said her father indulgently. I remember your Mum

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wanted to call you Cressida or Ophelia! But I put my foot down. I could put up with Miranda, but not Cymbeline! Naellia suits me just fine. But if you prefer it, we can call you Nelly, a name of which I have fond memories being that of a very biddable plough horse without an once of meanness in her. Thats not funny either! And what about the head-hunters? cried Naellia, childishly playing her trump card. Youll be truly sorry if I came back without my head! I believe that kind of head-hunting has gone out of fashion, said her father with a hoot of laughter. I wouldnt object though if you came back with your head shrunk a little! Stop it both of you! Stop provoking her, Rob. This is getting to be absurd! I dont want to hear another word from you, Naellia! said her mother sharply, rising from her chair threateningly. Beasts! cried Naellia. Youre both horrid! Daddy most of all! She flounced out, banging the door to her own room so hard that the pictures on the wall in the sitting room rattled and the cut crystal glasses in the cabinet clinked alarmingly.

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Naellia switched on her computer, feeling the hot tears of anger prick at the back of her eyes as she watched the colours swirl on the screen. She failed a couple of times to log into her email account because she felt so devastated that she kept on hitting the wrong key. She was being packed off like some dispensable object to be dumped on her grandmother while her parents went junketing off to Australia. It was most unfair! Her best friends, Rebecca, Wai Fong and Lonnie happened to be all online to her relief and ready to chat. She could pour her heart out to them and they wouldnt make fun of her like Daddy.

Naellia

Ive bad news! I wont be here during the hols. My parents

are sending me away to stay with my Nana, the one who lives in Sarawak. In the JUNGLE! Can you imagine that! Theyre letting our Philippino maid take her holidays and they wont let me stay here on my own! Im leaving tomorrow. TOMORROW!!! Isnt that rotten?

Lonnie

Definitely rotten! I was hoping we could go to the Universal

Studios at the new Sentosa Resort World. I hear they have some crazy rides. What a shame!

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Poor you! Ive just got an Xbox for my birthday. We could have such fun!

Rebecca lonesome.

My heart breaks for you. Really it does! Call us when you get

Naellia

I wont be able to call because theyve confiscated my HP. I

asked for a raise in my weekly allowance and they wanted to know why. I had to tell them Id run out of funds for new calling cards. They said they didnt want me to run up debts at my age and Id get it back once Ive learned how to husband my resources, as Mum puts it. What a funny expression! I think its just another term for penny-pinching! What a laugh! They are mean! Dont be surprised if you dont hear anything from me. I dont think they have internet connection in the jungle!

Wai Fong

How utterly medieval! Poor Naellia! See you after the hols.

My Dads leaving for Hong Kong in a weeks time on a business trip and hes taking me and Mom with him. Yaaay! Well swap stories when you get back.

Naellia

Id prefer to swap places!

Lonnie

If you cant phone or email, at least snail mail us.

Wai Fong

Watch out you dont step on the snakes!

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Rebecca

Well miss you. Come back in one piece!

Naellia

Ha ha. Ill try to if a crocodile doesnt eat me first! I know Im

going to hate it in the jungle.

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Dear Mum,Dad, Im sorry I was such a beast. The flight was OK. Aunt Lucy and I landed in Sibu where we transferred to a smaller plane to Kapit. From there we took a River Express all the way to Belaga. It was rather scary going through the Pelagus Rapids. Nana is actually quite nice. My cousin Supang lets me use her computer, but the connection is rather slow. Hows Grandad? Give him my love. PS I still dont find Daddy funny! Naellia

Hi Girls, So here I am in the middle of the jungle! They do have internet connection after all! Thank goodness! Im using my cousin Supangs computer. That was some boat ride through the Pelagus rapids! The river express, which is made of steel, halted just above the rapids and I could see jagged rocks and churning water. Aunt Lucy, Mums colleague at Temasek Junior College, explained that auxiliary engines were being

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attached so that the boat would have a extra power to negotiate the rapids. the boat men put shutters up on all the windows so you couldnt look out. Thats just in case somebody falls out and theres no help for him. Then all the outboard motors revved up and it got incredibly noisy. But I could still hear the thunder of the water above the roar of the engines. We were jolted about. It was scary! We could have flown, but aunt Lucy thought it would be an adventure for me. It was! She said wooden boats plied the waters here until the seventies! Id have been frightened to death if the boat were travelling in had been a wooden one. Just imagine it and me being dashed to pieces among the rocks! Instead of high-rises they have longhouses. The apartments or family units (called amin), are built alongside each and stand on stilts. Doors and windows dont have metal bars! Each amins door opens on to a communal verandah that stretches from one end of the longhouse to the other with a staircase at each end. the doors stay open all the time and nobody locks up either! Kids meet and play here and adults gather around for a bit of gossip. Its not like in a high-rise where you dont know your neighbours who live above or below you, or even next to you. The first few days the little kids used to come and sit in front of Nanas amin just to stare at me as if I was an alien from outer space or a freak at a circus show. I dont mind their being curious. It is rather flattering to be openly admired!! A longhouse is measured by the number of doors not floors as all the units are on the same level. Some longhouses have up to forty doors. My Nanas longhouse has thirty doors. It is elevated rather high above the

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ground in case of floods as it is very near the bank of a side stream of the Belaga River. Because it is sitting on stilts, you dont get surprise visits from foraging wild animals or snakes! Nanas Longhouse has all the amenities - running water and flush toilets and mod-cons! Not so primitive after all, as I had feared. thank goodness again! How convenient it is that my cousin Supang lives a couple of doors away. She says I can use her computer anytime I want. Shes very pretty and vivacious. She dresses like us, I mean, in T-shirts and jeans, not in beads and tassels like a picture postcard Orang Ulu. She never had her ears stretched. My Nana on the other hand has really long ear lobs weighted down by piles of copper rings. They reach almost half way to her chest and the rings go clink-clank with every movement. I couldnt take my eyes off them at first. She has tattoos on both her arms and legs, like shes wearing gloves and stockings of fine blue-black lace. Weird at first! But Ive got used to them. She is really nice and jolly. I met her cousin by marriage whom everyone calls Uku Nyalo who isnt so nice and not one bit jolly. She makes scathing remarks and talks like some snooty character out of a Charles Dickens novel. We sort of took a dislike to each other on first sight. At first I found it uncanny waking up and not hearing the hum of traffic. they use boats here, mostly paddle boats. Imagine! the kids paddle to school which is on the opposite bank! The walls are made of thin wooden slats, so when the fighting

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cocks crow with the first light, it sounds like theyre practically crowing right into your ears! Add that to pigs oinking, hens cackling, babies wailing, pots and pans clanking down the length of the longhouse all of an early morning! Its no use turning over and going to sleep again with all that earsplitting din going on! Nana has promised me an exciting treat. Shes taking me to the Market in Belaga tomorrow. Were going there by boat. Uku Nyalo is coming as well. Theyre paddling. As theres nothing much going on around here, Im looking forward to the trip. Ho Hum! Id better not hog Supangs computer any longer. Bye. Naellia

Hey Naellia, Youd be paddling here too! It rained so hard the other day that Orchard Road got flooded! The water some parts was almost waist-high and most shops were inundated including underground garages. Wai Fong and Lonnie are here with me and say Hi. Were leaving for Sentosa Resort World now. Theres still a free bus operating but not for long! If youre bored, you can chat with us in the evening. We have to be back by dinnertime anyway. Well have lots to tell! Dont get into trouble without us. have to run to catch the bus. Bye. Reb

Dearest, Give our love to Nana and all the relatives. Your granddad is still

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doing poorly and we may have to arrange for him to go to a nursing home. Im sorry that I was a mite short-tempered with you. We had to make snap decisions and it wasnt our intention to bowl you over like this. Daddy isnt making fun of you. Hes always at his most flippant in a crisis. He thinks hes keeping his head that way, which I find rather irksome and juvenile. He is really worried sick about Granddad. Behave yourself. Ill try to answer your mail whenever I can. Your Granddad doesnt have Internet connection. Mum Glad youve still got your head on your shoulders, love! Keep it there! Your Mum has hers firmly screwed on the right way! Dad

Naellia stood at the top of the staircase and yawned widely, wishing

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she was snug in her own bed back home in Singapore. Dawn was just breaking and it was grey and misty. The mist was so thick that the longhouse and all its surroundings seemed to be cocooned in cotton fluff. She could feel the microscopic droplets of water tickling her face as if the tiniest of ants were crawling all over it. She stuck her tongue out to catch the fine droplets, then started, for her grandmother and Uku Nyalo suddenly loomed up beside her. She had not heard them, for all sounds seemed to be muffled by this great swathe of mist. Even the barking of dogs and the crowing of cocks seemed to come from a far distance, as if her ears were water-logged. One after another they went cautiously down the stairs, Naellia gripping the handrail and feeling for the steps before she set her feet down. The boards were damp from the early morning mist and a bit slippery. Nana told her that there were still longhouses with stairs made of logs with notches hacked into them for steps. They would be slipperier still for the uninitiated with no handrails to hold on to. Naellia was thankful that she did not have to balance like a gymnast just to get down to the ground. At the bottom of the stairs, the two adults re-adjusted the baskets they were carrying on their backs. With Naellia trotting rather sulkily alongside, they walked down the path that led to the river. The dew that had gathered on the leaves dripped and fell like raindrops to the ground, wetting them. Naellia shivered. It was rather chilly. But the mist would soon disperse and by mid-morning, it would be blazingly hot. They all got into a canoe which was moored by the river bank.

