It was quite early when Yem came to my house on one Friday morning. Last night we had decided to have our breakfast at the Taman Selera for the nasi lemak and the 434 Muar coffee. Halim would be joining us later as he had to bring his grandfather to the wet market. There was a heavy downpour during the early hours of the morning and the after effect was still dominating many parts of the neighbourhood. Grasses everywhere were still wet and the waters flowing by the nearby monsoon drain could still be heard. I had just finished bathing and was looking for some nice shirts to choose for the morning rendezvous. Yem had a nice colourful shirt on and a dark pants also tailored by ‘Mary’ with the front tooth missing. I thought of wearing a plain coloured shirt and my blue ‘denggri'( denggri is a word Muarians of my time used for the present denim jeans). Then I looked at the mirror trying to imitate the way Elvis smiled but I thought I would rather smile the way Cliff Richard smiled.
“OK let’s go”, I said to Yem and we both headed for our bicycles. It was a cooling morning with the after effect of last night’s heavy downpour could still be felt. The eastern horizon was already brightened with the sun rays illuminating the eastern sky with colours of rainbows and the clouds showering over the lower parts of the heavenly sky moved gracefully admitting itself to the needs of nature. We passed by the Police barracks fronting Jalan Ibrahim, then passing by the house of Tuan Hj Ismail Penambang and further on where lived Midah Mata Sepet. When we reached the ‘simpang lima’, we turned left heading towards the Taman Selera along Jalan Suleiman.
At the Taman Selera, most seats had been occupied and the customers were enjoying their breakfast. We went straight to my uncle’s lot for the nasi lemak and the 434 Muar coffee. Those days nasi lemak was truly nasi lemak and the sambal ikan bilis was really superb. We never had ‘kacang goreng’ in our nasi lemak. For a plate of twenty cents, it was a real heavy breakfast and we need not have a second helping. It was almost 9.30am and Halim should be around pretty soon after accompanying his grandfather to the wet market. When we noticed a group of people stood up at a nearby table, we both rushed to the table before anybody else took it as the crowd began to increase by the minute. Familiar faces too began to appear and we exchanged greetings.
“I think I am going a catch a cold”, I said as we both sat at the table bringing along our plates of nasi lemak. “Me too, I can feel it but I can see that your situation is worse”, replied Yem. “We should not have done it, we should have just ignore his idea”, I said to Yem blaming Halim for his persistent attitude of wanting to take a ride at the center of the Malay burial ground of Jalan Hashim last night.
Two weeks ago, both Halim and me toke a night cycling to Jalan Joned trying to trace that far away sound and it proved to be a false alarm. Last night he suggested that we toke a ride at the center of the Malay burial ground and to feel for ourselves how eerie this place was during the night.
The Mi Hailam served at the Sin Sin restaurant along Jalan Abdullah was great and it went well with a nice glass of iced Tea O’. Sometimes I would buy home for grandma as she liked Mi Hailam very much and it would certaintly taste better when wrapped with the leaves of Pinang palm. Yem and Halim opted for the beef steak oriental style and its presentation was so palatable. It was almost 9pm when we finished our dinner and it was Halim again who suggested that we should try and take a ride at the center of the Malay burial ground along Jalan Hashim, batu satu Bakri.
“Come on Halim, let’s forget it”, I answered after Halim had suggested the terrible idea. Yem smiled at me and still remembering the ‘adventure’ Halim and me had been through. Since he missed the first ‘adventure’, now he insisted that we embark on this ‘adventure’ and this time with him around.
Two against one and so I lost. “Ok, but don’t you think its too early to be riding at the burial ground now?”, I asked and this time showing my bravery when in fact I was honestly scared. “Yes, it’s still early, let us have a cup of tea at the Taman Selera”, answered Halim. We paid our bills and walked straight to our bicycles. Tukirah was seen scolding her husband Othman Turki across the roadside and he was just speechless. He looked thin and his cheekbone could be seen that it gave me the urge like ‘come let me treat you to a good meal’.
The Taman Selera at around 10pm was still full and we met many common friends, the same friends we met at Tajung this evening and the same friends we met yesterday. We still greeted each other like as though we had not met for years. “Hey how are you”, and “Hey did we not meet just now?”.
