ANOTHER PLACE TO CALL HOME

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Chapter Seven – Dungun, even in the night brought her to remembrance

They arrived in Dungun just as her sister had informed, by a couple of minutes before 11 PM. It was a quiet town and in the dark, Aruna could only make out the lighted kampong houses on stilts and tall coconut trees surrounding it. They had to pass a village before reaching her sister’s house which overlooked the sea. How wonderful, thought Aruna excited. Here was yet another place which overlooked the sea and Aruna was thrilled with the idea of another chance at watching the sun rise and sun set. She could smell the sea from where she was seated in the car. It was all too familiar to her and Aruna loved it.

Then, right in front of her, a big wooden bungalow house came into view. It was a double storey house surrounded by a massive compound. The wooden fencing which surrounded it looked like it stretched for miles. She couldn’t really see anything in the dark, but the whole house looked huge and majestic. Only the driveway was lighted so Aruna couldn’t see the interior of the compound and how it looked like. The driver horned once, and Aruna saw someone rush out the door to open the locked front gates to the house. Aruna presumed that it was Siti, her sister’s maid. She had a big wide smile for them and she looked like she had been waiting for them to arrive.

Siti held open the gates and the driver drove past and parked the car in the garage. After shutting the gates behind them, Siti ran to open the car door for her sister and brother-in law. Her brother-in law got out before Siti could open the door for him and greeted her with a broad smile. Aruna heard him say something in Malay and Siti replied in a humble tone, Khabar baik, Tuan. Aruna didn’t know what it was that they said but the two of them looked like they were happy to see each other. The driver too had a broad smile for Siti and greeted her warmly. He then went to the back of the car to take out their suitcases.

Siti held the car door wide open for her sister to get out and her sister smiled warmly in return, saying something to her in Malay too. Aruna saw Siti nod her head and her sister introduced Siti to her. Siti held Aruna’s hands tightly in hers for a few moments; warm welcome reflected in her eyes and then picked up her bag and carried it into the house for her. The driver followed closely behind, carrying her sister and brother-in law’s suitcases with him. He then left the suitcases in the living room, wished everyone good night and left on a motorcycle that was parked by the side of the house. Aruna wondered if he lived close by to her sister’s house.

Before walking in, Aruna stood outside the house to stretch her tired limbs and have a closer look at the compound and its surroundings. The house had beautiful plants and flowers in the garden and Aruna saw a door on the wooden fence surrounding the compound of the house, which led to the seaside and which was padlocked. She knew that she had to use that access to go down to the beach. The tides were low and Aruna could hear the waves from where she stood. The breeze from the sea awakened her senses to its tanginess, and she took in a deep breath. She already loved the place. Aruna could tell that it was a place of total tranquility and peace. She had arrived, she thought fleetingly and it felt so much like home. Before walking into the house, Aruna’s thoughts reverted to Amma’s pond outside of the house and in comparison, her sister’s house was by far the most gorgeously decorated home and had the awesome seaside view as its main attraction.

Aruna viewed her sister’s house with fascination. It was decorated beautifully with wooden handicrafts, beautiful matching furniture and scenic pictures on wooden frames hung on the walls.

There were roses and lilies in huge vases at the entrance of the house and inside on wooden tables and stools, stood little decorative vases with money plants growing in them. It gave such an invigorating look and feel to the house. The wooden floor of the house she stepped on looked like it was polished, as it shone in the light and she could faintly hear her steps as she tread on it.

There were a few rooms on the ground floor and a massive staircase led to the upper floor of the house. It was no wonder that her sister needed a maid, thought Aruna amazed. The house they lived in was beyond huge. There was a very big wall painting that hung at the entrance, one which couldn’t be missed and caught the attention of anyone who stepped inside the house. It was a hand painted landscape of Dungun town overlooking the sea and Aruna thought how surreal the picture looked. At the corner of the picture had the name ‘Dungun’ imprinted on it in cursive lettering. She knew that it was an oil painting and that too shimmered in a myriad of colors, casting a dreamlike façade under the lights.

Aruna was so impressed by the house her sister lived in. Her brother-in law, sister and Siti together, who noticed that Aruna was completely awestruck with the house, enthusiastically showed her to where her room was. They seemed excited and happy that she was going to live with them.

To get to her room, Aruna had to pass by another room which was also beautifully decorated with green plants in huge big pots and which had big bronze ornaments as showpieces. It was the living room, where all of them relaxed and watched television in the evenings, her sister explained as they passed it. Aruna noticed that there was a big silver television set on the cabinet in the room. She couldn’t contain her happiness because now, she too could join them and watch some of the programs together with them. It was a cozy and inviting room and Aruna was quite surprised at her sister’s eye for detail and decorating skills. She knew just how to decorate each room according to the theme of the room.

Siti opened the door to the room that they had prepared for Aruna to sleep in, and the first thing that caught Aruna’s eye was the massive bed with a mosquito net hung above it, inside the room. The room was so spacious. Aruna had never been in one like that and she was so excited about her room. Her awe evident as she took in the whole room, Aruna was especially delighted that at the corner of the room stood a mahogany table and a chair. Aruna simply loved it. She would sit on the chair and write to Nila! And she would definitely get a few books and stack them on the table so that she could read them during the night, before she fell asleep.

From the corner of her eye, Aruna saw her brother-in law and sister watching her enthusiasm and reaction upon seeing the room they reserved for her use. Aruna turned towards them in delight and hugged the both of them tight, showing how grateful she was for their thoughtfulness and kindness to her. Words failed her and so she just held on tight to them. They hugged her back tight in return, acknowledging that they knew how she felt. Thank you, her heart silently cried out with pride. They were one of the nicest people she had ever had the honor to be with, and especially so since they were her family. She was so proud to have that meaningful and special relationship with them.

Siti put Aruna’s bag down in front of a big wooden cupboard in the room and explained to Aruna that the cupboard was empty, and that she would arrange all Aruna’s belongings in it for her the next day. She told Aruna to have a good rest, that night. Aruna couldn’t grasp what Siti was saying, so her sister translated what she said to her.