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Naellia eyed it doubtfully. It was more like a dug-out and looked like it would be quickly swamped when a motorboat went by. She sat in the middle with baskets fore and aft of her to distribute the load. Her grandmother took her place at the stern. Uku Nyalo settled herself fussily at the prow causing the tiny craft to bob dangerously. The two women cast off with a shove of their oars. They were going to the market in Belaga, laden with jungle produce wild yams and sweet potatoes; edible ferns that grew in profusion near the longhouse that Naellia had helped her grandmother gather the evening before. There were fat cobs of sweet corn, mangos, papayas, and juicy rose apples from Uku Naylos garden, and eggs with shiny brown or gleaming white shells laid by Uku Nyalos hens. These last nestled between layers of ferns in a woven basket which Naellia balanced gingerly on her lap. Overhanging branches from trees along the banks formed here and there a snug tunnel on this side stream of the Belaga River. Wisps of mist drifted by like ectoplasm. Heavily wrapped against the nippy air, fellow market-goers in dug outs like theirs slid past murmuring greetings. There was hardly any traffic until they reached a bend which spilled into the main river where not only long boats manned by several hefty paddlers but also motor-powered launches travelled the waters. They hugged the bank closely as boats powered by engines chugged or roared past sending their tiny craft bobbing in their wash, at which Uku Nyalo would admonish Naellia to keep a tight hold on the basket of eggs.

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Arrived at the market, the two women found a shady spot under a tree for their ware. Naellia was allowed to go off by herself to explore the market. The aroma of freshly baked waffles with peanut-sugar toppings, banana fritters sizzling in pans of oil, and rolls of green-coloured pancakes with coconut fillings wafted from the stalls, making Naellias mouth water and her stomach growl. Further along were stalls with cheap luridly-coloured toys neongreen plastic frogs; fantastically-shaped creatures in an eye-blinding yellow; shocking-pink stuffed teddy bears. Primitive stuff. No Nintendos, no Xbox. Naellia yawned. She was not used to getting up this early. She had also breakfasted hastily because Uku Nyalo wanted to be underway before it got warm. As a result she felt quite cross with the world at large. While Naellia was peevishly looking at the teddy bears, still wishing she had stayed in bed, a man brushed past her almost sending her sprawling as the rattan fish trap slung across his shoulder swung against her. She was about to protest when she noticed the tiny occupant inside the trap. It was not a fish nor was it a stuffed toy that a fond father had bought for his child. It was a live baby orang utan. It stretched out a hand through the narrow slats as if in supplication. Naellias heart turned over at the sight. On the spur of the moment she followed the man who was making for a row of shop-houses that sold sundry goods. He entered one, part of which was also a coffee shop. She loitered nearby, pretending to show interest in the sweets and biscuits kept in glass jars arranged in tiers at the

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entrance to the shop. With mounting excitement, she watched as the man handed over the orang utan to the shop-keeper. She could not catch what was being said, but she understood what was going on the moment she saw the shopkeeper packing a large plastic bag full of sundry goods which he handed over to the man. The man left and the shopkeeper disappeared into the back premise of the shop with the fish trap. Naellia heard him calling out to his wife to take over as he had an errand to run. Naellia lost no time. She rushed back to the market place, pushing her way heedlessly through the jostling crowds. She found her grandmother haggling with a woman selling sarongs. They were obviously enjoying themselves. For a moment Naellia stood by uncertainly, scuffling her feet in the dirt. It was impolite to butt in when adults were conversing. That she had learnt in the few days she was here! But the matter she had in mind was pressing. She plucked timidly at her grandmothers sarong, which made her Nana turn around. What is it, my Soh? inquired her Nana using the Kayan word for grandchild. Nana, come with me! Come with me! Please! Just a moment, dear. Let me make my purchase first, said her Nana unperturbed. While Naellia waited almost dancing with impatience, her grandmother finally agreed to a price. With minute precision the woman folded the sarong neatly together and slipped it into a protective plastic covering. With meticulous care, she wrapped the whole up in a piece of

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newspaper. This she respectfully handed over to Nana who paid her. Then the woman groped for her purse to give Nana her change. She found it finally, buried under a pile of sarongs. As she carefully counted out the change, Nanas attention drifted to another stack of sarongs. Naellia felt like screaming. Come, Nana. Oh, do please come at once! begged Naellia, tugging urgently at Nanas sarong. 0therwise well be too late! she added with a sob. What will we be too late for? asked Nana in surprise.

Intrigued, Nana let herself be dragged away by Naellia who tried to

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describe what she had observed. They wove their way in and out of the crowds that now thronged the market-place at this hour, with Nana protesting breathlessly at the pace Naellia was setting. Naellia led her to the shop house where she had seen the orang utan being bartered for goods. The shopkeeper was apparently not back yet from his errand, for his wife, stomach big with child, waddled towards them as soon as Naellia entered with Nana. She did not seem to be in the best of moods. What do you want? she asked abruptly. I saw someone bring in a baby orang utan a short while ago, said Naellia, warily eying the woman. Is it still here? Or has it been sold? You want to buy it? asked the woman, narrowing her eyes speculatively. Yes, said Naellia. How much? asked Nana. Fifty ringgit, said the shopkeepers wife without a blush. Oh, but thats a lot of money, protested Naellia with a sinking heart. Thats robbery! exclaimed Nana. You are aware that its illegal to keep an endangered and protected animal much less sell it, dont you? I could report you to the authorities. Then you wont see a cent. Youll be paying a big fine instead, not to say spending a year or two behind bars as well. Naellia gaped. Her mild-mannered grandmother knew a thing or two about intimidation!

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Ten ringgit! Take it or leave it. snapped the woman. We cant afford to give it away for nothing! Its bad enough that my husband keeps on exchanging goods for worthless creatures which have to be fed as well. Thats more like it, my good woman. Ten ringgit is fair enough, said Nana who was kind-hearted and understood the womans plight. Ive ten ringgit, said Naellia, jubilant. Ill pay for it, Nana. No, Naellia, Im paying. I wish I could give it to you as a welcoming gift, but we have to give it to the new ranger when he comes. Take the useless creature and go quickly! said the woman shoving the ten ringgit into her bodice. Go! Quickly! Go!

Naellia and Nana were hardly gone when the shopkeeper returned.

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He was not alone. Motioning his companion to wait, he went rapidly to the back premise of his shop and reappeared almost at once, looking consternated. Wife, wheres the orang utan? he roared. I sold it! Ayah! cried the shopkeeper. Bad luck! screamed his wife, pointing to her big belly. Bad Luck! You want your son to look like a monkey? Pantang! Superstition! Old wives tale! Stupid woman, its only superstition and nothing more! shouted the shopkeeper. What did you get for it? Ten ringgit! Her husband gave a strangled cry. Whom did you sell it to? The nice cousin of that ill-tempered woman called Uku Nyalo from the longhouse twenty minutes upriver, said his wife. She bought it for her grandchild who is a very pretty and well-mannered girl, she added triumphantly, fixing her husband with a cold stare as if daring him to try and wrest it from a winsome child who had the stamp of her approval, and her gratitude. For so pretty a child appearing at such an opportune moment was also a good omen for it meant that her unborn child would not look like a monkey. And get rid of the rest of the animals. Theyre eating us out of house and home. Youll have another mouth to feed soon, she stormed. Theyre a danger to us, and well you know that! Any more monkeys, Ill

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pack up my bags and go back to my mother. With that threat, the woman of the house disappeared into the back of the shop, moving majestically like a galleon in full sail. Her husband clutched his hair wildly. He turned despairingly to his companion who had been watching what had transpired in silence, the corners of his mouth lifted in a sneer. The man wore a pair of mirrored sunglasses that hid his eyes. A soft floppy jungle hat shadowed the upper part of his face. He did not speak. He was so still that his stillness appeared menacing. You have to take the animals away quickly, said the shopkeeper. Im sorry about the orang utan. It would have commanded a high price. Worth more than the whole consignment! He made a desperate gargling noise. The mans lips thinned in a grimace. This business is getting too risky for me, continued the shopkeeper in low tones. The current ranger who knows how to keep one eye closed and his mouth shut has been suddenly recalled. He was halfdrunk most of the time anyway and couldnt tell the front of a fighting-cock from its rear end. That old fool has been buying stuff from me on credit. Hes leaving immediately and I dont even dare ask for payment. Ayah! The shopkeeper smacked his head and leant across the counter towards the man who stood immobile with his back to the light. He tried to look into the mans eyes, to gauge what he was thinking. He only saw a reflection of his own face wildly distorted in the mirrored sunglasses. Disconcerted, he looked away and spoke instead in undertones to a

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stack of tinned sweetened condensed milk. The new ranger is expected in a couple of weeks. Hes a young man called Jau Jok Jallong, known to everyone as Jess. Thats what that old drunk told me. You know what all these eager beaver young fellows are like, hardly into the game and theyve already set their sights on promotion. Worse, hes not a native of these parts. Im sure he wont be that easily led around by the nose like that one-eyed fool Ballang! Youve got to find another place and someone else! Get the animals out of here fast! I cant afford the risk! You heard the missus.

