“As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know.”
― C.G. Jung,
White gleaming House in the glare of the Sky’s eye. She blinks a million miles an hour and beams the warmth of a bosom against my baby head. The atmosphere hangs low and heavy in the Rainforest. Breathe deep and heave with her.
My mother calls out to me from the veranda. She says it’s time for some coconut. She brings me into her arms, her dress billowing like the clouds. Mummy’s hair falls thick past her shoulders and glows a low-key red that’s dark and purple like a mangosteen. And that smell of sweet spices as she swaddles me, evaporating off mellow, dark pigmented skin. You never looked so beautiful.
Radiance in the Rainforest.
But little monkeys should fear and respect the Tigress of the Rainforest. Her tracks run in concentric circles around the forest floor, echoing out across the great expanse. She owned my life. And I owe her my life.
I slurp pure ribbons of coconut up a straw, melodious and delicious, in the shade of the White House. The wooden floor is hard and cool. The direction of the slats leads into the heart of the White House where all I can make out is darkness. Fan blades from above slice through the thick, black air like choppers. My memory is dim but I sense It, even then. The monster of the labyrinth. It’s as young as I am at this point, but also ancient. It’s a demon crawling round and round into irrationality. The beast dragged us screaming into the maze of mass hysteria, emotions tangled like vines in the Rainforest. It’s black horns and swirling red eyes are watching. Always watching and waiting for the chance to dance on It’s hooves in sick delight. You can get used to It’s presence. Shake the habit.
But for this first confrontation, It stares at me from the darkness of the White House on all fours and slips away from sight. My gravity will pull It into my chest eventually.
My fat hands grasp coconut husk as I look out onto the garden. Beyond that is the Rainforest. The Rainforest never sleeps. Like the monster in It’s cage of blood, She’s always watching. She has many eyes to seek you out but keeps your secret hushed. She beats slow and steady but sends serpents and sudden death to your doorstep. She is juicy and button-lip silent, She makes men literally insane, but the energy She generates howls louder than airplanes. In the night, I have trouble sleeping but then She will kiss me; her breath is hot and will lull me into dreams.
When I wake, monkeys are swinging from the branches and power lines, free and fun. I gurgle,
WAIR IS TH Orangutan?
They didn’t seem to know.
Fatima fixes me a breakfast of durian and feeds me with her hands. It’s pungent yellow flesh coats my palate with a creamy wave of soft cashews. After Malaysia, I will not try durian again until I’m twenty-two.
Fatima always warns me not to stray too far from the garden.
“Hormati hutan tropika.” she says.
They all think the Rainforest is frightening for a little monkey like me. Her scarf frames her gentle face. She is my second mother at this age. But my birth mummy is going to show me the ropes today. It is my first swimming lesson.
The glistening lagoon is nothing but rubble twenty-two years later. Though, right now in the midst of my mind’s rewind, sun droplets skim the rippling tips of the water and whip back and forth in the rush of the tumbling falls. Mummy is a nymph; guardian of this sacred oasis. I blankly watch her glide from the shallows and I already realise that I will never perform with such unabashed grace. There is a touch of carelessness to her grace. Movements flow with the water, each stroke fluid and languid. Her body is slim and streamlined. With each frog leg kick, she becomes the water as it laps around her skin, surrounding that dark brown. My mother is reduced to a shadow below the surface as she swims further through the pool.
I am dunked underneath by mummy. Big Blue is all over me and my baby eyes are shining bubbles in the cooling murk. The sloshing subsides and is instead replaced with the primal roaring of nature, thumping in my ears. Water like blood like a heartbeat.
I can’t breathe.
My flailing limbs take stabs at every angle, unprepared for the overwhelming wash that submerges my being.
Schwunge. Schwunge. Schwunge.
To the top.
Explode into bliss as the jungle fills your lungs. Breathe deep and heave with her. The sun blesses my baby face.
My mother takes me to the neighbours. The youngest neighbour was only a little older than myself. She had a fresh mundan head with a glowing red dot in the middle of her bold, flaming brows. An exquisite specimen of delicate and grotesque features; she was a unique face. Wide balloon eyes, black and bottomless. She looked at me strange.
FUNEE. UR HAIRKT.
And she looked at me stranger. I had never seen anyone like her. She was something marvellous.
My scalp sears like a shower of arrows as she yanks my baby hair.
WTHA FUK BTCH.
I bite down on her arm. Hard like the Tigress.
DNT LAF AT ME.
My mother heard me crying and the fight was broken. But I’ve not forgotten it.
Looking back it is petty, ridiculous and almost funny. Although something violent and savage started twisting that afternoon as I turned my first corner in the labyrinth.
I was hot and salty from crying, held up from the floor. And in a blink, I was home.
Mum’s voice chimes What’s Going On? from the kitchen. Sing on forever.
Dad arrives home. Where have you been all this while? In our hearts we all know that the Rainforest seduced him with all her surprising delights. Always so busy with his mistress. It’s not his fault; when She calls, put your hands all over her. Make it right.
Daddy likes to sink into the woven rattan chair on the veranda, facing out towards the garden. He sits and waits for the leeches to drop off. I crawl over in curiosity. Black and bulging, they crawl sluggishly all over his legs. Streams of leeches, pouring from the sky; they fall down my throat and suck blood through my eyes. They bite down on his flesh and drain him. Scary thoughts scar my mind when I wonder whether one day Dad’s legs will be so weak he won’t be able to come home. The monster in the labyrinth raises It’s head. It can sense weakness. It can smell blood a million miles away. Just rest a second and let those leeches drop.
If only I could always remember not to walk that way too.
Let those leeches drop till I breathe in all of creation as I did when I was a baby.
I know that for always, the family in the Rainforest will examine each other from across the dinner table and laugh. A feast of pisang goreng and ice cream will persist late into the hazy evening, as we share the stories of our past. And the hopeful promise of tomorrow poignantly resonates in our hearts and softly floats in the empty space that separates us. Eternity is ours.