However her sister also informed Aruna that Siti had a smattering understanding of English. However, she asked Aruna to speak the language slowly and clearly and to make sure that she used plain simple words to make it easier for Siti to understand what she was saying. In the meantime, once Aruna had settled in, her sister promised to get her a Malay tutor to learn the language. Aruna, happy with what was relayed to her, replied enthusiastically that she was looking forward to it.

As it was already late and everyone was tired after the long journey from Kuala Lumpur, they left Aruna to get some rest and as they were about to leave the room, Aruna quickly thanked both her brother-in law and sister once again for their kind gesture and this time told them how much she loved her room. She conveyed her heartfelt gratitude for their kindness and said with wide eyed innocence that she had never seen anything like it before, and that she loved everything about it.

Her brother-in law and sister look pleased that Aruna was happy and listening to her speak, Siti, who was standing next to them, had a big smile on her face. Siti too looked like she was happy that Aruna had come to stay with them. Aruna liked Siti a lot. She could tell that the maid was kind hearted as well as a hard working person. She was so happy that her sister had a good maid and one that she treated as part of the family. Aruna noticed too that Siti was a very caring person and that she treated her brother-in law and sister with utmost humility and respect. They left her room telling her that they would see her the next morning.

Aruna stifled a yawn as she closed the door to her room after all of them left and decided to put away her things in the cupboard so as not to inconvenience Siti in any way the next day. She opened the cupboard and started stacking her clothes and belongings on the empty shelves. As she had only one big luggage to unpack, before long she had completed her task of arranging her clothes neatly and tidily. Ordinarily she would have just quickly put all her clothes away without making sure they were neatly stacked especially since she was tired, but in this case, Aruna didn’t want Siti to think that she was in any way lazy or unable to do a proper job, so she took extra care with her task at hand.

It was nearing one AM by the time Aruna finished arranging her clothes in the cupboard and she quickly went to have a quick shower before bed. It was such a relief when she lay down her tired body on the bed and felt the soft sheets under her skin. Aruna closed her eyes in a happy mood, as she felt welcome and comfortable in her sister’s house and she was really glad to be staying with them. She only wished that she could live with them forever. It was a far cry from what she had imagined it would be and all her rough travelling days were put past behind her.

She slept soundly that night. In the middle of her restful sleep, sometime during the night, Aruna woke up once to the sounds of the gentle waves from the sea rushing to the shore. For a moment Aruna forgot where she was and then just as quickly went back to sleep, content with the knowledge that she was in a beautiful mansion somewhere in paradise, surrounded by people who loved her.

The noisy chirping of the morning birds perched on the window sill of Aruna’s bedroom woke her up to a bright and clear day. Aruna sat up on her bed to see two birds on the window sill. She checked her watch and it was seven AM. Aruna stretched and felt refreshed after a very restful sleep the night before. She wanted to get back under the cover of the blankets and continue sleeping but it was such a beautiful morning outside. Instead, she excitedly got out of bed and ran to the window.

The birds saw her approaching and flew away. Aruna looked up to the sky to see where they had flown to and saw them perched on the electrical cables outside her window instead. They looked so pretty, two little birds sitting on the cables and continuing with their tirade of bird songs. They were sparrows, she thought cheerfully.

Aruna stood looking out of her bedroom window at the view of the seaside before her. What she saw captured her heart and mind and soul. The tall coconut trees growing on white sands and moving to the gentle winds of the morning, was soothing to the eyes and it added a blissful effect to the tranquility of a calm sea. There was virtually no one on the beach and though it was deserted, it added a very intriguing charm to the whole place. The setting resembled the painting that Aruna saw hanging at the entrance of her sister’s house when she walked in the previous night. She wondered a little whether that painting was a depiction of the picturesque setting outside of her sister’s house. Far into the sea, Aruna saw two motor boats speeding, racing to keep up with each other. She thought how fascinating it was that the speed boats in a way disturbed the peaceful waters and brought it to life. The speeding boats created huge ripples in the waters.

The sands on the beach were looked so white and transparent against the blue sea. Aruna wondered about the whiteness of the sand. She had also noticed the same thing at the beach in front of Mr.& Mrs. Rajan’s house in Kuantan. She thought about the beach in front of her house in India. It was a burnt color like it had been scorched by the sun far too long, and didn’t look as captivating as the beach in front of her now.

Here, the sea was tinted with green and blue shades of color and it brought out an almost surreal expression to it. Aruna thought of asking her sister if she could take a walk to the beach later in the morning. She wanted to walk on the beach and sink her feet into the sand and maybe even build a sandcastle. The beach looked like it was there just to entertain her that morning.

Aruna heard a soft voice calling out her name. She listened closer and yes, it was Siti calling out her name from outside her bedroom. Aruna ran to open the door and saw Siti standing outside, with a glass of milk in her hands. She was so touched with the lovely gesture by the kind maid. Siti was really such a sweet person, Aruna thought for a second. She started signaling with her hands to tell Siti that it was not really necessary to bring the drink to her room, when she remembered her sister telling her that Siti understood a little spoken English. “No Siti, there is no need for this. Don’t bother next time.” She wondered if Siti understood her after she had said it.

Then Aruna began to say slowly and clearly, once again, very earnestly, “Siti, thank you so much, but no, it is really not necessary for you to bring the milk to my room. I will come to the kitchen to have my meals and drinks. Please don’t go out of your way to do things like this for me. I appreciate it very much but I don’t want to trouble you like this.”

Siti looked at Aruna with a smile and nodded with understanding. She then dismissed her fretfulness with a wave of a hand. “Good Morning Aruna Ms. It is no problem to me. My job to do that.” she said kindly to Aruna who listened to her with an incredulous look on her face. Siti could see that Aruna was feeling uncomfortable with all the attention she was giving her. Aruna took the glass of milk from Siti’s hands and Siti walked into Aruna’s room and started to tidy her bed for her this time.

Aruna quickly put her glass of milk on the table and went to help Siti. Siti who noticed that Aruna’s bag was not where she placed it the night before, asked Aruna “Where your bag?” in her broken English. So Aruna, thankful that they could at least communicate with each other in English, told Siti that she had put it under the bed after unpacking last night. “I put the clothes inside the cupboard already Siti” Aruna said trying to make her sentence as simple as she could.