The three of us sat at a table next to Hassan Radio and began discussing our coming ‘adventure’. Anyone who could have noticed our discussion would have thought like as though we were discussing some very important and most urgent issues. The Bakri Batu Satu Malay burial ground was rectangular in shape, quite spacious but the empty plots seemed quite insufficient and a new site was overdue. The entrance was along Jalan Hashim and there was a small wooden bridge over a big monsoon drain. Right at the entrance was a small one storey building uplifted by concrete columns. Then there were two very small lanes with each lane filled with cemetaries some of its features were really old. Towards the other end the cemetaries were quite new as the tombs were quite modern compared to the other side and there were some graves that were just being filled recently. My mother was laid in this burial ground and I would normally visit her grave every Friday morning with grandma when I was very young but now I would visit her grave once or twice a year. Her grave was situated at the other end quite near the house of the caretaker. She died at a young age of twenty six of breast cancer when my brother Farouk was three years old and I was three months old, so I never knew her. To me grandma was my mother.
It was now almost 11pm and we thought it would be best to begin our journey. I went to my uncle’s lot to pay the bills but as usual he refused my payment. “How’s your grandma?” asked Pak Mat Ketetel as he was known in Muar town. He was my father’s elder brother. I told him that grandma was fine and he asked me to extend his salam to her and then he said, “Make sure you ride straight home and don’t go around to unnecessary places at this time of the hour”. Wow, if only he knew that I was about to ride right at the center of the Malay graveyard.
The three of us began cycling abreast passing the Indian temple leading towards the Rex theatre and almost all the shops along the road were closed. We reached the Rex theatre and noticed many becas (trishaws) were around waiting for the show to end at around twelve midnight hoping to get some passengers before retiring. We proceeded towards the other end and turned right passing by the building where stood the Fire brigade. We were quite alien to this part of Muar town because we seldom spent our time cycling around this area.
As we reached the entrance of the graveyard, out of sudden, a bright striking light appeared displaying within seconds an aggressive flow of dark clouds above our heads. Immediately after the lights diminished, a loud thunderous sound followed that could easily deafen our ears momentarily. The three of us stopped and looked above us and noticed some noticeable signals of a heavy downpour in the next few minutes. We could now feel few drops beginning to touch our bodies. Then the lightning came again followed by the notorious sound of thunder. Without further hesitation, we cycled through the small wooden bridge and headed straight to the building nearby for shelter. We looked around the building and no soul was seen around and the front door was locked. The rain began to pour aggressively accompanied by wild winds blowing almost in every directions. The trees within the graveyard swayed with hostility and forceful and we had nowhere else to take our shelter. There wasn’t any varendah and the only available site for some comfort was at the small concrete stairs covered by a short roof. The three of us stood silently and kept vigil hoping for the rain to stop but there wasn’t any sign of such hope. Just few meters away from us were graves and the tombs sculptured by ancient hands.
The three of us were soaking to the bones and we even began to shiver and trembling from cold and fear. As we were standing folding our arms for comfort, Yem touched my shoulder and showed his index finger towards one specific grave. Halim watched too and we noticed a small black hump moving slowly. “What could that be?” the three of us thought keeping our eyes focussed on the black object. Then it suddenly jumped and it passed right before our eyes and we yelled out of fright. When the black object fell right besides the stairs, it was a big toad also trying to take shelter from the raging downpour. It walked slowly underneath the building and disappeared into the darkness. “He he, I thought you were the bravest among us?”, I said to Halim. He was not the least perturbed at my sneering gesture and instead laughed out loud. The rain did not seem to ease and kept on pouring wildly. Then in the midst of the pouring rain, we saw a glimpse of light glimmered from the other side of the grave compound and we could notice it was someone holding a torch light pointing directly towards our position.
As it approached nearer, it was visibly noted that a man with a raincoat was walking towards us still holding the torch light pointing at us. Then he shouted at us “Siapa sana?” (Who are you?). The three of us stared at him attentively and Halim shouted back, “Kita tumpang teduh” (We are taking a shelter). When he was right in front of us, I thought he was the caretaker because I could recognize him as his house was quite near my mother’s grave and I would always meet him whenever doing my visiting. This time he looked different.
