By: S.M. Zakir
One morning Mustofa opened the window. The sun suddenly dropped sprawling in front of his eyes. He picked up the sun and hooked it back to the sky. Slowly Mustofa closed the window, worried that the sun would fall again. Then he walked away from the window and took his place at the corner of this large house. This house was a large Malay house, called Rumah Limas. People said that limas meant lima emas, five gold nuggets, which were five golden sayings or five main principles. The principles of greatness, peacefulness, politeness, prosperity, and happiness. These five principles or golden sayings were the core axis to this house. And it was called later as the Rumah Limas. He didn’t know why but Mustofa heard the sayings as romanticism from a dead old period. This house had stood for so long. Even though still strong and intact but its old color had clearly faded. Its gold color was no more there; its romanticism was dead for quite some time.
The house was built on good Monday facing the sunrise, constructed without using any nails; the wooden pieces were connected only with suguan lanang betina. This house had fourteen rooms. The sizes varied. Fourteen people with various personalities occupied all the rooms accordingly. The occupants kept changing several times, until finally fourteen people stayed there since the last fifty years.
Mustofa walked to the gegajah room, the main room of the house. Over there, he saw two dwellers passionately caressing each other. Pierre Munnge Andre and Amani Tatou, two young people with no qualms of displaying their intimacy wherever they were. Especially Amani Tatou, a young girl claimed to be of an Arab descendant from the lineage of Rasulullah, not only she didn’t know how to cover herself decently but also didn’t know how to speak Malay anymore. Pierre Munnge Andre, a Malay youth but due to his parent’s stupidity in naming him, eventually became a Portuguese descended from Albuquerque, the conqueror of Malacca, partly to spread Christianity. Amani Tatou, confused of her roots, finally chose to be French, a European due to her last name, Tatou. Even though when she was in France once, she was spitted on by the European skinheads who hated all Asians. Pierre Munnge Andre, who always swore at his parent’s stupidity in naming him, and another friend with the same luck of having stupid parents naming him Hitler, form a partnership to open a film production company. Both of them then produced horror and ghost movies that truly keyed up the Malay souls who always lived in superstitious world. Strangely, their films made lots of profits, even though they only daubed Amani Tatou’s face with coals to act as a ghost and flew her with string attached. The three of them laughed out a loud; together they agreed that their parents’ stupidity and the Malays stupidity were the most valuable matters in their lives. So they kept their names and lived with nothing else except stupid enjoyment. When the entwining of ular cap raya obliterated the house, Pierre and Amani were killed in each other’s arms.
Mustofa heard a smashing noise outside. He went out to the area of tenggalung fence or the veranda. He saw the wind fell swirling at the tenggalung fence. Trying to escape. Mustofa kicked the wind and sent it rolling to the ground. The wind escaped and went away. At the tenggalung fence he saw Tan Sri Pek Kung and Datuk Seri Basuk were playing cards. They were playing without noticing anything that was happening around them. They were already wealthy with all the mega projects besides gambling business, media piracy, tax evasion and everything else. But just like the dark hole, their gullets kept on swallowing and swallowing without stopping. Even while playing cards their mouths were widely opened, swallowing whatever crossing their paths. Both of them were powerful, prominent politicians and corporate players. With political power in their hands, anything was easy for them to swallow.
Originally Tan Sri Pek Kung was descended from the leader of a group of gangsters named Ghi Hin, who was powerful in Larut during the opening of tin mines before. Larut at that time was infamous with hooligans’ activities and robberies. At one time there was a major war between the gangster Ghi Hin and the Malays there. The war started when one family of wealthy Malay was robbed by thugs from the gangster Ghi Hin. Thus, the Malays were upset and took revenge by robbing the office of gangster Ghi Hin and killed several of Ghi Hin’s thugs. This robbery had very significant impact to the Chinese merchants in Malacca, who were the capital providers to the tin mines in the west coast of Tanah Melayu including in Larut. Many of these capitalists went bankrupt because of losing their money and gold kept under the protection of Ghi Hin in Larut. Angry at this situation, gangster Ghi Hin attacked the Malays in Larut and killed indiscriminately, men, women and children.
When the news spread, the Malays were very angry. One nobleman, a Daeng from Riau came down with his men and attacked the gangster Ghi Hin in an all-out war. Daeng fought with the leader of Ghi Hin, Ah Chong, for the whole day and finally killed him in a coffee shop. Daeng then molded Ah Chong’s axe into a wavy dagger, keris. The gangster Ghi Hin was chased out from Larut, before returning again after some time and became friends to the Malays. The gangster Ghi Hin was the one who later, together with the prominent Malays, opened the mines in Kuala Lumpur and controlled the wealth and power until now.