Siti quickly went to the cupboard to see all Aruna’s clothes arranged on the shelves in the cupboard. She stood there scrutinizing the shelves with a ‘not so happy’ frown on her face, and started folding and rearranging the clothes that didn’t look neat and tidy to her. She folded the ones that looked a little crumpled, took out the ones that were sticking out from the stacked clothes and refolded them, and then Aruna saw her take some of her blouses out of the cupboard.

Aruna looked at Siti, surprised. Siti informed Aruna then, that those blouses needed to be pressed and she will bring them back after she had them ironed.

Aruna tried to tell Siti that there was absolutely no need for that, but Siti waved her words away in dismissal, and went out of the room after telling Aruna to get ready for breakfast. Before parting, Siti said, “You don’t do next time, I do.” Aruna looked at Siti and nodded her head agreeing that the next time she will let Siti do as she wanted. Aruna guessed that Siti was very particular with having things done her way and she didn’t like any interference in her work. And anyway, Aruna didn’t want to get into her bad books so she relented and told herself that she would let Siti have her own way.

As she was leaving the room, Siti mentioned that she had bought some nasi lemak for breakfast that morning because she had heard that Aruna loved it so much when she had it the first time. Aruna’s eyes widened with delight when she heard that. “Thank you Siti, yes I absolutely love eating nasi lemak!” She felt really hungry then and rubbed her stomach to show Siti that she was already feeling the hunger pangs.

Aruna hurried to the bathroom to freshen up and get ready. She wore a long skirt and a blouse, combed and braided her long hair and went looking to find where the kitchen was. She had not been told in which part of the house the kitchen was situated. “Well, the smell of coffee would surely guide me there,” she thought hungrily. As she passed the living room, she heard her sister’s voice coming from the opposite end of the house. Aruna could also smell freshly brewed coffee and gathered that her sister was in the kitchen with Siti.

“Good morning Chechi,” Aruna greeted her sister who was busy at the stove mixing the coffee in a pan. She had boiled the milk before adding some coffee powder and sugar in it and was stirring it and when she heard Aruna’s lively greeting, she turned with a warm smile and greeted her in return. Aruna walked up to her sister and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. She could tell that her sister was really happy to have her company in the house. She would have been lonely without any family living close to her.

Siti was nowhere to be seen, and when Aruna asked about her whereabouts, her sister told her that she would most probably be busy with some chore or other. “There is not a minute that Siti keeps her hands still. She is always doing something or other.” Her sister said with a little pride in her voice. “Yes, Chechi, Siti is indeed a sweetheart. She brought a glass of milk to my bedroom early this morning, and then I think she wasn’t really happy that I had unpacked my clothes and arranged it in the cupboard last night, because she tidied my cupboard again and to top it off, she took a few of my blouses to be ironed because she found them crumpled and creased. She wasn’t happy that I had folded it with creases on them. And we spoke to each other in English!” Aruna giggled. Her sister giggled too, imagining Aruna and Siti speaking to each other in English. Aruna added that she was grateful Siti was ever so kind and helpful.

“Oh, she is very particular about the tidiness of everything in this house Aruna, and I leave it all to her because she doesn’t like anyone meddling with her tasks, that’s our Siti.” Her sister replied with a smile on her face. Aruna looked around her sister’s kitchen. It was bigger than her room and had beautiful kitchen cabinets in them. Aruna looked at a glass showcase cabinet in the corner and saw that her sister had so many crystal glasses and bowls in them. Her dining table was huge and it was just as wooden as the rest of the house was. Aruna told her sister that she simply loved her house and found that it was truly very well decorated and furnished. Aruna said that she was proud that her sister had done her family proud with her eye for detail and her decorative skills. She felt so much at home there.

Her sister thanked Aruna, touched by the compliment. She went on to explain that they were always entertaining clients, and so they made sure that their house was worthy of the status her brother-in law possessed and hence why when they built the house, they made sure that it was large enough to accommodate their guests whenever they entertained. There were days when they had their parties along the beach in front of their house. It was a private beach so the area was prohibited to outsiders. Aruna listened amazed, and then realized that, it was the reason why there was no one on the beach when she looked out her window that morning. It was her sister and brother-in laws private property. Wow, thought Aruna, she had never guessed how wealthy her sister was until then.

Aruna suddenly realized that her brother-in law wasn’t anywhere around and enquired about his whereabouts. “Where is Chetan, Chechi, I don’t see him around anywhere. Is he still sleeping? Will he be joining us for breakfast? Her sister who was pouring them both coffee in two large ceramic cups, answered, “No, he is not sleeping nor will he be joining us for breakfast Aruna. He left early to be in the office to meet someone there. You know he was away for a couple of days, so there are some urgent matters that he is supposed to have attended to and he couldn’t wait till you woke up to have breakfast together. But he will be back for dinner and then we can eat together then.”

Then her sister happily added “In fact, he will be sending his driver over later in the afternoon around 3.00PM so that I can take you to into town. We can both do a bit of shopping together and I will take you to see a good friend of mine who will help us find a tutor for your Malay lessons Aruna. She is a nice Malay lady who runs a restaurant and we have been friends from the time your brother-in law and I moved to Dungun. We can have tea at her restaurant. Her restaurant is very famous for Malay cuisine and we go there quite often to eat the different varieties of food they serve. They serve delicious variety of kuih-muih (a variety of Malay cakes) during tea time and which is famed for throughout Dungun. I am sure you will enjoy it.”

“Oh that sounds wonderful Chechi. I would really love for us to go out together. I can’t wait to have the tutor teach me Malay too.” Aruna exclaimed feeling excited that she was going shopping alone with her sister. It would be fun she thought, just the two of them going out together and spending time with each other. She wanted to take a walk down the beach a little later that morning and asked her sister whether she would be able to do that. “Since it is a beautiful morning Chechi, can we both take a walk on the beach a little later in the morning?” Her sister quickly replied, “Unfortunately I have some things that I need to do this morning Aruna. It is perfectly fine with me if you take that walk down the beach on your own. Would you be able to do that? It is safe and there is a watchman who will keep an eye on you. He keeps the place safe and secure for us and our guests. I have already informed him about your arrival so I think that, even he is looking forward to meeting you. Siti and I have a host of things to look into together, this morning.”

