Pak Din hobbled through the empty street in the darkness, his path lit only by the pale glow of the half-moon. In his arms was a little girl, barely ten, dressed in a pink baju kurung, its left sleeve torn away. Her head and limbs hung limp over his shoulder, a bleeding wound agape on her left arm.

Pak Din breathed heavily, moving as fast as an old man bearing the weight of a child could. He had a slight hunch in his back, and he walked with a kind of staggered gait. Every so often, he leaned his head in and whispered assurances to the unconscious girl, who would slip a little. Pak Din held her closer to him every time she did, carefully slinging her wounded arm over his shoulder. His back was soaked with a mixture of his sweat and her blood.

Takper cu… tok carikan ubat… besok cu dah baik, kita pergi makan ayam goreng eh?” he whispered to the girl. She didn’t respond.

Allahuakbar,” he whispered, looking up at the dark, starless sky. He fell to his knees, fatigue ravaging his legs. His face contorted into a sob, his tears blurring his vision. “Jangan kau biarkan cucuku menjadi begitu,” he prayed, his voice cracking.

The sound of voices in the distance answered him.

In the dark, he spotted the flicker of an oil lamp, the orange glow obscured by the slates of the wooden walls of a stilted house in the distance. With renewed strength, Pak Din picked up his granddaughter and staggered towards it. It was shelter, a place to rest, and most importantly, a place where he could tend to his granddaughter’s wound.

As he approached the house, he paused every few seconds, looking back into the darkness behind him. He thought he heard the faint sounds of a faraway mob.

He hobbled faster toward source of the light, being careful to not make any loud noises. As he approached the short flight of stairs leading to the entrance, he hastily kicked off his sandals, and stepped lightly on the wooden steps, gradually placing his weight on it, listening for a creak. He heard nothing, and proceeded to step cautiously to the front door. He adjusted his granddaughters position on his shoulders, and leaned in to listen.

It was quiet, but he could see the dancing light of the oil lamp that flickered through the cavity underneath the door. He recognised the long shadows of someone’s feet pacing inside.

He decided to take a leap of faith.

Assalamualaikum,” he whispered.

There was no answer, but he felt as though the atmosphere grew more silent, somehow.

Nama saya Pak Din, dari kampung sebelah. Cucu saya sakit ni. Boleh kami berteduh sekejap?” he continued, raising his voice just slightly.

A momentary silence, and then he heard footsteps walking towards the door. With renewed strength he lifted his granddaughter’s head over his neck, and uttered a thankful prayer. He heard the drag of a door bolt shift, and the door opened slightly revealing an eye of a young woman that peeped at him. It focused cautiously on him, and then on the granddaughter.

An eternity later, she asked “Kenapa cucu awak tu?

Dia…” Pak Din choked. “…sakit.

The eye widened. “Penyakit… yang tu ker?

Pak Din stared at her silently, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Kejap,” she said, shutting the door. He heard the sounds of the door bolt being replaced.

From outside he could hear the quiet whispers of the woman and the muffled voices of children being ushered about. He heard the light patter of children’s footsteps scattering across the wooden floor, and the groan of another wooden door opening and closing. A brief silence, and then he heard the door bolt again, followed by the quick scurrying of footsteps which disappeared into the distance.

He paused. “Assalamualaikum,” he whispered again, knocking gently. The door slid open slowly under the force of his knock.

He stepped in hesitantly, wide eyed, glancing cautiously around. He was in the living room of the house, which had nothing but a small table and a few rattan chairs about. Pak Din’s shadow danced from the flames of the oil lamp on the table. Holding his granddaughter with one hand, he grabbed the cushions of the chairs and arranged a makeshift mattress in the corner of the room.

He gently laid his granddaughter down. A warm sensation rushed over his shoulder as the heat from her blood escaped into the air. He collapsed beside his granddaughter.

He called out to the woman again, before he noticed the back door at the end of the house ajar. She had fled with her children, presumably wanting nothing to do with him and his granddaughter. It was the sickness that she was afraid of. Everyone was afraid of it.

It didn’t matter – his priority was his granddaughter now.

He looked at her still figure again, and broke out into tears. “Ya Allah,” he moaned, brushing his hand over her hair. She was pale and motionless. He leaned in to listen to sounds of her breathing. It was there, but just barely. He kissed her forehead tenderly, lingering for just a moment before he jumped back into action, grabbing the oil lamp and rushing to the kitchen to search for supplies – on the kitchen counter he found some clean cloth and water.

He applied the cloth to the wound, and pressed on it. A red stain slowly grew on the cloth. Lifting her head gently, he held the water to her blood drained lips. “Minum cu,” he whispered, almost in song. He opened her mouth and slowly poured a gulp of water into her. She coughed, the first spark of consciousness she had had, since she was bitten. Through his tears, Pak Din laughed. She was conscious again, and that was something at least. He brushed the fringes of her hair that was wet with blood and sweat.

An angry yell pierced through the air.

Pak Din startled. It was the sound of an angry mob, the one he had run away from. Their chanting grew louder, approaching the hut ominously.

He realized why the woman left with her children. She had wanted him and his daughter to stay here at her house, while she called for the villagers to ‘cleanse’ him, to kill this eighty-something year old man, and his nine-and-a-half year old granddaughter.

To contain the disease.

He tried lifting her again, but he was too weak. He barely got her off the mattress, before his muscles gave out and he stumbled back down.

He gently dabbed his granddaughter’s face with a towel.  “Cu, jangan takut eh? Nanti besok bila cu dah sihat, kita pergi makan ayam goreng lagi eh?” he said to the child. She nodded weakly, and he smiled at her.

He knelt beside her and raised his palms upward in prayer. “Ya Allah, lindungilah hamba Mu yang memerlukan pertolongan Mu sekarang…

The mob was close by now. He could clearly make out their chants to God, their vows to exorcise the demons, their call to strengthen their faith.

…yang telah lama mengingati nama Mu. Jangan kau biarkan mereka yang telah terpesong dari pangkal jalan Mu…

He could feel the drum of a dozen footsteps rumbling on the wooden stairs. An instant later, the door slammed open, the blaze of the torches lighting up the interior of the hut. They rushed in, this group of angry men, armed with double barreled shotguns, sticks and parangs.

…menyakiti hamba Mu yang masih taat setia kepada Mu, walaupun di saat-saat akh-“

A swing from one of the men with a stick hit Pak Din from behind, square on the ear. He crashed to the ground, stunned and semi conscious, the warm sensation of blood washing over his neck. There was a ringing in his ear, and though his eyes were shut, he could still hear the muffled shouts of the angry men, could perceive the high-pitched scream of his granddaughter calling out to him. He wanted to fight back, but all he could muster was a slight push on his assailants, as they dragged him outside into the cold night air.

Malam ini,” an angry voice yelled, silencing the din. “kita hantar balik anak-anak setan ni balik ke neraka! ALLAHUAKBAR!

The call of the angry mob echoed through the night.

***

End of chapter 1.

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