This was Tan Sri Pek Kung, the descendant of Ah Chong, the gangster leader of Ghi Hin, currently with Datuk Seri Basuk, the descendant of Daeng from Riau, both of whom were in control of politics and economics, so deeply rooted and unable to be shaken by anyone anymore. The keris, originally owned by the great-great-grandfather of Datuk Seri Basuk, was now made into the symbol of their unity of power and wealth. Tan Sri Pek Kung remained as the leader of the gangster Ghi Hin that protected all the capitals of Chinese merchants, while Datuk Seri Basuk remained as the prominent Malay that controlled all the lands here. Both of them were the closest of friends in the activities enveloping all the wealth and power here.
Besides Tan Sri Pek Kung and Datuk Seri Basuk, there gathered Nashlee Ya, Enrique Chan, Salvatore Dionisyus Linggam, Herman Selulosa and Penelope Gonzalez. They were all the time waiting to nibble and swallow whatever leftovers from Tan Sri Pek Kung and Datuk Seri Basuk. Nashlee Ya lived only to agreeing in everything and was the officer that collected all the corrupted funds on behalf of Datuk Seri Basuk. Enrique Chan sold his wife, kids and parents in order to be wealthy, and then came to stay in this house as a loyal follower of Tan Sri Pek Kung. Salvatore Dionisyus Linggam was a nonstop-talking lawyer who finally forgot he was neither an Englishman nor a European. Herman Selulosa was originally a Javanese, who worked as stripper of cowhides, and currently was millionaires of highways and information technologies ventures due to his good relationship with Datuk Seri Basuk. Even though till today he had neither known on how to use computer nor could tell the difference between cement for constructions and plaster cement for broken bones. Penelope Gonzalez, was said as descended from a mixing of twenty different races, but her swollen botoxed cheeks and plastic surgeried sharp nose still couldn’t get rid of her stinking body odor that suddenly smelled of salted fished whenever the sun went down. All of them were the dwellers and loyal followers of whoever powerful person in this house. When the entwining of ular cap raya obliterated the house, they were all inside the house and were killed accordingly.
Mustofa suddenly remembered the machine that he installed yesterday in the kiyam room. The machine was originally consisted of levers and pulleys given by a fakir, a destitute ascetic, who stopped by at this house one time ago. The fakir said that the broken and strewn about levers and pulleys were a machine left by one Arab sailor, also an architect that came with Maulana Syed Abdul Aziz who converted the king of Malacca to Islam and later known as Sultan Muhammad Syah. This machine, the fakir claimed, was a tool to monitor the movements of the whole universe that could tell the strength and direction of the movement of winds, moons, and stars inter-related to the movement of earth or human on earth. The machine was an improvement from the machine invented by the earlier Arabian sailor-architect, who first discovered the mawsin wind or later known as monsoon wind. This machine, due to its ability in monitoring all movements in the universe, enabled its user to know not only whatever happened in the whole world but also whatever would happen in the future. Last night Mustofa tried a new theory in fixing it after six months of struggling effort. Today Mustofa wanted to continue his effort.
Mustofa rushed to the kiyam room, nearly hit Auntie Kathy, a blonde with tight fitting dress showing all the curves on her body. Auntie Kathy would be mad if anybody called her by her real name, Mak Tijah. She, who was fifty years old but still fashionable like a teenage girl, always seemed to forget her age when she was asked about it. She only recalled her age when the malaikatulmaut, the grim reaper, came together with the ular cap raya that entwined and obliterated this house. She liked young men because she said even the revered Syaiditina Khadijah, Rasulullah’s wife, married Rasulullah who was younger than her. Mustofa left without time to greeting her.
Mustofa went into the kiyam room, which was the space of learning in this house. In here he saw Professor Alam relaxingly copying the words on the cover of books. Professor Alam, even though had never written a single book, he was highly praised as the nation’s prominent intellectual. This was not so surprising because most of the professors and scholars worked only to solve the problems of their appetites. The rest only worked to add titles in front of their names as long as possible and nodded as much as possible. There was an amazing ability of Professor Alam, his skills in pasting other people’s words to his working papers. One time Professor Alam died and his head were operated on to study its content. The doctors were amazingly surprised to discover that Professor Alam’s head was empty accept for coconut dregs. Professor Alam died before the ular cap raya came and destroyed this house.
Mustofa reached for the pulleys and levers and started to concentrate in fixing the machine. Meanwhile his mind roamed everywhere. This house stood for so long but its history was only written fifty years ago after its original language and culture was seriously damaged. After that everyone started to claim equal rights in this house. Mustofa sometimes didn’t know how many people truly lived here. Mustofa might forget to count Imam Rasu and Thulug Beg who confined themselves in their rooms. He remembered Thulug Beg. Yes, Thulug Beg had an interesting formula about this machine. Thulug Beg was the only occupant of this house who was interested in the machine installed by Mustofa.
