Twilight was gently fading in the western sky. It was just like any other day with no one expecting anything exciting to happen. It was a day during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the 1940s. People just focused on the routine of the day.
At such an hour people fed their hens and ducks. Next was the preparation for dinner for the night. Mothers took a lot of trouble getting dinner ready for the family. Every night was a different menu – each of the menus were really delicious and much appreciated by the family.
So it was on one particular evening. All of a sudden my sister and brothers ran down the stairs to the kitchen. They looked shocked and breathlessly said, “A lady has come up the stairs in front of the house and is now sitting in the verandah”. We looked at each other. Then mother told them to tell father.
We were shocked and waited for father to come. Those days very few houses were fenced and had gates in front. Our house was along the main road from north to south of Malaya. The house was a double story bungalow without a door at the bottom of the verandah stairs.
Helter, skelter we all rushed up to the verandah, father too was soon in the verandah. The lady was dressed in a white saree. She was comfortably settled in the rattan chair.
It was already dusk, and at such an hour there was nothing we could do, except to give her shelter for the night. When father spoke to her in Malay she answered in Hindi. As father knew Hindi he was comfortable speaking to her. The lady was very nervous, “Just let me sit here through the night”. Father then asked her from where she came and where she was going.
Then she told her plight, she was from Seremban and was on her way to see her daughter in Tampin and there was no family who could go and find out about her daughter.
We listened with awe. Public transport those days was a great problem. They were packed and there were many accidents. Many families had sent their young ones who cycled to their destination.
“Just let me spend the night. I will be off early in the morning”, she said. Father nodded and told her to have a meal and spend the night in the guest room. Father told me to tell mother that we had a guest for dinner. So it was settled. As planned she had her dinner and spent the night in our place, and left very early in the morning.
Months passed by and it happened once again. This time it was a man. He looked Caucasian. He just walked into our front entrance right up the stairs.
Father saw the group near the stairs. He left his work and soon came up to find out what the matter was. Father asked him what had happened. It surprised us more when we saw there was no car at the roadside.
When asked, the man told his name and told that he wanted to spend the night at our place and that he was on his way to Thailand. What could father do, there was no other way except to let him spend the night at our place.
Friend or stranger both need our help. After a light meal he was shown the guest room where he spent the night.
Father spent a sleepless night. The man left the next morning. He was on his way after thanking father for his kindness. Strange things happen during strange times. Suddenly father said out loud, “Last night I saw a light between the wooden planks. He must be a Holy man.” We whispered, “How can that be?” and smiled.
If you were to live in a location such as ours, you are bound to have such adventures.
The next episode was unexpected. It happened as if destiny wanted it to happen. I was cycling back home after I had purchased some groceries from the town – Rembau. I was out of Rembau town and I was already near the bridge which spanned a scenic area where there were rice fields on either side of the bridge. Right in the middle of the bridge I saw three Indian people standing near a car. They looked worried and as I came nearer to them, one of them – a lady stopped me and said that their car had engine trouble and they were worried as it was getting dark.
Without wasting any time, I offered them to put up the night in our home. There was no other choice. We walked the mile to our house. The lady was a doctor and the other two were her brothers. They had gone to Singapore to see their sister who was ill.
I was happy to see father waiting for me. I introduced them and said what had happened. They were soon introduced to the family. After a while they had their dinner and soon their sleeping places were sorted out. Father told them about the mechanic’s shop just half a mile from the parked car.
Next morning they left early after breakfast to attend to their car. What a night we had. Anyway, they were very happy to be in a safe place. About two hours later we saw a car pull up in front of our house. Curious as we were, we rushed down the stairs to see who they were. They were the guest we had the previous night. They got out of the car, shook hands with us and thanked us for our kindness. Strangers they were, they left us as friends.
It brings to light that though people had a busy and difficult time during the Japanese occupation, they had determination and courage to overcome their difficulties and at the same time help others who were in trouble.
Saroja Dev Param