Meanwhile Naellia, with the baby orang utan clinging tightly to her,

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returned to the market place with Nana. Naellia pranced beside her, one hand lovingly clasping her grandmothers, chatting away nineteen to Nanas dozen. It was now midday. The sun beat mercilessly down on their bare heads. There was not a whiff of breeze, and no sign of Uku Nyalo. She must have packed up and left, probably in high dudgeon. The spot where they had displayed their ware was baking hot, so hot that a shrimp fresh out of the river would have curled up and turned red in no time at all. They found Uku Nyalo waiting for them by their canoe. Her lips were set in a grim line and there was a forbidding frown on her brow. She glowered at them but did not say a word, heaving only a sigh that spoke dozens. It made them feel like recalcitrant children playing truant. Then she caught sight of the orang utan in Naellias arms. Ayah! she screeched. Whats that? Its an orang utan baby, answered Naellia with trepidation. I know its an orang utan! I do have eyes in my head, you know. What are you doing with it? demanded Uku Nyalo. I bought it for Naellia, said Nana quickly. Nana bought its freedom, said Naellia loftily. What, pray, does that mean? Uku Nyalos brows beetled while her mind boggled as a feeling came over her that she had experienced just such a situation before. It nettled her uncertain temper all the more. Nana calmly recounted the whole tale, ignoring her cousins intermittent explosions of disgust. Ten ringgit! yelled Uku Nyalo. You paid good money for that

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scruffy thing! She snorted and continued derisively. Im sure that creature has fleas and ticks and lice. Tcha! You should have reported the whole thing to the police and theyd have put the scoundrels in gaol immediately. Its their business not ours. I could have bought six layer chicks with that kind of money! Ayoh! Ayoh! Uku Nyalo, surely you dont need more hens, youve got plenty already, Naellia pointed out. Besides, by the time a policeman comes, itll be too late. The shopkeeper would have sold the poor baby orang utan to bad men. Dont be impertinent! snapped Uku Nyalo. Her eyes were bulging and Naellia hoped that Uku Nyalo would not complicate matters by having an apoplectic fit on the spot. I never thought Id meet another child as cheeky as that Payah! And just because youre from a big city like Singapore and Im only a stupid upcountry rustic, you think you can act hoity-toity with me. Spare the rod and spoil the child, thats what I always say! Naellia scowled. Before she could open her mouth to protest against being unfairly compared to a person wholly unknown to her, Uku Nyalo had swung wrathfully on Nana. That child should learn how to comport herself! she said with asperity. What do you both intend to do with the creature? Its illegal to keep it as every child knows by now! Well give it to the new ranger when he comes, said Nana soothingly. Ten ringgit! And then give it away! moaned Uku Nyalo. Ayoh!

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They got into the boat. Uku Nyalo shoved off, angrily jabbing her oar into the water. She kept on muttering ten ringgit under her breath with every stroke all the way back to the longhouse, sounding like a gramophone with a stylus stuck in the rut of an old vinyl disc.

Naellia hurried off to Supangs amin eager to swap news with her friends who were probably back by now. She was simply bursting to tell them hers.

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Naellia

Girls, The most unbelievably exciting thing happened! Nana

bought me a baby orang utang! I saw the poor thing imprisoned in a tiny fish trap and followed the man to a shop where he bartered it for goods. We probably saved it from being sold to unscrupulous men who make fortunes out of exporting exotic animals illegally. Its absolutely sweet. The cutest thing ever! and Nana is such a pet to have bought it without turning a hair. Her cousin on the other raised a stink about it. She only thinks of her precious chickens. I think chickens are stupid! She hasnt stopped grumbling. Now I know what getting an earful means. And to think I was going to tell my Nana before we set out that I didnt feel like coming along! Im truly glad now I didnt. Id have hurt her feelings too! First of all it was creepy going by canoe so early in the morning with great globs of mist swirling around us like ghosts. It was spooky to see shrouded figures in canoes gliding by. Small motor-boats going chugchug past us sounded like hobgoblins grunting with satisfaction as they left us bobbing up and down. Each time that happened Id reach out to clutch the sides of our boat because I thought we were about to capsize. Then Id remember Uku Nyalos precious basket of eggs and cling to it instead for dear life. The whole time I didnt even dare sneeze or scratch myself cos I was balancing Uku Nyalos eggs on my knees!

Rebecca

WOW!

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Wai Fong

CRAZY!

Lonnie

Hey! Whats babys name?

Naellia

Im calling It Carrots because it has reddish hair. I thought of

giving it an Orang Ulu name, but I couldnt think of a suitable one. I hope Carrots doesnt sound too corny! Im really really glad I went to the market with Nana after all. I love Nana. Shes the kindest and most generous person I know. Her cousin is rather nasty. She looked at me queerly when we showed up with carrots as if shed seen a ghost and then said I was as cheeky as Payah. I couldnt get a word in edgewise so I asked my Nana who Payah was as soon as we got home. Payah is Uku Nyalos great-niece who brought back an injured hornbill ages ago in much the same way. She was a great one for collecting hurt animals and caring for them. She must have been the bane of Uku Nyalos life for she was constantly getting into Uku Nyalos hair. Its apparently history repeating itself with me bringing back an orang utan! And you know what, Payah was Mums best friend! Payah was impulsive and strong-headed, but her heart was in the right place Nana said. My Mum was always level headed (dont I know it!) and Nana never had to worry one teeny-weeny bit about her. She also told me very proudly that Mum knew a lot of big words even as a kid. The way she said it, youd think my Mum only read dictionaries! Payah doesnt live here anymore.

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What a pity. Nana lost all contact when she and her family moved away. I bet Mum has plenty of stories to tell!

In between, Naellia gleefully emailed her mother. This was going to make her Mum sit up and turn her hair grey! Her mother was online and her reply was prompt.

Mum, Dad Nana and I bought a baby orang utan at the market in Belaga today. Its a she. Its simply adorable! Ive named it Carrots. And Mum, you cant hide your past! I know all about you and your childhood friend Payah! AND the scrapes you got into! Naellia

Naellia dearest, have you and Nana lost your wits? You cant bring it back! Weve no place to keep it in the apartment apart from the fact that its illegal to own one. Dont do anything foolish! And dont at any rate get into trouble! Payah was high-spirited and impetuous. We were never in trouble! I made sure of that! Mum.

Mum, Im not THAT crazy! tell you more later. Bye! Naellia

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Dearest, Do behave yourself. Mum

Wai Fong

What are you planning to do with Carrots? Im sure your

Mum wont let you bring it back to Singapore even if its legal to keep it as a pet.

Naellia

Shed hit the ceiling! Im not that stupid! But seriously,

Carrots will only be here temporarily until the new ranger turns up and we can give it to him to look after. Carrots will most probably be sent to the Semongok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Kuching Nana says. Meanwhile well put it in a bird cage as its the only thing available at such short notice. Its a provisional measure to protect Carrots Nana assures me. Well leave it on the verandah at night in the cage and let it out during the day. Nana is calling me to dinner, and the children are clamouring to play with Carrots. They can get really pesky! Im going to tell them that they can take Carrots out tomorrow but not to make a lot of noise and wake me up. Today has been so immensely exciting and exhausting that Im going to call it an early night. I cant wait to see what tomorrow brings. Will keep you all up with the news.

Wai Fong

Weve nothing that exciting to report here. Im leaving for

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Hong Kong tomorrow. Maybe theres more exciting stuff there to write home about.

By the time that Naellia felt she could face the day, Carrots had been passed from one child to another until everyone lost sight of it. When she finally traced Carrots whereabouts, it was too late. It had got in among Uku Nyalos hens and was causing quite a havoc.

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The hens set up a ruckus, squawking and running confusedly in circles. The children screamed hysterically with laughter at the sight of Carrots, who was having the fun of its life, scattering Uku Nyalos layers all over the place. Some of the hens fell over at the stress and lay senseless. Uku Nyalo was not amused. Shouting imprecations, she tried to catch Carrots who, thinking that Uku Nyalo was playing games, led her a merry chase through her garden, swinging in and out of her fruit trees. Naellia thought it hilarious too. But fearing that Uku Nyalo would put the blame solely on her and punish her by banishing Carrots from the longhouse, she joined in the chase hoping to catch it before it did irreparable damage to Uku Nyalos garden. Finally Carrots decided that it had had enough of the excitement. It sat on a branch of Uku Nyalos dwarf mango tree, scratching itself lazily. Spying her chance, Uku Nyalo sneaked up on Carrots. Just as she reached out to grab the orang utan, Carrots launched itself from its perch into Uku Nyalos out-stretched arms. Ay-ayieee, shrieked Uku Nyalo in revulsion and hopped about trying to shake off Carrots, which sent the children doubling up with laughter. It was only when Nana had waved a bar of chocolate under Carrots nose that Naellia managed to detach it from its firm hold of Uku Nyalo. Uku Nyalo was livid. She seethed and she fumed. It looked like she was about to explode. If that creature is to stay here until the new ranger comes, I want it put in a cage. And thats where I want it to stay put! Do you hear? she

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screamed, and emitted such a wail that would have put a banshee to shame. Supangs father quickly built a cage to keep the peace. It was big enough to contain an adult standing upright, with room enough to swing Carrots around. A loop of rattan vine hung from the ceiling of the cage for it to swing from. Carrots whimpered, shook the bamboo bars and looked pathetically at Naellia with its round limpid golden eyes. Naellia could not bear to see it imprisoned. A shouting match ensued between Naellia and Uku Nyalo. Uku Nyalo was adamant that the orang utan stay inside the cage. She claimed that her hens had been so frightened that they had stopped laying eggs. There was no placating her, or Naellia who maintained that it was downright cruel to imprison Carrots who would become eventually neurotic and turn aggressive. Nana finally defused the situation by suggesting that only Naellia could take Carrots out to play, but as far away as possible from the longhouse and Uku Nyalos little bit of Eden and her hens. But where? Nellia felt downcast. To her, what lay beyond the orderly civilized compound of the longhouse was all impenetrable jungle containing nightmarish things. There lurked pythons and cobras, and tarantulas in their lair of tightly-woven webs waiting to pounce on her. She had once watched a TV documentary on how a tarantula went about catching its meal which was a poor little bird. Just the recollection of it sent her skin crawling. So hypnotized had she been by the images that she had not even thought of switching channel. For days on end she had gone

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about imagining the repulsive creatures under her bed, behind every door, cupboard and chest of drawers waiting to spring out at her. But all was not lost. Supang knew exactly of such a place where Carrots could be let loose to run about without any danger. She took Naellia and Carrots to what she called her hide-out some distance away from the longhouse. They had to tramp through dank, musky, deeply shadowed jungle paths overgrown with creepers to reach it. Supangs secret playground when they came upon it, was a magical light -dappled place - with butterflies galore, and a clear stream running by and a pair of kingfishers flashing blue and red as they fished in it. Naellia was enchanted. None of the children accompanied them. They were all afraid of the Bomoh whose hut was a stones throw away from the sunless path that led to Supangs hideaway. They were frightened of the medicine-womans spells and charms, and of the strange objects made of straw that hung from her fruit trees and turned slowly in the breeze. A magic circle of stones and ancient animal bones surrounded her hut while eerie sounds issued from and around her dwelling. They had never really seen the Bomoh in person, only as a vague form in the distance. Supang explained that the medicine-woman was an albino. Because the sunlight hurt her light skin and her eyes, she went about swathed so that her face remained in the shadow of the shawl that covered her head like a hood. And that was the reason why she could only be seen at night gathering herbs for her ubat or potions by the light of the moon. Naellia told Supang fervently that she had no intention of crossing

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the Bomohs path either by the light of the sun or moon.

