The motorcycle navigated through the laterite road; some places were slippery from rain that evening. Deva and Kugan were brothers who lived in a joint family deep in the rubber estate, which was only accessible through the muddy laterite road which became impassable during the monsoon season.
Each week, they would make that motorcycle ride to the nearest town to buy home essentials and groceries like rice, sugar, washing soap and other household items. Their dad worked as the headmaster of the interior schools which served the people from the surrounding rubber estates.
The evening rain had delayed their return. Some of the essentials were not available at the nearest town, so they had to travel to the next one. With all things sourced, suddenly the rain came pouring. They had raincoats for themselves but no cover for the items purchased. Thus, both brothers decided to wait out the rain and then ride home.
The muddy road was slippery but Deva was doing a good job manoeuvring through the rubber trees. It was pitch black, absolutely dark with the road ahead lit only by their motorcycle headlamp. The ambience was awesome with cold wind brushing their faces as they rode on.
Suddenly, Kugan gripped Deva’s shoulders. Deva hit the brakes, skidded a little. Ahead of them a white figure was walking on that muddy road.
`Hei, who could that be?’ Kugan asked Deva. The figure looked like a woman in wedding attire, white flowing dress with a veil reaching her waist.
Deva slowed down the motorcycle as they passed that figure. Kugan turned to his side to look at her but the woman turned away, not wanting to see his face, sobbing lightly.
Deva rode on, Kugan didn’t feel good after hearing the woman’s sobs. `Deva, let’s turn back,’ he urged his brother after they had passed the woman a good 500 metres.
`Are you crazy?’ Deva snapped back. `That was half kilometre back,’ said Deva, `we need to get back, mother would be waiting for us to cook dinner. Now, it’s already 11.30 p.m.’ Not wanting to stop or turn back, Deva rode on. The laterite road was bumpy even on a dry day, what more on a rainy day. Puddles of water were everywhere that at some places both had to push their motorcycle across small streams that were cutting across the road, no thanks to the heavy downpour.
It took them another good half hour before they reached the junction towards their home. Just as Deva was about to turn into the small lane that led to their home, Kugan gripped his shoulder again.
`What now?’ he asked, irritated. Kugan pointed at the road ahead. The woman in white was walking ahead of them! How could she have overtaken them? Both were perplexed. How could she out pace them? She was walking and they were riding. This time Kugan didn’t want to miss her. He urged Deva to not to turn towards their home but ride on towards her.
She was a very young woman, decked in white wedding clothes, sobbing. `Excuse me, miss, where are you going at this hour?’ Kugan asked. She didn’t answer but walked on. Seeing her walk on, Deva wanted to turn back and he started turning the handle of the motorcycle. Kugan stopped him. He got off the machine and walked to the young girl.
`Ah moi, where are you going at this hour?’ he asked her again. (Ah Moi = Young lady) This time she stopped and pointed to a direction in the dark. The boys knew that there was a Chinese New Village nearby. She was probably going there, they thought and turned back towards their home.
Post the Japanese occupation era, when the British returned to Malaya, they had segregated the three main races in the country into different areas – the Malays in villages, Indians in estates and Chinese in new villages. The new villages came about because the British wanted to place the Chinese community in a more manageable setting as the Malayan Communist Party was a huge threat at that time. And there was indeed a Chinese New Village nearby. She was probably going there, they thought as they rode away.
` Aiyooo!’ Deva woke up startled. He was in deep slumber. He heard his mother scream! Then, he heard footsteps running about in their home. He stood up and ran outside. It was beginning to dawn and he saw a group of men standing near a figure sprawled on the ground, covered with white cloth. His mum was sitting next to the figure, wailing. His dad was standing a few feet away, wiping his tears. His sisters and brothers were running around in a frenzy. Deva walked to the figure on the ground and lifted the white cloth covering the face.
Tried as he could, he couldn’t hold his vomit back. He turned away just in time to empty his stomach on to the ground, next to the body.
It was Kugan covered with white cloth; his face was barely recognisable. Looks as if he had smashed into a rock at high speed.
Someone gave Deva a glass of water. He drank and sat on the ground. Slowly he began to hear the conversations around him. Kugan was found sprawled on a cemetery belonging to a Chinese girl who had died a few months back. She died by suicide on the night of her wedding, reasons unknown. Rumours were that she was not happy with the man who married her, they said. Kugan was found on that cemetery lifeless by rubber tappers passing by that area in the morning.
Slowly, Deva recollected the events of the night before. After they returned, Kugan must have sneaked out to the direction the girl pointed, but how did he end up dead? Who killed him? Slowly, Deva looked up. In a fleeting moment he saw her – the midnight bride standing among the rubber trees, smiling. Startled, he looked again, there were only trees. The whole event sort of made sense but he only had a question at that time – why his brother Kugan?