The dragonfly and I
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 — I have learned that dragonflies go by many names to Malaysians. Mother, a Kelantanese to the bone, calls the insect ‘tuyyup,’ meanwhile my gorgeous friend, Raja Endon Mastura, strolls in casually on the Twitter timeline calling herself 'cakchibo'. When I queried her about the meaning of her twitter handle, she nonchalantly replied, “It means dragonfly, Kak.”
Dragonflies came to mind recently when I was in a clearing at some hilly plot in the Pahang jungle as I was at the end of my tether with my five-year old son Luqman. His father, the guide and our two friends had to leave us behind because the fence guarding the land was too high for Luqman to climb over given her his weight and limited agility. Besides, the trail to reach the plot of land intended for sale is not for another two miles down treacherous terrain.
A few stray dogs – one of them looking particularly menacing with their bared fangs and lolling tongue – had already marked their territory not far from the fence. Let’s not tempt fate, shall we?
I shoved Luqman to wait inside the idling four-wheel truck. Stupid that I was, I made sarcastic remark to him saying that if he had lost some weight, surely we would be able to hike further. Bad mother, bad mother …
“I'm sorry, Mommy.” His face was ashen with guilt. Almost immediately he hollered, “Dragonflies! Look Mommy, there's lots of them outside!”
I needed no reassurance as I swung opened the door on Luqman's side of the truck to invite him out into the wilderness of a tropical rainforest.
“How about the dogs, Mommy?”
“Forget the dogs, son. We think about it when they get close. Now let me show you how to catch dragonflies with your hand!”
His eyes grew saucer-size, mouth agape. “You can do that?” I smiled in reply. My confidence rivaled that of Sir Lancelot of Camelot.
Dragonflies in myriad of colours were floating above our heads to the next Merwasa Merah tree. Sunrays peeped through the leafy skyline and voices of cengkerik punctured the stillness of the sweltering afternoon.
Luqman hovered behind my back as I inched nearer to an orange dragonfly. Sensing movement in its periphery, the creature flew to the nearest small branch of eupatorium odoratum linn (that is pokok kapal terbang for non-scientific folks like us). I straightened my back to calm my trembling hand. Luqman held his breath. The pounding of his heart was so intense I swore I could hear it.
In retrospect, catching dragonflies was made easier by Tok Cik. He was Ayah’s friend who lived at the foot of the hill in the backwaters of Mengkebang. Ayah first met Tok Cik when he was caught for illegally selling petai onboard a local train bound from Dabong to Kuala Krai.
However, they ended up being good friends when Ayah discovered that Tok Cik could double as a masseuse extraordinaire.
As their friendship blossomed, we often spent time at Tok Cik’s humble hut. Tok Cik had two buffalos to help plough his paddy-field. Whenever I found enough courage to toss mother's caution into the air (I still do that now), I would climb onto the buffalo’s back, place my hand firmly on its reins as though I was riding a stallion, and think of
Billy the Kid. Ah, the folly of one’s youth.
The buffalo would snort at my nuisance. Sometimes he would move a few paces to the front, much to my exhilaration for being able to sort of 'ride' him. My dreams of being a cowboy often come to an abrupt end upon hearing my mother yelling from the hut's window: “Turun! Naik minyak kan kerbau tu!” (Come down! If not the buffalo will run amok on you!). Now, did I look stupid to her? I had not heard of a buffalo
that ran amok. I knew elephants were famous for that. What was she thinking? That I could not tell apart between an elephant and a buffalo?
But I soon left the buffalos alone after Tok Cik taught me how to catch dragonflies with ease and style. He handed me a flexible thin lidi with viscous, brownish substance at the end of the stick, which I later learned to be the mild glue he used to tap rubber. Tok Cik then guided me to a dragonfly, hoisted the lidi up and slowly lowered it down to touch the torso of the insect. Trapped! The dragonfly was
glued tight to the lidi, fluttering its wings to break free. Using this method, I would return home with a bottle-full of dragonflies to show off to my friends around the neighborhood.
I don’t have the heart to tell Mastura that I am the rightful Queen of Cakchibos.
“Mommy! You tricked me!” Luqman yelled snapping me back to reality, edging close to tears as I had yet to catch a dragonfly for him.
Without further ado, using the speed of a knight slaying the mystic dragon, I clipped the wings tight but careful enough not to destroy it. Luqman squealed with delight. When he placed the dragonfly inside the container, he was looking at me as though I was the goddess of the jungle.
Deep inside, I sighed with relief. Thought he doesn’t get to live the childhood of a cowboy on a buffalo, he still gets to enjoy the afternoon in the jungle sans his iPad and Play House Disney channel.
* Elviza Michele Kamal is an author and lawyer from Kuala Lumpur.