Friday Flash: Merah
The walls, ashen grey with darkness shadowing the long and winding corridors reminded Azman of the Haunted Houses he used to visit at fun fairs and carnivals as a child.
A haunted house, yes, that was it. That was all it was with this place. But this wasn’t a carnival attraction where men dressed up as ghouls or ghosts to scare little children. In here, the ghouls and ghosts walked freely through walls and bars and spoke to you in the dead of night. Uttering words to you while your mind was asleep and awake.
Azman was sentenced to 12 years in Pudu Jail for the consumption and distribution of Marijuana. He was 21 years old the time he first stepped, right foot first, inside the compound of Pudu Jail.
Superstition was rife inside the walls of this prison.
“Masuk bilik mana-mana, pijak dengan kaki kanan dulul (always enter a room with your right foot first),” the guards would alway say.
“Jangan bersiul malam-malam. Ada benda yang suka. (Don’t whistle at night, there are things here that enjoy that and would come visit you),” they would remind you.
And his favorite, “Jangan lupa baca doa bila lalu depan bilik yang ada cat warna merah tu. Sebagai pelindung. (Always say a prayer when you walk past the room at the end with red paint smeared around the cell door. For protection),” they would say with a shudder. But no one ever did walk past it.
Azman was never a firm believer in the supernatural having never experienced anything of the sort while growing up. But being raised in a Malay community, you were never truly sheltered against things that were beyond a man’s comprehension. Things like witch doctors and the different types of spirits that haunted his village were common.
Pontianak’s that could be seen perched on the branches of Mango trees or the Toyols that would steal your money from under your noses were a past time favorite to listen to when growing up.
Some nights, his father would come back from attending night time prayers at the local mosque and huddle him and his siblings around the coffee table to tell them what he saw while cycling back home in the dead of night.
“It was just sitting there on the branch of the Rambutan tree staring at me with red eyes, its long black hair swirling in the night even though there was no wind to move it,” he would say with his eyes wide. “Suddenly, it flew away cackling into the night.”
Azman would recall the stories he would hear from friends and family during those rare occasions they would meet up back when he was a small boy. Back when he hadn’t known what marijuana was.
In here, you couldn’t help but believe the stories the guards would tell each other, the things they see in the dark while doing their rounds. Because in here, sceptic or not, you would see them yourself.
While Azman was on laundry duty one day, he overheard the guards talking amongst themselves about how the sightings and sounds of children playing and women weeping had gotten worse ever since the new inmate had been transferred into the prison. The man was in his mid 30’s and was sentenced here having been convicted of rape and murder. It would be a long 20 years for him, longer in fact after having been placed in the cell with the red paint around it.
If Azman was having a hard time sleeping each night these past few years, it was damn near impossible for him to sleep now. Sounds of babies crying, of women weeping could be heard all along the corridors. The other inmates had resorted to praying and hiding under their sheets while the guards would go nowhere near the prison cells alone.
Cell doors would shake as though they were about to be ripped off their hinges and a soft lullaby sung by the voice of a woman could be heard outside his window. Azman’s cell was on the third floor and all rationality be damned to explain anything happening that night.
These incidences happened for five nights straight. On the seventh day, Azman saw non-uniformed officers and an old man in robes carrying a Koran walking up and down the corridor. From where his cell was, he could just about make out what they were doing at the cell on the far end. No matter, he thought. He’ll just investigate when they have their outdoor period or while he’s on kitchen duty this afternoon.
After finally being released from his cell and ordered to make his way to the kitchens, Azman stole a glance towards the cell at the end. Paint buckets and bottles of water were left outside it, the workers having gone on their lunch breaks.
Being told to quicken his pace, Azman turned away from the odd sight and headed off to start with his duties.
It was night by the time he finished cleaning up what was left of the dinner service. The guards were back at their posts and the inmates were locked away in their cells. Pak Jumut was the officer in charge of walking him back to his own cell.
Pak Jumut was a nice enough person to the other inmates when he felt like being one, but he always got along well with Azman. “Ganja je (it’s only marijuana),” he had said when the two had been acquainted the first time.
Pak Jumut was not a fan of most inmates, but there were some crimes in there that he thought should not have cost a man more years than they were worth.
“Apa jadi kat situ, Pak ‘Mut? (What happened there, Pak ‘Mut?),” he asked the guard nodding in the direction of the cell at the far end of the corridor.
“Kau ingat tak banduan yang baru masuk haritu? (Remember the new inmate that came in?), Pak Jumut asked.
“Ramai yang masuk sini tiap hari, macam mana la saya nak ingat? (There are so many that come through those doors each day, how am I supposed to remember each one?” Azman retorted.
“Ish kau ni. Yang warden letak dalam bilik hujung tu (The inmate the warden placed in the cell at the end)” Pak Jumut replied irritatedly.
“Oh, yang tu. Ingat (oh, that one. Yeah). Eh, Pak Mut’, cat tu pebenda eh kat luar bilik tu? (Pak ‘Mut, what’s that paint outside the cell for?),”
“Untuk orang tu lah. Dia tu pemuja. Sebelum dia masuk sini, dia bomoh handal. Siap mengaku dia pengamal ilmu harimau betina mati anak. Dia kena tangkap polis sebab dia rogol dan bunuh anak dara untuk sempurnakan kuasa bulan purnama tujuh petala langit apakebenda ntah. Sejak malam dia masuk tu, macam-macam benda jadi. Kami ingat bilik tu dah kena kunci dengan ayat-ayat Al-Quran, tapi tak tau pulak sebab dah lama sangat tak guna bilik tu, cat pun dah merekah. Tu lah sebab tadi panggil uztaz untuk kunci balik bilik tu dan cat semula ayat-ayat keliling bilik tu.
(It was for that guy. He’s a black magic practiotioner. before he came here, he was a renowned witch doctor. He even claimed he was a worthy practitioner of the art of the female tiger that lost its cub [direct translation]. He was arrested for raping and murdering a virgin as part of his ritual to complete his powers. After the night that he came in, a lot of stuff’s been happening. We thought that the room had been sealed with Quranic verses, but we didn’t know that since it hadn’t been used in a long time, the paint had cracked and peeled. That’s why we brought a religious person to seal the room and to repaint the Quranic verses),” he explained.
“Jadi, ayat-ayat Quran tu bukan untuk benda jangan masuk, tapi untuk benda jangan keluar la ye? (So the Quranic verses aren’t for keeping something out, but for keeping something in?)” Azman asked?
“Ye,” was Pak Jumut’s curt reply.
As Azman neared his cell, he glanced towards the cell at the far end of the corridor, the smell of paint still lingered in the air. From where he stood, he could just see the arm of the inmate dangling through the hole in his door, swaying to a rhythm no one else could hear while whistling in the dark.
for picture prompt.
You can also hear Haziq’s thoughts on Brokast in this month’s Issue Magazine.