10

Naellia

Hey, life out here is NOT the least bit dull! Carrots chased

Uku Nyalos silly hens all over the place until they fainted. I know it sounds heartless, but it was so funny! The children were screaming with laughter. Uku Nyalo was boiling with rage. She chased after Carrots and tried to catch it. I ran after them both. Uku Nyalo stole up on Carrots when it was

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sitting quite still on a branch of her fruit tree, thinking to grab it. Instead Carrots swung itself plumb into Uku Nyalos arms, which sent her screeching loud enough to wake the dead! It was all so incredibly funny that I almost choked with laughter. Uku Nyalo went ballistic and insisted that Carrots stay in a cage. supangs father built a big one in double-quick time. I protested. Uku Nyalo was unmoved. She said my behaviour was reprehensible. Nana finally said I could take Carrots out to play but away from Uku Nyalos hens and garden. The question was WHERE because Uku Nyalos hens have the run of the whole place while almost every fruit tree around seems to be hers. I thought all was lost, but supang saved the day! She showed me a really lovely place with dancing lights and butterflies and kingfishers, and orchids youd never see at the Botanic Gardens. But I didnt like the way there one bit. I kept on hearing rustling sounds in the undergrowth. Probably snakes! But Supang says they do their best not to get under our feet! They try to get out of the way when they feel something coming. Id rather be the one to get out of their way first. And theres even a wicked Bomoh whom all the kids are afraid of. I havent seen her, but her hut is on the way to Supangs hideaway.

Rebecca

You sound like youre really having a fantastic time! To tell

the truth, youre not missing much here! The Marina Sands Casino and Hotel just opened but we werent allowed in. We watched the grand

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opening on TV. Theres a crazy rooftop swimming pool fifty floors up! With a stupendous view over the edge! I get weak knees just thinking about the height.

Wai Fong

Hi from Hong Kong. How I envy you! Its really boring here. I

thought it was fun at first, but my cousin Priscilla thinks only of shopping, shopping, shopping. Scilly Scilla giggles and squeals all the time. She thinks shes cute when she lisps Weally thweet in her little girl voice. It makes me want to throw up! Her parents have pots of money and we are driven around by a chauffeur. We arent allowed to go anywhere on our own. Anyway I dont believe sissy Prissy would put a foot out of doors without her Nanny holding her hand. Imagine having someone who sticks like a limpet to you! I believe Prissys nanny packs a six-shooter! Wish I could be in the jungle with you, creepy-crawlies and all, and share the fun.

Lonnie

Youve got all the luck! Wish I could be there too. Its so hot

here. Im sick of the Botanic Gardens and the Museums and Sentosa. Id love to play with Carrots, watch the kingfishers and most of all meet the wicked witch. All thats missing is Tarzan! That would be romantic!

Naellia

Supang is screaming for me. The kids are pestering her to

get me to play cats cradle with them. They wont let her in peace until I do. Thats fame for you! Will write more when I get the chance.

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11

Bored after playing several rounds of Cats Cradle and Snakes and Ladders with the young children, Naellia and Supang took Carrots to the hideaway. The path that led to the hideaway was overhung with creepers and snaked through bushes and clumps of giant ferns that grew in the shades of trees. The air, musky with the smell of rotting leaves, was cool. Insects hummed and whirred. Monkeys chattered somewhere high above their heads in the boughs of trees. Birds squawked or croaked, and the underbrush rustled from time to time. Somewhere in the distance, a dead branch would break with a sharp crack and fall with a thundering crash to the ground.

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Naellias heart thudded as they skirted the Bomohs dwelling. It was comforting to have Carrots clinging to her and Supangs presence was definitely assuring. They were close to Supangs secret play ground when Naellia heard the sound of a twig snapping. It was as loud as the crack of a pistol shot, the kind in films, which made Naellia jump and grab her cousins arm in fright. They halted in their tracks. There were no tigers or ferocious beasts of prey on the Island of Borneo. But a foraging wild boar had long wicked tusks, and a sow would be particularly dangerous if it had its young with it. Both girls stood uncertainly, poised for flight. Then there was a crash, a shout and sounds of trampling feet. Naellia and Supang grabbed each other with Carrots squashed between them. A man burst out of the undergrowth, sliding to a halt before them. He seemed as surprised as they were shocked by this sudden encounter. Where did they go? asked the man agitatedly, his breath coming out in great ragged gasps. Did you see them? Two of them. He slowly lowered the gun he was holding and wiped his brow with his floppy jungle hat. What on earth are you two girls doing here? he asked. Were taking Carrots to my cousins hideaway to play so it wont disturb Uku Nyalos hens, explained Naellia who had got over her fright. She led the way to Supangs light-filled hideaway and let loose Carrots who immediately started swinging ecstatically from one sapling to another. Thats Carrots, the orang utan? Youre its owner? asked the man, showing just the right amount of interest. He removed his sunglasses to

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take a better look at Carrots who was playing hide and seek among the foliage. Thats a very appropriate name, I see. But its rather irregular to own an orang utan. In fact, its illegal. We know, replied Naellia. But were only keeping Carrots until the new ranger gets here and then were going to give him Carrots. Shake, said the man, holding out his hand, a delighted smile spreading across his tanned face, revealing strong white teeth. Im Jau Jok Jallong the new ranger. Just call me Jess, for the three Js, get it? He chuckled. Naellia giggled, taking an instant liking to him. Im Naellia from Singapore and this is my cousin Supang, said Nellia. Then her face fell. Oh, I didnt think youd be here so soon. Jess attention turned once more to Carrots who was now running rings around Nellia. How come its in your possession? My Nana and I rescued it from a shopkeeper down in Belaga who was probably going to sell it to unscrupulous men involved in the illegal export of exotic animals, Officer Jallong, said Naellia. Nana bought it for ten ringgit to prevent that happening. Were going to give you Carrots for nothing. Jess. I insist. Were buddies. Youve got the right attitude. Im sorry but Ill have to take it away from you, said the ranger not unkindly when he saw that Naellia looked crestfallen. Please, Jess, not now . Please may I keep Carrots for just a little while longer? pleaded Nellia in a rush as she bent down to pick up

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Carrots who was now jumping up and down like a small child signalling to be carried; and to hide the tears that were welling up at the thought of losing her delightful playmate so soon. Dont move! ordered Jess sharply under his breath. Startled, Naellia looked up. She saw with amazement revulsion spreading across his face, and fear too. Then out of the corner of her left eye she saw a slight movement. Despite his injunction, she turned her head in the direction where his eyes were fixed. A green snake with black markings was slithering up a tree-trunk close by. Jess raised his rifle slowly and took aim. His finger tightened on the trigger. Enter these enchanted woods, You who dare. Nothing harms beneath the leaves. Foot at peace with mouse and worm, Fair you fare. Jess crouched, swung around, his eyes searching the bushes. Its quite harmless, said the same cool and measured voice. Theres no reason why you should blow it to pieces! Kuleh! shrieked Supang. Where? asked Jess, whipping confusedly about, rifle at the ready. No, not a clouded leopard! Thats James baby name! laughed Supang delightedly.

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12

A handsome golden-skinned youth with an aristocratic bearing emerged from the shadows. How long he had been there Naellia did not know. He had simply blended with the surroundings. He could be a spirit of the forest. A good one of course. The corners of his eyes tilted slightly upwards like those of elves and sprites in the illustrations of fairy tales for children. Only his ears were not pointy. She stared at him in fascination. Im James. The children at the longhouse persist in calling me by my infant name. He looked scornfully at Jess. His eyes glinted coldly. Theres absolutely no danger, continued Kuleh caustically. The snake was just trying to escape from being trodden on. Snakes never attack. Live and let live, thats my motto. What rubbish is that? Who are you to tell me my business!