“Of course Chechi, I will be just fine. I just want to walk on the sand for a bit and play with the tides and maybe even build a sandcastle if I can.” The seaside is so inviting and it will be such a waste if I don’t take advantage of the lovely weather to have a closer look at it.” Aruna replied her sister.

Aruna understood that her sister had a lot of things to catch up on as she too, had been away for a couple of days. And anyway, weren’t they both going shopping later in the evening? Indeed it was going to be an excellent day for her, Aruna thought happily. She could just feel it in her bones.

Siti walked into the kitchen at that precise moment, and served them the delicious nasi lemak. She heard her sister ask Siti to join them for breakfast but Siti said that she had already eaten at the stall she bought her nasi lemak from. She had woken up around six in the morning to go and buy their breakfast, and decided to eat at the stall while waiting for the makcik (auntie) to pack the nasi lemak she ordered for Aruna and her sister.

As Aruna sat relishing her nasi lemak and talking to her sister about things back home in India at the same time, she heard the phone ring in the study room which was just next to the kitchen. Aruna enquired whether her sister wanted her to answer the call for her and her sister replied that she would like for Aruna to do so.

She ran to the study to get the phone eagerly. It was probably her brother-in law calling to ask what their plans for the day were or something to that effect.

However, Aruna was mildly surprised that the caller on the other end was none other than Goku. “Hi Goku,” she said when she recognized his voice on the other end. “Hello Aruna. How are you feeling now, after your long journey to Dungun yesterday? I called to inquire if you were alright.” Goku replied. Aruna noticed that his tone was calm and collected unlike the time when he was angry with her by the pond.

Thinking that it was really kind of Goku to call her to find out if she was alright after her long journey, Aruna replied that she was feeling much better after a good night’s rest. She asked him in return how he was. “How are you Goku? I hope everything is fine for you too.” Goku related that he was and that he was calling her from his office. He told Aruna that he was happy that she was feeling much better and hoped that she would settle in her new environment well. Aruna thanked him for his concern in a kind voice. “Thank you Goku, that is really kind of you.”

Aruna felt a new understanding develop between the two of them when she said that because Goku seemed to relax and be at ease talking to her from the other end of the line. “So, do you like your sister’s place Aruna? We have not been to Dungun in all the years we have lived here.” Goku informed her.

“Oh yes, Goku, I love this place. I feel really at home here and oh! You haven’t been to Dungun yet? Has Amma visited Chechi here?” Aruna asked him, curious.

“No,” replied Goku. “None of us have been to Dungun. Well, now that you are there, maybe we can visit over the weekend, one of these days. I hope I don’t sound so presumptuous here.”

No, you don’t sound presumptuous Goku, I am sure that my sister and brother-in law would be happy to welcome you and your family over, on one of the weekends that you are free from work. It will make good company. There is a beach right in front of their home and it will great to have all of you spend a weekend by the sea.”

Aruna wondered whether she was talking too much to Goku when she carried on with her conversation but she just felt that she needed to show Goku that she was capable of saying the right things to him, considering how rude she was to him the other day!

Goku, on the other hand was surprised that Aruna was talking quite a bit on the phone to him that morning, instead of the monosyllables he was used to hearing from her. He was also keen to visit Dungun after listening to Aruna’s description of her sister’s place.

It would be a good celebratory trip to Dungun if they went over the weekend because Goku received the letter confirming his new appointment and transfer that morning from his management. He wanted to share the good news with Aruna and celebrate together with both their families. It would also give him a chance to be with Aruna over the weekend. Goku suddenly thought.

After listening to Aruna talk about her sister’s place, Goku said a little hesitantly, “Well, Aruna just another bit of news that I wanted to share with you. I got the letter from my office about my appointment and transfer this morning. I thought of sharing it with you before I informed anyone including my parents about it.”

There was a moment of silence between the two of them after Goku spoke. Aruna felt herself blush and stammered a little, while saying, “That is such wonderful news Goku. I am so happy for you. You truly deserve it. I will inform Chetan and Chechi too about the good news. I wish you all the best and I sincerely hope that you will reach greater heights in your career Goku.”

Goku was really pleased that Aruna wished him well. Another awkward silence ensued between them, and then Goku broke the silence by thanking Aruna for her kind wishes. He ended the conversation by saying, “I am really glad to hear you say that, Aruna. I will be calling my parents shortly to inform them about the good news. Please send my regards to your family and I will speak to you another day Aruna. In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy yourself there.” Goku then hung up the phone.

Aruna put down the phone slowly after saying goodbye to Goku. She sat down on the divan next to where the phone was, and reflected on the call she got from Goku. It was so sweet of him to tell her first about the letter from his office and she was thankful that in a way, he didn’t harbor any hard feelings towards her. He showed concern towards her and even contemplated coming all the way to Dungun. Was he in any way wanting to spend some extra time with her? she wondered.

He didn’t ask her anything else apart from her welfare and he asked her with a quiet genuine concern in his voice. Aruna was in a way happy that he had taken the trouble to call her. What her sister and brother-in law said about Goku being a good person was true, she admitted. He did have a good heart and was a good natured person. Then upon further reflection, Aruna admitted that his kindness did shine through while they spoke to each other by the pond the other night.

As Aruna sat in the study, deep in thoughts, her sister came into the room. After waiting for a few minutes in the kitchen when she didn’t hear any sound from Aruna talking on the phone, she went looking for Aruna. “Who was that,” she asked, curious when she saw Aruna sitting down in quiet contemplation on the divan. She noticed that Aruna had a thoughtful look on her face and a flushed look about her.

