Pulau Semakau

Back in the mid 1990s, I was studying at a local university. During the vacations, I took a temporary job in a laboratory as a student assistant to 2 researchers.

During one of those vacations, one of the researchers organized a day trip to Pulau Semakau to collect botanical samples for the herbarium. Several people tag along including several other student assistants, one of whom was my then “good” friend, L. The team set off for the island in early morning and planned to return to the mainland by late afternoon.

Pulau Semakau was designated by the government then to be converted into an offshore dumping ground. Before the once-populated island was bulldozed, the researcher wanted to conduct a field survey and collect samples of native plants found on the island for research purposes.

The team initially trekked the island together to collect plant samples. Later, the researcher split the big group into pairs. The mission as directed by the researcher was for us split up and comb the island as much as possible to collect all possible plant samples that we could. I was paired up with L naturally.

We decided to comb a section of the coastal area which was next to the sea. Only L & I were combing that area. Each pair was equipped with several huge black garbage bags for storing the botanical samples and a pair of secateurs that was secured to a long pole to cut samples of tree leaves, flowers and fruits. L was a bit of a bully. She hold on to the secateurs while she instructed me to collect the samples that she cut. I was fine with this arrangement.

We combed the coastal area and collected several samples diligently from every shrub and trees that crossed out path. Then, we came across this unidentified medium-sized tree with long low-lying branches. The long branches extended so far that the tree looked majestic. We stood quietly in front of this tree at close range and just stared at it.

That behaviour was very unusual for both of us. Normally, we would just snip samples as we moved along at a quick pace as the area that we were combing was quite large. But that was the first time that we stopped in our tracks because of a tree.

In a flash, L, who was supposed to do the cutting of plant samples suddenly relegated her job to me without giving any explanation. She forced me to collect samples from this particular tree and then walked far, far away leaving me alone with that tree (Some “good” friend, right?)

I was dumbfounded by the abrupt change of roles and finding the pole with the pair of secateurs in my hand. I clearly remembered standing in front of that tree at close range and stared at a particular stretch of a branch for a long time. On that branch, I ‘saw’ something. ‘It’ had the outline of a person perching on the branch like a bird and was looking at me. I was looking at ‘it’ and ‘it’ was doing the same to me.

Now, my job was to collect samples of this tree that ‘it’ was perching on. And I was serious about my job and bent on clipping a short branch of leaves with flowers. Up till now, I could not understand why I did what I did. I should have just ignored L’s order and walked away to join her. Instead, I remained rooted and was adamant to do my job faithfully.

Before I did anything, I decided to explain briefly to the ‘thing’ why I needed to cut a sample of ‘its’ tree. Yes, I ‘talked’ gently to ‘it’. After which, I extended my pole with the secateurs to the nearest branch with leaves and flowers and made a cut. I quickly kept the sample in the garbage bag which I was lugging around. What happened next caught me off guard. I am getting goosebumps just by recalling and typing what happens next.

Without any warning, strong winds suddenly blew from behind. I was very shocked and intimidated by the forces of nature. I started to stagger backwards away from that tree and ended up on a gentle slope next to a row of tall trees a few metres away. I looked up the sky and observed the surroundings. The sunny sky suddenly turned cloudy. Nearby trees were swaying violently in the gale and dried leaves were flying all over the sky. The hissing sound of the strong wind blasted my ears. It felt as though a typhoon had just passed the area!

The strong gale did not died down so soon. Several seconds felt like enternity. All I could do was to stay still where I was. My legs were frozen but I was screaming my lungs out for my friend. I screamed for her name as loud as I could but the strong gale drowned my voice.

What happened next just dampened my spirits. Out of nowhere, the aroma of sweet-smelling flowers linger from my right side. The fragrance was intense and I knew that was not a good sign. I began to hurried mutter holy Qur’an verses to protect myself from any evil forces and held on strongly to my faith in God (Allah) to protect me and my soul.

Nevertheless, I still could decide to turn my head to the left to see where the fragrance came from. Very siao move, right? I saw no one and looked up the row of trees on my right for the aroma came from there. When I looked up, I noticed there were many small cream flowers in bloom on the lowest branches of the trees. By sight, I recognized those trees to be ‘Tembusu’ trees. Honestly, I was relieved that I found a logical explanation about the source of the flower fragrance for the Tembusu flowers emitted fragrance. I was not scared anymore.

Suddenly, the winds stopped as quickly as it came. The dark skies cleared up and the area transformed into a calm oasis again. I did not take a second look at that tree and quickly ran away to join L who was nowhere in sight. I just kept on running until I felt safe only to find L wandering coolly on the shore as if nothing happened.

When I returned to campus with the team, I had afternoon tea with my student-colleagues in the canteen. I was recovering from what had happened on the shore and kept very quiet to myself. We usually washed up before we go home after doing numerous field trips like this.

From that night onwards, nothing happened to me. Nothing followed me home and I did not encounter any spiritual problem at home, at campus and elsewhere up till today. I consider myself extremely fortunate. That was the last time I did something like that without thinking. And I dumped L soon after for abandoning me in a precarious situation like that.

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