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snapped Jess with a truculence that surprised Naellia. He turned to her, his tone softening, What were you saying before we were interrupted? Um . . . oh yes, said Naellia, dragging her eyes away from Kuleh with difficulty. Please may I keep Carrots for a little while longer. I promise Ill take good care of it. A little while, said Jess with a strained smile. Only for a very little while, then it has to go to the Wild Life Rehabilitation Centre. Anyway, I have to arrange transport for it. Now Id better escort you girls back to your longhouse before it gets dark. There may be bad men about and theyre dangerous. Id be surprised if the rogues I was chasing werent these men. You neednt bother, said Kuleh rather rudely, Ill see them both back. We live in the same longhouse. Youre a very insolent young man! said Jess. He turned around smartly, saluted Naellia and Supang and walked briskly away. Kuleh watched Jau Joks retreating back thoughtfully through a screen of bushes until it vanished. Hmm, odd. he said. A poor sort of ranger, frightened by a snake. Are they so desperate at the Forestry Department that theyre accepting city-slickers? Theres something fishy about him. You were rude! said Supang. Spouting poetry at the poor man and telling him off like you own the place. Sorry, I got carried away, Kuleh laughed, a little embarrassed. Something just came over me. He turned to Naellia. Supang is right. I was abominably rude. Pardon me. We havent met. Supang, do me the

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honour! Supang introduced Naellia who blushed furiously. She had been gawking at Kuleh all the while like an idiot child! It was mortifying. Amazing! she exclaimed breathlessly, trying to hide her embarrassment. You know Meredith too. Naellia knew Meredith because her mother who taught English Literature at Temasek Junior College tended to pepper her conversation with literary allusions. Amazed that we Orang UIu are not so backward after all ? Kuleh cocked an eyebrow at Naellia in amusement. Naellia felt her cheeks burning all the way to the tips of her ears. She must be looking as red as a boiled crab! Youre insufferable, Kuleh! Ignore him, Naellia. Hes a big showoff, said Supang. Have you just come back from Sibu? Where were you during the best part of the hols? I was with my scout troop in Sabah. We climbed Mount Kinabalu, and really there was a pack of kids from Singapore and some were snivelling and yelling for their mums while we were making the ascent in the dark. They held us up, but we made it all the way up to Laws Peak just in time to see the pink blush of dawn, said Kuleh, grinning impishly. Naellia wished the ground would open and swallow him up! Stop teasing Naellia! Kuleh only laughed. Pax, he said. Then he looked at both girls his eyes shining with excitement. Id like to show you something out of this world while theres still

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enough light left or do you quaver at the dread dark? Of course not! said Naellia, lying through her teeth. Only its a secret, so promise not to tell. We wont tell, promised the girls. In the gathering dusk they followed Kuleh. After a short trek that took them upstream, he stopped and pointed at the waters edge. There! he said proudly. Isnt it a beauty? he asked looking fondly at the object of his affection. Only its mother will think it beautiful! remarked Naellia. She and Supang exchanged glances and burst out laughing. Even Carrots laughed along with the girls if the sounds it made could be termed laughter.

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13

Hi Mum, Hi, Dad I met the new ranger and Carrots will have to go soon to the rehabilitation Centre, but Im allowed to keep it until I leave. Nana is fine and so are all the relatives. Me too. Hows Granddad? See you both soon. Will tell you more later. Naellia

Nellia

Girls, sorry it was too late to chat last evening. I have to give

up darling Carrots soon. I met the new ranger when Supang and I took Carrots out to play. I feel quite sad. The ranger, who asked us to call him Jess because of the three Js in his name Jau Jok Jallong, is really nice. He had been chasing poachers when he suddenly crashed out of the bushes right in front of us with a rifle in his hands! Supang and I were terrified! I asked him if I could keep Carrots until I left for Singapore and he said I could. I promised Id take good care of it.

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Rebecca

how thrilling with the place crawling with poachers and

rangers with rifles! Were all rather miserable here. Lonnie has caught the flu from Wai Fong whos come back from Hong Kong in a foul temper and still feeling sick. Wai Fong believes she caught it from Pampered Princess Prissy. I think Im catching it as well. My throat hurts. My head too, and its swimming as well. My brow is burning hot. Whine, whine. Wheres all the sympathy when I need it most?

Naellia

Sorry to hear youre all sick. I also met a boy named Kuleh.

He appeared out of nowhere just as the ranger was about to shoot a snake. Kuleh is the Orang Ulu word for the clouded leopard, which is a very rare creature found only in the rainforest of Borneo. It is clouded because of the cloud-like pattern on its fur. His real name is James and hes the Headmans son and has just come back from boarding school for the term holidays. He must be about fifteen. Hes VERY good-looking and interesting.

Rebecca the luck!

Tarzan at last! How romantic! You do have all the fun! And

Naellia

I dont know if I like him all that much. Kulehs rather

conceited and cocksure! He can be very infuriating. He thinks theres something cagey about Jess, whom I find very kind to let me keep Carrots a bit longer. He quoted Meredith, stuff about enchanted woods (I only

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know a couple of verses because of Mum) warning Jess against harming the creatures of the forest. Jess wasnt at all impressed. He was quite insulted. He told Kuleh to mind his own business. I rather sympathized with him. Kuleh was acting lordly. Though I must admit he has a lovely voice. Before we went back to the longhouse, Kuleh shared his secret with us after extracting a promise from us not to tell. We had to trek some distance upstream where he showed us a baby crocodile! Hes absolutely nutty about it! Supang and I had to laugh when he called it beautiful! Ive never seen anything so hideous! He wanted to name it Nell, but I shouted him down. Supang took his part by saying (maliciously) that it had that same supercilious expression that I wore on my face when I first arrived. I was furious with her! That thing has a long snout with a funny knob at the tip. Kuleh said the reptiles a false gharial and that its extremely rare. The real gharial, by the way, is found in India. False or real, its still a crocodile to me! However, its not a man-eating saltwater crocodile. Its a freshwater crocodile found in rivers deep inland and eats small animals, which is some consolation! Kuleh then dug a plastic bag out of his pocket. It contained bloody odds and ends of a chicken which he fed to the gharial. Ugh! The crocodile, which is still a baby, is already about half a meter long. An adult can reach a length of 6 meters! I believe it would eat Carrots if it could. Kuleh accompanied us today when Supang and I took Carrots out for its exercise. Of course we had to look in on his pet gharial which he fed

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again. It looked just as repellent by daylight. Its a sluggish creature and not the least bit interesting. I suggested to Kuleh that he should train it to balance a ball on the knobby bit at the end of its snout. That infuriated him! On the way back, Kuleh heatedly lectured us on disreputable collectors who pay high sums for endangered species they can stuff and stick into glass cases or put in cages for show in their private zoos! Its a lucrative business for poachers. Supang and I thoroughly agreed with him. How inhumane can people get! How greedy! Kuleh is really passionate about protecting the rainforest habitat for Sarawaks wild animals. He wants to be a zoologist and work as a conservationist. At his age he already has his life mapped out! I have to admire him for that.

Rebecca

As long as it stays tiny even a salty would look cute! So

would a grizzly cub. ALL babies look cute. Yesterday the Flyer got struck by lightning which conked out the air conditioning system. Now we cant even ride it! What a thrill! Bring back the clouded leopard!

14

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Carrots cage was empty. But that was not really surprising. The rule that only Naellia could let Carrots out had been bent a little. It was absurd from the beginning and unfair, for Carrots was not exclusively hers. After consulting with Nana, Naellia announced that the older more responsible children could take it out without having to ask for her permission. But as the day progressed and there was still no sign of the animal and the children were all present and accounted for by evening, Naellia began to get really worried. It was impossible that Carrots could have unlatched the door to the cage and make its escape without getting into the hen coop first where there would have been an uproar. Uku Nyalo would have been the first to yell blue murder! Questioned, the children were just as bewildered. Naellia began to feel really afraid. She had promised Jess that she would look after Carrots. She alone was responsible for Carrots safety. Now Carrots had disappeared. It could be in a trap and hurt. Naellia felt sick with fear at the thought. Jess had to be told, Jess who had put his trust in her and was so kind as to let her keep Carrots until she left for Singapore. Although light was failing Naellia made her way to Jess ranger station. In her anxiety, she had not thought of bringing a torch. In the inky darkness under the canopies of trees, bushes took on ghostly forms. She tripped over roots that sent her sprawling into the dirt. She imagined cobras and all kinds of snakes lurking behind every bush ready to strike as she went by. Her greatest fear was to put her foot into a tarantulas sticky

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cobwebby hidey-hole. She screamed silently at this thought. Kuleh had shown her one during what he called a nature stroll, and she had shrieked and reeled back with horror. Little Miss Muffet he had called her and laughed mockingly. She wished she had never come. Oh how she wanted to be back in Singapores clean and safe concrete jungle! A thousand eyeballs under hoods . . . There she went again, letting her imagination run riot, scaring herself silly. She must try to keep her head and stay cool. But she was not at all like her Dad who dealt with dicey situations by turning frivolous. If this was his way of keeping his nerves it was certainly not hers! It was the horrifying vision of poor dear Carrots mangled body in a trap that finally lent her courage and drove her on. There was a light burning in the station. Thank goodness Jess was in! She sobbed with relief. She tried to call but her voice came out in a croak. The door of massive wood looked sturdy and she would only hurt her fist if she tried banging on it. She looked around, found a stout stick, and thumped the door with it. She was disheveled and covered in muck and hoped that Jess would recognize her when he opened the door. It seemed an eternity before the door opened. What on earth . . . ? asked a voice that did not belong to Jess. Naellia could not see the strangers face because his body blocked out the light. Then the man grabbed the storm lantern from the table behind him and held it up so that the light fell on Naellia and himself. Oh! gasped Nellia, taken aback. Im looking for Jess. Isnt Jess in?

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Im Jess, said the stranger frowning darkly. No, you cant be! Naellia backed off. Wheres Jess? What have you done with him? Im Jau Jok Jallong, Jess to everyone, come to replace ranger Ballang. Naellia turned and fled. Hey! Come back! yelled the man. He stood looking after Naellias fleeing form, baffled, shrugged, then closed the door. Some kid playing tricks.