“Well Chechi, it was Goku on the line.” Aruna replied her sister. “Goku?” her sister asked mildly surprised. Then quickly her sister retorted, “Oh that’s wonderful. So nice of him to call and speak to you Aruna. What did he say?” her sister wanted to know, excited for Aruna that Goku called her. Aruna replied a little slowly “He wanted to know if I was alright after the long journey here from Kuala Lumpur. I told him the other day that I was tired after my journey from India and maybe that’s why he inquired about my welfare”. Her sister directed a knowing look at Aruna. “Ah, yes. Maybe that’s why or maybe he just likes you and was concerned about you” her sister teased Aruna. “So then, what else did he say?” Her sister pressed on since Aruna was on the phone longer than what was required of a one sentence conversation. Aruna felt a little shy all of a sudden. Her sister was teasing her and she felt uncomfortable with that.

Without waiting for a reply, her sister pulled Aruna up from the divan and pushed her into the kitchen so that the two of them could finish their breakfast. Once they were seated again, Aruna continued, “Goku told me the other night when we first had a conversation by the pond that he got a promotion and that he was waiting for a letter from his management confirming it and his transfer details to another department. Well, he called to inform me that they gave him the letter this morning. He also said that I was the first one he informed, even before his parents.” Aruna’s could feel her face grow hot when she finished her sentence.

Seeing the flushed look on Aruna’s face, her sister started giggling. Then she and Aruna burst out laughing together. “Well, Aruna I must say the boy is smitten with you. You know you are an intelligent and a pretty girl and he must see you as such too. Didn’t I tell you that he was a good person?” her sister asked as she ate the last spoonful of nasi lemak from her plate. “Don’t be shy Aruna. This is how it is when it comes to an arranged marriage. You learn a little about each other every day and learn to accommodate each other’s way of living. So by giving and receiving, you make the marriage work just like your brother-in law and I did. But it our case, we fell in love the first time we met so it was not a problem for us to accommodate each other’s whims and fancies. You can do the same with Goku too, Aruna,” her sister advised. “Goku has already got a liking for you and it is up to you to make him fall headlong in love with you.”

Aruna listened attentively to what her sister said to her. Anyone could see that her brother-in law and sister were very much in love. She had seen them look at each other love-struck and noticed how they would consult each other on just about everything. “Yes, it was the kind of relationship that Aruna wanted to have with the man she is to marry.” Aruna thought.

After breakfast, Aruna decided to take the solitary walk to the beach that she had spoken to her sister about. She went out of the house and was again awed by the size of the house and its surroundings. Siti was doing some gardening outside and when she saw Aruna walk out of the house, she waved at her. Aruna walked to where Siti was and sat down on the ground beside her. “What are you doing Siti?” Aruna asked.

Siti pointed at a few plants lying on the ground beside her, which she had picked on the way back from the stall that morning, and told Aruna, “I grow this one, here.” Aruna smiled at the way Siti explained what she was doing. “That’s a beautiful green plant,” Aruna said. “Would you like me to help you,” Aruna asked when she saw that there were a few more to be planted in the soil. Siti had dug a deep hole and was in the midst of planting it, when she looked up at Aruna, a look of disbelief on her face at Aruna’s offer to help. “No, no. Siti said quickly. “I know you go beach. Go, Go now. This Siti do.” Aruna stood up then. She had noticed how Siti was so efficient with her work and how she preferred to handle everything on her own. Aruna believed that Siti felt it was better for all the work to be done on her own, as she only trusted herself to complete any given task well.

Aruna bade Siti goodbye and proceeded to the beach. She opened the access door to the beach and only then did she notice a Guardhouse outside of the compound of the house. There was a watchman sitting inside, and who stood up as soon as Aruna walked out of the access door. Aruna smiled at him in acknowledgement. He greeted her with a “Good Morning Ma’am” and she returned the same greeting. There was a tiled pathway that led to the beach area and Aruna saw a hammock tied to two coconut trees by the side of it, overlooking the sea. Aruna was thrilled to see the hammock and ran to sit on it. She just loved the idea of lying on the hammock and admiring the view of the seaside. “Now all she needed was a drink in hand,” she thought in jest.

This was the perfect life, Aruna thought excitedly. She was so happy that her sister possessed it all and only hoped that she would too someday. She decided that she would marry Goku. He was kind as he was compassionate and she loved that in him. She felt little butterflies in her stomach right then thinking about Goku and his call to her that morning. She hadn’t anticipated it but what a lovely surprise it turned out to be. She wondered when he would call again and when he would ask as he promised before she left Kuala Lumpur, if she wanted to go ahead with the wedding.

After a while of lying on the hammock and admiring the scenery before her, Aruna walked out to the beach. The sun was getting hotter but Aruna sat on the sand and looked out at the vast ocean in front of her. She remembered her days on the ship. This was just bliss compared to that even though through her voyage, it provided some comfort to her.

She saw a coconut shell lying near to her. She picked it up and filled it with seawater so that she could build a sandcastle. The watchman, who stood watching Aruna from his guard post, saw a girl with her windblown hair flying in the wind, wearing a long skirt and blouse, trying to build a sandcastle with the wet sand. She was so preoccupied with what she was doing that she didn’t know what a pretty picture she painted with the sea as the background. He had heard that she had come to Malaysia to get married. She looked so fresh and innocent to him and at that moment, she seemed like a child with a favorite toy. He had seen the look of awe on her face as she viewed the beauty that greeted her by the seaside. “She had a keen eye, that one,” he thought wryly. She would make a man proud to have her as a wife, he gathered. There was a charm and beauty that she possessed which was striking, only she did not notice it herself. “She saw beauty in everything around her, he thought fleetingly except the beauty that she possessed.”

Aruna first dug a deep hole in the sand on the beach. Then she filled it with water and then began to carve a big castle with the wet sand. She wanted to replicate her sister’s house. As she was busy with the task at hand, she didn’t notice that time flew past her so quickly until she heard Siti’s voice call out to her loudly. “Mari kemari Aruna, Sudah dengan itu! Dah masa untuk makan tengahari.” (Come back Aruna, Enough with that. It’s time for lunch) is what Siti shouted out to Aruna.

But Aruna didn’t hear exactly what Siti was saying to her, though she could decipher that Siti was asking her to return to the house. She was a little disappointed that she couldn’t finish her sandcastle. It was turning out so well. She meant to show it to her sister before they left to town that afternoon. “Oh well,” she thought, “surely the evening tide will wash it away later.” “Well, she will come back again and build another one,” she promised herself. Maybe tomorrow!

