Thursday, 22 December 2011

Diary of Pök Téng

December 20th, 1951

The roaring of the sea gave me an appetite, I had a craving for stuffed fish. But nowadays, when the rivermouth is hardly navigable, with those giant waves, no one goes to sea. I shall be home bound, that's it, sitting here eating ubi török*. If I choose to eat a banana I shall have to be very careful, one wrong choice and my tummy will twist and turn, my fever shall come back. The wife says that pisang bakorang* is good for someone who's just recovered from a fever. She threw one into the fire just now, and I ate it while it was steaming hot. It took away my pangs of hunger, now I feel like dancing the rödat.

In this season when the water rushes downstream, the sea roars day and night, sounding like a tiger wedged between bamboos. Yesterday one of those lads from the market fell into the drink when the shore caved in, but he was lucky to have grabbed a branch of the bbaru tree just in time. He could've been swept by the waves to Pulau Rèdang to cavort with the sirens, it'll be song and dance for him every night. But I feel sorry for him, his thighs lacerated to the knees. He was hanging on to the branch until people in a dugout came and brought him back to the shore.

I am wary of going to the beach these days because the strong winds have brought all sorts of debris onshore. Squat in the wrong place on the shore and you'll come into contact with the fruit of the rengas [Gluta malayana], and then you'll be scratching your bum all day long. It looks like there's little choice but to do your job in the undergrowth because it really is scary when the shore keeps dropping into the sea. Furthermore the wind's much too strong and it may lift your sarong in an unguarded moment, putting your underwear into full view.

There's hardly any kerepok lèkör in times like these, for, as you know, nobody goes out to fish when the waves are roaring, and Mök Song doesn't roll her kerepok. Only the dried ones are available, but there's not a drop of coconut oil in the house, that Sèmèk girl has used it all on her hair. It looks like a trip for me to the shore then, to collect two or three tins of fine sand to put into the wok. When the sand's hot enough you can 'fry' kerepok in it. But not yet, it is raining now, and the sand is soaked.

It's nice to be home on an afternoon like this, if luck holds there may be tapioca with shredded coconut. After a glass of coffee you'll soon doze off into the sunset.

* * *

The sound jolted me, my head fell from the coconut head rest. I thought I heard the rumble of thunder from the sea. When I opened my eyes there was darkness everywhere, the beacon on distant Bukit Puteri was flashing, it was the sound from the Haji Mat Kerinci prayer house that gave me the jolt. Nowadays those market lads are all sitting idle because the fish doesn't come ashore, so they gather in the prayer house, and they beat the mosque drum. They hit that hide so hard that the sound carries to distant places.

As I was walking home I chanced upon Mèk Munöh gathering firewood on the shore. I remembered to tell her that the kerepok that I recently bought from her was no good. The fish made you itch but she misheard what I was saying in the strong wind. She gave me a big whack with an oar.

"I'm not saying that you've got the itch, Mèk, but I was talking about your kerepok." She was a very sullen person then so she cared little for what I said.

How shall I explain this to the wife, what with my head all swollen, it is throbbing too like I've been stung by the catfish. "Why is your face so swollen, Yaténg?" the wife asked me as she sifted some tapioca flour to bake a cake.

"What's with me," I said. "As I was walking on the shore earlier on I tripped on Wan Man's anchor rope and fell on the edge of the wakaf**."

"That's because you don't go to prayers," she said. "When people were going to the prayer house you were busy loitering on the beach!"

*A variety of Trengganu cooking banana with a soothing disposition, favoured by the sick.
** A yam found in Trengganu and Kelantan. Rainy day food.
***An open shelter dedicated to public use. Often found on the shore in Trengganu

Go back to Kecek-Kecek.