On The Street Where I Lived
Susan Abraham, Kuala Lumpur
When I was little, I lived in a small Malaysian town called Klang and on a street address that said 'Cat's Eyes'.
It was the swinging sixties where even the Far East celebrated Chubby Checker, the Beatles and Woodstock. The middle- class neighborhood boasted rows and rows of single-storey terraced houses that were fanned by oil palm trees in the background. Containing very little of the modern infrastructure that makes up for the town's robust personality today, and still influenced in full swing by the Colonial era, (Malaysia received full independence from the British on August 31, 1957), it made for an extraordinary combination of manners and culture, with a mix of the english and malaysian.
At the time, we went to the Convent Klang, a strict Catholic school that was run by Irish nuns. The teenagers who partied about could have come from the swinging clubs in London. My father played Dusty Springfield all the time. And my mother adored Tom Jones. Yet, there was a strange ruralness that heralded the town. Each of the modern suburbs as it was thought to be, was surrounded by remnants of plantations and tiny estates of one kind or another.
Some neighbourhoods were encircled by a thick ring of rubber and banana trees. Otherwise, it just had to be those monstrous oil palm estates that the town was famous for.
On that street, you always had to be careful of the trees. Almost every schoolmate had a mother, aunt or grandmother who warned her not to walk under the trees after 7pm. That was the unspoken golden rule; that signified the start of the witching hour. It wasn't something as fictitious as M. Shyaman's blockbuster, The Village. Each tree species was famous for an eerie legend. If only there were legends and not true incidents that I and others did experience for ourselves at the end of the day...in short, a chilling episode at one time or the other. And if any of us heard, smelt, saw or felt anything in the way of sights, scents, noises or even touches it would be between 7pm and 6am the next day and only if we were really unlucky.
One morning, as I swept the verandah - it was about 8am and a weekend, I heard a lady scream. It stills stays as the loudest scream I've heard so far in my life. I heard a lady scream and shout with anger. I simply couldn't make out her words. It literally appeared like a thunderous and terrifying explosion that terrified me out of my skin. I dropped the broom and started trembling. Her voice came directly from the trees. It was strangely swift; almost stopping in mid-air. She sounded very angry. Yet, it appeared as if her vowels had been cut short. As if she only said half- a-word or half-a-line. But it offered such a ear-splitting scream; you knew straightaway without any verbal language that the voice had an evil connotation. It just seem to hang in the air and hover over all the houses. It was louder, believe it or not, then the sound of an aeroplane. There were families outside at the time - some were washing their cars and some housewives were hanging their clothes out to dry on fences. Nobody heard anything except for myself and a young Chinese dad. He dashed out from his bedroom. He lived about six houses away. He kept asking if anyone had heard a lady screaming - he looked very frightened but no one else had heard anything. He insisted that a woman was shouting at the top of her voice from the estate nearby but everyone looked surprised. Obviously, he and I were the only ones who had heard it. I kept silent.
About two weeks later, a pretty young Punjabi housewife who lived next door to us, asked my mother permission if I could keep her company for an evening. Apparently, just the night before her husband had to work the late shift. There was always something eerie about the evenings and nights in the area where we lived. She was alone in the house at the time and fell asleep. At about 2am, she was awakened by someone crying in the oil palm estate. She said she heard a lady weeping. It made her hair stand on end. The lady was weeping and moaning loudly. She appeared deeply unhappy and was crying and sobbing. She also uttered words but of course, it was too loud and bizarre for the housewife to understand anything. At the time, she felt within her spirit, that the lady all the way in the forest wanted her to hear the sobs. She thought the lady would come to knock at her door and approach her. She felt a great fear and fainted. The young housewife was clearly too frightened for words. I can still remember her crying, her stammering and her fear to this present day. She knew that no human being could produce that kind of effect on her. It went on for a long time. No one else appeared to hear it but her. She was terrified and she couldn't sleep for many nights afterwards. It was after she heard it one more time in her life that a few weeks later that she and her husband moved out.
About two years later, one of the houses directly opposite ours, appeared to become suddenly haunted. A young newly-married Chinese couple lived there with a toddler. The lady was quiet, traditional and always dressed in samfus. I can still remember her quiet decorum well to this present day. This lady was happy there...she had a many friends amongst the housewives. After a year of them moving in, things started flying around the place, a bit like a Poltergeist. The baby had turned suddenly sick and ran a high fever. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with the child. The Chinese lady said that she was in the bathroom and the soap flew to the ceiling. The husband was at work and things started flying about, all around her. She went to get the baby, screamed and rushed out of the house. We all saw that scene. Someone telephoned the husband. I know that that evening they moved out. Today with all I have seen and know, I think how wise. What I do know also as a certainty was that after the house was emptied, neighbours heard the sound of furniture being dragged about at night as well as other strange occurrences. A devout Methodist teacher who stayed next door, told my mother that as she lay down to sleep at night, she could hear voices in the empty house. She could especially hear chairs and tables being toppled about. The house was by then, bare. So she had a priest called to where she lived and she begged him in tears, to pray for her entire family's protection. But the noises went away only after a very long time.
Some years later, some men came over to cut the palm trees to make way for new development. It looked like spirits had been let loose. Every night from 12pm, the dogs would start to howl in a horrible way. One after another and none of us could sleep. Sometimes, we could hear from our windows the tinkling of anklets or bracelets passing by. As if there was a girl or lady passing through the outside of our windows. In the mornings, we would find a dog or cat dead and by the time the whole episode was over in a few weeks, old people had also started to die mysteriously in the night. It was said among the folks that the spirits had been deprived of their homes in the trees and had come to take revenge. Well, I witnessed this bizarre experience firsthand.
We lived next door to a corner house, where the parents had beautiful daughters and during this very time, one of the daughters once woke up about 4 am when she heard the sound of running water. They had at the time with renovations, extended their kitchen to the backyard. She and her sisters saw on separate occasions, a lady with very long black hair washing clothes in the kitchen sink with the water running on the soap suds. They never saw this lady's face and was too terrified for words. The lady kept scrubbing and wringing dirty clothes; her back faced directly to them. The only thing apparent was the way she bent over and with that long straight black hair almost reaching her ankles. Soon after, the mother called for a Chinese medium to say prayers for the whole family. A few years ago in Singapore, I met this daughter who had since married a diplomat and traveled the world over. And to think, she still shudders at the frightening episode. It is my conclusion that once you pass through this strange dimension no matter how slightly, you'll remember its texture, shadows and layered darkness that stays haunting all the days of your life. You won't be trying to recapture it. Instead, the incident will capture you. The memory of that long jet black hair, running water and soap suds at the hands of a strange woman at 4am, has never left my friend. Of course, it was with relief that she was so thankful afterwards, that she never hung around long enough for the lady to swing her face around...