As Aruna made her way to the house, the watchman asked her to wash her hands and feet before entering the compound of the house. Aruna saw a tap by the side of the Guardhouse and did just that. The watchman grinned at her once she had done that. Aruna decided that she needed a change of clothes as the one she was wearing was all wet and sandy. She dusted a bit of the sand off her clothes, and as she was walking to the front of the house, Siti came out through the kitchen entrance and asked Aruna to get into the house using that entrance.

Siti told Aruna that she didn’t want the sand from the beach to dirty the front yard and the front of the house, as she had just cleaned it in her smattering English, “I clean the house there. No going that way. This way, from kitchen door.” She also informed her that each time anyone went out to the beach they would have to use the kitchen entrance to get back inside the house. “All going and coming to the pantai (beach), must use kitchen door.” Aruna agreed to abide by Siti’s instruction. Well Aruna wouldn’t want to dirty the house that Siti kept so spotless, and dusted herself further before entering the kitchen and going into her room to take her shower.

As Aruna walked through the kitchen to get to her room, Siti informed her that lunch would be served in half an hour. Aruna was famished she could tell, Siti said with a smile on her face. The sea breeze always made one hungry, Siti went on to tell Aruna in her smattering English. Aruna nodded her head in understanding, gave Siti a little peck on her cheek and went to her room.

Aruna put on the only pair of jeans that she possessed and a crisp white blouse that Siti had ironed for her in the morning, for her outing with her sister. She looked happy with her reflection in the mirror, put on a light pink colored lipstick and went looking for her sister in the kitchen. She had made it on time for lunch, just as Siti requested so she saw Siti beam at her when she entered the kitchen. “Okay” thought Aruna candidly, “Siti was also very particular about keeping time!”

Lunch consisted of the chicken vindaloo that her sister has spoken to Amma about and vegetables with a side dish of yoghurt. “You can sit,” Siti told Aruna and “ma’am will come now.” Aruna sat down and waited for her sister to make an appearance. Siti served her a fresh drink of coconut water while she waited that the watchman had plucked that morning for Siti, she informed her proudly. It tasted heavenly and Aruna thought how lovely it was, that they could get fresh coconut water at any time of the day because of the proximity of the trees to their house.

Her sister walked into the kitchen while Aruna was sipping her drink and apologized to her for being late. “I am sorry for being late Aruna. I was all caught up with the work I had to do that I spoke to you about in the morning, and didn’t keep track of time. I am glad that Siti served you the coconut water. Give me a few minutes, will you? I will wash my hands before I join you.” Aruna said she understood perfectly and there was no need for her sister to apologize.

Aruna loved the chicken vindaloo that they were having for lunch that day. “Did you cook this Chechi, amidst all the work you had to do?”

“Yes I did Aruna” her sister replied, adding, “I asked Siti to prepare all the ingredients beforehand and then once it was ready, I cooked the curry. It is what I always do when I cook. Siti knows how to prepare the ingredients for every curry that I make. And anyway, your brother-in law only likes it the way I cook it. He told me the other day that Amma’s chicken vindaloo fell short of expectation and the way I cooked mine was far better than what she served.” She chuckled as the thought struck her again and told Aruna that her brother-in law can go anywhere for Indian food, but would still come back home and comment that he preferred how she cooked her curries.

Aruna could see that her sister spoke with pride. “I do agree with Chetan, Chechi. This chicken vindaloo that you made tastes far better than Amma’s.”

Oh, thank you Aruna, I am glad that you think the same too. It does matter to me whether you like my cooking or not.” Her sister replied with a thankful look in her eyes.

The two ladies sat eating their food while in between mouthfuls, Aruna told her sister about her walk to the beach that morning. “I had the most relaxing and blissful time ever, Chechi. I met the watchman. I could see from the beach that he kept a watchful eye on me. I began building a sandcastle but then I too, like you, lost track of time until I heard Siti call out to me to come back home for lunch. So I took a quick bath after and am now just waiting to have that outing with you later. I am all ready Chechi. Do you like what I am wearing?” Aruna wanted her sister’s confirmation that her outfit to town met with her approval.

Her sister looked at Aruna and exclaimed “Yes, it is Aruna. If it is not befitting the occasion, I would tell you. You look perfect for our trip to town. I will go and take a quick shower after lunch and then we’ll both wait for the driver to pick us up. He should be here at 3PM and what is the time now?” Her sister looked at the wall clock in the kitchen and it was showing 1.30PM.

“Oh it is only 1.30PM now Aruna. That should give me enough time to get dressed and be ready by the time the driver arrives.” Aruna nodded her head. She was eagerly looking forward to their outing together later that afternoon.

After lunch was over, Siti wouldn’t hear of it when Aruna offered to help her wash up. “No, you go Aruna. I will do this. I like to do my way.” Well, that settles it, thought Aruna. Her assumption about Siti had been right all along. She didn’t trust anyone else with her tasks and preferred to do everything on her own.

Aruna walked to the living room while her sister went upstairs to her room to take her shower. She switched on the television and watched a Malay movie being played on the screen. There were English subtitles and so Aruna could understand what the movie was about. She thought about the Indian movies that she sometimes went to watch in the cinemas in India. The Malay movie playing on the screen just then, had a little bit of Indian influence in it, as the story line was more or less the same.

About an hour into the movie, Aruna heard someone call out her name from the hallway, “Aruna, Aruna mari (come).” Aruna quickly switched off the television set and saw that it was the driver calling out her name, and that her sister was already outside of the house standing by the car and waiting for her. She quickly ran out of the living room, smiling at the driver who stood in the hallway as she ran past him to the car.

Soon they were heading to Dungun town and while on the way, her sister kept pointing out to Aruna all the interesting places that she had in mind to take Aruna to, the next time they went out to town together. They entered the Dungun mall and Aruna saw rows of retail outlets selling all kinds of clothing and apparels. She was especially interested in the dresses with the large flower designs hanging on display there. She had seen dresses like that in the night markets of Kuala Lumpur. There were ones with batik motifs too hanging there, that appealed to her. Her sister told her that batik designs were synonymous with the Malays in the Country and that they wore it for most of their formal occasions. They were beautiful Aruna conceded.