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15

Naellia did not look back. She hurtled down what she hoped was the trail leading back to Nanas longhouse, pursued by demons with a thousand eyeballs. She was past caring for all she wanted now was to get as far away as possible from this man who was pretending to be Jess. In the darkness, which was flustering, she lost all sense of direction and ran wildly, stumbling and falling, picking herself up, and stumbling and falling again. All animals must have fled in terror of her. The forest must be all hers, which was even more unnerving. For now she shared it with predatory humans who, unlike the creatures of the forest, would not shy away at the tremble of a leaf. After blundering about for what it seemed like ages and knowing full well that she was lost, she saw a glimmer of light through the trees. Here she hoped to find refuge. As she made her way to this point of light with a feeling of relief, a figure reared up before her, grabbed her and pulled her down. She opened her mouth to scream, but only a squeak escaped from her throat which had grown dry with fear. She tried to wrench herself free from her assailant, feet kicking and fists flailing. Stop thrashing about! Keep quiet! A voice hissed in her ear. Kuleh! Hush! Or youll give us away! Kuleh, oh, Kuleh, sobbed Naellia. Stay still and keep your voice down! hissed Kuleh. Oh, Kuleh, you cant imagine how glad I am to see you! whispered

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Naellia. What are you doing here? I was going to feed the ghalial just before dusk when I saw Jau Jok prowling around so I thought Id do the same, said Kuleh . I stuck as close to him as I dared. Hes gone behind the Bomohs hut. I wonder if theyre in cahoots with each other. I thought Id linger awhile and maybe get to find out what hes up to. Why, if I may ask, are you scampering about at this time of the night? Oh Kuleh, Carrots has disappeared. Im trying to find it. I went to the ranger station to get help, but the man there isnt Jess. I got frightened and ran away. Hmm, this is getting more and more mysterious, said Kuleh. I think if we wait patiently enough, well have our answer. Keeping a warning hand on her, Kuleh returned to observing the Bomohs dwelling which was the source of the light that she had seen in her wild rush. Naellia, though still trembling, lay still beside him and followed his gaze. How long they lay in this waiting and watching position, she did not know. She must have dozed off, for she jerked awake as Kulehs hand suddenly clamped on her shoulder. The light in the house had gone out. The door creaked open slowly. A hooded form materialized and glided cautiously into the moonlight which just shone enough to let Naellia see that it was the Bomoh. Her skin crawled. The hairs on the nape of her neck seemed to stand on their ends and a cold shower of fear trickled down her spine. The Bomoh stood stock-still at first, searching the darkness, listening. A light breeze sent wind bells tinkling while the bizarrely-shaped

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straws that hung from her trees swayed and whirled. After a while she walked briskly down the short path and passed hard by their hiding place. A twig snapped. Naellia shivered. Kuleh squeezed her hand warningly. Then the moon was obscured by scudding clouds. As it reappeared, the Bomoh had vanished. Kuleh rose from his prone position and signalled to Naellia to follow him. He was not however going to shadow the Bomoh . He made directly for the Bomohs dwelling instead. This calls for an investigation, he said, keeping his voice low. Cmon! What if she comes back immediately? Naellia whispered. Well just have to take the chance. Wheres Jess? You said he went behind the hut? Naellia still held back. He may have left. Probably through a backdoor. Theres something fishy going on. I want to know whats behind that dwelling of hers. You can stay here and keep watch if youre chicken. No! Im coming with you! Naellia grabbed Kulehs arm. She had no wish to lie alone in the bush and be pounced upon by the Bomoh, which with her luck, she was sure was bound to happen. Kuleh led the way while Naellia meekly followed. They crept around the hut to the back where they found a dilapidated shelter. There in the light of the moon, under a hasty cover of banana leaves and palm fronds, they discerned what looked like boxes piled against a wall. A closer inspection showed that the boxes were cages made of bamboo. Naellia

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peeked into one. Carrots! exclaimed Naellia. Carrots lay pathetically still. It had been sedated. Oh! said Naellia, enraged. She tore at the cage, but it held. Oh! Well! This was Kuleh. His voice was so filled with outrage that Naellia could hear the exclamation mark. He had removed the perforated lid of a plastic cool-box. In about a centimeter or two of water lay a small ghalial. Further exploration revealed two tarsus which stared at them with enormous unblinking eyes. There was a flying squirrel in one cage, while a black sun bear lay sedated in another. They continued to poke around. Well, well, well! Naellias scalp crept. It was not Kulehs voice. In books, the heroine swung around, eyes flashing. This was not a book. Naellia cringed. Her knees had turned to water. Her heart beat deafeningly in her ears. Her throat seemed to be choke-full of sawdust. A midnight visitor! Come to admire my zoo! Naellia turned slowly, unwillingly around. The Bomoh stood before her. Her face was in the shadows, but Naellia thought she saw the wicked gleam in her eyes. She tried to back away as the Bomoh came a step nearer but the cages were hard against her back. She looked furtively around. Of Kuleh there was no sign. Dont think you can escape! said the Bomoh, misconstruing Naellias glance. Her voice was a raspy whisper and all the more threatening. There was something snake-like and mesmerizing about her.

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Naellia stood rooted to the spot, quivering like a cornered mouse. The Bomoh advanced another step, claw-like hands outstretched, ready to grab. Then another. There was a great clatter. Both the Bomoh and Naellia jumped. RUN! yelled Kuleh. The Bomoh whipped around and received a cage full in the face. RUN! yelled Kuleh again Carrots! squeaked Naellia. RUN! roared Kuleh. Forget Carrots! RUN! Naellia ran as Kuleh flung himself at the Bomoh.

16

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Naellia was late for supper. Nana frowned. It was quite unlike her granddaughter not to be in by sundown. She went to look for her in Supangs amin. It was possible that she had forgotten the time. Young people were often like that once they got going on the computer. But Naellia was not with Supang. The last time Supang saw her was earlier in the afternoon when Naellia was making her rounds asking the children if they had seen Carrots. This time, Nana and Supang made the rounds asking all along the longhouse if anyone had seen Naellia. The answers were all negative until Nana came upon Uku Nyalo at the hen coop where her hens were kept after sunset. Uku was mumbling and muttering, counting her chickens. Have you by any chance seen Naellia? inquired Nana worriedly. Isnt she back yet? replied Uku Nyalo absently. Wheres the White Leghorn? My best layer! Dont tell me shes gone missing again. No. There she is! She looks dirty! I wonder if I should hose her down. What do you mean not back yet? interrupted Nana with growing alarm. Did she go somewhere? She didnt tell me she was going anywhere. Well, I saw her sneaking off into the dusk, said Uku Nyalo. Im not surprised if theres some hanky-panky going on. That James is a rascal. The two are as thick as thieves! He may be the headmans son, but his manners are deplorable! And so full of his own self-consequence! At this jumble of information, Nana became even more alarmed. She rushed off to the headmans amin accompanied by Uku Nyalo and Supang.

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James? I havent seen him the whole day. He comes in when he decides to come in. Hes probably checking on the gharials upstream. Im not worried about him. Hes a big boy, said the headman as Nana inquired after Kuleh. Thats what Im afraid of, remarked Uku Nyalo primly. Naellia has disappeared! said Nana, panic creeping into her voice. I cant find her anywhere. Ive been asking around and nobody knows where she is. Naellia has vanished! These words spread like wild fire and soon the whole inhabitants of the longhouse were gathered before the headmans amin. After some debate and a lot of speculations, it was arrived at that Naellias disappearance might have something to do with Carrots. We have to go and look for Naellia, said Nana, her voice quavering. But where? I saw her go in the direction of the ranger station, said Uku Nyalo. Why didnt you say so when I asked you if you had seen her! snapped Nana, rounding on Uku Nyalo in exasperation. Nana who was normally mild-mannered was now in a frenzy of anxiety. I dont tell tales, said Uku Nyalo huffily. Shes a big girl too. Ladies, ladies, Im sure there is a simple explanation, broke in the headman equably. Action is called for. Ill rustle up a search party, and then well go over to the ranger and inform him and get his help. No. No young children or babies. Only able-bodied men and women, please. All right, Supang, you may come along seeing as youre her cousin.

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With the headman leading the way, and enough torches and storm lanterns to turn night into day, and almost armed to the teeth, the search party tramped noisily towards Jess ranger station. All blood was up. Jess who was getting ready for bed heard a hubbub of voices coming his way. Surely not a welcoming committee at this time of the night! These people here really kept strange hours and customs! Jess opened the door before the headman could knock and was astounded at the alarming sight of what seemed like the whole population of a longhouse on the warpath. A babble of voices rose from the blood-thirsty horde before him. Thats not the new ranger! Youre not Jess! Hes not Jess the ranger! Hey, whats going on around here? First that kid, now you lot! said Jess. Kid? So Naellia did come here! You crook, wheres Naellia? Hold on! Keep back! Keep back! shouted Jess as the more hotheaded among the young men, eager to put their ancestral parangs to the test, began moving menacingly forward. Hold on! Will someone explain what this is all about! Who are you? asked the headman who seemed to be the only one keeping a cool head. Im Jau Jok Jallong, the new ranger come to take over the post

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from Ballang, insisted Jess. Your identification papers, if you please. Jess scrabbled for his ID in one pocket after another of his ranger uniform. He gave a whistle of relief when he found it. These people were making him nervous. It looks like him all right, said the headman, peering at the photograph and comparing it with Jess features. If youre Jau Jok Jallong, then whos the other fellow? What other fellow? I arrived barely two hours ago. The place was empty and looked a bit ramshackle but I didnt expect it to be in tip top condition anyway. Then a kid knocked and when she saw me, said I wasnt the ranger, and ran away, said Jess, perplexed. Thats my grandchild! cried Nana. Im sure thats Naellia! Thats Naellia! echoed Uku Nyalo. She gave an aggressive wag of her chin. That she ran away, thats an invention for sure! You scoundrel! Release her! Release Naellia! Release her! Release Naellia! A chorus of voices took up the cry. The search party surged forward. Parangs were drawn and threateningly brandished. In the name of the law, I demand an explanation! cried Jess in his most official manner, courageously holding his ground. The headman intervened and told the tale of Carrots disappearance and consequently Naellias. Strange things, indeed! remarked Jess when the headman had come to the end of his tale. And they do tally with rumours weve been

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getting at HQ in Kuching about illegal activities going on around the region here. Weve got to find Naellia! cried Nana urgently. You said Naellia ran away. In which direction did she go? Without more ado, Jess grabbed his rifle and led the way in the direction where he thought he saw Naellia vanish into the night.

