Translated by Krishna
The Pesangan river winded through the forest like a giant snake. The closer you got to its source the clearer blue its water and thicker the forest around it. Malim Dewa was walking up towards the top of the river. He walked alone, accompanied only by a beautiful dream. In his hand was a lock of hair as large as a duck’s egg. He had been twisting and curling it around his fingers as he walked and he had been walking for days. His heart had been captured by the vision of a woman’s beautiful face, the one whose lock of hair he held in his palm. The beautiful dream made him walk on with spirit despite physical tiredness. The long way he had traversed had been full of problems. He had to crawl through thorny woods, walk over fallen trees that were slippery with moss grown all over them, cross a gaping gorge On the other hand, the song of wild birds brought joy to his soul, the soft breeze whistling though the trees made his journey pleasant. Somewhere from the edge of his imagination, a beautiful face smiled out at him. He was exhausted, he sat down for a rest. His mind was too tired to think of which way he should go. He’d take the road to the right, he thought, they say the way to the right brings success. He got up and started walking again. His mind travelled back to those twinkling eyes. Oh …, I’m getting closer to her, closer to the maiden who has no match on this earth. But his feet were tired. So he sat down again in the shade of a tree. He watched the dancing ripples on the river. From the bag that lay beside him, he took out a flute. He began to play a soft romantic tune on it. Its sweet high notes rose over the trees and pierced the sky. His spirits rose with the music. If only she could hear this music of my soul. Oh …, I hope she can hear it, I hope she can! But perhaps it’s still too vague and distant a music for her ears. I must get closer to her, close enough that she may be drawn to my music. Malim Dewa rose. He hung his bag across his shoulder and started walking. He seemed more lively and more sure of himself. He walked through the day and slept under thé trees at night. One morning when it was still very early, he heard a cock crow.
To start with, he thought that this was only to announce the dawn. He rose, rubbing his eyes. He listened attentively, with his head cocked to one side. His heart jumped in joy. He was close to village, he thought. The cock crowing on and on from the midst of solitude seemed to Malim Dewa to be singing a welcome song for him. It woke him up completely. He was still swinging between excitement and distress, while the dawn approached from behind the eastern-hills.
Malim Dewa walked slowly, watching the dawn as it spread out on the leaves of trees. He felt the forest was getting thinner. The early morning grey and pink began to brighten, spreading light all over the earth. Birds were noisily setting out in sear»»’ of food. Malim Dewa enjoyed the life and beauty around him. He was eager to find the village from which cocks had been calling out. He looked around, but could see nothing. The south was walled by hills. In the east distant grey hills lined the horizon. It was à cold day. The breeze bit into the bones. Malim Dewa was walking slowly, stiff in the joints, when suddenly he heard the sound of laughter. He listened intently. Some people were laughing—women! Although they were still quite far away, Malim Dewa now moved with the careful passion of a cat chasing a mouse. His heart beat fast, his breath was slow like that of a very frightened man. It was as if he was afraid that those women would hear him breathing. Hiding himself behind the bushes, Malim Dewa observed a beautiful panorama. The river widened there and the water was calm. In the middle of it stood a rock. It was like a huge dough-nut sticking out of the water. Malim Dewa sat spellbound, looking at seven naked figures of pure gold. They were bathing and playing around like children.
One of them squirted water on another’s face. Another pulled the legs of the girl who was lying on the rock, thus dragging her into the water and she screamed as she slipped in. One girl sat on the rock washing her hair. The tips of her long tresses were swept by the river. Watching the water playing among those long locks, Malim Dewa remembered the lock of hair he was carrying. He took it out and looked at it. There was the girl whose hair it was! She squeezed the water from her hair. His young heart lurched in excitement. He could hardly breathe. Some of the golden-bodied maidens were getting ready to get dressed. Their colourful clothes glittered in the morning sun. Some of them were still drying themselves. They seemed to be showing off their beauty to the river and the forest that surrounded them. Looking at them, Malim Dewa felt a warm glow spread all over his body. He hungrily took in one episode after another. Malim Dewa was awakened with a start from this pleasant colourful reverie. All at once the whole scene had vanished.He looked all around him. But could see nobody. He got up, still open mouthed in surprise. Perhaps he had been dreaming, he thought. Then quite by chance, he saw them again, where he had least expected to see them … as he looked up he saw the girls against the peaks of the southern hills, like a beautiful design on the sky. Their garments had turned into spread-out wings that shone in the sun light. The whole pattern moved further and further away and on to the horizon, where they were little specks like stars at noon. “They’re in the sky!” Malim Dewa whispered and he let his fantasy fly out with them. After a while he started walking again, his steps somewhat uncertain due to the vision of the seven golden-bodied maidens that still disturbed his mind. He reached a shady grove and stopped.