Her sister bought her two batik dresses, a flowered red and white dress and a plain orange blouse from the mall. She then took Aruna to a tailor shop to have a pair of black slacks tailored for her. Then the both of them went to meet the Malay friend, Puan Ayu her name, at the restaurant. The people who worked in the restaurant called her Puan Ayu but Aruna noticed that her sister called her Ayu and gathered that to be her proper name. “Maybe only close friends used them,” she thought simply.

Puan Ayu turned out to be a charming and friendly lady. She wore bright red lipstick and spoke both in Malay and English to her sister. Her restaurant looked quite impressive too. She said that she was happy to meet Aruna when they shook hands. As they sat there chatting and savoring the tea and Malay cakes that the restaurant was famed for, her sister saw her brother-in law suddenly walk past the restaurant. She nudged Aruna and asked her to call out to him so that he is aware that they were in the restaurant.

Aruna ran out of the restaurant to call out to him, and what a terrific surprise it was for all of them that he could join them for tea. Her brother-in law said that he knew his driver would be in the vicinity of the town area, and went looking for him to find out where the ladies were, so that he could join them in their shopping expedition. He told Aruna that his office was on the other block from where they were. He said that he had finished work and hence was free. Aruna clung on to his arm as they walked back to the restaurant. She was really happy that he was free to join them.

Puan Ayu made a call to a personal friend of hers to inquire about tutoring Aruna. Her friend’s name was Puan Alina and she was a retired teacher who taught Malay to needy students during her free time. Puan Alina readily agreed to teach Aruna and mentioned her fees for the tutoring. Aruna heard her sister agreeing to the fees and Puan Ayu arranged for her friend to teach Aruna three times a week. The classes were to resume the next day at 10.00AM.

With tea over and Aruna’s tutoring arranged, they left the restaurant after thanking Puan Ayu for her valuable help and promising to return to have her sumptuous cakes again sometime soon. On the way to the car, Aruna asked her sister to get her an exercise book and a few stationery items. “Chechi, I want to get an exercise book and a few stationery items for the class tomorrow morning. And I want a story book too so that I can read before I sleep at night. Can you please get them for me?” Her sister took Aruna to a bookshop in the mall and got her more than one story book to read and everything that Aruna needed for her Malay class. She even got her a Malay dictionary.

Aruna, happy with all her purchases, thanked her sister and brother-in law and told them that she couldn’t wait to begin her Malay class the next day. She was surely going to surprise Siti one of these days, after she had learnt how to construct sentences in the Malay language. She just might even surprise Goku, she thought cheekily.

Aruna went to sleep that night happy that she had a very eventful day. She was too tired to read the book her sister got her, so she stacked it on the table with all the stationery items and decided that she would start on it the next day. As with the previous night, she woke up, sometime during the night, to the gentle sounds of the tides washing to the shore and went back to sleep knowing that she was in a large mansion somewhere in paradise, with the people who loved her the most.

This time, however in the wee hours of dawn, Aruna dreamt of Goku. It was raining in a magical place where the rain waters left them nourished and restored. Aruna and Goku were standing in that rain, laughing and dancing with each other. The rainwater that came in contact with the ground, sounded musical to their ears, and the tiny pearl like translucent drops sprung up as soon as it touched the ground. Aruna and Goku sat crouched looking at those crystal clear waters, fascinated by the music it created, drop by drop it fell to the ground and created an illusion to eyes that could discern, and wondered if those drops felt the hardness of the ground, as its softness came in contact with it.

Goku held her fingers tightly in his. His kisses were soft and passionate. They walked away into the distance where the sun met with the horizons of the sky, even as behind them the rain fell in a slight drizzle. There was a dawning that awakened them. Aruna put her head on his shoulders, inspired by his love for her and happy for the strength he provided her. They were blissfully happy. The Gods above were smiling down at them from the heavens. And flowers bloomed at they walked in their presence.

Their love was a blest love. It was inspiring and held two kindred spirits by its spell of magic. Aruna felt her heart swell with pride as Goku slipped an engagement ring on her finger. Her happiness knew no bounds as he sealed it with a kiss on her soft lips. Even the birds of the air flew past and silent in its exuberance. After Goku had sealed their engagement with a ring on her finger, he took her into his arms, and they danced to the songs of the breeze. Somewhere far away, the wind chimes rang; beautiful melodious sounds of love that rang though, and moved the wishful leaves on the trees that stood in attendance. The sound of the wind chimes rose above to the heavens and sprinkled rays of sunshine over them.

They walked together into the far distance, never again to return to the land of no magic.

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Chapter Eight – Aruna falls headlong in love for the first time in her life

When she woke up in the morning, Aruna wondered at the beautiful dream she had had at the break of dawn. The dream left her breathless and she felt her soul uplifted. She wondered if that was what falling in love felt like. She heard a knock on her room door and it was Siti.

Siti brought Aruna her glass of milk to the room just like she did the previous day. Aruna took the glass from Siti, thanked her and sat at her table, drinking her milk and looking out the window. She felt like she had become a completely different person overnight. She was looking forward to the call from Goku and wished fervently that he would call her soon.

She got dressed and a little subdued, walked to the kitchen to find her sister sitting at the table next to her brother-in law with a cup of coffee before them and waiting for her to join them. She smiled at them in greeting. Her sister noticed her somber expression and asked, “Aruna, did you have a good night’s rest? You don’t look as happy as you did last night before you went to sleep. If you are not up to the Malay classes this morning, I can always postpone it to another day. Maybe, you haven’t recovered from the long voyage by ship as yet.” Her brother-in law sat looking at Aruna while her sister was speaking to her. Aruna could sense that even Siti was a bit concerned about her welfare because she turned to look at her with a worried frown on her face.

“No, Chechi. It’s nothing like that. I am fine and looking forward to start learning the language as soon as possible.” Maybe I am just a little hungry. Then in a brighter note, she said, “What’s for breakfast this morning? Her sister, though unconvinced with the sudden bright tone of Aruna, replied, “Well, I made some pancakes and eggs this morning. I thought it would be a change from the Asian cuisine we have been eating the last few days.” Siti brought a jar of maple syrup from the fridge and put in on the table, for them to have with their pancakes.