17

Multitudinous pinpoints of light flickered in the far distance. Naellia saw them winking and dancing and playing hide-and-seek among the foliage. Fire-flies, goblins, or accomplices of the wicked Bomoh with more of their ill-gotten gains? Her heart, which had in the course of the day

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performed incredible gymnastics rising to the roof of her mouth, flipping over in her stomach, sliding down to her shoes, thudded painfully against her chest. She stopped running. With every shuddering breath, her ribs hurt. Her arms and legs were scratched, her face too. All parts of her body hurt. She had been crying and her vision was blurry. The lights came nearer, a nebulous glow now, and Naellia thought she could hear voices. She dove into some prickly bushes. A moment later she scrambled out of her cover. Men on illegal activities would not be making so much noise like a whole herd of water buffaloes. As the lights drew nearer, she heard her name called. In the glow of so many lanterns, she saw her Nana, ran and flung herself joyously into her arms. NANA! NAELLIA! Nana, oh, Nana! sobbed Naellia while her grandmother held her tightly. Oh my treasure! sobbed Nana. My treasure, you are not harmed? Kuleh! shrieked Naellia as the image of Kuleh grappling with the Bomoh rose before her eyes. The Bomohs got Kuleh! Weve got to save him! James! It was the headmans turn to be alarmed. James! My boy, were coming! he cried. Heedless of Jess call for stealth, the headman and the search party

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plunged noisily on, sweeping Naellia up with them. The Bomohs hut lay in absolute darkness and silence. If the Bomoh was around, she must be skulking and lying low, thinking that out of fear of her magic and spells, the crowd would not dare enter her compound. Naellia, throwing all caution to the winds, rushed around to the back of the hut, the rescuers at her heels. And straight into the Bomohs arms. She had been lurking in the vicinity of the cages. Come no further! ordered the Bomoh. Unless you want the child hurt! Jess cursed. The headman cursed. Nana screamed. Supang shrieked. Everyone fell back. Keeping a tight hold on the nape of Naellias neck, the Bomoh came slowly forward, shoving Naellia before her. Let me through and I will release the child unharmed. Keep your distance! The crowd parted wordlessly for them. All eyes were fixed on Naellia and the Bomoh whose eyes never wavered from the path opening before them as everyone scurried aside. Out of nowhere whizzed an object through the air, striking the Bomohs temple. Caught off-balance, she loosened her hold of Naellia who had wits enough to fling herself sideways. Jess and the headman threw themselves at the Bomoh. Lanterns fell and torches dropped as young men from the longhouse joined in the scrimmage. Curses ripped the air. Then amidst the scuffle in the dark came the sounds of a body

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crashing its way through the bushes and running feet pounding a getaway. Torches and lanterns were re-lit. They shone upon two figures. Jess was holding a sarong, the headman a shawl and a blonde wig, both looking bemused. The Bomoh had given them the slip! With a roar of rage, Jess and some of the young men went in pursuit of her. Meanwhile, Uku Nyalo had plainly gone off her head. She was jumping up and down and cackling with glee. Bulls-eye! I did it! I did it! I hit him! she shrieked triumphantly. Him? Everyone gaped at her. That was no Bomoh. That was the fake Jess. I noticed his jungle boots sticking out from under his sarong, said Uku Nyalo smugly. Uku Nyalo, youre a wonder! said Naellia, giving her a quick hug. You saved me! What did you hit him with? Uku Nyalo smirked and pointed at the ground where a hard-boiled egg lay mashed almost beyond recognition. Uku Nyalo, do you always carry boiled eggs with you? wondered Supang. You never know when you may need them. I always leave one or two along jungle paths to placate the spirits. Wow, Uku Nyalo, youre quite a marksm . . . um, woman! said Naellia. I get enough practice slinging stones at those thieving civets and clouded leopards that raid my hen coop, said Uku Nyalo modestly, waving a catapult that she had confiscated from one of the children whom she had

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come upon slinking around her hen coop and probably up to no good. KULEH! shrieked Naellia at the mention of clouded leopards. JAMES! My boy! James, where are you? hollered his father. They had forgotten Kuleh in the excitement. Once more there was a mad rush to the back of the Bomohs dwelling. There among the tumbled cages, they found Kuleh with an ugly gash on his head now caked with dried blood. He was unconscious. But as Naellia and Supang called his name, his eyes fluttered open. That Bomohs no lady, he said and passed out.

18

Hi, Reb, Lon, Wai Fong, Golly, golly, golly! You wont believe this! Because I still dont myself. Its like a dream. I dont even know where to begin. When Carrots disappeared and nobody claimed to know anything about it, I felt sick with fear. I had to let Jess the ranger know immediately.

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I was after all responsible for Carrots. It was dusk when I set out for the ranger station. I was expecting monsters and ogres behind every bush! I imagined encountering a cobra at every step. I was totally sick with fear! To top it all, there was a strange man at the station claiming to be Jess. I was in a such a state of terror that I didnt know what to think. I just ran away. He could be one of the gang that Jess mentioned trapping endangered rare animals to sell to unscrupulous collectors. I ran and ran. I thought I was lost when I saw a light and made for it. I almost stumbled over Kuleh who was staking out the Bomohs dwelling. I could have cried with relief! He told me to keep quiet, so we continued to keep watch. When the Bomoh finally left, Kuleh and I went to the back of her dwelling. We found a rather primitive structure with a kajang roof and piles of cages stacked up and covered with palm fronds. Kuleh started poking around and I found Carrots in one of the cages! Kuleh found a gharial which was probably his. We were so taken up with checking the cages that we werent aware that the Bomoh had returned. I almost died of fright! She made a bee-line for me, but Kuleh caused a diversion by rattling some cages. He threw one of the cages at her (an empty one). As he tackled her I ran for it! And ran and ran. Ive never done so much running in my life. I think Im going to have nightmares about that forever. While I was stumbling along paths that were overgrown with prickly bushes, I saw lights flickering. My heart dropped to my tummy and did a somersault. I thought that the stranger in Jess station had come after me

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with all his accomplices. So I plunged into the undergrowth, ignoring the snakes and spiders. All I wanted was to hide. it turned out to be a search party led by Kulehs father. There was Nana, Supang and even Uku Nyalo! With them was the stranger, and he was the real Jess. Nana hugged me, I hugged her. Supang hugged me, I hugged her and we were crying into each others arms for joy and I almost forgot about Kuleh. We hurried on to the Bomohs hut which was all in darkness. There wasnt a sound so I thought that the Bomoh must have left. I ran to the back of the dwelling and was pounced upon by the Bomoh who was lurking among the cages. I was terrified. She kept a nasty hold on my neck, almost throttling me. While she was threatening to hurt me if she wasnt let through, a missile flew through the air and struck the side of her head. That caught her by surprise and she let go of me. The headman and the real Jess sprang at her. It seemed that everyone joined in the fray. There was a scuffle and in the confusion, the Bomoh managed to slip away. Kulehs father and the real Jess were left looking foolish, one holding the Bomohs sarong and the other her shawl and a blonde wig! The phoney Bomoh, who was also the fake Jess, bolted for it and disappeared into the night with the real Jess and some of the longhouse stalwarts after him. Jess reported later that the false rangers accomplices were waiting with a motor powered boat for him and the animals. They all made their escape, but he hoped they would be picked up soon as he had radioed his colleagues to look out for them. Meanwhile Uku Nyalo started gleefully hopping up and down and

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waving a catapult madly in the air. She was cackling and shrieking Bulleye! Bulls-eye! We thought she had gone loony. It turned out that she was the one who had distracted the imposter by slinging a hard-boiled egg at him! Like David bringing down Goliath with a slingshot. Wonders never cease! Uku Nyalo and I are still not the best of friends, but weve called a truce. She keeps on reminding everyone that shes the one who rescued me. She loves being in the limelight! I dont know if I like the new simpering Uku Nyalo better than the old crotchety one! I met the real Bomoh whos just returned from Kuching. She had been lured away by the fake Jess who pretended to be her nephew with a message that a relative was mortally ill. She found her hale and hearty and was invited to stay on. In her absence her hut was used to store captured animals. Shes an albino, which means she lacks pigment. Ive never seen one before. Im ashamed to say I was agog with curiosity. Her skin is pinkish. Her hair, eyebrows and even eyelashes are colourless. thats why she keeps her face more or less covered up because the bright sunlight hurts her eyes especially. It was an ideal disguise for the fake Jess. Shes very shy, and not at all like the wicked witch of my imagination. Shes coming to the feast this evening. Theres going to be a purification ceremony first, and afterwards the longhouse poet is going to tell a story about the whole episode beginning with me and Nana buying Carrots freedom. Kuleh says its going to be an epic tale! Supang is calling for me. Write more later.

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Naellia

19

Naellia found Kuleh on the verandah, leaning over the parapet and looking down at the flurry of activities on the ground below. The preparation for the ritual to expunge evil was well under way. Hi, how do you feel? she greeted him shyly. All right, I guess. Kuleh winced as he turned to answer. Could be worse. He was still pale and his head was swathed in bandages. He contrived to look heroic. Im sorry. I should have run immediately when you rattled the cages and distracted Jess. You could have got away at the same time. True, said Kuleh grimly with another wince. I could have run for it and left you to the Bomoh and spared my head a bashing. I didnt want to leave Carrots, Naellia said looking suspiciously at Kuleh. She was not sure if he was making fun of her. Of course.

