The Secret Garden… I hate this book as much as I love it.
*warning – long ass post incoming* Don’t waste your time reading it unless you’ve a lot to spare.
Alright so thanks germs for the book recommendation. I loved every single one of them, but this one stood out. It.. it’s a warm tale but at the same time it hits me hard, so hard. It speaks volume when I needed to put down the book for a while and just made me tear up like a lil bitch.. a bit embarrassing to admit but this book really did it for me. I don’t think that ever happened before.
It reminds me of a time that I can never go back to.
Most of my friends, even Indonesians, wouldn’t believe that I lived in what Singaporeans commonly refer to as ‘Kampong’. All the Indonesians that I know over the years are born and raised in cities, and most of them hail from Jakarta, the capital. I was born in Surabaya and I lived there for 3 years, then I moved to a small city called Pontianak in Kalimantan (you may know it as ‘Borneo’ instead, but nobody uses that term in Indo, we call it Kalimantan) It’s barely even a city and I lived in the outskirts of it, in a small village called Cangkalawang if my memory’s not failing me. There were only about 50 buildings nearby. My house and the road, so small cars couldn’t pass through (but at that point of time we rarely even saw cars), are connected with a small makeshift wooden bridge. But it was robust alright. I spent my 2 kindergarten years and primary 1 years there.
Memory work has never been my strong suit, but my years living in that village are vivid. They’re vivid as hell and God knows I miss them.
The small cottage housed 5 people including me. We didn’t really have a proper garden but I remember spending time outside the house most of the time. Behind my house was acres of wood with trees that I don’t know the proper English names for. It belonged to no one so the naïve little me collected branches and made a self-proclaimed barrier to indicate my supposed territory. I remembered my land was so huge that it must’ve been as big as a football field, American football field that I sometimes glimpse from the huge TV inside the living room. Don’t get me wrong though, the screen was smaller than the laptop I’m using now, the body though, was the size of a proper cupboard.
The Secret Garden reminded me when I had extreme fascination towards basically everything. I used to explore out of the house, leaving my family behind (with their consent of course) and just venture deep into the woods. I was never one to enjoy company, not even my sister’s (she was too young at that point of time anyway). Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I love them so much. They knew from young that I like to do things by myself and I never ask for help when I know that I can manage. I wanted to discover my limits. Knowing that my family loves me and I love my family have always been enough. That’s why I never get homesick even after 3 years in Singapore now. I wasn’t afraid of being lost because my dad gave me a whistle to blow if I do lose my sense of direction. It never happened though. I was always able to make it back since the trees were quite unique in their own right so they act like markers for me. I used to stroll there all day since the foliage was so dense even in the middle of the day the air is never hot, I’d only sweat if I decided to run, which was not often at all.
Much like Dickon in the book, I always have bread in my pocket every time I go out. Mom insisted on me to just go back during lunch hours and eat then go out again. Thing is, we didn’t really have watches and phones back then, so my benchmark had always been the sun and the sky. If it’s getting orange / purplish / pinkish then it’s time to go back. I didn’t eat lunches. I stuffed myself at breakfast and dinner. Looking back.. It was an excellent life. One that I’d trade anything I have now just to experience it again even if it’s just for a year. It may sound ridiculous, but it really was a good life. I couldn’t really see that when I was young ‘cause I thought this is how most people live anyway. Boy was I wrong.
I had great fascination for a flower called ‘bunga terompet’ which I’ve no idea what it’s called in English. Basically it’s a flower that’s shaped like a trumpet. There were only 2 of the plants growing in the woods (two that I knew of) and one of them resided near a small river. Not really a river actually, it was just a stream of water that’s coming from a nearby spring. Okay actually I don’t know how near it is, my father just told me that there was a spring nearby. I went looking for it by following the stream but I don’t know whether I was going to the right direction and I never dared to go further where the wood starts to thickens.
I used to talk to this flower like it was my friend. I only have two close friends back then, Linda and Adit. But they were both a year older than me and they live quite far from my house. When we’re not in school I’d be venturing outside but my friends’ parents never allowed them to come with me. I can’t quite remember the reason though, perhaps it was safety. Oh yes, the flower. I brought a marker once and drew a smiley face on one of the flower petals. I used to sit on a dark grey, mossy rock near the water stream and just talk to the flower like nobody’s business. I tell him everything but I didn’t really give it a name. Or maybe I did.. I can’t quite remember. The flower that I talked to is the only pinkish one compared to the rest of the flowers from the same tree. The rest were yellow and though I prefer yellow to pink, one couldn’t resist to single the odd one out and focus on that peculiar fellow. I remember the lines that went through the petals of the flower. They were so straight and the distance between one line to another was perfectly equal. If you were to observe the inside of the flower from a certain angle it would look like a cave filled with colourful bats (which I suspect it was actually pollens).
Sometimes I’d splash my foot in the stream pretending that I was controlling the water. I think I actually believed that I was somehow manipulating the stream through sheer magic. Now that we learn physics we’d know that when you throw water from your hand it will most likely break apart to smaller globs. I thought it was me controlling it. Stupid.. adorable lil shit.
The Secret Garden painted the image of playing in actual nature so vividly that I couldn’t help remembering the times I spent in that small village. Although it wasn’t really long until my family moved back to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indo. I thought Surabaya was tons of times better than Cangkalawang when I first step foot inside my new house in the city. Everything looked so modern. So upbeat. So dense with buildings. My present self would definitely beg to differ.
I want to go back in time and just meet my past self near that river stream and tell him; ‘fuckin hell kid, your life’s gonna change. 2 years from now you’ll move back to that place mom always talk about, where grandpa lives in his huge house near a shopping mall. You’ll find out what a mall is. Then about 11 years from now, you’ll get a chance to go overseas! You know what that means? To live outside the country! Imagine that! You’ll live by yourself but don’t worry, you’ve never felt lonely before even without mom and dad right? It’ll still be the same 11 years from now. But that change kid, is the big one. It’s so big it’s drastically different from what you’re doing now. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not entirely bad. It’s just.. different. You’ll get used to it eventually, and when you do, you’ll think back to this very moment and realise that although you didn’t have cellphones, computers or even those stupid little tamagochis that everyone had and your mom just won’t buy it for you, you had a wonderful childhood. Eventually you’ll find yourself at least once a year going to a family villa to enjoy the respite of nature with your family, but those are stories for another day, and one that you would discover yourself. For now though, enjoy yourself. After all isn’t that what most people say nowadays? Things are beautiful because they don’t last forever. Cheers kid.’
To which my 4 year old self would reply ‘AAAAAAARGH STRANGER!!’ and run like hell to the cottage.
tl;dr: book reminded me of distant memories, fucked me up emotionally, and it was overall one hell of a ride. Thanks secret garden, for reminding how much has changed.