“I don’t believe in ghost”, I said to my father after hearing his childhood stories. “Does it really exist?” I asked. Father looked at me with a calm face and said “Well, it’s hard to believe but I have seen one myself long time ago. I’ll tell you next time. I have to go now. I’ll see you next weekend, Sara” he hugged me and left.
My father lived in another state of Malaysia, which took about five hours driving from his place to where my mother and I lived. Due to work reasons, my parents had to live separately but father travelled every weekend to see us. He loved to tell me stories of his past and because he grew up in a rural village, he had many interesting stories to tell about his childhood experiences. I had always loved to listen to his stories but I was not sure whether he had exaggerated his stories because sometimes I felt that it sounded too fictional and out of this world.
It has been more than five years ever since my parents were living apart due to work commitments and I chose to live with my mother in a small town called Taiping. A town which was famously known as the ‘rain city’ because it often rained and was acknowledged as the wettest town in Malaysia. My mother and I lived in a semi-detached house on a hilly residential area where we were surrounded by a little forest. Although at night the residential area was a bit spooky, I loved my home.
Everyday after school, I would jog for an hour on my own and sometimes, I was joined by friends who lived nearby. The neighbourhood in Taiping were mostly veterans or pensioners. Most Malaysians who had retired chose to live in Taiping to spend the rest of the retirement live and this was particularly true among the Chinese. I guess older people found it peaceful to live here for the reason of being surrounded by lush and peaceful nature, away from the busy city lives. Therefore, it was common to see the older generations walk or jog in the morning and late afternoon in Taiping.
One day, while I was doing my routine exercise, I saw an old man with a white t-shirt, white shorts, white socks and white shoes jogged passed me. I smiled at him and he greeted me, “Hello, how are you?”. “I’m good, Uncle. Thank you”, I answered politely and continued my jogging route. In Malaysia, we greeted older men or women by addressing them as either ‘uncle’ or ‘aunty’. The following day, I saw him again and this time, we stopped and chatted. This uncle whose name unknown was a retired businessman probably aged 70s. He was new to Taiping and he bought one of the houses near my home. I did not ask further where exactly he lived but I was drawn by his courage to keep exercising everyday consistently.
When my father visited me that weekend, I told my father about this uncle who jogged everyday, “I have never seen such an old man with courage to exercise. I think you should start exercising like him to live longer,” I teased my father. He smiled.
Tong! Tong! Tong!
That morning, the neighbourhood was noisier than usual. However, the place felt gloomy, I thought. “Someone just passed away”, my mother interrupted my mind. “Oh, how did you know, mom?” I asked. “That Tong! Tong! Tong! sound is the Chinese drum. It means there is a Chinese funeral going on now”, my mother explained.
Tong! Tong! Tong!
I ran outside to the gate and chased the sound. It came from one of the houses near my home. I saw many cars parked near the house where the sound came from. There was a big black banner hung at the house entrance with some Chinese characters written on it. People came in and out of the house. Some were wearing white and black clothing. Suddenly, there were many crows that flew around the little forest as if they were visiting the dead. This is the beauty of Malaysia, we lived with different races and are blessed with diversity of cultures. That day I had a chance to witness a Chinese funeral even from afar.
“Ouch!” I screamed as my mum pinched my arm. “What are you doing out here? You are not supposed to look at other people’s funeral. Come back into the house now!” I followed her. Mother had always had her own superstitious beliefs like she would not allow me to see other people’s coffins as she was afraid that bad things would happen later on. Every time when we passed by someone else’s funeral, she would quickly cover my eyes with her hands. Seriously, I thought that was ridiculous. My thought was back to the funeral I saw that morning and wondered whose funeral would that be.
As usual, I jogged that late afternoon. It has been two weeks and I had not seen that Uncle. “Dad, I was just wondering what happened to that Uncle. I think I haven’t seen him jog for quite a while. I wonder if he now decided to jog in the morning”. Dad who was reading the newspaper looked up at me but did not comment anything. Mother later joined us and said “Sara, could you please accompany me to fetch your sister at the train station tomorrow? It would be very early in the morning like 3 o’clock”. I sighed and nodded.
I have an older sister who was in the university studying law and now she was coming home for her university break. I was excited to meet her but hated the idea of having to wake up in the wee hours. It was half two in the morning. The place was still dark and quiet except for the sound of crickets. While mother was starting the car engine to warm it up, I was standing at our house gate. We did not have an automatic gate and it had to be handled manually. I had no choice but to wait alone near the gate until mother drive the car out from the porch. It was not entirely dark at the place I was standing as there was a lamp post opposite our house which was bright enough.
Still waiting and suddenly I saw that Uncle came out from the dark route, jogged passed by me. Under the lamp post light, I knew it was him and he looked up at me but was not smiling nor even greeted me. Surprisingly, I did not greet him too. Maybe because I was shocked to see him. He jogged into the dark and I had no idea where he went. “Quick girl. Get into the car!” mother said. I got into the car and looked at the car’s digital clock showed 3:00AM. Then I said to mother, “Isn’t it too early for someone to jog at this hour?” “Why?” Mother asked, sounded curious. “Because I just saw the Uncle jogged passed by our house at this hour”. Mother just ignored me and concentrated on her driving.
Time flew by and it was another weekend which meant father was around the house. During breakfast with him, I told him about what I saw on the day of fetching my sister at the train station. “So maybe he has changed his jogging schedule. Maybe now he likes to jog in the morning. But isn’t it too early to jog at that hour?” Then father said, “Sara, I’ve got something to show you”. With firm face, father showed me an outdated newspaper that he read weeks before and pointed at the obituary page. “It’s that Uncle’s picture!” I was very excited then I read what was written beneath his picture, ‘Our condolences to Mr Wang and family on the lost of beloved father, the late Wang Fa Chun…Taiping resident…’ I could not read more and felt the goosebumps. “Dad, I think I’ve seen a Chinese ghost”.