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I did run in the end. You ran because you didnt want to see me beat up a lady! Kuleh roared with laughter. Admit it! I bet you were thinking that I was no gentleman. All right! Im sorry. About your head I mean. Naellia flushed and continued indignantly. How was I to know the Bomoh was no lady. Just teasing. No hard feelings. He peered over the balcony. Hey, look! My Dads going to start his mumbo-jumbo, he said irreverently. An expectant silence had fallen. Kulehs father was now ready to perform the cleansing ritual. Uku Nyalo had generously donated an old Rhode Island Red cock for the purpose. Chanting some strange invocation, he slit its throat, calling upon the spirits to bless the longhouse, its inhabitants and its surroundings. He went around the longhouse compound sprinkling its blood while goggle-eyed children followed and watched in a hush, awed by the solemnity of the occasion. Naellia found the ceremony strangely touching and comforting after such a harrowing experience although she felt that they should have done it without sacrificing the cock. As it went immediately into the curry pot after the ceremony there was no cause for complaint. At the feast there was plenty of food so tastily prepared as to tempt even the most jaded palate. There were rounds and rounds of an alcoholic beverage called tuak, a rice wine with a sour bouquet. Naellia wrinkled her nose at it. She stuck to the lemonade even though she found it cloying. Sated, everyone sat back while dishes were cleared away. As an old man struck the first chords on the sapeh, a string instrument like a

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mandolin, the longhouse maidens appeared. To its haunting tune, they swayed gracefully, fluttering fans of hornbill feathers in the Hornbill Dance led, of all people, by Uku Nyalo! Uku Nyalo in her young days, Naellia learnt, was the most graceful of dancers and had won innumerable prizes in dancing competitions throughout the region! After playing coy, she had allowed herself to be persuaded to lead. She could still show them a thing or two! Wonders never cease. Naellia clapped enthusiastically along with the others while the longhouse youths wolf-whistled as the dancers twisted and turned, twirled and whirled to the enchanting sound of the sapeh. Then it was the longhouse bards turn. He began at the beginning, with Naellias arrival and Nana buying Carrots and the consequences that followed this warm-hearted and courageous act of theirs. There was overwhelming applause. When he told of the fake Jess who had also disguised himself as the Bomoh after hoodwinking her into believing he was her nephew, there were some boos for the villain while drunken youths mockingly applauded his audacity. Such perfidy! exclaimed Nana. Nefarious! I never trusted him! agreed Uku Nyalo smugly. I always held him for a rogue. I hope the felon does not elude the law entirely. The bard was enjoying himself - the story was long and involved practically all the inhabitants of the longhouse. But it was mostly about Naellia, and very flattering. Naellia blushed as the bard compared her to the goddess Bungan of whose surpassing beauty many songs had been

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sung. Wake me up when he gets to my bit! Kuleh called out lazily to Naellia who was on the point of nodding off, and the story was only halftold. She was curled up beside Nana with Carrots asleep beside her. It was still in a sedated state. Jess, the genuine Jess, who had had a long hard day behind him, rose and excused himself. He had a report to write, and he wanted an early start. The animals had still to be loaded into the boat. Some of the young men who were still steady on their feet offered their help. Naellia clutched Carrots to her. This time she would be giving it up for good. She would never see it anymore. She turned tragic eyes on Jess. Jess, may I keep Carrots one last time? she pleaded. Ill bring it down to the boat early in morning. I promise. Please, Jess. You do just that, said Jess kindly. See you and Carrots tomorrow then. You performed your civic duty with exemplary courage. Thank you, Naellia. Ill see to it that you get a citation from the State Forestry Department. Good night and sleep well! Naellias night was a jumble of dreams. She was pursued by a howling hooded figure that turned into Carrots in a blonde wig lunging from a tree at her. Uku Nyalo wore a headgear that looked like a coxcomb and made chattering noises like Carrots. Then she crowed like a cock, pointed a corn-cob at Kuleh and turned him into a clouded leopard which Nana tried to shoo away by fluttering a fan of black and white hornbill feathers. Supang held a green snake with an egg in its mouth and was swinging it gleefully at Naellia who ran as the ground beneath her shook and heaved.

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She awoke panting. There was a tumultuous trampling of feet along the verandah coming to a halt before Nanas amin, and cries from the longhouse children at the open doorway: Naellia! Wake up, Naellia! Jess is going to leave soon! She had overslept! Even the crowing of the fighting cocks had failed to awaken her! Hurry, Naellia! Hes going to load Carrots into the boat anytime now! And she had promised faithfully to bring Carrots to him! Instead he must have come to pick up Carrots himself. He must think her unreliable. The thought was unbearable and added to her woe. Tumbling hastily out of her bed, she grabbed one of Nanas sarongs and wrapped it as a shawl over her pyjamas to keep out the crisp air. She joined the children in the stampede to the waiting motor-powered longboat. Jess smiled and waved as he saw her. Carrots was clinging to him. Naellia was glad he had not yet put Carrots in a cage for the transport. He would probably do that later. A wave of gratitude swept over her as she recognized that Jess wanted to spare her feelings. Naellia reached out for Carrots wanting to hug it for the last time but she could not pry it loose from Jess. How quickly had the animal transferred its affection elsewhere! She felt quite hurt. As the outboard engine sputtered to life, the boat inched away from the landing stage. Jess leapt in with Carrots. Naellia watched with smarting eyes as the boat swung slowly outwards in an arc towards the

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middle channel of the river. With a roar as the engine caught, the longboat shot forward, cleaving the water, trailing in its wake foam as white as a white lace handkerchief shaken in farewell. Naellia felt her heart breaking as Jess and Carrots diminished into the distance and vanished. She stood forlornly on the landing stage, tears coursing down her cheeks and sobbed her heart out. Hey, look what Ive got for you. Its as soft and furry as Carrots, came Kulehs voice gaily from behind her. He came up beside her holding something gently in the palm of his hand. Still sobbing, her vision fuzzy with tears, Naellia obediently looked. With a squeal of terror, she fled. Squealing with mirth, the children pursued her and, mischievously egged on by Kuleh, chanted gleefully: Little Miss Muffet Sat on a tuffet Eating her curd and whey. Along came a spider And sat down beside her And frightened Miss Muffet away.

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20

Kuleh found a very subdued Naellia sitting morosely in front of Supangs computer gazing pensively at its wallpaper which showed two clown fish hiding among sea anemones. She eyed him apprehensively as he approached her and sprang up. Kuleh held both hands up, palms open. Recollecting the foul trick he had played on her, she looked daggers at him. It was only a toy, said Kuleh, grinning bashfully. Sorry! He had the grace to look penitent but Naellia maintained a stately and icy silence. He was impossible! Youve got to admit it worked, he persisted. You stopped blubbering like a great baby. Crying makes you ugly. Your eyes get puffy and your nose turns angpow red. Lips clamped in an angry spout, Naellia stuck her chin out, tilted her nose up as high as it could get and looked frigidly down it at Kuleh. Supang is right. You do have that hoity-toity look of Nells, he said remorselessly.

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Naellia grabbed the cushion she had been sitting on and flung it at Kuleh who ducked and laughed. His laughter, peal after peal, was so catching that Naellia broke into laughter herself. It was impossible to quarrel with him. I say, want to come for a stroll after lunch with Supang and me? asked Kuleh. Id like to look in on the ghalial and see how its doing. But not the tarantula! Promise. Scouts honour! All right, see you after lunch then. Theres a message in my mailbox probably from my Mum that Id better read.

Dearest, Granddad sends his love. Hes well on the way to recovery and doesnt need to stay in the sanatorium any longer. Weve found a service flat for him as he doesnt want to be in a home for old folks. Weve also found a buyer for his house but before he can close the deal, he needs to show proof of ownership and he needs to apply for a document from his bank testifying the house is mortgage free and he himself is debt-free. We feel we cant leave Granddad alone to find his way through this bureaucratic jungle. So we may have to stay another week. Im sorry to have to disappoint you. Youve probably had your fill of the jungle. I hope it hasnt been too boring for you staying with Nana. and as you want to be back and spend the rest of the holidays with your friends, youll have to fend for yourself. I dont like the idea but it cant be helped. Maybe I can get

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Josephine to come back a bit earlier. Mum

Darling Mum, Dad Id like to stay till the end of the holidays with Nana if you dont mind. Ive asked Nana if I may, and shes delighted to have me stay as long as I like! Im having a gorgeous time here. Im glad you made me come. I wouldnt want to miss all the excitement here for all the world. Ill tell you all about it when I get back. We had a feast last evening with a cleansing ceremony thrown in! Love from Nana, Uku Nyalo, Supang and everyone. Love to Granddad. Love you both. Naellia

Dearest, Im delighted to hear that youre having a splendid time out there. Of course you may stay with Nana till the end of the holidays. That happily solves all our problems. Ill get Aunt Lucy to deal with the airlines. Why, for heavens sake, does the longhouse require cleansing? Dont do anything rash! Mum

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Mum, I wont. Tell you everything when Im back. Im going to take a walk in the forest with Supang and Kuleh the headmans son. Were going to look in on a baby crocodile to see if it has survived the stressful events of the past few days. It had been squashed into a tiny container! I hope it hasnt lost its appetite for fresh chicken innards. Bye for now. Naellia

Girls, Ill see you all when school starts cos Im staying till the end of the holidays with Nana. I cant write much now as Im going with Kuleh and Supang to see how Kulehs baby is doing after the ordeal of being shoved into a box half its size. Its back in its usual spot by the stream and Im allowed to feed it! Ugh! I insisted on skipping a visit to the tarantula. By the way, Kuleh says that in north Thailand deep-fried tarantulas are considered a delicacy (after the poison sac has been removed)!! Arrgh. I feel rather mixed up at the moment. On the one hand Im really looking forward to getting back to Singapore which will be restful after this hair-raising experience. Truth to tell, Ive had enough excitement to last me a lifetime. On the other, Ill be sad to leave this place just when Im starting to feel at home here. Everyone has been so kind and hospitable right from the start that I feel quite ashamed of myself for my prejudices. Tell more when Im home as it will take up umpteen pages to write. Maybe I can persuade you lot to spend the next term holidays here

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with me. Naellia

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