Here was a little hillock that rose up from the river bank. Looking up the hillock, he found at its peack a tiny hut. Not longafter, an old woman came out of it. She climbed down the pathway that wound round the hillock, towards the river. There was something in her’hand. Malim Dewa was nervous. He was a foreigner in this region. If this woman is the chaperon of those girls, she’s sure to be suspicious of me, he thought. Perhaps she’d do more than just suspect! .Hurriedly, he looked for a way out. He plucked alemantu fruit that was growing nearby. He attached the fruit to a piece of string and made it look like a fishing rod. Then he dropped the line into the water. To make it all the more convincing he took out his flute and started blowing into it. He played it very softly at first. But as the woman came closer he played it louder and louder. He acted as if he was totally absorbed in the music that he was playing and had not noticed the old woman’s presence at all. The old woman watched the unknown man.
She was carried away by the rhythm of Malim Dewa’s music, that seemed to flow out in harmony with the river before them. Deeply moved by the music, she started walking towards Malim Dewa. Malim Dewa turned round pretending to be startled by the rustle of the grass under the feet. He stopped playing, as if embarrassed by her presence.
“Go on, young man, go on!” said the old woman softly.
“Hmm …,” he coughed modestly
“I love the way you play your flute
” Malim Dewa had expected rebuke rather than praise. What a nice old lady, he thought!
“What do you do, young man?”
“Fish, Grandma,” he said, closely observing the woman.
“But I saw you playing the flute?” “Yes, Grandma.”
“Where do you live?” “Don’t have a place to live.
” His voice was sad.
“Really?” she said in disbelief.
“I really don’t have a home, Grandma.
” So?” she asked, wanting to know more about him. Malim Dewa thought, here was a chance to warm himself into this woman’s affection, even though that was not what he had initially set out to do. “I lost everything a long time ago.” The old woman got interested in hearing out the problems of this young man who seemed to be sincere. She knelt down beside him. Malim Dewa tried to look as earnest as he could. “Are you lost, young man?” “Remembering my loss,” he answered. The woman couldn’t understand what he meant, but she felt a surge of sympathy for Malim Dewa. “Memories? Memories of what, young man?” “Memories of the one I loved, I mean, mother, my mother.” Hes voice seemed choked. “Oh …, you’ll get bored listening to my story ….” “No, go on, please do. I am glad you want to talk to me, talk about things that are disturbing you.” Both remained silent for a while. Malim Dewa was trying to organize his thoughts. “My mother used to go to the river. That river down there. To the river-mouth in Kuala Jemer village. One day she just didn’t come back home. We children waited till late in the night. The next day I searched all around, but I couldn’t find her.” He stopped speaking, as though he was choked with emotion. “If you find me sitting here, fishing and playing on my flute to the rythm of the ripples, it is because I still feel the pain of that separation. And this flute is my only friend when I go chasing after my memories. I wandered out here in search of the past. I am very tired ….” “Forgive me, child! I seem to have brought back painful memories to you. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I am sorry.” “No, no Grandma! I want to keep alight the flames of those memories in my heart.” “Good, my child. That’s good.” The old woman nodded her head. She introduced herself as Inen Keben and invited Malim Dewa to her little hut on top of the hill. Although somewhat hesitant at the begining, Malim Dewa finally accompanied her up the hill to the hut. In time, the two grew very fond of each other. Their affection was like that between grandmother and grandson. When Inen Keben went out fishing or selling flowers from place to place, Malim Dewa would stay behind and look after the house. Inen Keben had been selling flowers for years. Everybody knew her and she knew everything. One day Malim Dewa told her of his heart’s desire. Inen Keben felt quite happy to think her adopted grandson may succeed in winning the hand of one of those beautiful maidens. She told him that they came down to bathe in Atu Pepangiren every Monday and Thursday. She also cautioned Malim Dewa: “If you fail to get her clothes, and if they find out your intentions, they may never come down to the earth again. And you’ll regret it forever.” “I ’11 be very careful,” Malim Dewa promised. On a Monday morning, even before the sun had risen, Malim Dewa sat ready in his hiding place. It was the place where he had seen the woman leave their clothes. His heart jumped as he saw them arrive. Malim Dewa crawled behind some thick bushes right on the edge of the river. The girls left their clothes and full of light spirits they plunged into the river one after the other. Malim Dewa clutched at his breast, perhaps to hold his tremi bling heart in place! His hands shook, and his lips were dry as he dragged himself slowly towards the pile of clothes. He kept a keen watch on the movements of the bathing girls. As he reached out for a bundle, his hand shook feverishly. The corner of a dress was in his hand and he pulled it quickly. He started as the garment rustled against something; it had got caught on a dry twig which cracked when he pulled the dress. One of the girls, who sat on the rock rubbing herself, turned round to see what the noise was. Malim Dewa crouched close to the ground and waited till the girl turned away, reassured. Having assured herself that nothing was the matter, the girl slipped into the water and joined the laughter and fun of her companions. Malim Dewa heaved a sigh of relief. Very carefully, he tried again to pull out the garment. It came away this time. One last frigtened thud of the heart, and he had got what he had been waiting for since day-break. He found a safe place to sit down and looked at the,garment he had stolen. He had never seen such a beautiful dress before. Its delicious perfume went through his nose right down