“OK, I was just doing my routine and checking”, he said smilingly. He took a seat at the stairs with his soaking raincoat on. “Well, what a place to take a shelter”, he continued. “Where were you going when the rain started?”
“Oh, we were from my uncle’s house and were returing home when the rain started”, Halim answered quickly. The caretaker nodded and then asked, “Who’s your uncle and where does he live?” “Haji Ariffin and he lives just across the road about a mile from here. “Never heard of any Haji Ariffin living in this area”, the man answered back. “My uncle is so aloof and seldom mix with people” answered Halim even more faster. The caretaker did not seem to bother much and we noticed that he was not aware of Halim’s white lie.
“Did you guys notice anything spooky?”, continued the caretaker.
“No, was there any?” Halim answered with a question.
“Yes, only about an hour ago. I was at the kitchen with my wife when I heard someone screaming. When I opened my kitchen window, I saw a woman with very long uncombed hair wearing a dirty white coloured long dress.” the man said. “I did not see her face clearly but I knew she was not human”, continued the man. “Wow, this is no good”, Yem said and I agreed suggesting that we should leave this place immediately inspite of the heavy rain. The man smiled at us and said, “There’s nothing to worry. Ghosts can’t hurt people, only humans hurt one another. I’ve been working here for almost fifteen years and I am so used to seeing many peculiar sightings. I am so accustomed to it.”
“Well, we are not and we’d better leave now”, I said to my two friends and they both agreed. It was almost 12.30am and the rain began to ease, we bade the caretaker goodbye but he was gone and we could not see him anywhere. We wasted no time and cycled back home in the middle of the rain. We bade each other goodbye at the junction of Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Omri. I had to cycle alone for another fifty meters before reaching my house. It was still raining although not so raging and arrived home safely. I immediately went to the toilet and took a shower. Grandma must be wondering why I took a shower in the middle of the night when it was raining. Before retiring to bed, I began to wonder whether the man we saw at the graveyard was really the caretaker because he was definitely not the one I knew. Never mind, there may be two caretakers and I dozed off.
“Where’s Halim, it’s almost 10am now.” I asked Yem after we had our nasi lemak. My uncle Mat Ketetel arrived and saw me and waved and I returned his gesture. Then he came nearer to us and said, “I am leaving for the market, don’t bother to pay the bills. Hey, luckily you went back home early last night, there was a sudden heavy downpour after you left”. Yem looked at me and smiled and I just answered nicely to my uncle, “Yes Wak Mat, luckily we went home early”
When Halim arrived, it was approximately 10.15am and he ordered a cup of 434 Muar coffee. He had his breakfast at the wet market together with his grandfather.
“Guys, there’s something I want to tell you and hope you both will not get too upset”, Halim suddenly said as he began to sip his first drop of the hot coffee. Then he looked at me and said, “Din, you really can recognize the caretaker of the graveyard.” I answered positively but told him that I did not know his actual name, only as ‘Che Mat’.
I met the real Che Mat this morning at the wet market. My grandfather knows him and as they were talking, my grandfather asked whether he was still working as the caretaker of the Malay burial ground at Bakri Batu Satu. When I heard it, I chipped in and said that I saw the caretaker last night at the graveyard during the heavy downpour and it wasn’t him. Che Mat looked at me and smiled.
“You are not the only who saw him, there are others who had seen this person claiming that he was the caretaker” Che Mat said to Halim. Sometime, during their conversation, the man simply disappeared out of thin air leaving the person he was talking to in dire strait. There have been few similarly cases of these kind of sightings.
“Goodness, does this mean last night we were talking to a ghost?” asked Yem with curiosity. “I don’t know, maybe or maybe not”, replied Halim.
“That’s it. I am not going to any more spooky places in the middle of the night. You can count me out”, I said to both Halim and Yem. “Why not?” Halim answered me and continued, “Who knows, one day when we grow older we can relate our adventures to the younger generations.