Then Siti put two pancakes on Aruna’s plate and poured the maple syrup over it. She poured her a cup of coffee and went back to cut some vegetables by the sink. Aruna thanked her, “Terima kasih Siti” just like her sister taught her how to thank someone in Malay. Siti smiled back and said nothing in return. Her brother-in law, who was quiet throughout, asked Aruna what she wanted to do after her Malay class that morning. The class would only be for two hours a day, her sister had informed them before that.

Aruna replied, “Maybe I will take the book Chechi bought me and read it on the hammock by the beach, Chetan. The weather is lovely to spend by the beach. I tried making a sandcastle yesterday but didn’t manage to finish it. I love to spend my time by the sea. It is so relaxing and blissfully invigorating out there.”

“That sounds like a great idea, Aruna. I think you should make the most of your time by the sea since you love it so much. You do know that it is private property, don’t you? So, no-one will disturb you there.” Her brother-in law responded, in a way glad that something interested Aruna and made her happy. He was feeling so sorry for the girl and was sure that the wedding was also weighing down on her.

Suddenly the phone rang interrupting their conversation. Aruna got up before anyone else could, and ran to get it. Her sister and brother-in law looked at each other with a quizzical expression on their faces. It was Goku and Aruna could feel her heart beating erratically in her chest when she heard his voice on the other end of the line. She felt shy all of a sudden.

“Hello Aruna, Good morning.” Goku greeted her. Aruna could sense the enthusiasm in his voice as he spoke to her. Aruna kept silent for a few seconds before quickly responding, “Hello Goku, Good Morning. How are you?” and before he could answer, she asked, “Did you tell Amma about the letter yesterday?”

“Yes I did. Right after I spoke to you in the morning. Both mom and dad were really happy for me. They said that you brought me luck.” Aruna blushed at those words from Goku. She felt so happy that Goku called her that morning to speak to her.

“Oh, that’s so sweet of them,” she replied touched by their kind words about her. “Maybe, she had also misjudged them,” Aruna thought angry with herself.

“Well, I will let them know that you think they are sweet on you,” teased Goku. Aruna laughed softly. There was a short silence then, as both of them, a little loss for words was trying to find something to keep their conversation going.

Then Goku asked Aruna in a more serious tone, “So, do you still want to go ahead with the wedding Aruna? Are you ready to get married to me because I am ready to marry you? I like you a lot and I want you to be my wife. I will make you happy Aruna and I promise you that.”

At that moment, Aruna started crying softly. “Yes I want to marry you too Goku.” She replied in between tears. Goku heard her crying voice and quickly started consoling her. “Don’t cry Aruna,” he cajoled. Then in a teasing tone he said, “Okay, when we are married, I will do all the cooking and cleaning for you. Would that make you stop crying?” Aruna laughed then. She realized that Goku was also a funny person and that he loved to tease her.

“Okay, I will hold you to your word Goku.” Aruna responded.

“So will it be okay with you and your family, if we visited this weekend. I would really love to see you and speak to you again. We can probably have a picnic by the seaside together.” Goku asked Aruna.

Aruna thought for a moment before replying. “Could I check with my sister and get back to you. I am sure it wouldn’t be a problem but I am not sure about their plans. If you could call me back tomorrow, I will let you know.” Then as an afterthought Aruna told him, “Goku, I am starting my Malay class this morning. Chechi got me a tutor through a friend of hers, a retired Malay teacher and she will come to the house at 10.00am.”

“That’s fantastic Aruna. I am so happy for you. Yes, it is a necessity for you to learn the language so that you can converse with the locals here. Amma would be really pleased to hear that too.” Goku exclaimed. Aruna smiled then. She was happy that she had something new to tell Goku and was glad that he was there for her to convey all her thoughts and feelings. Yes, that’s what she would do henceforth, Aruna thought happily. She would share all her feelings with Goku!

They hung up the phone on each other after Goku promised to call her the next day. He wished her a happy time learning the Malay language and ended the call sounding happier and more assured than he did before the start of their conversation.

While Aruna was busy talking on the phone, she didn’t hear her brother-in law and sister creep up on her. The stood there spellbound and laughing at Aruna’s apparent feelings for Goku. Then they went back to the kitchen and pretended to wait for Aruna to join them. “It looks like our poor Aruna has been bitten by the love bug.” they chorused when they saw Aruna returning to the kitchen after her call with Goku. Siti stood smiling by the sink, and looked like she was blushing at that thought too.

Aruna looked radiant at that moment walking into the kitchen. She felt herself go red when she heard the chorused voices of her brother-in law and sister.

Aruna sat down and continued eating her breakfast, not looking directly at her brother-in law or sister. Then they teasingly asked her, “Is everything alright Aruna, Are we ready to get married now?” Aruna smiled, shaking her head said, “Yes, Goku asked me whether I was willing to marry him and I said yes, Chetan.” As she was sitting next to her sister at the kitchen table, her sister leaned over and hugged Aruna.

Aruna hesitated for a few minutes, like she was about to say something and then stopped. Her sister noticed it and asked, “What is it Aruna? You know you can come to us with any of your grievances or ask us anything. Is there something you want to tell us?” Aruna looked at her sister, blushing again before saying, “Goku was planning to come down to Dungun with his parents over the weekend and asked if it would be fine with us. So I told him that I will ask the both of you and get back to him. He said that he will call me in tomorrow morning for an answer.”

Both her brother-in law and sister looked extremely pleased hearing that, they looked at Aruna and cheerfully replied, “That would be just wonderful. Of course they can come and spend the weekend with us and we can discuss all the finer details of the wedding right here in our house. Please tell him that we look forward to their arrival.” Then her brother-in law stood up from his chair, kissed his wife on the cheeks, gave Aruna a hug and left for work.

Her sister quickly told Siti that she had to get two guest rooms ready for the weekend and shooed Aruna away, telling her, “Go on, go and read your book by the beach. I have some things to prepare for our distinguished guests. I will see you for lunch.”


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