to his soul. This perfume is heavenly, he thought. Then he heard someone crying, nearby. He looked quickly in the direction of the sound. One of the girls was being hugged and embraced by others. Some of them were looking around the bushes. Their faces and their movements were melancholy. They were sad at the terrible stroke of misfortune that had befallen one of them. Some kissed her. Other carressed her hair. But soon it was time for them to go, for day-light was receding as dusk creeped on. The six girls, who were leaving felt helpless and dejected at being compelled to leave behind their sister. Night would come down on the forest, she was going to be all alone. And they had no way of knowing what the future held for her. The girl who was left behind was even more distressed and frightened. She put her head between her knees and wept. Her loud wailing pervaded the silence around her. Malim Dewa was torn by remorse, as he saw how this girl suffered due to him. He realized how brutal an act it had been against this tender young maiden. A little later Inen Keben appeared carrying her fishing rod. Apparently she had been looking for fish when she heard a woman crying. The girl ran to Inen Keben as soon as she saw her. Her whole face spoke of her pitiable condition. She was hugging herself closely. The old woman carressed the young girl’s hair, showing the warmth and care in her heart for this young thing. Malim Dewa heaved a sigh of relief when he saw Inen Keben. His sense of guilt was partly assuaged. At least, the unfortunate girl had been saved from having to spend the night alone in the dark forest. The girl arose under the tender persuasion of Inen Keben. The old woman held the young girl’s hand and they walked slowly toward the little hut. Malim Dewa looked on from behind. From this time on Malim Dewa never came to Inen Keben’s little hill-top house. Each evening Inen Keben arranged the flowers which she had gathered through the day. Often her new-found grand-daughter, Putri Bensu helped her with it. She had been the youngest of the girls who used to bathe in Atu Pepangiren. One evening when they sat arranging flowers, Putri Bensu asked her grandmother shyly: “Granny, who is the man, who is always fishing in the river, just below our house?” “Why do you ask, child?” “He is naughty.” Inen Keben felt happy when she heard this. She had caught a very special light on her grandchild’s face. “I don’t know who he is. But as far as I know, there aren’t any naughty people around here. You needn’t worry.” The next day Malim Dewa climbed up the hillock towards the hut, for the first time since Putri Bensu had started living there. He shivered a little, for it was cold. As he climbed up the little winding pathway, the strong wind from the west swept through his hair, and pierced into his body. The closer he got to the top, the harder the breeze blew. His heart began to tremble as he reached the hut. In a shaky voice he called out: “Grandma, Grandma.” “Who’s there?” Inen Keben answered. “It’s me, Grandma.” “What do you want?” asked a soft gentle voice. “Want a fire, Granny.” “Oh …, just come in and get some. We are busy.” His feet seemed unwilling to step into the hut, it was as if they were tied down to bags of sand. He dragged his feet in, since having come and having anounced his arrival, he just had to enter. As he stood at the doorway, he was charmed by the lovely maiden, who sat there looking as beautiful as the moon in the clear sky. His eyes met Putri Bensu’s for a precious moment and then dropped to the floor. His heart beat madly.
Putri Bensu sat engrossed in her flower arrangement. She felt she already knew this men, in whose eyes she saw reflected the beautiful feelings that were in his heart. “There’s the fire, child.” “Thanks, Grandma!” In the encounters that followed the momentary meeting of the eyes, the two young people won over each other’s heart under the silent encouragement of the old woman. Finally came the day of wedding. Inen Keben felt .happy since her plans had succeeded. Soon the couple were blessed with a son. They called him Amat Banta. The child grew up in the shelter of his parents love. And he had a grandmother who loved him dearly, and loved his parents too. Amat Banta was a lively and attractive child, and the centre of attention of three people. One day when Amat Banta was about three years old he was at home alone with his mother. His father had gone fishing, and grandmother had gone to gather flowers. His mother had just gone out to empty a bucket. Amat Banta looked around the kitchen. He flung the ash off the mat. He felt really pleased with himself, since there was no one around to stop him being naughty. He could see his mother busy watering the flowers. When his mother came in she was very angry for he had strewn ash all around. Then suddenly Putri Bensu’s eyes caught something, her heart came to a standstill. From under the ash, the edge of a robe stuck out: it was the dress she had lost years back! She drew the dress out carefuly so as not to tear it. She shook the ash off the dress. It had faded through years of neglect and dirt. Still when she put it on, Amat Banta stared at her in great surprise for he had never seen his mother in a robe so beautiful.
Putri Bensu seemed upset. She paced through the house for a while. And then quiet as a thief, she emerged from the hut, holding Amat Banta. Once outside, she looked round cautiously. The breeze blew gently. The leaves nodded softly to the breeze. Her eyes softened a little as she looked around the hut. Her heart was heavy, she looked sad. Her eyes glistened with tears as she looked at the door of the hut for the last time. She held Amat Banta tightly and kissed him full of love. Amat Banta was spell bound with surprise as his mother’s dress seemed to turn into an umbrella and they moved upward gently into the sky. She held her child as tight as she could and she flew further and further away from the hut. She was leaving the earth which had been her home for many years now. Putri Bensu looked down at the hut from the sky. Malim Dewa an Inen Keben had not returned yet. The house looked lonely and deserted. (Uranggayo.wordrepss.com)