Thulug Beg had helped Mustofa a lot in translating the old Arabic writings left by the ascetic together with the levers and pulleys. One day, at the moment when Venus was twenty seven degrees from the Pisces, Thulug Beg wrote alphabets in the drawn diagram-box with mercury and invisible ink on a piece of white cloth. And then Thulug Beg washed the cloth and gave Mustofa the water from the washing for Mustofa to drink. Suddenly, Mustofa felt lighter, his mind swirled and seemed smarter, and his disposition became so benevolent. Thulug Beg stated that now Mustofa was ready to install the machine.
In truth, Mustofa had never told anyone about whatever he saw. Only when he was writhing in pain on the way to hospital, saved from the crushing pyramid of levers and pulleys, he told the story to the hospital attendants. Mustofa told that the occupants of the house were not humans but molluscs. Yes, all of them were molluscs that went in and out from one shell to another until they weren’t even sure which shells were originally theirs anymore.
On one Thursday, Mustofa found a method to install the machine after Thulug Beg succeeded in breaking down the old Arabian code. When Venus met Jupiter and formed the bear constellation in the sky right on time of one late afternoon, then the white cloth, with alphabets in diagram written with mercury ink, was laid down on the ground. The white cloth was also written on at the moment when qomar met athorid on Thursday in the month of the four siblings. Seven small stones were placed at the four corners. At that time one diagram appeared like colors of rainbow in the air. Thulug Beg hurriedly asked Mustofa to copy the floated diagram. Based on that diagram, Mustofa later managed to completely install the levers and pulleys into a pyramid looking machine.
From the machine, Mustofa got a shock of his life when he saw all the occupants of this house, including him were not humans, but molluscs that crawled from one shell to another. Mustofa didn’t even know which shell was the original shell of whom anymore. Mustofa recalled Imam Rasu. Yes, Thulug Beg once said, only because Imam Rasu was around, God didn’t send the large ular cap raya that could entwine this house seven times and squeeze until the house obliterated. But Imam Rasu was gone one day and one month after that the ular cap raya came and obliterated the house and all its inhabitants. Mustofa went into the back room where Imam Rasu meditated. Imam Rasu, knowing the reason for Mustofa’s visit, explained that they were truly turned into molluscs since the house started to practice liberal and secular policies, after Islam was grounded, after the Malay language was vanquished, after the Malay culture was wrecked, and after the Malay words were wiped out from all writings and conversations. Mustofa saw so many molluscs crawling everywhere in the house. Mustofa quickly ran outside leaving Imam Rasu.
Now Mustofa tried to understand the faces of molluscs in this house by observing the constellations in the sky. But unfortunately, he forgot to insert one red ruby into the eye of the pyramid right at the moment when Venus appeared surrounded by thirteen stars. The machine trembled and collapsed on him.
That was the only thing known by the people and hospital workers about the Malay House that used to exist in one region under the dot of the fingering sun. That story was from one hospital attendant who got it from one patient who claimed to come from that long gone house. The house was crushed and shattered by the seven times entwining body of ular cap raya. Later they only found molluscs crawling and creeping all over the place, in their thousands, in millions. And not so long after, all of them also changed into molluscs that crawled all over the places in thousands, in millions.
Went in and out from one shell to another, and would never again found its own shell!
Published in Short Story Collection The Bird Nymph. S.M. Zakir. 2015. Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia (ITBM).
Translated from original works:
Moluska, S.M. Zakir
(Total word counts : 2,268 words)
By Syed Uzair Othman
Start writing in 1990 and until now has received tens of literary awards/prizes including Malaysian Premier Literary Prizes 1994/95 in short stories category (Merengkuh Langit, DBP 1995), Kelantan State Literary Awards in short stories category (Sekuntum Kembang di Sayap Jibril, PPN 2001), Premier Literary Prizes 2010/11 in short stories category (Serigala dan Sekuntum Tulip, DBP 2010), and MASTERA/Southeast Asia Award 2012 (Serigala dan Sekuntum Tulip, DBP 2010). In 2010 was the awardee of MASTERA Young Laureate Awards 2010, awarded by the Literary Council of Southeast Asia (MASTERA) in Jakarta Indonesia. In 2011 was the awardee of S.E.A Write Award 2011 in short story category, awarded by SEA Write Award Council in Bangkok, Thailand. Work in the news media before becoming a full-time writer in 2000. Earned much acclaim and many awards with six short stories books, three poetry collections, a biography, film criticism, socio-culture essays and political commentary. A columnist for several magazines, also secretary general of the Malaysian National Writers Association.